The fougere fragrance family is one that gets it’s name from an actual fragrance, that of Fougere Royale (Royal Fern) created in 1882 by Paul Parquet; chief perfumer at Houbigant.
Fougere Royale was originally sold as a toilet soap and was a fantasy accord in that it was created to evoke the smell of a fern which in fact is odourless. We are so used to fragrances these day evoking imaginary flowers and even more abstract themes but at the time of it’s creation it was a very new thing. One of the key components of the fougere accord is coumarin, a sweet powdery scent reminiscent of new mown hay and the main constituent in tonka beans.
In 1868 William Perkin first synthesized coumarin and in 1877 he refined the process making it accessible to use industrially. This is considered the dawn of modern perfumery, where synthetic materials were added to naturals opening up new possibilities for the creative perfumer. Fougere Royal was the first fragrance to utilise the synthetic coumarin alongside notes of Lavender and Oakmoss which are still today key components of this category. In addition to this some floral notes such as geranium and fresh herbal or citrus top notes are often added.
Although Fougere Royal was a runaway success it was quite some time before many perfumers would make the move to utilising synthetics in their fragrances. Used to the long held tradition of working with only natural materials and distrustful of chemicals even those perfumers who allowed themselves to be convinced would only work with materials that were known to occur in nature as part of essential oils or plant extracts. This strikes me as a similar situation to the one we are in now where many people have once again become distrustful of synthetic chemicals preferring to use only naturally occurring materials in their products. There is no doubt, though that the use of synthetics opened up the creative possibilities for perfumers allowing them into more abstract and fantasy realms. Without the invention and use of synthetics we would not have the perfumery industry as it stands today.
The modern fougeres of today that dominate the masculine fragrance market make a huge use of zingy citrus in the top along with blasts of minty freshness or clean watery, ozone notes. The overuse of Dihydro Myrcenol in many masculine fougeres, that almost knock you out with their power, has brought much disdain from perfumistas worldwide who prefer a more sophisticated and artistic approach to fragrance. The most famous example of a typical fougere is the much maligned 1964 classic Brut by Faberge which was a huge leap forward for the commercialisation of men’s fragrance. Others such as Drakkar Noir and Cool Water by Davidoff were so popular that they have been copied countless times over for use in everything from shower gel to toilet cleaner.