Chypre 2.0

Periodically perfume people mourn the death of the chypre.  It’s supposed to be down to the restrictions on oakmoss which was the constituent that gave the chypres so much salty depth and dryness.  Now you cannot use oakmoss in amounts large enough to produce the chypre effect, or you have to use low atranol oakmoss which is, from the chypre’s perspective, rather like trying to pass off a gelding as a stallion.  You just know something is missing.

Among those who comment about perfumes these days the positions on chypres are mixed.  Perfumistas sorrow over their absence but in practically the same sentence they also accuse them of formality, of masculinity, or of being difficult to wear. Still there are many good ones to be found on the internet.

If you like dense fruity chypres, Balenciaga’s Rumba is a strong and interesting option, somewhat animalic, one of Jean Claude Ellena’s early perfumes. If you enjoy something more floral, there is always Apercu, Houbigant’s nearly forgotten offering.  It is actually from the late nineties, but it smells vintage.  In a season where Annick Goutal’s  Mon Parfum Cheri Par Camille is getting excellent reviews, some people might want to return to the Houbigant and Balenciaga scents for half the price, and their coziness  in cold weather.

Some reviewers, Turin and Sanchez in particular, call the green type of chypre haughty. This is kind of like calling dark chocolate standoffish because its melt rate on your tongue is just not fast enough to suit you, but Rochas’ Mystere, Clinique’s Wrappings, and Scherrer’s Scherrer are all good green chypres with very elegant presences, and just enough reserve to make their ultimate warmth charming.  Also, they’re easily wearable by both sexes.

If we are middle aged we remember the chypres as something our mothers wore, if we’re young it’s our grandmothers, and therefore we’re conditioned to associate chypres with being old and perhaps we perceive the old as haughty, although in my experience, aging is one of nature’s great equalizers and the most ineluctably democratic force on earth.

If we are me, we associate them with being a teenager, since I wore them then. Perhaps most of all, they conjure up a lost world of Madison Ave. admen on their way home to Westport, in the cocktail car that Metro North used to run on weekdays. Guts made that same trip only a few years ago for a week.  “How was it, being a commuter?” I asked.

“ Dismal. It was all guys, and they slept, snored, drooled, and one farted all the way from Grand Central to Darien.”

“Every night?”

“ Different guys, same routine every trip. It never got old.”

Alas for the classic chypres, some younger consumers may feel that they smell like that train car Guts exited so gratefully and that unlike the commuters’ routine, the chypres have gotten old.  But this is also and paradoxically, the chypre’s strong suit because these scents survive such conditions far better than florals, which inevitably droop or wilt, and better than colognes which have punched out  long before five p.m., or even orientals, which disrupt meetings and cocktail hour with distracting wafts of incense and vanilla.

Chypres acknowledge and embrace the human, the stinky side of existence, the inescapable fact that we are not just denizens of the avenue and the boardroom, but also of the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, and that inexorably for all of us, mortality is the constant in the equation, the lowest, the ultimate, common denominator.

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6 Responses to Chypre 2.0

  1. Meg says:

    I very much agree that chypre is the perfume of pragmatism. Florals gloss over the grit of life with a film of romance, but chypres are comfortable getting down ‘n’ dirty. I associate them with personalities like Dorothy Parker or Katherine Mansfield– complex, creative types with a core of toughness or contentiousness, certainly not prudes or shrinking violets…..

    Personally, I favor the wild & rugged green, leather, tobacco & evergreen chypres. Fruities are OK, since chypre acts as the “lemon juice” that keeps the fruit salad crisp, but floral chypres (especially those involving peonies) give me big-time headaches.

    Lately, it seems to me that what passes for chypre in new perfumes more often smells like the tannin in a strong cup of tea. I like tea just fine — it has its green/woody aspects — but it’s no substitute for the murk of oakmoss. Thoughts?

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Agreed that the modern chypres miss the spine of oakmoss, without it they tend to go soft which is not what the genre is all about. I also loved, and truth be told still love, the green chypres best of all. What I wouldn’t give to smell Givenchy III as it once was or Alpona as it was in 1990. But they’re gone.
      What do you think of the modern gourmand chypres? I mean things like Chinatown that substitute a kind of vanilla cookie base for the ousted oakmoss? Another example is Hermes’ Elixir des Merveilles. They’re very odd and smell too like desert to me. Anyway, thanks for the comment and tell me what you think. best, Blacknall

  2. Mals says:

    Oh, I love those floral chypres, and the fierce green ones make me feel like I’m being beaten with an umbrella about the face and head… and the fruity ones make me feel slightly nauseous.

    Fine. Go ahead, call me a wimp.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Do love the greens- but that’s me and my taste for anything green pretty much- although I never could cotton to YSL’s Y. Why was that? Wore Chant d’Aromes for years. Anyway take your point about the fruity chypres, can’t wear them, admire them but can’t pull them off personally. What about leather chypres? Thank you kindly for link, and as can you see, it’s mutual.
      Blacknall

      • Mals says:

        Leather chypres? Like Azuree and Bandit? I’m running away and hiding NOW.

        I’ve heard No. 19 called a leather chypre, and I rolled my eyes. Sure, the leather is there, especially in the vintage edt (my favorite version), but 19′s not about the leather, and I’d call it a green floral with hints of leather and oakmoss.

        I love greenies, but not if they’re very dry; seems I need a strong floral component in them.

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          You’re diametrically opposed to me on greens then, which is to say, I’d probably be a very good negative indicator. When it comes to green, I like it dry, used to love Balenciaga’s Cialenga, and even liked Dipytych’s Virgilio. As for leather chypres I do mean Bandit but I’d plump for Miss Balmain myself, or even Parure or Derby. They are difficult to wear now though-seem dated sometimes. I can’t think of a modern leather chypre actually, hm… does Lonestar Memories count?
          Blacknall

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