Perfume Review: Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve, parfum and EdT

I came late to an appreciation of chypres, in contrast to most perfume fans. I still have yet to really appreciate a bitter green one, or a leather one, or a fruity one. Mitsouko hates me. Even the citrus ones like Eau Sauvage or Cristalle are not really to my taste. They just don’t speak to me. But the floral ones I do love, and I find in them a softness and elegance unmatched by any other genre.

As a teen I wore Prince Matchabelli Cachet (I admit that I generally preferred my Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, with its rounded white florals, especially if I was going to be dressed up). And when I went off to college, I longed and longed for the gorgeous Victoria by Victoria’s Secret, but on my drugstore-perfume budget, couldn’t afford it.

Many years later, once I had gotten sucked into the Kingdom of Perfume, I discovered that floral chypres – or florals with a hint of chypre base, in some cases, draw me almost effortlessly: Jolie Madame. Leonard de Leonard. Soivohle Centennial. The rose chypres like L’Arte di Gucci or Lumiere Noire pour femme. I adored the first two hours of Knowing, before its Lauder base asserted itself so firmly. I found Penhaligon’s (rereleased) Eau sans Pareil quite delightful, and very reminiscent of something I’m sure I smelled on a dear aunt in the 1970s. Mary Greenwell Plum, a fragrance so “me” that I’m considering marrying it, is a white floral with fruity topnotes built on a very quietly mossy base. Chanel No. 19, another love, I don’t consider to be a chypre, but it has something of that DNA as well.

Any time I investigated floral chypres, somebody was bound to mention the long-gone Deneuve. I started an ebay search and kept it going for several months, but nothing I found there seemed within my financial grasp. Partial bottles of EdT were going for $90 and up, and even the miniature 4ml bottles of parfum were close to $30 apiece. I had nearly resigned myself to never smelling Deneuve.

Then by happy accident, I was able to snap up a small partial bottle of parfum from a fellow perfume fan who hadn’t loved it. I adored it from the first touch of it to my skin, however, and when another perfumista friend mentioned a lucky score of EdT at an estate sale, I sent him a message saying that if he ever tired of it, I’d be happy to buy the bottle. When he decided to downsize his collection, he sold me the 50 ml bottle for what he paid for it, and tossed in a dab of parfum as well.

Catherine Deneuve herself seems intricately bound up with the world of perfume. She was for many years the face of Chanel No. 5, and starred in a film called “La Chamade,” based on a book which also inspired the gorgeous green floral Chamade by Guerlain. She’s frequently stated that she wears perfume to get into character, naming Frederic Malle’s Noir Epices and others as this kind of inspiration, and that she often uses perfume in her home. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire pour femme was designed as a bespoke perfume for her, before the decision was made to release it as a regular fragrance, according to Perfume Shrine.

Deneuve, the fragrance, was released in 1986, in connection with Avon Perfumes. Deneuve was herself involved in the choice of notes for the fragrance, and selected the packaging and advertisements personally, according to Fragrantica. The perfume was admired, receiving a FiFi award in 1987, but there were snarls with the distribution in America – something to do with Avon and its “neighborhood Avon Lady” marketing plan, more fully explored in this review at The Non-Blonde – and by 1994 the fragrance was gone, remembered as a dream of elegance very out of touch with both the in-your-face style of the 1980s and the quiet, not-a-perfume style of the 1990s.

So, after all the hoopla and hype, what’s this lovely and discontinued perfume actually like?

It opens with soapy aldehydes and a bright flash of bergamot, with a thin gauzy veil of galbanum. There’s a general impression of “green,” but it’s hazy and diffuse, with the florals peeking through almost immediately. And those florals! Beautifully blended, and very natural-smelling. It’s a very classic mix, reminiscent of Patou Joy or Chanel No. 5 in that rose-jasmine-ylang accord, with a delicate layer of metallic/spicy hyacinth and sprightly lily of the valley. This is all set on a base of great refinement, all oakmoss and iris and soft musk, with some gentle woods for strength and a hint of civet for body warmth.

There’s an interesting juxtaposition of clean/dirty here, with the soapy aldehydes, the green notes, the soprano woodwinds of hyacinth/ muguet and the face-powder moss/ iris accord on the “clean” side, and the rich rose/ jasmine/ ylang, woods, and civet on the “dirty” side. The effect is extremely elegant and ladylike, with just the barest suggestion that the well-dressed lady wearing this scent might have arisen from a warm bed quite recently.

The scent clings to skin fairly closely, with delicate sillage, and wears like a lovely secret. I love the way it gleams like good pearls, not calling attention to itself but simply glowing with quiet beauty. Lasting power, as with most fragrances produced before the late 1990s, is quite good, with the parfum lasting six to eight hours on me and the EdT five or six. There is a kinship to No. 19, though I find the green aspect of No. 19 much stronger than in Deneuve, and also to Miss Dior, particularly in the drydown phase.

It is definitively old-fashioned, but in such a beautiful way, that I find it very wearable. People under the age of, say, 25 tend to find it dated, but accustomed as they are as a generation to overt sweetness in perfume, I’m not surprised. (The exception is my 13-year-old son, who tells me this one’s “really nice.” But then, Gaze has a good nose.)

It’s a shame this one is so difficult to find, and so expensive when found. There are a number of fragrances meant to duplicate it, though I have not tried any of them and can’t speak to how well they approximate their inspiration. Long Lost Perfumes makes one called Cannes. I’ve heard frequently that a fragrance composed by Le Labo for Anthropologie, a limited edition called Belle du Soir (I’m sure that’s a deliberate attempt to evoke Deneuve by mention of her film ‘Belle du Jour’), is very similar. There’s also a “Deneuve type” fragrance made by The Fragrance Shop. If you’ve tried any of them, please chime in with a description. A friend tells me that the “Deneuve type” fragrance oil isn’t very close, but that the body lotion is really delightful and the dry body oil is even nicer.

The notes, according to Fragrantica: aldehydes, galbanum, bergamot, green notes, neroli, basil, iris, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang, rose, lily of the valley, violet, musk, sandalwood, oakmoss, cedarwood, and civet.

Other reviews, besides Gaia’s at The Non Blonde mentioned earlier: Suzanne’s Perfume Journal and Perfume Shrine.

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20 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve, parfum and EdT”

  1. OMG! It sounds ridiculously good. Why can’t Paris Hilton do something like this so it would be readily available and not a lobour of love. I’m glad you got a bottle and can love a chypre though,
    Nice story, one day I’ll try it too,
    Portia xx

    1. It is really lovely. Sadly, nobody wants to put that much effort/expense into a celeb fragrance now, other than the niche ones such as Like This.

      I’m iffy on chypres. I admit it – only the floral ones seem to suit, but I’m just a diehard floral girl.

  2. I saw a bottle of this in an olde worlde perfumery in Vienna – the low slung shape caught my eye. Didn’t stop to try it though, as I was en route to meet Birgit!

    We could all of us do with a “base of great refinement”… : – ) Unfortunately a great deal of expense and/or dry brushing appears to be involved.

  3. It’s sooooo elegant and womanly, isn’t it? Thrilled to hear that you’re a fan, Mals.

    Interesting that you say the younger generation find it dated. The first time my niece (she was in high school at the time) smelled it on me, she was smitten! But she is like your Gaze: well-schooled with the perfumes in my collection, most of which wouldn’t appeal to the youth crowd, lol! Plus she loves Carnal Flower and other very feminine florals, so it only made sense that she would be attracted to Deneuve.

    1. It is lovely.

      We go to a church where about 25-30% of the congregation is composed of college students… and I do spend some time with my daughter’s high school peers, who are devoted to their vanilla fragrances. They just don’t know what Real Perfume smells like, I’m afraid.

  4. I have tried Belle du Soir at Anthropologie, but didn’t know of the Deneuve connection. Unfortunately, I can’t recall much about the fragrance at this point, although I did have the vague impression that that whole Le Labo for Anthropologie series was well done. I really liked the powdery one.

    We’re going downtown on Tuesday to pick something up at the local record store, and Anthropologie is across the street – I’ll see if I can catch another sniff.

    1. I’ve only tried one of those LL for Anthro things… it might have been the powdery one, can’t remember. Let us know how Belle du Soir is if you can find it.

  5. Never tried this or one of the similar ones but I did own a bottle of Victoria. God I miss that stuff. That was back in the day when Victoria’s Secret had nice quality stuff and played classical music in the stores and wasn’t a teen store.

    1. Wasn’t Victoria gorgeous? Such beautiful stuff. I have bought some on ebay since then, but it’s all turned – the topnotes are maple syrup and chlorine, and it’s just not wearable. I remember when the lingerie was elegant and (relatively) well-made… sigh.

    1. I do love Silences… it just doesn’t seem very meanie-greenie the way some of the other ones do. I have Parfum de Toilette, and the rose really comes out in it.

  6. This is one I wish that I could smell again. It was liquid elegance, and why I did not BUY Deneuve when it was available?! Another hit with the stupid stick moment, on a par with not purchasing the Gobin Daude line when it went bust and you could buy those bottles for ten bucks, and good luck finding them now. The Anthropologie tribute scent, Belle du Soir does not come close IMO. But then I only smelled it once. What is not so bad among modern green chypres is the new Chloe. A pleasant daytime fragrance. Have you tried it?

    1. I wasn’t even into perfume when the Gobin Daude line was around… sigh.

      Good info on Belle du Soir – I still haven’t tried that, but based on the price point of those Anthropologies I just can’t imagine that the florals are of the same quality as Deneuve’s. I did like L’eau du Chloe, and thought it was really pleasant. The clean patchouli in the base started getting on my nerves after a few hours, but I tend to be pretty sensitive to patch.

  7. I’m so glad you like this, and I find your review spot-on (in the sense that it nails all the reasons that I didn’t). It was an almost-but-not-quite, and I gladly reach for No. 19 instead. 🙂

    1. Oh, but I love No. 19 too!

      I do understand why someone would not dig it… it’s old-fashioned, it’s a little powdery, it’s verra verra ladylike…

  8. At this moment, I am surrounded by this fragrance Deneuve. My first encounter was in the 80’s. I received a magazine with a patch of the smell of this wonderful scent. I had to
    have a bottle and looked into ordering one. At the time I was in my early 30’s and working and clubing. I loved it and received compliments from those who can appreciate a great parfume. I thought it was pricy at the time for my budget but
    I had to have some and can remember reordering it once more after the initial one. I put it away for special occasions only and stopped wearing it on every outing. All thats left is 3/4 of an inch view in the vaporisateur bottle. I wonder why they discontinue all the great ones.

    1. It’s so lovely, isn’t it? And it’s very versatile – there is rarely an occasion where it is wrong. So sorry it’s discontinued. You can still sometimes find it on ebay, but it is expensive. Sadly, there’s nothing else like it.

  9. Floris’s ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ smells amazingly like ‘Deneuve’, which I wore for a few years in the early ’90’s. It is soft, warm, somewhat sweet, and rich. A good substitute!

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