The house of Carven has had a makeover of both its fashion business and its fragrances of late, and I can only hope that it continues. Like so many brands founded by visionary designers, it fell on hard times after changing hands and being subjected to the mercies of the marketplace and lost its unique identity. A few years ago one would have thought that the company was all but vanished, with its fashion arm dwindling and its flagship fragrance, Ma Griffe, becoming ever more faded with each reformulation. A revived Vetiver for men, long considered the finest version of this classic style of scent, was the first signal that things were turning around. (At one point Ma Griffe was said to have been at least partially restored to its former glory, but if so, I have not seen it in stores here in the U.S. but it is listed on the Carven web site.)
Fast forward to the present day and Carven's fashions for both men and women are enjoying a brisk renaissance, the accessories line is very successful, and the first new feminine fragrance since 2005's Carven Couture (which I have never seen in stores here either) was launched. This time around the new perfume, called Carven Le Parfum, in an Eau de Parfum strength, was introduced in 2013 and was clearly intended to appeal to a broader audience. It was originally available at prestigious stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, and has now “trickled down” to Sephora. I have not yet seen the 2014 flanker, said to be similar but much more sheer if that's possible, called L'Eau de Toilette.
Carven Le Parfum is listed as a floral woody musk perfume on Fragrantica but I don't get any of the woody part – to my nose it is a very refined fresh floral with a touch of fruit and musk; it is not an amorphous, anonymous fruity floral so don't be alarmed. It is crisp enough to stand out from the crowd and it does not fall apart, maintaining its character for an impressively long time. It was composed by the highly regarded Francis Kurkdjian, author of many fine perfumes including the wildly popular Narciso Rodriguez For Her, so the brand was not taking any chances on the success of this launch. It's very pretty, not groundbreaking but well done and not overly sweet, with notes of mandarin flower, apricot, lychee, sweet pea, jasmine, ylang ylang, osmanthus and white hyacinth. The base is said to contain sandalwood and patchouli; I can detect none of the former but there is a faint ghost of patchouli that comes and goes in the far drydown, nothing more than a whisper, so if anyone is put off by the presence of patchouli they should not be deterred from trying this one. My only wish is that it would have had some of the great old Carven “DNA” from Ma Griffe that runs through the older fragrances from the house such as Vert et Blanc, Robe d' Un Soir and Madame de Carven, that edgy chypre rasp and snappy crispness that has been the signature of all the Carven scents until now. I expect the house aimed this straight at mainstream American consumers who are assumed not to want overly challenging fragrances, but not adding that special signature effect to Carven Le Parfum was a missed opportunity in my opinion and just might have resulted in my giving it five stars. Nevertheless, I like it very much on its own merits and I expect that it will be in heavy rotation when summer arrives.