I set off to college in 1979 without a single bottle of perfume, if my memory doesn’t deceive me. I wish I had known about Jean-Louis Scherrer’s first perfume then. I am convinced that my years of youthful exploration and occasional indiscretion would have been even more fun if I had been wearing this perfume. I make up for it by wearing it as often as I can now.
Jean-Louis Scherrer (1935-2013) was never a household word in the US, at least not in my circles. Scherrer trained at Dior in the 1950’s, where he worked beside the young Yves Saint Laurent. As Saint Laurent attempted to lead Dior after the master’s death, Scherrer went on to open his own couture house in 1962. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Scherrer was a designer of great refinement, dressing an international clientele that included Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Nan Kempner, and Sophia Loren. In 1992, Scherrer was unceremoniously fired,”like a streetsweeper,” as he put it. Lawsuits were filed by both sides. The event attracted considerable attention because it was the first time a designer had been dismissed from his own house. (Scherrer had sold most of his company to external investors, including Hermès.) Back then, it was shocking to see that fashion was just another business with no need to preserve the aura of the artist, as long as control of a marketable name could be retained. We are used to this now.
Given Scherrer’s almost tragic fall into obscurity as a designer, it is really almost a miracle that his eponymous perfume, hereafter Scherrer 1, is still available today, in versions that are close to the original despite reformulations due to ingredient restrictions. Scherrer 1 is a benchmark green chypre, a style of perfume that has been out of fashion for so long that it is now almost back on the cutting edge, as contemporary perfumers begin to explore greens again. If, like me, you have tried some of the newer green perfumes and have been left wanting more, as the etiolated juice vanishes after an hour or two or dries down to sugared cucumber or melon, you owe to yourself to try Scherrer 1. Scherrer 1 is a forceful bitter green scent anchored by beautiful woods and deep moss. I believe it can worn by anyone.
I have bottles of Scherrer 1 in the vintage parfum, vintage EDT, and contemporary EDP formulations, and I enjoy wearing all of them. Scherrer 1 opens with deliciously tart bergamot and tangerine and lots and lots of fiercely green galbanum. I’ve noticed that people who are unfamiliar with galbanum sometimes misinterpret its strong presence as something else–often aldehydes and civet–but, trust me, it’s galbanum in Scherrer 1. Scherrer 1 is deeply earthy and mossy, but intrinsically clean-smelling, with no animalic notes. Floral accents are fairly subtle and tightly woven into the overall composition, but one can distinguish touches of hyacinth, rose, and jasmine. Old school sandalwood, vetiver, and oakmoss are the dominant basenotes. If you are seeking contemporary woods and incense notes–the oily cedar and stuffy frankincense provided by Timbersilk, ambroxan, Norlimbinol, et. al. you’ll need to look elsewhere. Scherrer 1 remains crystalline and vegetal throughout its all-day presence on the skin.
Who was the unsung perfumer who created this beautiful perfume? According to Victoria Frolova, author of the Bois de Jasmin perfume blog, Scherrer 1 was composed by Josette Ramisse, an IFF perfumer. Unfortunately, I could not find additional information about Ramisse, but her formidable skills and taste are fully displayed in the composition. Scherrer 1’s sister perfumes from the 1970’s are Givenchy III (1970), Clinique’s Aromatic Elixir (1972) and Estee Lauder’s Aliage (1972). Its godmothers are Piguet’s Bandit (1944), Miss Dior (1947) and Balmain’s Vent Vert (1947). While all of these perfumes are in my permanent rotation, usually in their vintage forms, none of them is a replacement for Scherrer 1–an instant classic and a unique perfume.