Chypres are a flickering presence in the perfume world these days. Whether you see them or whether you don’t, may have to do with what your definition of a chypre is in the first instance. If you’re a purist, then you define chypres as a bergamot top-note married to whatever you like so long as oakmoss is in the base. That’s the basic formula of the original Chypre done by Francois Coty in 1917.
Actually, I bet the chypre as a perfume template is much older. Really it has to do with putting a citrus prologue on a woody perfume and nothing is quite so dark and dry as oakmoss. It’s kind of a catalyst for other dark and dry materials making them so much darker and drier than they would have been on their own. Take away the oakmoss and you are left with all the usual wood notes, but the bass in the woody tone quartet has cut out, and the harmonies achieved are just not that resonantly sexy anymore.
You notice this in all sorts of places but one spot where I really miss that oakmoss is citrus chypres. The oakmoss base actually did give them a dark background that made the citrus pop and sparkle like champagne. This is not to say that the genre shouldn’t move on. Perfumery isn’t a museum after all, and if new materials don’t come along from time to time, and if old ones don’t change, or aren’t used differently, things stagnate.
So in the spirit of innovation and trying a new variation on an old theme, I sampled Parfum d’Empire’s Azemour les Orangers. Azemour has been much admired by other perfume bloggers and it is a long lived citrus composition. The beginning is a lovely medley of citrus voices singing a cappella, and this is the part of the perfume I like the best. Why? Because Azemour is a canticle composed for about an orange grove in Morocco, and it is very evocative indeed of the deep blue Mediterranean sky, and the arid mid day heat, and the polyrhythmic chant of cicadas.
And one of the most evocative parts of the whole composition is cumin.
Cumin, however, is like love, and the late Elizabeth Taylor: by turns utterly enchanting and rather off-putting, and you never know, one minute to the next which impression will be upper-most. For the most part, I am in the non-cumin admiring camp. I do not think that cumin is the most beautiful thing I have ever smelled. In fact to me it often seems rather common and a bit sweaty. Also like the late Elizabeth Taylor, it frequently upstages other actors in any production it’s in, and gets shrill when it doesn’t get what it wants. That’s the case here.
The trouble is that without all that cumin Azemour would be just another citrus chypre of a kind that used to be pretty thick on the ground, and which in any case, was ground policed by Edmond Roudnitska, who seemed to have been born knowing everything that anyone would ever need to know about citrus chypres* and everyone else could only say Amen. So to be an individual, Azemour needs its cumin, but for me, the cumin needs to stay in the Penzey’s jar on my spice shelf.
We will just have to go our separate ways. When I want to doze in orange groves, I put on Parfums de Nicolai’s Cologne Sologne instead.
*Although I smelled the current version of Diorella the other day and though it was recognizable, Diorella was thin and reminiscent of furniture polish. Had the formula been diluted?