Houbigant Quelques Fleurs (1912 / 2009): 3 Stages of its Existence {Perfume Review & Musings} (2022)

Houbigant Quelques Fleurs (1912 / 2009): 3 Stages of its Existence {Perfume Review & Musings} (1)
Houbigant Quelques Fleurs (1912 / 2009): 3 Stages of its Existence {Perfume Review & Musings} (2)

The history of Quelques Fleurs (1912) by Houbigant Est. 1775, is so compelling and interconnected with that of other significant perfumes that it is today a reminder to me of why I do not review those deep historical fragrances more often: they reveal so many ramifications and further pockets of shadows to shed light on, that it is difficult to contain all the information and questions within one article. It is probably actually laughable to try to do so. In fragrance anthologies, and for some reason, Quelques Fleurs is often overlooked as preference is usually given to L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain when proposing a canon of classics for and around the year 1912.

I had therefore to simplify and decided to offer three short comparative reviews of three versions of Quelques Fleurs which I have available at hand and make them be preceded by a general historical summary.

This is a project which was triggered by the reception of the most recent version of the perfume, a recreation entrusted to fragrance expert and unflagging defender of the great classics, Roja Dove of Haute Parfumerie at Harrods. He worked in collaboration with the Perris family who are now the proprietors to the rights to Houbigant fragrances as their grand-father had ties with the original Houbigant family, we were told. The re-worked jus was re-introduced in 2009, the last one in a series of relaunches and tribulations in the course of its existence. Again, for some reason, Quelques Fleurs does not merit a separate treatment even in the book signed by Dove, The Essence of Perfume.

Quelques Fleurs is an early floral aldehydic perfume which inspired in particular the creation of Chanel No.5 in 1921, with a detour for Ernest Beaux the nose of No.5, via Le Bouquet de Catherine (1913) which was meant for the Russian market.

I happen to have at my disposal the version which was reintroduced in 1985 as "Quelques Fleurs l'Original."

The Neiman Marcus site, which also sells the Quelques Fleurs Royale version, states about the 2009 version that,

"The true Quelques Fleurs formula has never been published. An ancientformula still kept in the family archives, this fragrance will never beduplicated. The blend of soft, sensual florals uses over 250 differentraw materials and more than 15,000 flowers to create just one ounce ofQuelques Fleurs eau de parfum."...

I also have as well a pre-1985 formulation, it seems, which certainlyfeels different enough and even more old-school to my nose.

It is well-nighimpossible to know what the original formulation smelled exactly like,but we can certainly try to understand the personality of the fragranceand the impact it had on the perceptions of people in the earlier stages of its career.

WhenQuelques Fleurs was introduced in 1912, we can gather that it wasperceived as being a turning point through three main aspects: 1) itfeatured a multifloral bouquet in a context where soliflores were stillfashionable despite the fact that the house of Houbigant hadspear-headed the taste for more complex, structured floral blends mixing bony aromachemicals and fleshy naturals in Le ParfumIdéal created by Paul Parquet in 1900; 2) while it is usually thoughtthat the No.5 is the original aldehydic opus at the dawn of the 20thcentury, it is not so; it was rather the amplified use of the aldehydesin the latter, which were overdosed (among other things), which made it standout.

Quelques Fleurs thus created an Art Nouveau feel rather than a bold modernistic tonality with itsuse of aldehydes before the No. 5. It was not the first scent either to do so as it followed another successful early aldehydicfragrance, Pompeïa by L.T. Piver (1907).

3) Thirdly, Quelques Fleurs wastrendsetting also in the way it would beat open the path to lighterperfumes, an effect resting on its use for the first time of thearomachemical Hydroxicitronellal, a fresh muguet/lily of the valleynote, which would become imprinted on the olfactory psyche of the French in the 20th century in particular with Diorissimo, a celebratory lily-of-the-valley day perfume.

Quelques Fleurs is considered by veteran perfumers asboth an early floral bouquet, an early aldehydic perfume but also atthe same time and at the core as being a closeted lilac soliflore composition like there can be a closet rose soliflore (see Chloé Eau de Parfum).

Iwas personally also struck by the kitchen-cupboard tarragon note in it,especially discernable in the 1985 version and wonder if it was therefrom the very beginning. It is an element which gives the perfume aparticular inflection but also appears as yet another example of itsunprejudiced outlook, or perhaps simply put of its inspired approach. Itcould be seen to be an original inspiration for the jasmine-tarragonaccord found in La fuite des heures (Fleeting Moment) by Balenciaga done by Germaine Cellier, which I thought of when I smelled the 1985 edition in particular.

Houbigant Quelques Fleurs (1912 / 2009): 3 Stages of its Existence {Perfume Review & Musings} (3)

The fact that the Dadaist Hannah Höch (1889 -1978) (see picture above) had made it one of herfavorite fragrances invites you to think that it was perceived early onas not just another pretty perfume as its image and name may lure usinto thinking. Sarah Bernhardt was also a famous wearer of it. If we add the fact that the poet Rainer Maria Rilkeloved Quelques Fleurs as well, which he used in the soap and lotionversions, then one might get a sense that there was something less thanconformist about Quelques Fleurs. In one of Aragon's novels, amasculine character is also made to wear Quelques Fleurs after shavingpointing to the gender-neutral stance of the perfume.

Themore I smell the Roja Dove version, the more I feel captivated by it. Agood sign is that I had to negotiate my relationship with the perfumebefore giving up all resistance. This is really one of those fragrancesthat gain in being better known in order for us to appreciate them evenmore. It is in many ways an intellectual composition despite the factthat its language is carnal and sweet, especially in the 2009 version.

Houbigant Quelques Fleurs Eau de Parfum (2009)

Notes:Bergamot, lemon / rose, tuberose, carnation, ylang ylang, orangeblossom, jasmine / sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, orris, musk.

Thefragrance opens on a wonderfully fresh aldehydic opening quicklyfollowed byheaving and sighing florals with a club-like-hit effect on the head due to the amount ofindoles, synthetic civet and honey, all latter three nuances mixing to reveal thetypical undiesaccord of Gallic perfumery, with more than a suggestion of erotically dosedsweat. Thesensation of carnality is curiously, both strong and linear,reinforcing a certain feeling of primitivism underneath the basket-of-flowers motif. I can see how one could analyze the fragrance as having beendeveloped on a soliflore pivot. The lilac note is noticeable once youpay attention to it, but not that prominent; it is after all a multifloralbouquet too. Perfumer Robert Bienaimé actually worked on a lilac soliflore for Houbigant.

Incidentally the original name and emblem of the Houbigantshop 19, rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré was La corbeille de fleurs (The Basket of Flowers), a motifwhich might have inspired both Paul Parquet and Robert Bienaimé tothink of variegated floral compositions in keeping with the original symbol of the house.

Thedrydownis a bit candied and feels a bit snuffed out on an initial try. Thecompositionis not as deep and complex as one might have expected at first. Thesequalms are taken care of when the longer drydown reveals itself to berich, characteristic, and truly enjoyable leading you little by little,as in a true movement of seduction, to make you think that you couldbathe in it. The fragrance nevertheless has something of a late-bloomer aspect to it at first.

The perfume ismuskier than L'Original from 1985. Both the 1985 and 2009 versions offer atypical, slightly incongruous fruity note in the drydown where youusually do not expect such a tonality to develop suddenly there. In the1985 version, it smells of ashy, smoky peaches near an ashtray and long cigarette holder(the carnation is stronger, almost metallic), in the 2009 version, itsmells of honeyed and peppery peaches and vanilla negligently left on warm feminine panties (more tonkabean and musk.)

Theversion re-designed by Roja Dove is sweeter,more honeyed while making sure to develop a naughty-babe signature asif to illustrate the expression "honey trap."

It is a stereotype, butthe composition with both its sensual and tailored-feelmakes me think of yet another expression: a lady in thedrawing-room and a whore in bed.

Practicaltip: don't judge it on the run in store if you can. This fragrancereally requires to be domesticated and reapplied to work its magic. Signature fragrances were after all meant to be worn around the clock and live in symbiosis with your natural musk.

Houbigant Quelques Fleurs l'Original (1985)

Notes*: Greens,bergamot, orange blossom, lemon, tarragon / rose, jasmine, tuberose,lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, carnation, heliotrope, orchid, orris /sandalwood, oakmoss, amber, musk, tonka bean, civet.

This 1985 version is much more animalic and leathery with a subtle hay note which introduces avery soft sensation in the midst of a character perfume. Like the 2009version it is rather linear in structure, opening like a bold statement,then relenting a bit, smiling softly and then settling into a cruisingrhythm where pepper, aldehydes and raw, raspy indoles mingle with acivilized attitude. It has that mustard-y raw edge that one canappreciate in some perfumes. the scent takes on an anisic - woody personalitywhich reminds me of La fuite des heures by Balenciaga and of a woody-ambery base smelled invintage fragrances like Shocking by Schiaparelli.

Itfeels more old-school than the 2009 version in particular in the accentit puts on woods and the lack of tenacity.

Houbigant Quelques Fleurs pre-1985 (Vintage)

Thisnon-dated but seemingly still older version is fattier, deeper, morecharacteristically powdery (baby powder) with the aldehydes smellingeven more like candle wax. There is again this typical ambery vintagebase. It is conspicuouslylacking in staying power, which may be due to age and/or downmarket debasing.

The composition burns its way to the base notesmuch morequickly (the top notes would have faded as well) and when it arrivesthere, it is not asenduring as one would expect according to contemporary standards. Theperfume vanishes in a discreet suggestion of powder.

Thinking ofanotherperfume signed by Robert Bienaimé, it corresponds to my nose more tothe name of another one of his opuses, Un Peu d'Ambre (A Bit ofAmber.) For quick comparison I pull out a vintage formulation ofShocking by Schiaparelli and encounter the same issue: quicktrail-blazing to the base notes, due in part to age and in part to older, less sophisticated materials.

The2009 edition under the aegis of Roja Dove is a more luminous renditionof the same fragrance. All three versions resemble each other but withdiffering nuances. It may be and it is in fact inescapably so a 21st centuryinterpretation of a Belle Epoque classic. It does seem to translate theconcept of "light" in a more contemporary sense. What was considered"light" in 1912 may have been very different from what people used tolight smells and foods expect today.

One thing is certain isthat the more recent version is a vast improvement over its forebearsin terms of staying power and stability of structure. Quelques Fleursl'Original of 2009 envelops you in a luminous, golden feline veil(the civet nuance is there) and reminds you - here is anotherhistorical twist - of the new luminosity of a descendant of adescendant of Quelques Fleurs, No.5 Eau Première.

Note* cf. Jan Moran in Fabulous Fragrances who dates the relaunch to 1987 but primary sources show the relaunch took place in 1985 already.

FAQs

What does Quelques Fleurs smell like? ›

Tuberose, orchid, lilac, carnation, jasmine, orris root, ylang-ylang, heliotrope, rose, iris, violet, and lily of the valley all swirl together for a gorgeously plush bouquet. A touch of honey and vanilla sweeten the fragrance at the base, which also features tonka bean, oak moss, civet, musk, amber, and sandalwood.

What does houbigant perfume smell like? ›

It is a beautiful flower garden with wafts of citrus, tarragon, green notes, and a medley of fragrant flowers. Over time it becomes an uninhibited, musky, woody, spicy scent.

How do you pronounce Houbigant Quelques Fleurs? ›

Like that's how this is. And yes it can be heavy and intoxicating that way. So um or biennim i do

What are the stages of perfume? ›

A perfume scent unfolds in stages. They are the top notes, middle notes and the base note (which is also the dry down period).

What was Princess Diana's favorite perfume? ›

Princess Diana's favourite perfume was Penhaligon's Bluebell - and you can still buy it today | HELLO!

What perfume did Princess Diana wear on her wedding day? ›

On her wedding day, the bride-to-be walked down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral wearing Quelques Fleurs ($140, Nordstrom), a floral scent featuring a mix of tuberose, rose, and jasmine.

What is the longest smelling perfume? ›

  • Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensée Cologne Absolue Pure Perfume.
  • Chanel Chance Eau de Parfum.
  • Chanel Les Eaux de Chanel, Paris-Edimbourg.
  • Christian Dior Oud Rosewood Eau de Parfum.
  • Gamine Eau de Parfum.
  • Giorgio Armani Si Passione Eau de Parfum.
  • Hermès L'Ombre des Merveilles Eau de Parfum.
  • Jimmy Choo Eau de Parfum.
4 days ago

What are the 3 types of perfumes? ›

The Different Perfume Categories

Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne, and the less well known Eau Fraiche.

What's the strongest perfume? ›

“Parfum”, “Parfum Extrait”, “Extrait de Parfum”, “Perfume Extract”, “ pure perfume” or “Elixir” is the strongest concentration of fragrance and can have between 15% and 40% of aromatic compounds. International Fragrance Association (IFRA) says that 20% is to most common concentration for this type of perfume.

What scent does Kate Middleton wear? ›

This week, it was Kate Middleton's signature scent that got the world talking as her favourite perfume was revealed and unsurprisingly went viral. The fragrance in question? Orange Blossom by Jo Malone.

What perfume does Queen Elizabeth use? ›

Floris of London is reported to have been her favourite fragrance house, and in 1971 the brand was given the Royal Warrant as Her Majesty's exclusive perfumers. Her signature scent was White Rose, a floral yet musky blend of rose, iris, amber, carnation, and jasmine.

What scent does Meghan Markle wear? ›

Prince Harry's wife announced that her favourites are Oribe Côte d'Azur Eau de Parfum and Jo Malone's Wild Bluebell and Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne.

Did Meghan wear the same perfume as Diana? ›

Princess Diana, for example, reportedly chose a perfume brand steeped in heritage and a scent that attributes its beautiful floral notes to 300 - yes, 300! - floral essences. Meghan reportedly favoured fresh and zesty bergamot and green tea notes and Kate opted for a gardenia laden scent.

What fragrance did Jackie Kennedy wear? ›

While Jackie wore several perfumes throughout her life, including Krigler Lovely Patchouli 55, a spicy, woody blend of patchouli and bergamot and leather, her favorite was the classic Joy by Jean Patou, known for years as the most expensive perfume in the world.

What skincare Did Princess Diana use? ›

Clarins was reportedly one of the princess' staple skincare brands (also a favourite of the Queen), with the brand's Multi-Active Day Cream and Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs (now discontinued) was often used in her daily routine. Another product credited in Howard's face chart was Elizabeth Arden's Blue Kohl in 636.

How do you pronounce the Welsh names? ›

Pronouncing Welsh Names from Sarah Woodbury's Books - YouTube

How do you say Arthur in Welsh? ›

Its popularity derives from it being the name of the legendary hero King Arthur. The etymology is disputed.
...
Arthur.
Pronunciation/ˈɑːrθər/ German: [ˈaʁtʊʁ] Dutch: [ˈɑrtyːr]
GenderMale
Language(s)Welsh, Old Breton
Other names
See alsoArtur, Art (short form), Arturo, Arttu or/and Artturi (Finnish variant)
1 more row

How do you pronounce Gawain in Welsh? ›

It's not Welsh, but some folks have asked about how to pronounce it. It's a matter of preference. In the US, I mostly hear “ga-WAIN”. I rather prefer how I've heard it pronounced in Wales and parts of the UK, as “GAH-win”.

How do you pronounce gwalchmai? ›

  1. Phonetic spelling of Gwalchmai. GWAA-LKM-ay. Gwalch-mai. gwalch-mai.
  2. Meanings for Gwalchmai. Hawk of May.
  3. Translations of Gwalchmai. Russian : Гвальчмай

How do you say hello in Welsh? ›

How to say hello and goodbye in Welsh - YouTube

What does Betws mean in Welsh? ›

From Middle Welsh betws, borrowed from Old English bedhūs (“house of prayer”, literally “bede-house”).

How do you say gold in Welsh? ›

Welsh word of the day: Aur = Gold.

What was Arthur's last name? ›

Arthur's full name is Arthur Timothy Read and D.W.'s full name is Dora Winifred Read. D.W.'s full name is used several times throughout the series while Arthur's full name is only used once.

Is Arthur an Irish name? ›

Scottish, Irish, Welsh, English, and French : from the ancient Celtic personal name Arthur. In many cases it is a shortened form of Scottish or Irish McArthur, the patronymic Mac- often being dropped in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries under English influence.

How do you pronounce Gawin? ›

Pronunciation
  1. Hyphenation: ga‧win.
  2. IPA: /ɡaˈwin/, [ɡɐˈwin]

How do you pronounce gwenhwyfar? ›

  1. Phonetic spelling of Gwenhwyfar. GWEHNHHayV-R. Gwen-hwy-far.
  2. Meanings for Gwenhwyfar. Name meaning fair lady.
  3. Examples of in a sentence. Gwenhwyfar is the Welsh predecessor of Queen Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur.

How do you pronounce the name Arthur? ›

How to Pronounce Arthur? (CORRECTLY) - YouTube

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