Carven Le Parfum ~ fragrance review

Carven Le Parfum, advert

The venerable Carven brand has been undergoing a revamp over the past three or four years, and everything appears to be working out quite nicely, thank you:

When it was set up by diminutive tastemaker Carmen de Tomasso in the 1940s, its stock-in- trade was simple, couture for the rich and petite. By the 2000s, like many of its mid-century cohorts, it had made a ton of cash from perfume and somewhat lost its way, remaining a respected but not particularly relevant presence. But in 2012, thanks to the efforts of its new creative director Guillaume Henry, Carven is now, suddenly, one of the most talked-about new labels in the business.1

Perfume, of course, is part of the overall equation, as it frequently is in the world of fashion. Carven has recently relaunched their 1946 classic, Ma Griffe,2 and they've added Carven Le Parfum, a new fragrance for women (a cologne for men is due next year) developed under (also new) licensing arrangements with Groupe Jacques Bogart. Of course, things have changed since 1946, and Henry was adamant that the new scent not be "too heavy or complicated to wear" — hardly the hallmarks of Ma Griffe.3 But as we all must remind ourselves, sometimes several times a day, nobody ever made a bazillionty dollars catering to the prejudices of old-school perfumistas, right?

So, we have Le Parfum. It was developed by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, and it's beautifully done: a white floral, ethereal rather than full-bodied, with a touch of green and an emphasis on the early spring sort of flowers (hyacinth, sweet pea) rather than the indolic hothouse sort that make floral perfumes hard for modern consumers to stomach (other notes for Le Parfum: mandarin blossom, ylang ylang, jasmine, osmanthus, apricot, patchouli and sandalwood). It's mostly clean, even a bit soapy, but it's not quite laundry detergent clean, and it's wrapped in a veil of sheer powder. It smells young and fresh and modern and charming — it's a perfect fit with model Brynja Jónbjarnardóttir4 — but sophisticated enough to suit the brand, and there is a nice suede-ish warmth, with the usual scrubbed-clean patchouli adding some depth and earthiness, to the dry down.

Verdict: It's lovely. It's not my cup of tea, somehow, but it's lovely, and very much worth sampling — and do try it on skin; on paper, it reads as much cleaner than it really is.5 I can't believe I'm saying this, but an 'intense' or 'noir' flanker might be a nice thing, and surely we'll get a flanker, no? Please, Mr. Henry, don't make it pink.

Carven Le Parfum, flacon 3 sizes

Carven Le Parfum is available in 30, 50 and 100 ml Eau de Parfum.

1. From Carven out a slice of the market at The Independent. Henry was appointed in 2009. And as Suzy Menkes has pointed out in the New York Times, "Mr. Henry has an advantage in that the Carven name can have no resonance with the young, sleek and chic generation he is aiming to attract." 

2. I have not smelled the new Ma Griffe, and will probably give it a skip. If it's awful, please don't tell me.

3. Via Women's Wear Daily, 2/28/2013.

4. If you missed the (likewise young and charming) commercials, they're here.

5. For modern "veil of sheer powder" scents that I do like, see the discussion in last year's review of Lolita Lempicka L’Eau en Blanc. But I wouldn't claim they're better done than Carven Le Parfum, necessarily.

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  1. egabbert says:

    “nobody ever made a bazillionty dollars catering to the prejudices of old-school perfumistas, right?”

    Frederic Malle has a bazillionty dollars, doesn’t he? Oh wait, he probably already had them. :)

    How does this compare to Elie Saab? They sound/look like kissing cousins.

    • Robin says:

      You know, Malle is working on a much smaller scale than your average designer brand that is trying to fund the fashion side of a lifestyle brand. You can do well catering to perfumistas, but not THAT well.

      I have smelled Elie Saab but did not love that one either and did not spend much time with it…going on memory, the Elie Saab is brighter but also maybe a bit less girly? Hope someone else will chime in as I don’t have a sample to compare. But kissing cousins might not be far off, they both smell like Kurkdjian scents to me.

      • egabbert says:

        Agreed, though I’ve always felt that Malle — more so than say, Serge Lutens — aims for a kind of beauteous luxury that isn’t perfumista-specific. Meaning most of them aren’t too weird, I guess.

        I definitely smell a common thread in most Kurkdjian scents.

        • Robin says:

          I’d agree with that take on Malle too.

          And of course there are fashion brands that aren’t necessarily looking for the next big hit. But for many of them, the perfumes fund other artistic endeavors, obviously.

          • egabbert says:

            On that note: I tried the L’Wren Scott perfume yesterday and found it totally baffling. Sour, astringent curry powder. How do you fund a fashion brand with that?!

          • Robin says:

            Oh, good to know…I was curious about that one! But again, hardly what you’d call a “major launch” from a designer brand, right?

          • egabbert says:

            Probably not particularly major, but this if the first I’ve heard of the Carven launch too.

          • Robin says:

            I am guessing the Carven is in nearly every major department store in Europe, or will be, and probably will be in major perfume boutiques too, of which there are far more in Europe than here. Right now here it is only in Saks, IIRC, but will probably expand to other stores. The L’Wren Scott is just Barneys, I think? So really not on the same level, but it’s quite true that the Carven name is not huge in the US.

          • egabbert says:

            Yes, L’Wren Scott is just Barney’s. Though on a much smaller scale I imagine the idea was the same — people who can’t afford the clothes will buy the perfume? I see it being DC’ed fast though.

        • egabbert says:

          Also, I feel like I’m unintentionally arguing with you, sorry if it seems that way! I didn’t mean to imply the LWS is at the same level as the Carven, just that it’s also a frag from a fancy clothing designer.

          • Robin says:

            LOL…I was just thinking the same thing, that I was sounding like I was arguing with YOU and I didn’t mean to be either. Glad we’re all good :-)

          • egabbert says:


    • I had the same question about the comparison to Elie Saab. I originally thought Elie Saab was too clean for my taste, but I got a full-size body lotion as a GWP with another perfume, and now using the lotion, I keep thinking I should buy a bottle of Saab.

      With Kurkdjian, I often find that the scent is almost there for me, but not quite. I have it in my head that he’ll suddenly release the most perfect version of his floral-musky scent and I’ll have to buy it. (Although I’ve also wondered if APOM could be that scent.)

      • egabbert says:

        I think the only one I own a FB of is NR for Her (which I really do like in summer) but I have decants of a couple others. I think Lumeire Noir pour Femme is the most out and out gorgeous.

      • Robin says:

        You know, I have huge respect for Francis Kurkdjian, but his style is not really my style. I bought AdP Iris Nobile, and sort of meant to buy JPG Fleur de Male but never did. But by & large yes, “almost there” would describe my reaction to a lot of his fragrances.

  2. Abyss says:

    Interesting. I gave this a quick sniff and was not impressed – the first impression was artificial and harsh. Funnily enough, it did make me think of Elie Saab and I wondered if it was another of Kurkdjian’s creations.

    Now I wonder if I judged it too hastily and whether I should give a proper try.

    • Robin says:

      I really did not like it on the blotter…I brought home a sample thinking surely it would not be a happy review. Do try it on skin if you didn’t, I think it’s much nicer that way.

      • Abyss says:

        Ah, good to know, thanks! I’ll give it another try.

  3. Dzingnut says:

    I will have to find this and sample – one of the few scents my mother mentions loving in the past was Madame Carven, and she enjoys the Ma Griffe I bought her a few years ago. I’m sure this new release is nothing like the vintage MC … but I can always hope!

    • Robin says:

      To me, this smells entirely modern, but like many powdery scents, informed by the classics.

      I never got to smell Madame Carven!

  4. thegoddessrena says:

    Now I want to smell vintage Ma Griffe , especially if it’s heavy and complicated….

    • Robin says:

      Very worth a try, if you can find it.

    • Dzingnut says:

      Rena – read Robin’s review; it gives a great idea of how the vintage smells. I like the 1990’s reformulation too, although it’s softer. Now I want to go and order a bottle!

  5. galbanumgal says:

    How does the Carven compare in cleanness to Kurkdjian’s Amyris (if you know)? Rather liked Amyris, but ultimately found it too clean. Did you see the actual Carven bottle? Looks nice in the photo.

    • Robin says:

      So sorry that I don’t remember Amyris at all. None of the MFK have really attracted me.

      And no, I have a carded sample but never saw the real packaging.

      • Robin says:

        But will add — this is clean. It’s cleaner in the early stages, so do let it dry down before you make up your mind.

  6. RusticDove says:

    It’s funny that you reviewed this today – a perfumista buddy and I were talking about it yesterday and wondering what it would be like. It doesn’t really sound like my style, but I’d like to give it a sniff anyway. I love the bottle, very understated and elegant looking.

    • Robin says:

      It’s a great bottle, assuming it looks as good in person, and as always, the 30 ml is the most attractive to me — I do love cute little bottles.

  7. Emily says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin. I had been curious about this one (and am also curious, to a lesser extent, about the newest version of Ma Griffe). Will join the “sounds nice but probably not for me” crowd, though since this perfume sounds like it’s well-crafted and doesn’t insult the intelligence of the consumer, I don’t mind all that much that it’s probably not my kind of thing.

    • Robin says:

      That’s pretty much how I feel — just glad it’s not stupid, even if I don’t love it.

  8. ceciliat says:

    I think my vision must be going — I saw the bottle and thought, why would they use a spool of thread on the cap LOL.

  9. annemarie says:

    Sounds of a piece with a whole bunch o’ things, broadly speaking: NR for Her; FK’s perfumes for his own house; Love, Chloe; CK Beauty; the DK Pure series; Chanel No 19 Poudre; Elie Saab; Marni. I know these are not the same, but they are all lightish, cleanish, youngish, undemanding. ‘Nothing heavy or complicated to wear.’

    • Robin says:

      Yep! I do think it reads a bit younger than some of those, but not in a bad way necessarily.

  10. maggiecat says:

    I LIKE clean-ish scents so I think I will be trying this soon…

  11. stinker_kit says:

    I will forgive Monsieur Kurkdjian many not quite there fragrances simply because Dior Eau Noire is gorgeous, perhaps my favorite of his creations. I have repeatedly tried Elie Saab, thinking I should love this, and I do not. Just a bit too bright to my nose. Not enough edges, no unusual juxtapositions of ingredients, superficial really.

    • Robin says:

      I do think this is not as bright as Elie Saab, but not sure it is any more edgy or unusual? You’ll have to see what you think.

  12. Robin!?!?!? You Didn’t Like Elie Saab Le Parfum??? OH HEAVENS TO MURGATROID! I ADORE, COMPLETELY WORSHIP Elie Saab. To me it is one of the most Original and Splendid Smelling Fragrances of the last decade or longer (Along with the Incontrovertible Masterwork that is Bottega Veneta!) This, This sounds like it could be of the same Vintage and cannot wait to get a whiff of it as soon as possible! Hoping Saks (which is carrying this exclusively in the States) will Also carry the New Ma Griffe. I think both are bound to be quite lovely!

    • Robin says:

      Hey, you know we do not have the same taste! I did like Bottega Veneta though.

  13. dolcesarah says:

    I liked Ellie Saab. I have a big ole’ bottle. I save it for hot nights when around a mixed gender group. I get compliments and have had special stop bys and asking for what’s that smell on you? I want to try my Sana extract by slumberhouse at night. It’s light but has a noir feel to it. I just LOVE IT. IT’S MY NEW FAB FAV!

  14. dolcesarah says:

    It’s got little crystal balls inside there’s no way a full oz can be in there but ill be getting a new bottle by end of summer here in Al.

  15. Oakland Fresca says:

    Yikes I am behind in my perfume blog reading. Just to enforce the democratic nature of these blogs, I’ll add my voice to those who like Elie Saab. I have the edp, which I wear infrequently, but enjoy it muchly when I do. But the real reason I am chiming in is that I have purchased the new Ma Griffe in the last year. It was not what I expected but vert much what I had been warned about. There is a hint of the original chypre— but I get loads and loads of powder off the top, middle, and dry down that seem to be tempering, or less charitably masking, a spicy green undergrowth. Oddest of all, I find it a comfort scent. I haven’t had the remotest desire to wear it, but like spraying it on my pillows on warm nights when I have a few windows open….

    • Robin says:

      Interesting, thanks so much! I think I’ll skip it.

  16. LornaS says:

    I had used Ma Griffe perfume since college (mid 1950s) and was devastated when Carven discontinued the REAL perfume. So I had to just buy the eau de toilette, which is nice. But the real Ma Griffe is one of the world’s great perfumes and nothing has equalled it (with one exception: Ivoire, which is more exotic; Ma Griffe is for daytime, every day. )I hope to try their new Le Parfum to see if it will replace Ma Griffe. And I hope they will consider bringing back Ma Griffe.

    • Robin says:

      They do still make Ma Griffe although it’s in new packaging this year.

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