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…

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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

Entertaining Statistics: 2019 Year Round-up

2019 was crazy busy at work. I hope not to repeat it this year. Most likely because of all the stress, I had more health issues than usually. I hope not to repeat that either. But I got to travel much more than I usually do, both for work and pleasure, including a visit to London during which I had a chance to spend some time with Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) and Tara (A Bottled Rose), as well as visit all the usual places that this perfume Mecca offers. I hope to keep this trend up in 2020. So, I’d say that the difference between all the great experiences I had last year and any negatives is still positive. 2019 wasn’t a bad year for me.

But let’s look at the last year perfume numbers.

In 2019, compared to 2018, I wore slightly less different perfumes (190 vs. 196) from significantly more brands (91 vs. 79) on less occasions (351 vs. 372). It means that I wore perfumes not every day. Partially, it was because there were some days when I didn’t want to risk associating how I felt with any of perfumes I love. Also, on some days, while working from home, I would test several new perfumes instead of wearing one.

Since I tend to wear favorite perfumes from my collection, the same seven brands stayed on my Top 10 Brands chart, changing places, for the last 8 years that I’ve been keeping detailed records. Between any 2 years usually only 2 brands fall out from/appear on the list. New contenders this year were Houbigant Paris (because of the new favorite Summer Iris and one more perfume, about which I’ll write soon) and Tauer Perfumes (no special reason, just felt like wearing 3 of my favorite perfumes).

 

My Perfume Stats Year 2019

 

Top three perfumes that I wore the most often during 2019 – two of my all-time favorites, same as top perfumes from 2018, Ormonde Jayne Ta’if (9 occasions) and Lancôme Climat (8) and a new favorite Houbigant Quelques Fleurs Royal Collection Privee (8). I see a pattern here with wearing more often perfumes newly added to my collection (in 2018 it was Chanel Bois des Iles).

Despite all the hurdles describing which I started this post, I managed to do enough testing: 272 perfumes (vs. 380 in 2018) from 128 brands (vs. 139). Out of 272 perfumes tested, only 107 were new to me: the rest was either repeated testing of older samples or comparison testing between new samples and either older samples or perfumes I own. These numbers do not include my London sniffing sessions since most of perfumes that I tried there had never made it to skin.

I’ve done once, I think, “The Best N New Perfumes of the Year” post. But this year, even had I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t have been able to: out of just 16 new releases that I managed to try in 2019 (Sixteen! It’s almost a quarter of what has been released just in 4 days of 2020!), there were only 5 that I liked and 3 that were not spectacular but not bad. I think, you’ll agree that Top/Best 5 (or even 8) perfumes of 2019 sounds somewhat pathetic. But I’ll mentions those 5 here: Bengale Rouge by Papillon Artisan Perfumes, Puredistance Gold, Paris – Riviera by Chanel, Mon Boudoir by Houbigant and I am not a flower by Floraiku.

In the 2018 Year Round-up post for the first time I started counting pictures of Rusty that I used in my posts during the year. I decided to continue this tradition. In 2019 I used 39 pictures of Rusty, which was significantly fewer than in the previous year (51), but I managed to publish just 29 posts (vs. 48), so the ratio of picture to posts is much higher.

 

Rusty in a Bowl

 

Images: My own

Summer Iris

While most of classifications, such as gender or seasonality, as well as more specific designations – genres, families and notes – are relatively abstract and often very subjective, we still use them, even when we break all the rules and wear heavily pronounced oriental perfumes in a heatwave or cheerful citrus number in the dead of winter.

In my mind iris perfumes belong to spring. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wear them all year round, especially considering our local weather, and I had a full winter month of iris perfumes (do you remember last year’s Februiris (©Lucas)?), but mentally I place my favorite Chanel No 19, Prada Infusion d’Iris or Ramon Monegal Impossible Iris somewhere in March, maybe April when their warmth and cool duality perfectly matches an early Spring weather (or, at least, my conceptual image of it).

 

Butterfly Iris

 

As it often happens in Perfumeland, I tried this perfume by chance: last year my occasional guest writer and perfume twin hajusuuri sent me Swarovski studded atomizer filled with Houbigant Iris des Champs. I do not remember the exact story of that atomizer but I think hajusuuri got it from a friendly SA with a purchase of something else, tried it and passed the remaining portion to me.

It was such a pleasant surprise! From the first time I sprayed Iris des Champs on I was charmed by it: it was a very subtle and beautiful floral composition with warm powdery iris nicely blended with Lily of the Valley, rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang (additional notes listed are bergamot, pink pepper, sandalwood, amber woody notes, vanilla and musk). I quickly finished the decant, refilled it from a bottle I bought soon after that and sent it back to the original owner.

 

Houbigant Iris des Champs

 

I do not think that Iris des Champs is not suitable for a colder weather: I wore it in December and enjoyed it very much. But either because I got my bottle in summer or it actually fits me better when it’s warm, but I consider Iris des Champs my summer iris. All those notes I listed above? I don’t know, if you tried this perfume, please tell me what you can smell besides iris. I think that a slight soapiness that I get comes from rose (and, strangely, I do not mind it here, even though usually it bothers me). And I could probably vouch for whatever could be considered very light amber. But beyond that you could take or leave any of the notes, and I’ll believe we’re still talking about the same fragrance (as I stated earlier, it’s abstract and subjective).

Iris des Champs is elegant, light and extremely office-friendly while not boring. You might not like it (I don’t think it’s everybody’s darling) but I find it original and unusual enough to have it in one’s collection if you happen to like it. Also, the packaging is nice, and price is more than reasonable if you do not mind shopping at discounter sites.

 

Rusty and Houbigant Iris des Champs

 

Images: my own