My Long Road to Houbigant

We all have some brands that for whatever reason stay out of our realm of interest despite appearing on our radar one way or the other. And then one day…

* * *

Almost half a lifetime ago, my father who came from the US to visit me in my native country, brought me a present – Raffinee by Houbigant. Back then it was a very valuable gift (from the U.S.!), I didn’t have too many perfumes (two, maybe three), and all I could afford to buy was maybe one more mini bottle if that. And still, I didn’t like Raffinee to the extend that I wouldn’t want to wear it even from time to time, as a daily scent, to save my more precious perfumes for a special occasion. So, after a while, I passed that bottle onto my older friend and kind of a mentor, thanks to whom I eventually abandoned the idea of a signature scent and started exploring different perfumes. She loved Raffinee and was happy to re-home it.

I completely forgot both that perfume and the brand and have never thought about it either in my pre-perfumista years in the US or even after this hobby expanded my perfume horizons. Until one day I found myself on the sniffathon in San Francisco with a fellow-perfumista. She was extremely excited about the re-release of Quelques Fleurs l’Original by Houbigant that we could try at Nordstrom. I didn’t mind going there since that Nordstrom carried many other interesting brands and, what was even more attractive, allowed you to make samples without having to “dance” for 10-15 minutes before that with an SA. We went there, tried everything we wanted, made a dozen of samples each and went on our way. Since my partner in crime was so enamored with Quelques Fleurs, I made a sample of it as well. I tried it at home, thought it was nice, put the sample away to retry at some point… and completely forgot about it for the next three years. When I came back to it, my sample almost completely evaporated. The last half-drop that I tried was quite nice but not enough to form an opinion. So, once again, I stopped thinking about Houbigant.

And then hajusuuri sent me a decant of Iris des Champs, and I fell in love with it (I told a story of my Summer Iris here). That brought the brand to the foreground of my interest. But the only other bottle that I saw in the store – Quelques Fleurs Royale – seemed too simple for the price asked at the department store, and the counter was so uninviting… so I didn’t even test it.

And then on the next trip to the store I saw this bottle…

My cat Rusty's tail and Houbigant Quelques Fleurs Royale Collection Privee

Quelques Fleurs Royale Collection Privee (QFRCP). I tried it and immediately fell in love with it. Fragrantica’s notes don’t match those given on the brand’s site, so let’s go by what the brand has reported:
HEAD NOTES: Blackcurrant, Grapefruit.
HEART NOTES: Jasmine Absolute, Rose Absolute, Violet, Tuberose Absolute, Beeswax Absolute.
BASE NOTES: Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Vanilla, Musk

What can I smell in QFRCP? Probably a bright citrus-y rose (it reminds me of my favorite Rose d’Amour by Annick Goutal). Maybe, just maybe I can agree about black currant, but it’s in there not in the Enchanted Forest’s concentration, but rather as it usually smells in niche perfumery when the note is listed. That’s it. I’m not saying that it’s a simple fragrance with just a couple of notes. On the contrary, QFRCP smells quite rich and complex. But even when I’m smelling it with my wrist glued to my nose and eyes scanning the list of notes, I cannot dissect the composition. I disagree though with several reviewers on Fragrantica who smell amber in this perfume.

Cat Rusty and a bottle of Houbigant Quelques Fleurs Royale Collection Privee perfume

I bought this bottle in 2019 when Neiman Marcus had its first on my memory 20% off fragrances and cosmetics sale. I know that it’s not something unusual for my European readers since I know that large department stores in many countries used to have beauty sales periodically. But for many years here, all stores – regardless of their luxury meter readings – were selling beauty products strictly for MSRP without any discounts offered ever. The only way one could get some of those brands’ products cheaper was Duty-Free shops, brands’ outlet stores, or when they went to online discounters. There were Value Sets, Gifts With Purchase or Gift Card Events (e.g., spend $100 get a $20 GC for future use). But never %% off. I think that Sephora was the first who started their yearly Friends & Family events that allowed customers to buy high-end cosmetics and fine fragrances with 15-20% off. But in recent years, even before the pandemic, these large stores have capitulated, and I saw several sales from each of them. But that NM sale was the first one I experienced, so I just had to take an advantage of it, haven’t I? But back to perfume.

Houbigant Quelques Fleurs Royale Three Versions

I think Houbigant did something extremely strange with the marketing of this perfume. Look at the picture above: all three are 100 ml of Quelques Fleurs Royale. The first one on the left is Quelques Fleurs Royale EdP. It retails for $200 but can be found much cheaper online. The next one – Quelques Fleurs Royale Collection Prevee (or, as it’s called on some sites, Quelques Fleurs Royale Extreme), the perfume that Rusty and I welcomed to my collection, retails for $285, and I’m not sure I’d trust the site that offers it less than 50% off the price. And the last bottle is Quelques Fleurs Royale Parfum with an eye-popping price tag of $600. The notes listed for all three are identical. I don’t think I tested the first one (as I said, I didn’t like the bottle), but I got a sample of parfum from the SA who were more than happy to oblige a paying customer and wore the two – Privee/Extreme and Parfum – in parallel. I didn’t notice any significant difference in either scent or longevity of the two. So, with almost identical bottles, the same volume and a very similar scent, I’m not sure how the brand justifies more than doubled price. But as always in such cases, I assume they know something I don’t.

Meanwhile, I enjoy wearing Quelques Fleurs Royale Collection Prevee very much. It is a very beautiful and pronounced floral feminine scent. It doesn’t mean that a man cannot wear it – I’m just mentioning it as a characteristic for those who prefer their perfumes that way (as I do) or, the opposite, tries to steer clear of those. These days every perfume is an everyday scent, but I wouldn’t probably wear more than a moderate spritz or two to an office where people don’t wear masks.

Rusty and Houbigant Quelques Fleurs Royale Collection Privee

That was a long way to accepting the brand. I think I’d like to try several more perfumes from this Collection Privee whenever I’m able to go to the store again because a cursory sniff of a couple of them left good impression (and having Jean-Claude Ellena and Luca Maffei behind those newer offerings didn’t hurt either). I wonder though: would I have liked that Raffinee today?

 

Images: all but 3 bottles (compiled from the official product pictures) – my own

25 thoughts on “My Long Road to Houbigant

  1. Oh, I now remember Houbigantvwhenni was a teenager. I had quelques fleurs , Rafffinee, and another one, Chantilly Lace? All of us young girls had these. Well within our pocket money limits. Another couple scents I remember was aqua manda and aqua citrus? There were so many pocket money perfumes that are avidly collected these days.,oh to have known then what I know now :-)

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  2. Dear Rusty! He is a wonderful model.
    I only loved one Houbigant, and that was the wonderful Essence Rare – not the recent re-issue but the one that was launched in the 70s. I seem to remember the publicity at the time saying that it contained the essence of hundreds of flowers, and although I am not sure about that, it was certainly a gorgeous bouquet. It was cheap enough to be on sale at little pharmacies and I had every item in the range. Sadly the latest version – which is in the Collection Privee – apparently does not smell at all similar, and at that price point I won’t even bother to sample it!

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    • Thank you, I’ll reward him with a treat :)

      I wanted to like Essence Rare (Jean-Claude Ellena and great notes). But after several tests I realized that I couldn’t talked myself into it. I think, though, that I liked the next one in the collection… but I need to test it more – and I’ll be waiting for stores reopening: while I don’t mind paying for testing perfumes from small brands, those that are sold in Neiman Marcus do not go on my test budget.

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  3. What a lovely story. I dont like Houbogant very much but remember liking Orangers en Fleurs and Iris des Champs. Both were presented in more simple bottles that I prefer over that rounder bottle with “vein like” structure.
    That said, I haven’t tried any of those newer ones by Luca Maffei or JCE but I have a little decant of your Quelques Fleurs Royal that ylu shared with me in the past. I might try to find it and smell it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lucas.
      From everything I know about your tastes, this one won’t work for you for the personal wear, but it might be interesting just to check it out and see how your impressions compare to mine.

      I do like this bottle (I don’t have anything else like that in my collection), but I also like Iris des Champs bottle (and the box).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I wore Quelques Fleurs years ago, probably late 80’s early 90’s and enjoyed it a lot, but my tastes have changed. Would like to try Iris des Champs but don’t know anyplace that still sells this line. Our Neiman Marcus is so small and has hardly any selection.

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    • Let’s see what we can do about it. I would have never bought IdC if it weren’t for hajusuuri who sent it to me to try :)
      After all these lockdowns, I’m not sure how great the selection in the one that is closest to me will be :(

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  5. I love the bottle with its cute purple ribbon. As soon as I read ‘blackcurrant’ in the notes I thought this would hit the spot with you, though you say it isn’t prominent. I think you got the best value bottle too in terms of looks and formula. And of course Princess Diana famously wore QF on her wedding day. Maybe something more spiky might have served her better, looking back!

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    • And I did get it on an unprecedented sale! :) I also scored a free body lotion with it – not that I have much use for it with the frequency I wear any one perfume in my collection.

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  6. Not much in the vintage Houbigant line has really excited me but I couldn’t resist blind buying Orangers en Fleurs – mostly because of its awesome presentation. Discovering your professed love for Iris des Champs just pushed me to finally buy it for myself: I have coveted the look of its bottle and box for years and it’s quite affordable on FragranceX right now. I hope I love how it smells as much as you do, but if not, I will still love it for other reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can suggest what to do with your new bottle. Prepare yourself that most likely you won’t love it on the first spritz: expectations almost never live to the reality, and you need to go through the first surge of disappointment without setting yourself against perfume. The best way is to spray it, to acknowledge that you applied it (I can’t see it being a scrubber for anyone whether they like it or not) and go on with your day. You’ll like it more either later when it settles on your skin or on the next application in a couple of days when you already know what to expect (or rather what not to). But of course I hope it works out for you because I enjoy it every time I wear. And the packaging is nice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great advice, and actually applicable for almost all my blind buys: expect disappointment on first spritz but give it some time and several wears. If there’s a great dry-down it will be worth the wait. Thanks x

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Quelque Fleurs Royale Privee sounds wonderful. I love Iris de Champs and I liked the original Quelque Fleurs, so I’m sure the new one is even more fabulous. I’ve found another fragrance that reminds me of Iris des Champs, but I like it even more– Iris d’Orient by Christian Provenzano, gorgeous buttery iris with musk and lovely spices. I’m hoping some of our favorite niche stores will start carrying the christian Provenzano line this year. I had to wait 2 months for my bottle to get here on the slow boat from italy.

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    • How did you even get to know that perfume? I see that nobody carries it in the US, and something tells me that it wasn’t a EUR 190 blind buy… or was it?

      If the brand ever comes to the US, I’ll give it a try.

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  8. This is a brand I have little memory of, though I know I tracked down Quelque Fleurs years ago because it was so popular on the forum Perfume of Life. I tried that and something else as they were at the time readily available for discount prices in chemists here. But I don’t recall anything about them or my impression.

    It’s a lovely story though, the many years between your first experience and buying a bottle from this brand :)

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