This is a marvel of a perfume. If you are new to the world of scent and just trying to get a grip on what the difference between an oriental and a chypre is, Francois Coty’s name is one to know. He was born a Corsican and his original name was actually Spoturno, but he abandoned that in favor of his mother’s maiden name Coti, which he subsequently gallicized to Coty. France’s first billionaire, Coty was also the first man to use floral extracts in his perfumes (these were stronger and pure-er than the old floral distillates). The result was several stunningly original perfumes and in 1917, Chypre, the fore runner of all modern chypres, and a true feat of perfumery, combining extremes of lightness and darkness, freshness and muskiness, scrubbed cleanliness and grubby sexiness in one unified whole.
Chypre was not entirely a new genre in fragrances. There are old recipes for perfumes that are quite similar to chypre formulas dating from as far back as the 17th century. (A recipe called Marechale is close and was still produced by the Crown perfumery as late as 1990 or so) but Coty’s Chypre contains the list of ingredients that most people associate with modern chypres, that is: a predominately bergamot opening, a floral midsection, and a complex ending containing oakmoss, labdanum, and in Chypre’s case a substantial amount of civet, styrax, and moss. This basic arrangement is typical of twentieth century chypre fragrances, you might call them the compound-complex sentences of the perfume world.
Chypre was practically a perfect fragrance. No less a perfumer than Edmond Roudnitska remembered it in the years after Coty released the scent as marvelously balanced. He admired Chypre, remembered the formula, and years later- one can’t help thinking when he developed Femme- must have been evoking both Chypre and Guerlain’s innovative essay on the same theme, MItsouko. Like Jacques Guerlain, Roudnitska topped off his concoction with a fruit, only in Femme it is prune rather than peach that garnishes the cocktail.
Coty’s Chypre though is exclusively citrus in the opening though not otherwise fruity, and although the fragrance contains flowers, the overall impression is austere. You are always aware of the structure of Chypre. You sense the animalic base underneath the roses, jasmines, carnations, iris and the fruits of the perfume, but the result is neither feminine nor masculine. Chypre, like Jicky, suits either sex equally well.
If you can find old bottles of Chypre you are lucky, but they are difficult to come across. The fame of Chypre as a vintage perfume has grown over the years and of the different formulations out there, some are distinctly better than others. If you see the bottle with the lalique cap and blue* or amber tinted contents you have probably hit the jackpot, but you are much more likely to see a square bottle with a gold knob cap and a green label. This is a re issue of some old Coty perfumes from the 1990’s, and they vary in quality. You often find them: La Rose Jaqueminot, Les Muses, and Chypre in gift sets from that era on Ebay and the version of Chypre they contain is only a sketchy outline of
the perfume as it was in its heyday, although even there you enjoy a complex and powdery dry down. In order to get a sense of the original you have to look for the older bottles and they seldom surface on Ebay anymore without provoking a bidding war. Even the smallest sizes of the old perfume can command serious prices.
My solution, (and it’s a humble pragmatic one) is to seek out the old Chypre dusting powder. Sometimes these old canisters turn up at flea markets or estate sales for small amounts
of money and they can give you a very good idea of what the perfume was like. If sealed ( in my opinion) they sometimes survive top notes intact, better than perfume. This is my best option for living with and loving the old Chypre. I can’t say that this is my only Coty perfume, because I own several, but it is my favorite.
* Blue tinted Chypres come from Europe mainly in the 90’s.