It would appear that the firm of Parfums Grès is on the same trajectory as Carven – launching a major new fragrance that is a departure in style from past successes (and failures) and trying a new approach to marketing by positioning them in high end department stores that the brands have not been seen in for many years. Did it work for Parfums Grès? I don't know about the marketing strategy, but the perfume is actually very good, especially considering that the house has done little over the past for years but release an endless stream of quickly forgotten and sometimes olfactorily unrelated flankers of their strange Cabotine, while the real flagship of the line, the once-great Cabochard, suffered the indignities of cheapened ingredients and reformulation. (The wonderful Cabaret was a notable exception, back in 2003.) While the defanged Cabochard is still quite good, I had little hope that the brand would experience a renaissance, since it was stuck in the seemingly endless Cabotine loop.
In 2013 the house launched the entirely new Madame Grès to considerable fanfare. The spare but elegant packaging is a tribute to the founder's famous couture gowns and the perfume is different enough from the numerous mid-range launches to stand out from the crowd. Originally it was sold only in better department stores, but now it has gone to broad distributon and can be found at the usual discounters and Amazon, Ebay etc.; testers of the 100 ml Eau de Parfum can be had for under $20.00 USD. This is the usual trajectory of mainstream launches, for better or worse, but I really hope that it finds a substantial core of fans, because it's a keeper.
Madame Grès was composed by Sidonie Lancesseur of the great French firm of Robertet, which is famous for its high quality perfumery materials. It opens with a burst of grapefruit quickly followed by an unusal pairing of two of my own favorite perfumery notes, pineapple and cardamom. Together at last, this combination really won me over. The pineapple is intense and deftly abstracted and does not smell like watery canned fruit, so often the fate of pineapple in cheaper fragrances. It is an ideal mate for the delicious warmth of cardamom, which is dosed just right and not too woody. The floral heart notes of magnolia, peony and freesia smell fresh and clear, and more warmth is added from the base of vanilla, sandalwood and patchouli, the latter grounding the rest while not overpowering the more delicate notes. It is a wonderful fragrance for summer, but easily transitions to cooler seasons as well. The only reason I did not award it four stars is its too-obvious nod to mass appeal with the vanilla and popular florals – I think that the original creator of the brand would have preferred something a little less sweet and more majestic like Cabochard in its glory days, but this is a good start if the house is reinventing itself, and I promise that it won't give you Cabotine flashbacks.