It is sometimes said that the first perfume by the fashion house of Rochas was the seminal plum-chypre Rochas Femme, created by perfumer Edmond Roudnitska. Not so, as I discovered recently when I was given the opportunity to delve deeper into Rochas’ fragrant history. A kind reader offered to send me some Audace parfum, and of course as a classic chypre lover I jumped at the chance to try it (thanks again, N.!). Audace, I learned, was originally released in 1936 as one of three perfumes that were sold only at Rochas fashion shows and events (see original flyer below, now being offered on Ebay). None of these three fragrances were ever released commercially, and they were put out of production (i.e. discontinued) by the advent of World War II. But one of these lost scents was to again see the light of day, poking her head up through the rich, earthy ‘70s soil. Audace was reborn in 1972, released commercially to the world for the very first time in her history complete with full page advertisements. I can only guess that the fresh green chypres of the early 70s like Chanel No. 19, Aromatics Elixir, and Givenchy III (not to mention Aliage, also released in ’72) inspired Rochas to dig into their back catalog for inspiration, and they seemingly felt they’d found a viable option in Audace. Although I’m sure that the scent was reworked significantly before its reissue, the ’70s version I have does indeed smell like it could fit comfortably into the 1930s fragrance milieu.
For all its implied audacity, Audace is a subtle fragrance, gentle and light in its beginnings. It starts upon application as just a whisper, a silken caress of soft florals. As I strain to peer through the veil, to make sense of these very well blended notes, it’s like I am feeling my way in the dark. Rather than being sharpened by a bracing citrus top note, the rose, jasmine (+ jonquil & carnation?) notes are muffled by a sheer veil of orris, which warms the fragrance fondue pot, enabling the floral notes to meld gummily together. The effect is undefined and indistinct, like “seeing through a glass darkly”, and this thick, hazy quality has been described by various reviewers as “smoky”, “ashy” and “chewy”.
There are said to be coniferous notes of pine & juniper, as well as galbanum resin, but sadly I cannot perceive them, except for perhaps a vague suggestion of fresh sweetness in the very beginning stages. I am also not catching the violet leaf listed in the notes. I believe this may simply be due to the parfum concentration itself (or perhaps the notes listed online are false; more evidence of this possibility below). Pure parfums were not merely versions of the scent that had the highest concentration of extrait: Each concentration actually had a different ratio of top, middle, and basenotes. So while an EDC normally contained the highest percentage of top-note components and lowest percentage of base note components, parfum extraits were the very opposite (for more information on this aspect of perfume concentrations, see “The Essence of Perfume” by Roja Dove). A lower concentration of Audace, like Eau de Toilette, would likely offer the fullest iteration of the scent by featuring the elusive top notes (like violet leaf and pine needle) which are scarce in my “basenote rich” pure parfum. Just thought I would mention this for anyone who is keen to experience the green & piney notes to their fullest effect.
As the gauzy rose/jasmine-centered florals die down, what I do get is a lot of real sandalwood in the base, which strangely is not listed as one of the notes on the Perfumed Court website. The distinctive warm, sharp smell which features prominently in the basenotes of classics like Je Reviens, Ma Griffe, Caleche, Madame Rochas, Chant d’Aromes, and several others is that of sandalwood oil’s natural drydown (often tinged with oakmoss), and to my nose Audace joins this illustrious list of sandalwood based fragrances.
Sadly, Audace was not able to compete within the green, earthy fragrance trend of the 1970s. In smelling the parfum today, it seems to express – like its sandalwood sister Chant d’Aromes but to an even greater extent – a reserve and muffled elegance that was slightly outmoded at the time of its re-release. Or maybe that’s just how I perceive sandalwood-based floral chypres. Because the warm, sharp, sandalwood-dominant style all but disappeared from mass market fragrances after the early ‘60s (in favor of cooler and sweeter base accords, centered primarily around cedar, vetiver, amber resins, patchouli, incense, etc.), to smell one from the cool, green ’70s is for me rather like seeing a family who churns its own butter in 2011. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but still…) Like them, Audace was somewhat out of step with its contemporaries: a fully reincarnated child of the New Age, gazing back into its 1930s past-life with longing eyes. Where Audace wafts a formal elegance in her sillage, the perfumes she was competing with were made for liberated women who kicked off their sandals and ran through fields of wildflowers, snapping a stalk or two along the way – and who increasingly sought a realistic interpretation of that act of freedom in their fragrance choices. (And again, the lower concentrations of Audace may indeed have more of this green freshness than the pure parfum that I’m reviewing.)
I may be way off base here, but in my own mind, the reissue of Audace was an older woman being given a makeover and asked to rejoin the workforce, forced to compete with teenagers for receptionist jobs. Back in her own time though…in her own heyday…I’ll bet she was an absolute vixen. It’s easy to picture Mae West, queen of the sexy double entendre and Marcel Rochas’ own inspiration for the shapely Rochas Femme bottle, plentifully applying drops of Audace in preparation for romance in a 1930s film. Reworked as she was for a 1970s audience, the scent still has one foot in an earlier era.
Today we hear of Audace only through the occasional honorable mention by one of her admirers, of which I now happily count myself as one.