(Photo, Place Blanche in the 1950s. Christer Strömholm)
Roudnitska was best known for his fruity chypres such as Femme, Diorama, Diorella to name a few. He was a classicist and one way he approached the chypre was to filter it through other genres, namely the fougère and the Eau de Cologne. The fougère placed bright aromatics on top of a mossy/woody base and the Eau de Cologne draped hesperidic lightness over musk. The chypre’s high-low construction works from a similar principle and all three genres play with olfactory chiaroscuro.
After mixing fruity and mossy tones in Femme, Roudnitska dug further into the hybrid form with Rochas Moustache and Eau d’Hermès. Moustache, composed with his wife Thérèse, joined the fougère with the chypre giving Moustache a ‘missing link’ feel. Focussing on the similarities of the two genres, the Roudnitskas placed a lime and bergamot topnote on a soapy base to created a perfume that smells like both a foiugère and a chypre.
Eau d’Hermès laid the groundwork for the next logical hybrid, the one that would be the focus of much of his future career, the Chypre/Eau de Cologne hybrid. Eau d’Hermès’s leathery, armpit of a drydown was one of Roudnitska’s warning shots to the world of perfumery. Fresh is nice, but flesh wins the day.
Eau Fraiche, a somewhat ironic name, is another early example of the tendency. The momentum of animalic notes surpasses the delicacy of citric notes. Eau Fraiche bridged the the edc to the chypre, creating a unicorn: the durable cologne. Even in the era of Tonkin and nitro musks, eaux de cologne were fleeting. Combining the edc with a mossy base kept the shape of cologne but gave it longer legs. It combined two historically unisex forms to create a perfume that suited anyone who wore it.
Eau Fraiche was produced in once concentration: eau de cologne. It had the easy-to-love smile of cologne and the fitted quality of the chypre. It was charming and chic. It was optimistic and suited the post-war desire for a return to normalcy. I can easily imagine the 1950s Paris streets smelling of Eau Fraiche.
Eau Sauvage, Diorella and Parfum de Thérèse are all variations on Eau Fraiche’s basic accord of flowers, fruit and a mossy base. Eau Sauvage’s glistening topnotes, often cited as the first substantial use of hedione, can be found almost in their entirety in Eau Fraiche, created thirteen years earlier.
I can’t help but refer to Femme when I look at any perfume by Roudnitska. It was a seminal work and an early indication of his talent and ambition. With limited resources and during the nightmare of the Nazi occupation of France Roudnitska created Femme and went head to head with Mitsouko, the reference chypre for the prior 25 years. It’s hard not to admire his chutzpah. Femme exploded a debate that had already been present in perfumery for years: dirty vs. clean. Roudnitska may not have had the final word on the discussion but he advanced the argument further than any perfumer before or since.
For reference, Edmond Roudnitska’s tick-tock:
1938-Elizabeth Arden It’s You
1948-Rochas Moustache (with Thérèse Roudnitska)
1949-Christian Dior Diorama
1953-Christian Dior Eau Fraiche
1966-Christian Dior Eau Sauvage
1960s-Frédéric Malle le Parfum de Thérèse (not released during Edmond Roudnitska’s lifetime)
1970-Christian Dior Diorella
1976-Christian Dior Dior Dior (say that three times fast)
1990-Mario Valentino Ocean Rain