Houbigant’s Quelque Fleurs, which first appeared in 1912, is certainly a perfume of mythic proportions. Jean-François Houbigant established his shop for perfumes, gloves, fans, and other elegant sundries in the Paris of 1775. By 1807, Houbigant was supplying Empress Josephine with a distinctive perfume, one that presumably complemented the intoxicating personal scent that led Napoleon to writer: “I’ll be home in three days. Don’t wash.” (A myth, apparently, since no historian has produced this letter.) Appointments to the royal courts of France, England, and Russia followed. As the twentieth century dawned, Paul Parquet (1856–1916), a co-owner of the Houbigant company, led the way to the future of modern perfumery by synthesizing and using an artificial material, coumarin, in a perfume composition for the first time, in Fougere Royale (1882). By 1912, another Houbigant chemist-perfumer, Robert Bienaimé, developed Quelque Fleurs, celebrated as the first mixed floral perfume. Quelque Fleurs was a decisive break with the naturalism of the soliflores common at the time. To ladies asking for a rose or a violet perfume, Houbigant offered an unabashed perfume construct, “Some Flowers,” or to restate this in our current parlance, “Flowers. Whatever.” The perfume was an immediate sensation, and Quelque Fleurs continued to be sold in this form up until the 1970”s. In 1985, Quelque Fleurs was reissued in a completely new formulation as Quelque Fleurs L’Original. (More myth-making here: when “L’Original” is tacked on to the name of old perfume, it is a good sign that the perfume is now completely different.) Thirty years later, Quelque Fleurs L’Original now has the luster of a vintage perfume, and a foundational myth of its own: it is known to all that Princess Diana wore this perfume at her 1981 wedding, although no one has been able to explain how she obtained a bottle of Quelque Fleurs L’Original years before its launch.
Of course, as soon as I learned about Quelque Fleurs, I began searching for a older, vintage bottle, one that could somehow connect me to the mythic qualities of Quelque Fleurs. And by communing with my 1950’s bottle of Quelque Fleurs EDT, I believe I have connected to this perfume’s history and beauty, although I know my vintage EDT probably doesn’t smell exactly like Bienaimé’s 1912 composition. Does Quelque Fleurs L’Original also sustain the myth? I tested the L’Original EDP some time ago and found it to be a pleasant, but unexciting floral aldehyde. More recently, I obtained a sample of the L’Original Extrait. Let’s play the vintage fumehead game and compare versions of Quelque Fleurs.
Vintage Quelque Fleurs EDT is a floral bouquet set in a basket lined with damp, bitter oakmoss. Its scent is fresh, with an astringently green lily of the valley note, and rich notes of rose, jasmine, lilac, hyacinth, and more, but picking out individual floral notes in vintage Quelque Fleurs is somewhat besides the point. Vintage aldehydes and orris add some waxy powderiness. As Quelque Fleurs dries down, it becomes warmer, fruitier, and more rounded, and one perceives that it contains a surprising amount of provocative civet tempered with peach lactone, vanilla, and sandalwood. Vintage Quelque Fleurs always reminds of vintage Mitsouko (1919) at this stage.
Quelque Fleurs L’Originale Extrait opens green, herbal, and tangy with tarragon adding a licorice facet. The synthesized floral bouquet that defined Quelque Fleurs appears, offering a profusion of beautiful floral notes without distinguishing any specific flower. (The floral notes in the vintage EDT are actually more distinct and natural.) Gradually, Quelque Fleurs L’Originale Extrait dries down to a sweet base, becoming an almost boozy amber perfume with lots of tonka and vanilla. There is no oakmoss and no civet in this version, but Quelque Fleurs L’Original Extrait is a lovely and very feminine perfume.
So, no, Quelque Fleurs L’Original Extrait is not the same as the original, but I am too much of a skeptic to claim that my 1950’s EDT comes closer, since I really have no way to know this is true. Saying that Quelque Fleurs has been reformulated would seem to suggest that the link to its mythic past is irretrievably broken, but I am also not sure that this is true. Quelque Fleurs might be a like an old song that can be endlessly reinterpreted, and wearing the current L’Original Extrait is a beautiful way to perpetuate the myth of this great perfume.