French designer brand Hermès has been a powerhouse of the fragrance world for decades, putting out major milestones like Equipage, Bel Ami, Calèche, Terre d’Hermès, and Un Jardin Sur Le Nil.
Known for their elegance, class, and discretion, a Hermès fragrance is never loud or obnoxious in any way, but rather cool and understated. Rocabar, a 1998 men’s release, is no exception to that rule.
Hermès Rocabar is a woody spicy fragrance featuring notes of cedar, cypress, pine, and spice all on a warm base of benzoin and vanilla. A calm and natural-smelling perfume, Rocabar also boasts good longevity and an elegant presentation.
Want to know more? Let’s take a closer look at Hermès Rocabar.
Top Notes: cedar resin, juniper, coriander, bergamot, lemon
Middle Notes: Italian cypress, cedar, cardamom, carnation, violet
Base Notes: benzoin, Canadian balsam fir, oakmoss, vanilla, patchouli
First off, let’s start with a little bit of background on the scent. Unlike most other designer perfume brands, Hermès usually puts a bit more effort into the inspiration behind their fragrances. Bel-Ami, for example, was inspired by the Guy de Maupassant novel of the same name, while Un Jardin Sur Le Nil was an effort to conjure up an olfactory landscape of the garden islands of the Nile in the Egyptian city of Aswan.
Rocabar, too, was not named at random. The name is a contraction in French, combining “rug” (meaning rug) and “à barres” (meaning “striped”), and refers to the rich red, blue, and gold colored saddle blankets that Hermès produces in their equestrian workshops.
The brand had its origins in making leather harnesses, saddles, and other horse tack back in the 19th century, and Rocabar situates itself as an evocation of that heritage.
But how does Rocabar smell?
The best way to describe it would be: a clean, luxurious stable on an alpine farm, the doors open to let the forest air in. This is a calm, natural, relaxing, almost Zen-like fragrance.
The opening greets you with a blast of citrus, spice in the form of coriander and cardamom, and the classic 90s masculine florals: violet and carnation. There’s also a subtle funkiness going on in the opening, the source of which I cannot divine.
Safe to say that if you are familiar with 90s masculine fragrances (like I am) then you won’t find the opening anything unusual, but it is definitely not an uber-modern fragrance in-line with today’s tastes. And that’s A-OK in my book.
That opening funk dies down pretty quickly, though, and the fragrance settles into its dominant scent profile. Like many fragrances from the 90s, Rocabar is exquisitely blended, and it’s difficult to make out individual notes.
The general gist of the fragrance, however, is a dry, woody, and unsweetened vanilla fragrance with vague florals and balsams. Although vanilla is present in the note breakdown, it’s not the note responsible for that vanillic feeling; on the contrary, benzoin is the star of the show here.
Benzoin is one of my favorite fragrance notes. Essentially, it’s a resin that’s known for its semi-sweet, vanillic properties. It’s often burned as incense, and is quite useful in perfumery, primarily for its fixative qualities and in the construction of amber accords.
I personally burn papier d’Arménie, a kind of French paper incense which is infused with benzoin, almost every day, and Guerlain’s Bois d’Arménie (a benzoin masterpiece) is one of my favorite fragrances ever, so you should know that my sniffer locks onto benzoin like a heat-seeking missile.
The benzoin in Rocabar smells rich and golden, like drops of honeyed light (which is kind of what they look like). When I smell Rocabar, I imagine a newly built stable of clean cedarwood bathed in the amber light of afternoon. Sunbeams filter through the boards, and motes of dust dance in the cool wind fragrant with pine.
When I inhale deeply, I can smell the supple powderiness of violets, and perhaps some wisps of cardamom, but I have to dig for them. Overall, Rocabar is dominated by dry woods and that golden chord of benzoin and vanilla.
This is less of a traditional perfume and more of an aura, a scented mood. It’s a soothing evocation of nature that takes you back to the elemental things in life, which is just what I (and I think most everyone) could use right about now.
If I were to describe Rocabar in a few words, they would be: smooth, woody, calm, cozy, dry, and natural.
The presentation of Rocabar, as is the case with all Hermès fragrances, is simple but refined.
The packaging of Rocabar has evolved somewhat over its 24 year lifespan on the market.
The original box was designed like an actual red-and-gold Rocabar saddle blanket, with leather twine detail wrapping around the box. At some point, however, the box was replaced with the standard orange box which is the signature of the house, with the name Rocabar written in yellow on the front along with the name of the brand and the iconic horse-and-carriage motif.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the box, either of the original or the reissue, so I cannot comment much on it.
The bottle, like the box, has changed over the years.
The original bottle is square, and modeled to look like an actual Rocabar blanket. In fact, the original bottle came with a mini Rocabar blanket that could be tied around the bottle with a real leather cord. How cool is that?
Unfortunately, that design was later dropped. I have a vintage bottle from 2003, and it seems that at that time the mini blankets had been done away with. However, my bottle still has the classic design, with a motif resembling a leather cord fastened around the bottle.
The cap is metal, and I think meant to look like a saddle horn, though I might be wrong. The name of the fragrance and the brand are, of course, printed on the front of the bottle.
Later, the fragrance was rebottled in a more standardized rectangular bottle. It was made of thick glass, had a thick black matte cap, and had the name of the brand and fragrance written directly on the glass.
However, that design too was later phased out to the current design, which is a similarly rectangular, albeit more slender bottle, a smaller black cap, and a red label with the name of the fragrance and the brand depicted in yellow.
Whatever iteration of the fragrance you have, though, you’re going to be getting a well-designed, high quality bottle, as is to be expected with Hermès.
Rocabar’s performance, similarly to other Hermès fragrances, is far from powerful.
The longevity of Rocabar is certainly its best characteristic, performance-wise.
Five to six sprays on my skin and on fabric give me around 6-7 hours of longevity.
No matter how many sprays you apply (and, by the way, if you’re unsure of how many sprays to apply, you can check out this handy guide for my recommendation), this fragrance will never be a longevity beast.
Hermès simply doesn’t make that kind of fragrance, Bel-Ami notwithstanding. In terms of the scents they produce, Hermès kind of reminds me of Cartier. They’re both French brands which make high quality, unique, but restrained and somewhat conservative scents for a discerning (and usually older) clientele.
Do not go into Rocabar expecting all-day performance, even with vintage bottles. It’s simply not going to happen. Instead, try to appreciate it for what it is: a calm, relaxing personal scent.
Projection & Sillage
Similarly, the projection and sillage of Hermès are pretty quiet.
Five to six sprays on skin and fabric give me about an hour of very soft projection and faint sillage.
Once you’ve sprayed Rocabar, it’s essentially a skin scent. You’re certainly not going to be filling any rooms or giving anyone any headaches (not that you would, since the smell is so natural anyway). Instead, Rocabar creates a discrete scent bubble around you that can only be smelled up close.
Overall, in my mind, the performance of Rocabar is exactly in line with the mission statement of Hermès. It’s the kind of thing that you either appreciate or don’t appreciate. To me, it is the height of French elegance, so I’m totally fine with it, but it’s something each person will have to decide for themselves.
Value For Money
When it comes to value for money for Rocabar, your mileage may vary.
A 3.38 oz (~100ml) bottle of Rocabar retails for $150. That’s $1.50/ml.
For a designer fragrance, that’s a pretty big ask, though the prices for designer perfumes are rising across the board.
In the past, it was common to see Rocabar on discount websites like FragranceX and FragranceNet, but no longer. And although I bought my vintage partial bottle on Ebay for around $40, it seems that prices for bottles of Rocabar on Ebay have risen considerably since I bought mine.
Basically, it’s going to be retail or bust, unless you manage to snag a deal somewhere (which I still encourage you to try to do, not only for Rocabar but for any fragrance you want to buy).
So, is it worth it? Although I enjoy the fragrance a lot, I honestly don’t know if it is. It takes a very particular taste to enjoy Rocabar, and you must understand that you’re not getting a powerhouse performer. Still, it is a unique fragrance, and I’ve never really smelled anything else like it.
Overall, though, I’d rate the value for money for Rocabar as mediocre at best.
Who Would Like It
Rocabar is very obviously going to appeal to a select group of people.
This is not for the Dior Sauvage or Bleu de Chanel lovers out there. It’s also probably not for people under thirty (myself excluded of course). And if you’re the kind of person who wears fragrance just for compliments, Rocabar will probably not be for you, though I think it could garner compliments.
It takes a certain mindset and appreciation for the simple things to really enjoy Rocabar. Truth be told, I wasn’t infatuated with it when I first got it myself, but the more I’ve worn it, the more I’ve come to appreciate it.
If you like woody, calm fragrances that evoke nature, then Rocabar will probably be right up your alley. There is nothing “sexy” or “seductive” about this fragrance.
Although it is marketed for men, I would rate Rocabar as 100% unisex in today’s day and age. Though the opening blast might immediately remind some of 90s men’s fragrances, if you don’t have any familiarity with those then there is nothing inherently “masculine” or “feminine” about it.
When To Wear It
To me, Rocabar is the essence of autumn. It perfectly ticks my boxes for a great fall fragrance – dry, woody, slightly spicy, a little bit smoky, warm, and comforting. It smells like golden autumn sunshine and being out in the woods.
However, I think that Rocabar could also be worn as a spring fragrance. Any transition season would be an ideal time to wear it, but it doesn’t have enough weight to survive scorching summer heat or bitter winter cold.
As for occasions, Rocabar would be suitable for just about anything: work, casual hangouts, semi-formal or formal, even date night.
Truth be told, I found it difficult to think of many similar fragrances to Rocabar. Although the opening cocktail of florals and aromatics is reminiscent of other 90s fragrances, it was hard to bring a specific one to mind beyond Versace Versus Uomo (which barely smells like Rocabar at all).
Fragrantica lists Davidoff’s Silver Shadow (which I have sampled and enjoyed) as being similar, but in my opinion it’s only passing. Silver Shadow is a good deal sweeter, and is more sheer and transparent, more in the vein of Boss Bottled by Hugo Boss than Rocabar.
One fragrance that has a similar vibe, if not exactly the same scent profile, would be Quorum Silver by Antonio Puig. Again, Quorum Silver is sweeter and spicier than Rocabar and lacks the floral element, but they both revolve around cedar and have a grounded, calm, and relaxing feel to them.
Otherwise, I can’t think of many fragrances that smell similar to Rocabar. In terms of scent, it is truly unique.
Pros & Cons
- Unique and natural scent
- Elegant presentation
- Good longevity
- Poor value for money
- Low projection and sillage
- Difficult to find
The Final Word
Overall, Rocabar is a scent that I truly enjoy. I love to wear it when I want something that is cozy, calm, and simple. It’s a great fragrance for hiking, for long, slow Sundays spent at home, reading a book or relaxing on the porch in the sunshine.
However, it is definitely not a scent for everyone. It doesn’t have much “wow” factor, which is what so many people search for nowadays. You’re going to have to have a specific mindset to appreciate Rocabar. And, of course, you have to consider that it has mild performance and it ain’t the cheapest fragrance in the world, either.
Overall, I don’t know how wholeheartedly I can recommend it. As much as I enjoy it, I find that it’s appeal is sadly a bit limited.
Taking all that into account, I rate Rocabar:
★★★☆☆ 3 stars out of 5.