The Fougère Project, part 5

2/18/14 The Fougère: Genre or Tease

I agree that the simplicity of the fougère accord is what makes it both so fascinating and ultimately difficult to categorize at the limits. The lavender/coumarin combination, as basic as it sounds, seems to create a synergy (call it fougère, call it happenstance) that is more complex than either lavender or coumarin. But that complexity is rife with all the possibilities that have made it such fertile ground for the past 125 years or so. It’s the magic accord, really, and its perpetual reinvention is just one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by it. The fougère is a binary with poles on each of the lavender and coumarin sides. Bend it one way or the other and quantitative changes quickly become qualitative, another function of the ‘magic’ accord. Add other elements entirely such as flowers, fruits and balsams and see where it takes you. Rather than emphasizing either of the ‘poles’, these added elements create a richness that the basic accord supports. An example is Azzaro pour Homme, which squeezes resins, flowers, spices and god knows what else into the lavender/coumarin sandwich, creating an enormous, harmonious beast.

When I write I sometimes refer to a genre to convey the qualities a genre might capture. eg.’The raspy quality of the floral headnotes make the perfume seem like a 1970s green chypre.’ But for points of discussion I also recognize the value of having common reference points, and a more formal, structural use of genre is helpful. So, if a perfume is built with lavender and coumarin, it is a fougère for purposes of naming and communication. (For the sake of simplicity here, I set aside aside the ‘second tier’ of components, moss and musk.) But genre also acts as a frame for personal consideration. While I don’t doubt that the elements that make a fougère are in Guerlain’s Jicky and Mouchoir de Monsieur, they are not in the same in my experience as, say, Paco Rabanne pour Homme or YSL Jazz. Their similarity to Guerlain Shalimar, held up as the consummate oriental perfume, is more important to me.

The fougère is a rich and mighty genre. I’m willing to accept the ambiguity that on one side we need effective terms to communicate our thoughts, and on the other, that I need to trust my nose. The fougère is not a ‘high maintenance’ genre, but is a bit of a tease. Accept its many faces, or scream in frustration. The fougère isn’t the only genre that elicits these discussions. Take a look at the emotional bouts online regarding the definition of a classic chypre or what are the required elements of an oriental fragrance.

The implicit problem for perfumery is that our definition of a genre is purely compositional. We use descriptive terms from outside of perfumery, but when we say brutalist or impressionist, we are borrowing loosely from the genres of other art forms. We can all name the attributes of a given genre. “Fougère” might not point to the specifics, but any fougère fan will know about coumarin and lavender. The Fruity-floral is just a more upfront name. We don’t define perfumes by purpose, intent or effect as other art forms do. But then again, perfumery doesn’t have ‘movements’ per se. Olivia Giacobetti, Josh Lobb, Pierre Guillame are guided by their own intentions to create thoughtful works of art. But we do not have post-facto movements, of the sort named once changes to a form give rise to a set of principles, such as ‘modernism.’ And despite the boys at Etat Libre cursing the heavens, we really do not have artistic movements guided by intention to bring about social change, such as mid-20th century folk music, or Nazi propaganda film.

Defining perfume genres is a difficult task and fragrance lends itself to many interpretations. The fougère captures this notion perfectly. The problem of reconciling the many opinions is not that we have blurry, imprecise language to talk about fragrance, though we certainly do. Rather, as with the best visual and musical arts, the fougère presents a diversity and a complexity that allow for many different experiences. I wear my favorite fougère, Caron le Troisièmme Homme often, yet it feels energetically new to me each time I wear it. Someone else might have a similar experience, but consider 3me Homme a floriental.

The nomenclature is a discussion, the experience of wearing the perfume is the point.

(Feb 18, 2014) Bryan Ross said:
@Christos MemoryOfScent, - "wet cement note!" that's very interesting. Cool Water has that note also!!! Lancaster version, that is. Coty managed to lose that note in their reform. So in a sense I can see a degree of similarity even between CW and Narciso Rodriguez for Him, although I admit I don't see how Grey Flannel intersects between the two in terms of a cement note (I don't get that note in GF). However I have seen Narciso Rodriguez's scent is very often compared to Grey Flannel, and I don't disagree with that comparison, as I find other notes are very strongly similar.

@jtd - it strikes me that the "fougere accord" of lavender and coumarin (and arguably musk and oakmoss) is incredibly simple, and therefore the trouble people get into when trying to "define" fougeres is that there's so many extensive variations that have been made on this two-note classification that weeding through them is very tricky. however, there are still many blatantly oriental compositions being released, and also some true-blue chypres, so holding the fougere up as a genre that is still "alive" and "relevant" is important.

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