It was not very long ago that the house of Houbigant had fallen on hard times. Most people outside the fragrance industry probably don't know that it was once one of the greatest houses in France, and also the oldest, founded in 1775; Marie Antoinette was a valued customer, as was Napoleon. In 1912 it launched Quelques Fleurs, acknowledged as the first modern floral blend fragrance, and everyone knows Chantilly. Sadly, its reputation suffered over the years as its products disappeared from fine perfume shops and could only be found in drugstores and at discounters as the formulas became ever cheaper under a succession of indifferent owners and bad business decisions. In 1993 it went into bankruptcy and was acquired by Dana, itself a shadow of its former glory. This was especially distressing to me, since its last great fragrance was a favorite of mine, the wonderful rose chypre Demi-Jour launched in 1987, which suffered under Dana as a drugstore cheapie sold in alarmingly huge bottles.
Several incarnations later and under new management, Houbigant is back – not long ago it reissued its masterful iconic masculine scent from 1882, Fougère Royale, and now comes Orangers en Fleurs, which was my choice as the biggest surprise of 2012 perfume marketing. I must admit that I was skeptical, given Houbigant's uneven track record of late, but after acquiring some samples it has quickly become one of my favorite fragrance launches of recent months. Orange blossom fragrances are by no means unusual, since it is a very popular floral note, but really good ones can be hard to come by in these days of synthetic aroma chemicals and bare bones formula budgets. They did this one right. Orange blossom scents are usually blends of several different extractions of orange flowers, fruit and leaves, and can range from virginally “soapy” to sugary-sweet to intoxicatingly heady. Orangers en Fleurs hits the sweet spot right in the middle, being both refreshingly green and sharp on top and luxuriously floral in the heart, and overall it smells as natural and delicious as any perfume in this genre on the market today. Rose, tuberose, jasmine and Ylang ylang enhance the delicate floralcy of the composition, and notes of nutmeg, cedar and musk give it a modern edge, but the undisputed stars of the show are high quality orange blossom absolute and an exclusive material called Eau de Brouts from Robertet of France, a type of petitgrain, a concentrated bitter orange leaf extraction. It is luxurious enough for special occasions and also perfectly suited to daytime and office wear.
It is impressively long-lasting for a floral even in the eau de parfum strength, and to my delight (but not that of my wallet), it is also available in concentrated extrait de parfum – for some reason, that is sold only in the same 100 ml size as the eau de parfum, and costs $600.00 USD. I hope that once the fragrance is no longer exclusive to the prestige department stores Neiman-Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman a smaller size of the extrait will be available. Otherwise I might have to weigh the merits of paying my rent versus acquiring a big bottle of this. The eau de parfum is $180.00 USD for 100 ml, which is reasonable for its quality by today's standards, and while it does not have the cachet of a niche or designer fragrance and belongs to a very traditional style of perfume, if you like orange blossom scents this is a must-try. You can pay a lot more and not get something this good. (You can also buy 150 ml of the body cream from the Houbigant Web site for $137.00 USD; that is near the top of my own wish list.)