Rochas’ Mystere (1978)

Rochas Mystere © Victor Wong
Rochas Mystere © Victor Wong

I don’t think there is a single shop in Toronto that carries the long discontinued and highly sought after perfume, Mystere (1978). Actually, there is one, but they are not selling: they have a 100ml tester bottle that’s half-used. The shop owner has a policy that they never sell any testers unless all the current stock of that perfume is sold. In this case, they still have some mini 5ml Mystere Parfums up for sale, but they are very expensive for their size. They want me to buy all of them in order to let me buy that tester bottle! I didn’t oblige, but I was curious enough to ask why they had that policy.

The salesperson told me that some years ago a man begged the owner to sell him a tester bottle because (drama alert) it was his dying wife’s wish to smell her favourite but discontinued perfume. The owner was very moved and sold it to him, but he didn’t want to open a new box to use it as a tester. As a result, people couldn’t test it, and they ain’t gonna buy them. He got frustrated and came up with the policy that no tester is to be sold.

(I was initially very moved by the story, but I wondered why didn’t that guy buy a brand new bottle? The only possible answer is that that tester bottle was vintage, but new ones behind it was reformulated/redesigned.)

The original Mystere bottle looks very confusing and strange to me at first – a parallelogram bottle with a giant black oval cap, unexpectedly weird for its time or even now. The one I own is just a generic round Rochas bottle, but that doesn’t deter me from appreciating the scent – it’s one of those scents that I’ll occasionally take the cap off to sniff, put the cap back on, and immediately take it off and smell again.

Leather is not listed in the formula, but Mystere smells like supple moist leather that gives off the most addictive herbal and animalistic scents, the kind that you’d like to feel in your hands, but wonder what is it used for because it’s so soft; it has tons of floral in it, but all the heavy-scented ingredients such as rosemary, carnation, trees, spices, oak moss, patchoulis, civet butts suppress it to almost a semi-masculine scent. It smells vintage now, but you cannot go wrong wearing it!

Rochas’ Monsieur Rochas (1969)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

“Excuse me, sir! Have you tried the latest Michel Germain Intense Sexual Secret?” asked the department store Indian sales woman with a noticeable accent.

“Sorry, I am not interested…” I said.

“No, you should try it, it’s very good! Best seller!”

She handed me a test strip. It smelled like Fukushima earthquake – deadly, but intense.

“It’s very intense, it guarantees 24 hours longevity, or your money back! Do you want me to spray some on you?”

“No, I am fine!” I started walking away from her quickly. She started chasing after me, “It’s very good!”

This was completely crazy. She’s trying to kill me. I ran and ran until I was facing a cliff and there’s nowhere to go.

“It’s very good!” She sprayed a huge amount of Intense Sexual Desire on me and I immediately felt dizzy, my limbs became weak and I fell off the cliff. As I plunged into the abyss, I could hear echoes of “It’s very good!” bouncing off the walls.

24 hours later, I woke up. I was sitting in a bed.

“You are finally awake. Not many people can survive 5 sprays of that atrocity,” said a 60-year-old man wearing glasses, looking at me intently.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“I’m Guy Robert. You are resting in a place called the Forgotten Fougere.”

“I don’t know you…”

“Of course you don’t, only a few people know me. Even women who wear Dioressence and Calèche don’t know I made them. Now people only love the newest and hottest. What do they know.”

“Take this. And don’t let those people bully you again.” He handed me a bottle and turned around to his piano and started playing.  I looked at the bottle, it read “Monsieur Rochas”. I sprayed a little of on my wrist and took a sniff. It smelled wonderful – a great mix of citrus and fresh herbs such as lavender and sage, also spicy and aromatic cedar, vetiver, patchouli and yummy oakmoss, very manly and confident… but it reminded me of something else.

“It smells amazing, but it smells like Lever 2000.”

“Yes, I also made soap products. Mine is better, they probably got the inspiration from my creations.”

“Sir, are you ok? You hit a column and fainted away.” The sales woman helped me up from the floor. She continued, “We have a promotion going on, it’s very good!”

Related Links on Guy Robert:

Rochas Femme (1943, reformulated in 1989)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

There’s a perfume blog named “What Men Should Smell Like”, and I have been waiting for the author to talk about Rochas’ “Femme” (1943). I guess that will never happen, for one, the name of the perfume is totally the opposite of Homme.

The name of this perfume pops up here and there on different social media sites, and people seem to be only looking for the vintage version. To my knowledge, there are at least three different versions: the first one comes in a white box with black laces; the second one comes in a black box with black laces, the latest one comes in a simple black box. Rochas is re-introducing Femme again with a different packaging and a special “just-for-you” formula that no one likes, I guess.

The significance of vintage Femme, to my understanding, is that it is a chypre designed by Edmond Roudnitska, the godfather of noses, and it smells, I quote from a Fragrantica user review, “A woman who wears this scent will NEVER be forgotten.” Note the screaming big caps here.

Did you wear it? Have you been forgotten? Femme, to me, is a spice bomb. (Not Viktor & Rolf’s Spicebomb, but you get the idea.) A grenade left untouched in a war field of perfumes for 70 years, not lethal, but still detonates with an assertive strength when the pin is pulled – trails of cloves & cinnamon particularly, but also scents of stone fruits raining down from the sky like you’ve have hit the jackpot of a slots machine. If you are a man, and you wear A Portrait of a Lady, I don’t see why you can’t wear Femme.

Rochas’ Moustache (1948)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The Rochas Moustache store display was such a great bargain and rare find on eBay that I had to get it, even though I had no clue what the cologne smelled like. Through eBay again I have acquired a vintage bottle of Moustache, and now my diorama is complete.

Judging from the packaging, I guess my bottle was from the late 70s. Not the first version (1948), and not the latest “more modern-looking” version either. (All discontinued now.) I actually quite wanted to smell Moustache, because I have smelled a few vintage perfumes for women already, but never a vintage cologne for men.

So here’s my report. Moustache is the father of Eau Sauvage by Dior. Eau Sauvage is a well-educated charmer, well known in the circle. He is more sophisticated than his father and exceeds his father in many ways, but the older ladies definitely knows where the genes of that kid come from, and that silver-haired old man still carries his moustache and charisma pretty well. Moustache opens with a mega blast of citrus, then very out-of-this-world oakmoss follows. Is that all, old pop? No, bitter herbal notes and a hint of honey/floral notes start to appear, which reminds me a little bit of that dirty old man Yatagan everyone wants to push him in a senior home, but without the prolonged awkwardness of “You don’t know him, but he’s actually approachable.” Strangely, I feel like I am more an old man wearing Eau Sauvage than Moustache.

Rochas’ Byzance (1987)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Luca Turin in his book says that Rochas has so many great perfumes, he wonders why they are not as successful as they should be. I certainly didn’t start my perfume adventure with any Rochas perfumes. Their perfumes are often hidden on the bottom-most shelves in almost any perfume shops I have visited, and their bottle designs often have weird or non-distinctive look to stand the test of time. So I am glad that I’ve read Luca’s book to discover some of their greater scents.

I didn’t know the existence of Byzance (1987) until I saw someone posted a picture of her bottle recently. Coincidentally Basenotes.com just posted the article, “Top 10 Discontinued Fragrances for Women” and Byzance is on the list! (By the way, Vocabulary.com says Byzance is an ancient city on the Bosporus founded by the Greeks; site of modern Istanbul.)

Byzance was actually not easy to find in Toronto, an indication that it was popular (and not to mention it’s 27 years old). I finally found a 50ml bottle and my first reaction was, “Ok, I see.” It’s a comforting perfume, doesn’t smell dated, a bit on the mature side, aldehydic but not bombastic, powdery with some light floral. There isn’t a “wow” factor, but applying it makes me feel like I have had a very satisfying shower. I feel pampered. Hang on to your bottle if you have one already.