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Image: the picture of Fougère Royale for this collage is granted by palomka
Coumarin, the main ingredient of the Tonka beans with the slightly bitter sweet odour was synthesised by Perkin in 1869 and put on market as one of the first aromachemicals in 1877 by Tiemann and Hersfeld in Germany.
Paul Parquet (joint owner of Houbigant) has used the new aromachemical to create his new perfume with imaginary smell of fern that he named Fougère Royale (the Royal Fern). This perfume had such a great success, that it was not only widely copied, but also gave a name for the whole olfactory group – the fougères. The original perfume has not survived unfortunately. It has been re-issued (and obviously reformulated) in 1959, but can’t be found now days.
What did it smell like? The Hoffmann’s book Die Moderne Parfumerie (1912) contains the formula of fougère. It’s not clear if it was original Fougère Royale or its olfactory copy. According to this formula fougère consists of infusions of rose, jasmine and orange flowers together with neroli and lavender oil, tincture of oakmoss with vetiver oil, benzoin and musk infusions and two aromachemicals – coumarine and… geranyl formate. It’s funny to notice that it consists mostly from the natural ingredients. I don’t know much about geranyl formate, but according to description it’s a chemical with a dry and fruity green-rosy odour and for a natural perfumer could be probably substituted by a combination of geranium oil with bergamot, rose and neroli (a very small quantity or ginger oil could give it a finishing touch).
It’s funny to mentione, that Fougère Royale was neither a unique accord nor a unique name. In 1873 Yardley released English lavender – a perfume based on the similar notes (Tonka bean instead of coumarin together with lavernder, oakmoss, herbs etc.) In 1877 Geo F Trumper created Wild Fern based on the oakmoss accord. What was it that made Fougère Royale the ancestor of the fougère family?
It looks like the previous fern scents were made to perfume the soap and bath products mostly – a lot of fougéres have the clean soapy note. Houbigant was the first who made an individual perfume based on a fern scent. May be that is why he called it “royal” – to emphasize it worth to be a perfume.
It also looks that all the legends around the fern promising magic powers were the engine for the perfumer trying to reconstruct the fern scent. As if they could catch the magical essence into a perfume bottle. Who knows. Fern has enough magic power to inspire the whole perfumery industry with the scent he even doesn’t posses…