There were once 5 litres of Guy Robert’s Chouda in the world. I own about 10 ml of it: there can’t be that much more knocking about, since in Robert’s opinion most of it was used up by Mme Grès, who lived to be 90 years old. She preferred it to Cabochard: her chief sales rep didn’t, and though both scents were launched simultaneously, it is Bernard Chant’s masterpiece that survived, though after several changes of hand of the Grès licence it is now a zombie.
Still, Chouda, inspired by the water hyacinth Mme Grès smelled during a trip to India, doesn’t truly deserve to be much more than a footnote in perfume history, unlike magnificent commercial flops like Iris Gris. When he composed it, Guy Robert already had the superb Doblis under his belt and was four years away from putting out Madame Rochas. But when you consider that the year he was working on Chouda, another green, fresh floral came out, and that it was Diorissimo, the former fades into insignificance. Chouda is a fairly simple floral composition with fresh green top notes, dominated by hyacinth and a strong cinnamic effect, which segues into more hay and honeyed broom, daffodil and narcissus notes before coming to rest on a muguet base underscored by balsamic base notes.
It is pretty, and certainly Alix Grès must have enjoyed wearing it: but it doesn’t reflect the commanding, classical presence of her spending pleated gowns. But then neither does Cabochard, for that matter. The perfume branch of the house of Grès seems to have existed in a different conceptual universe, as a way of shoring up the fashion house in its declining years, Guy Robert explains in Michael Edwards’ Perfume Legends. It is to Cabochard as much as to her legendary obstinacy that Mme Grès owes her lengthy career: Chouda wouldn’t have pulled her through the 60s. Nevertheless, this pretty, amiable fragrance does preserve a tiny bit of the grand dame’s secret: her sillage.
Illustratino: Madame Grès in 1949