Expectation works against Cabochard, poor dear. Many compare it in its current form to a vintage model. I’ve never smelled vintage Cabochard, so that expectation isn’t an issue. My expectation, and I’ll own it, comes from Cabochard’s family resemblance to Aramis by Aramis and therefore to Estée Lauder’s Azurée. All are leather chypres originally created by Bernard Chant. I have versions of Aramis and Azurée bought within the last five years---ostensibly current issue. They are spectacular in recipe and ingredients, and can be compared head to head (to head) with any other leather chypres, whether niche or designer. Cabochard, sadly, cannot. Not to be simply judgmental, I’ll say that Cabochard is like a grainy, blurry photo of either Aramis or Azurée. I can see that the topnotes are meant to capture the same strong, dry bitterness as found in either of the other two, but it comes off as both shrill and thin at the same time. And it falls apart so quickly! Within five minutes it becomes clear that Cabochard won’t venture down either the leather or chypre paths, instead becoming a disorganized but harsh dry woody fragrance.
I won’t flog a dead horse. I’ll just say that Aramis proves that Cabochard need not be so bad. The Cabochard dilemma makes me consider a few angles on the difficulties of reformulation. I know that reformulation has always occurred in perfumery. This current quandry, though, due firstly to restriction on ingredients and then the meanness of the companies ordering the reformulation, seems to be particular to our time.
Zombie or Ghost?
I’d call Cabochard the unequivocal zombie, dead but still lurching among us. The name is the same, the bottle is a knock-off of the original, the juice is a cheap, cynical reformulation. Cheap, since clearly no quality ingredients were harmed in its making. Cynical, as it rides on the longstanding reputation of both the vintage perfume and the perfumer, but doesn’t offer either quality or creativity in the reformulation.
There are quite a few ghosts out there, but who they are will depend on your perspective. I find the current Vetiver by Guerlain sensational. I vaguely remember Vetiver back as far as the 1980s, and while the current rendering might be different, it is still my favorite vetiver by yards. For many, though, it is fallen just enough from its former state that they won’t wear it. Vintage Vent Vert is universally acclaimed, the 1990 version by Calice Becker was apparently a welcome ghost, and the current version is generally panned (zombie.)
Whether done covertly (Mitsouko? Chanel 5? Habit Rouge?) openly (Cuir de Lancome ) by full-on resurrection (Azzaro Couture, Robert Piguet’s Baghari) or some combination of the above (Aramis Gentleman’s Collection) quality, money, consideration and talent pay off. (Quick note, of the acknowledged reformulations that are highly praised, it is startling how often the names of Becker and Aurélian Guichard come up.) Restrictions on the use of classic components is a drag. Fortunately, though, innovations in chemistry and botany give us powerful new tools.
Maintain the Quality of your Heritage Products
Sounds like a simple strategy but I don’t imagine that it’s necessarily easy, with changing access to botanicals and year to year fluctuations. Some make solid efforts in this direction, Chanel and Guerlain being good examples. Others, less so. I’ll leave it up to you to identify these houses. Special mention should really be made here of Estée Lauder’s success. It’s heritage products (eg. Azurée, Knowing, Alliage) continue to be available and at remarkable prices (take that, Guerlain Derby.)
Die a Good Death
There are so many vintage perfumes that lived great lives, were a gift to those who wore them, and then went away, whether remembered today or not. I’m all for preservation, and recognize that the art of perfumery remains largely undocumented and without theoretical consideration in the formal sense. There should be as many institutions like Osmothèque as there are modern art museums. The Theory of Perfume should be an elective in mainstream universities. (I’m not kidding.) But I also recognize that perfumery is an art that, like dance, is experiential and temporal. In fact, this aspect of both dance and perfume is both desirable and noble. It helps me to feel alive to be in the midst of something beautiful that will in fact end.
Robert Piguet’s line is a good example of the value of multiple strategies. Bandit, Fracas, Baghari, Futur---reformulate to the original specs as best you can with good intentions, quality components and creative talent. But then there’s Visa. What a simple, smartly executed notion: keep the name, allow a great perfumer (again Guichard) to reincarnate it. No deception, no lie, no marketing sleight-of-hand. Visa isn’t an attempt to recreate the original. It takes the qualities and intentions of the original and then gives us something novel. Piguet’s latest, Douglas Hannant, a straight-up new fragrance, is an equal member in the line with the icons Bandit and Fracas.
Find a New Solution
Sure, there are whole categories of fragrance that are new—candied gourmands, aquatics, transparent orientals. But there is also an attempt to reinterpret a genre that’s been stymied. I’ve never tried 31 Rue Cambon, but I respect its statement of intent: to recreate the chypre without oakmoss. Successful? Not? I’ll leave it up to you who wear it. What I appreciate is the attempt to deconstruct the chypre, step away from it, weigh its abstract qualities, and reconsider them with a different construction. There is something intriguing about this approach. The perfumer must be passionate about a form, yet disinterested in the analysis. I have faith that this will give us some great perfumes.