Sometimes you just feel like an idiot. Maybe I do more often than the generality of mankind, but anyway yesterday was one of those moments, when your id starts calling your ego names and you feel like a bystander at a bar fight.
I had been thinking of Chanel No 19, a classic green floral, and the release of a new flanker No 19 Eau Poudre. I smelled the new perfume and it is really nothing special – a little synthetic musk, some iris, reminiscent of laundromats.
It also does not smell like 19.
It is, in other words, one of those flankers that have nothing whatsoever to do with the original scent. Or, to be blunt, if you’ve got the slightest interest in the original perfume, this new scent is entirely unrelated and is not a flanker.
Green florals have been so violently out of fashion that there isn’t much scope for releasing more of them. They are almost guaranteed to do poorly. You have to be a niche perfumer who does their own art direction, making final decisions about the style and emphasis of a scent without reference to focus groups, and that is how Patricia de Nicolai’s Weekend a Deauville came to mind. That’s your No 19 flanker. Weekend, I’m pretty sure, is an homage to the Chanel.
Consider the name for starters. Deauville was the first venue for a Chanel boutique of note. Coco spent the years of WWI there, formulating her brand and entertaining her lover/backer Boy Capel on weekends. It has that same galbanum/bergamot opening as Number 19 and a green floral heart although the de Nicolai uses lily of the valley, rose and mimosa against 19’s iris, rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The codas of the perfumes are similar too: pepper, styrax and oakmoss for Weekend; sandalwood, oakmoss and vetiver for 19.
What you get in Weekend is this very green, almost harsh scent that is also animalic. I read a review of Weekend on Pere de Pierre and his comment- well, I will give you a link to his comment. That review scared the, I’m compelled to say, crap out of me, and it was months and months before I could bring myself to smell the stuff.
Pere was not wrong about the animalic smell, but he was wrong about the crap note. Weekend a Deauville’s chief difficulty is a certain roughness.
It has taken me a year to recognize its obvious similarities to the Chanel. Some one will say that they don’t smell that close and anyway, 19 is not animalic, but in the original formula it was. The dry-down contained vetiver, oakmoss, leather, sandalwood and musk, it had been very animalic. Mme. De Nicolai, as current head of the Versailles’ Osmotheque, can smell this original version whenever she likes, and like me, she may have remembered the old scent with affection. Weekend a Deauville references that earlier 19, before it was given a dousing of insecticide and clipped into a topiary.
You remember that review of 19 by Tania Sanchez in the Guide? Well, I was baffled by the description of the scent as an ice queen because back when I wore it, there was a long musk and leather dry-down which, with its draft stifling warmth, underlined the whole perfume. I simply could not recognize the ice crystal outfit designed for a femme fatale that Ms Sanchez referenced. Why not? Because some time in the early 1990’s, the formula changed. The complex classic I was familiar with, carefully assembled into a rich mosaic of browns, fawns, beiges, and chartreuses, was long gone.
I suppose the moral of this story is that green perfumes, animalic or otherwise, still sell poorly. Not only is 19 now possessed of a flanker that doesn’t smell like the original in this Eau Poudre, but also the original Weekend is now reformulated. Weekend a Deauville should be smoother and sweeter, much less animalic and much less harsh after its overhaul. Unlike Huck Finn and Alice, consumers are not tempted across window sills to wander out into the bracing, unpredictable World of Green. We prefer to close that window and burn a little incense and drift back into stuffy vanillic fantasies.
At some point, the smell of open spaces will appeal to us again, but not just now. We will have to wait a bit longer, it seems, to have another green day in Deauville.