Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Forget me Not: Scherrer 1 and Scherrer 2 by Jean-Louis Scherrer (Part 1)

The story of Scherrer is bittersweet and slightly flat: There are no moving meridians, no climax to the private drama of the once well-known couturier and no catharsis at the end of the story. Born in the 1930s, Jean-Louis Scherrer studied ballet and fashion in Paris and later went on to train under Christian Dior at the house of Dior, as well as Yves Saint Laurent when Dior died and the former was appointed director. In the beginning of the ‘60s, Scherrer founded his own label, originally located at the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and later at avenue Montaigne, where it can still be found today. One of the beauties of writing the Forget me Not feature pieces is remembering the signature creations and innovations that made the couturiers behind the perfumes famous. Scherrer himself however, has left no such legacies. Indeed, he was better known for reinterpreting trends, reforming them with a more conservative touch that would still allow for femininity and a certain sex-appeal. It was this skill that made Scherrer once rich and famous, as first ladies, queens and the crème de la crème of high society would flock to the house to be dressed in the latest fashions while still avoiding the vulgarity of any eyebrow-raising. Modesty, thus, as well as on-trend status brandishing that would never fail to remind admirers that the wearer was in possession of serious money, were the hallmarks of this brand. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s found the house in economic decline and tragically, Scherrer was fired from the house he had once founded. The troubled designer fought back in court, but only managed to receive a settlement, but no further use of his name. Two decades later, the house seems to have bounced back, with Haute Couture growing and reporting a great percentage of young clientele.

In 1979, Jean-Louis Scherrer launched his first, signature fragrance. According to the official website, Scherrer “hoped that it would be a perfume of quality and tradition” and he is cited describing it as “The passion of the moment. The eternal feminine.” To me, this perfume certainly has something of the eternal. It was the first chypre I loved, at an age when I didn’t know what a chypre was. Formative then, for it started a long love-affair with everything green, austere, feminine but at once forceful. A love affair that started at an age before I even started attending school and is still going strong. Forever connected to a particular person, Scherrer 1 will be my first perfume love, whose name I only learned years later, while never having forgotten its smell.

I was a little girl, and Scherrer was the signature perfume of my dear aunt. Always spending weekends at her house so I’d be playing with my cousin, I’d find myself quietly marveling at the ultra-sophisticated scent following the footsteps of the petite woman with the sparkling blue eyes and the bobbed hair, falling around her face in soft curls. She seemed so exotic to me; having grown up in Austria her perfect Greek had (and still does have) the most beautiful singing lilt and cheerful intonation of a running stream. Unlike most of the women I knew, she had the power to be both loving, nurturing and strict at once. You could not mess with her! And when she laughed, the clouds would part from the sun, a beautiful laugh so infectious and gorgeous it would lend sparkle and light to everything it reverberated from. And isn’t that just the most perfect description of a chypre? Something that is strict and forceful, as well as loving and warm? Something that has the power to lift your spirits to a heavenly place? Something whose hug means so much more, because it is never thoughtless but always meaningful?

I never learned the name of the beautiful perfume, up until two years ago. While out perfume sniffing with my mom, I handed her another chypre in surprise: “Oh my God… This takes me back… It smells exactly like Soula used to when I was little. I love it!” After sniffing the blotter, she looked at me stunned. “You’re right. How can you remember that? She wore it forever… but doesn’t any more. I’ll have to remember what it was called. She probably still has a bottle, you know. She keeps everything.” My mom did remember - it was Scherrer, a name I’d never heard of before. And aunt Soula did indeed have a bottle still. In fact, she had two, smelling as fresh as day, even though they were both half-empty. Determined, I decided to seek it out on my trip to Paris.

We already knew what was happening with oakmoss in 2007, so walking into the Scherrer boutique I felt apprehension, a terrible fear that my original chypre love would have been changed beyond recognition. The boutique was quiet and dark and rather sombre with its black granite and mirrored walls, a stark difference after the buzzing, bright, cheerful house of Dior on the other side of the street. I bypassed a lady fitting a dress and joined a member of the staff by an oval table. On it, all the Scherrer perfumes, together with a fresh bottle of the signature. A sigh of relief - it was still the same. Sweet perfume cloud, full of memories of a creature that wore it well. Better than anyone else could.
(To be continued…)

Images: Early days of the fashion house: Scherrer with his models –
Claudia Schiffer from a Scherrer fashion show -
A picture of Scherrer at one of his shows, the year he was fired –
The Scherrer boutique on avenue Montaigne


PinstripedZebra said...

Wow, I love the forget me not feature. There is so much to discover in the world of perfume!

I think the way you write these features takes you back to the time when it was all happening. Have you ever thought of taking up a career in teaching history? You would rock :P

Sad to hear this story though, being fired from your own label! That is just tragic.

Perfumers always mention how fragrances are the most powerful memory rousers. You prove that time and time again!


Divina said...

Oh, dear Z, I hate history! Definitely not my favorite subject at school. I had good grades, but I loathed learning all the names and stupid battle places.

When it comes to FASHION history though... that's another story hahahahah :) I looooove learning, reading biographies, talking with friends... and I love all the little rumors... For example: it is told that after the war, Chanel reopened her house because she got completely fired up when she heard how well Dior was doing. "I'll show YOU Dior." The boutique they say, was covered completely and noone could see inside while it was being prepared for reopening. She was one for dramatic effect.. The boutique reoppened with dramatic lights and huge fanfaire...


Ines said...

Hey Divina,

nice to have you back - and nice to transport all your readers a bit back into history as well. :)
This was all completely new to me. It's really great how much interesting things can be read at your blog.

Divina said...

Hi Ines dear! Thank you so very much :) ((( HUG )))

I am so glad to read that. Sometimes I just can't focus on the newest things.. Eg, I hated the new Hermes, Vanille Gallante. So I don't write about it. It's lovely that my readers can appreciate and get excited about the same things that move me :)

Anita said...

Lovely and informative post as always, D! Thanks so much. I have a sample of Scherrer 2 in my collection that I haven't tried. You've inspired me to do so today. :)

Divina said...

Anita, what did you think? I just posted the reviews of Scherrer 1 & 2, and would love to read if your experiences with 2 match my own. Just now I was thinking that this will really appeal to Boudoir lovers...