Thursday, November 8, 2018

Chanel Cristalle: fragrance review, history & comparison of concentrations

To consider Cristalle by Chanel a predominantly "fresh" scent begs the question: which version of it? Contrary to some of the previous fresh scents that dominated the 1970s like Eau de Patou, Eau Libre (YSL) or Eau de Rochas, Cristalle has circulated in two distinct variations that differ considerably.

Although only one of them is set in the 1970s, namely the eau de toilette original version, the 1990s eau de parfum edition is also popular and perhaps blurs the lines most between simple freshness and ripe enigma; if the citrus burst of the eau de toilette is a sunny but still crisp morning, then the more floral chypre leaning of the eau de parfum is late afternoon when the warmth of the sun has made everything ripen and smell moist and earthy.

The structure of Chanel Cristalle Eau de Toilette is citrusy green, almost cologne-y, with only a hint of chypre perfume  structure; more jovial, more unisex and altogether happier. The structure of the Cristalle Eau de Parfum version is more feminine, with the floral offset of jasmine and ylang ylang bringing to the fore the more romantic elements. If the former is a brainy librarian, the latter is a brainy librarian with one button undone on her blouse. As you would surmise from my description, I like and respect both, but would personally find more cause for celebration in the latter.

Cristalle is a case in point where the genius of Henri Robert is fittingly corralled to that of Jacques Polge, the two perfumers responsible for the creation of the former and the latter editions respectively.

The 1970s were all about freshness, vivacity, a new energy with the youth movement and the female emancipation. A lively citrusy green scent like Cristalle Eau de Toilette sounds totally logical and expected of the historical context. Cristalle Eau de Toilette has endured and has gained new fans over the decades exactly because it is a triumph of mind over matter. It feels tinglingly fresh, yes; it feels brainy and perfect for sharing whether you are a man or a woman. It also fits its architectural packaging to a T, perhaps more than any other perfume in the Chanel stable. It feels sleek and sparse and 100% proud of it. It also means that when you opt for it you know you're picking the freshest thing in the shop; there is nary a fresher scent on the Chanel counter now or ever. Only the galbanum throat-slicing-blade of the original Chanel No.19 could be compared for sheer chill!

But what about the Eau de Parfum version of Chanel's Cristalle?

The 1990s have gained an odd reputation in perfume lovers' minds because they mostly contributed the mega trend of the "ozonic" and "marine" fragrances, scents cutting loose with the denser and richer French and American tradition and ushering a sense of Japanese zen into personal fragrance. At the time they produced a huge chasm with everything that preceded them; and fittingly one of the first to do so was Kenzo pour Homme in 1991. Suddenly one wearing such a quiet scent seemed like someone walking in velvet slippers contrasted with a Louboutin stiletto wearer, emitting Dior Poison, marking some poor 18th century parquet floor; you instantly knew who was going to get more sympathetic smiles and friendly nods of the head and who was to be greeted with wrinkled noses. Such were the mores then; we have become loud with our scent choices again of course. But the overindulgence in quiet can become deafening in the end and this is what happened by the end of that grunge-dominated decade. Still Chanel Cristalle Eau de Parfum managed to straddle the ground between quiet and loud, producing a composition between soft flannel wool and luxurious yet rough soie sauvage which was advertised with the immortal line: "Exuberance comes of age!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Perfume as a Personal Story: the Auteur Viewpoint

Lucien François, famous journalist and critic of the 1920s, used to say about perfumers that they are mirage creators, constructors of a unique world, of a piece of paradise. We, perfumephiles, can certainly read those lines and nod our heads sympathetically, even at the distance of a century between us.


Back then perfume makers, perfumers themselves as well as perfume company directors such as François Coty or Jean François Houbigant prior to him, were surrounded by a halo of celebrity, which—although abandoned for a great part of the 20th century—has recently been revived thanks to the resurgence of the perfumer-star or—more intellectually—auteur du parfum, a term which creates its own connotations.

Perfumery became tied to fashion design in the early 20th century,  losing its apothecary axis of individualised attention to the client, opting for a more uniform product. Practices changed with the advent of World War II and the pacing up of the industry, speeding its metamorphosis into a commercial vehicle, meant a disruption of the exclusive perfumer attached to a single firm. New constraints, such as the procurance of raw materials or cost studies shifted perfumery into a web of technical support which necessitated bigger firms with the necessary equipment, staff and know how instead of the "one-man show" of days of yore. Perfumery became an industry, heavy industry for some countries such as France and the USA, but it also lost something of that momentous revelation that was at the core of previous creations. From "directive" and cutting out a path for other fashions, perfumery assimilated the cultural milieu seeking to comply to the consumer instead, to heed to sociological needs, to anticipate its desires instead of creating them in the first place so as to ensure growth and sales. Marketing studies attended to the most minutiae variations in public's tastes.

Perfume sought to create a "look," a personality for the wearer, to reflect a specific mold, often amalgamating the one of the brand with the one of the wearer; designer brands especially continue to be very sensitive into having their perfumed products reflect their aesthetic principles first shown on the catwalk. This consolidated the notion of the "signature scent" for the masses, but it also guaranteed brand loyalty; there were the Chanel followers, the Dior acolytes, the Yves Saint Laurent fans...

In a relance that harkens back to the Cahiers du Cinema concept of "auteur," authentic perfume creators (be it perfumers themselves or art directors such as Serge Lutens or Frederic Malle) re-establish their role into directing the public instead of being directed by the market, and consolidate their authorship. Perfumers who have really thought out their craft and have exalted it into the level of art, such as Jean Claude Ellena displays in his book Diary of a Nose, approve of the term "auteur du parfum," as their journey is parallel to that of a writer. It also poses the same ethical issues: authorship means intellectual property rights.

A fragrance as an intellectual work means the return of creativity; the imperceptible twists in a generic, crowd-pleasing formula which could create a million similar, homogenized scents—like pasteurized milk in different cartons—is unacceptable by this standard. Houses are increasingly returning to engaging a single "nose" for their creations: Chanel already had a steady with Jacques Polge and Guerlain with Jean Paul Guerlain, but Patou perfumes managed to effortlessly pass from Jean Kerléo to Jean-Michel Duriez and Hermès to earn Jean Claude Ellena. L'Artisan Parfumeur has increasingly used Bertrand Duchaufour, Lutens has an almost unbreakable bond with Chris Sheldrake.

Modern creators offer a perfume for an occasion, a perfume for a specific mood, be it joyous (Le Temps d'une fête), innocent (La Chasse aux papillons), contemplative (Angéliques sous la pluie), mystical (Avignon) or wistful (Douce Amère), a scent for a man's or a woman's persona rather than personality, as in role-playing, and thus they re-connect with the momentous revelation that fragrance used to mean to the awe-receptive audiences of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Autumn Harvest and Shamhain: The Warmth of the Season

Late autumn is a sure signal of embracing the joys of the hearth to whom I'm not at all averse. Before the temperatures demand lightening the fireplace with a proper, roaring log fire (it's not too cold where I am yet, in fact it's unusually warm this year), lightening scented candles makes for a cozy ambience in res media. Diptyque's Maquis and Figuier candles, preferably lit together to throw their combined scent, is probably the most nostalgic scent for me personally, reminiscent as it is of the aroma of the Mediterranean countryside, filled with the burnished copper of immortelle, the sapling of the fig tree and its bittersweet smelling leaves slowly decaying on the moistened soil. And oranges, lots of oranges...

photo, borrowed, credit: Nik Sharma A Brown Table via

Some of the fragrances I long to wear again this month are as follows:

Une Fleur de Cassie (Éditions des Parfums Frédéric Malle)

It didn't take me a trip to fragrance capital, Grasse, to appreciate the exquisite technique showcasing every nook and cranny of the mimosa/cassie essences, but that didn't do any harm either! Une Fleur de Cassie has the right amount of "dirty" gusset to hint at coarse carnality (cassie absolute is notoriously musky, jasmine absolute is indolic) while at the same time remaining a gorgeous floral (hints of carnation and rose absolute), smudging its odds and ends into almost an oriental (sandalwood, vanillic fond)

Like This (Etat Libre d'Orange created in collaboration with Tilda Swinton) 

A natural autumnal option since it features actual notes of pumpkin, gingerbread spices, everlasting flower (immortelle), warm woody notes and the scent of damp, mulch-rich earth (in the very best way). Mmmm, probably a cult gourmand since contrary to other gourmand fragrances heavy on the foody aspects this harvest scent has perfumistas flocking to it.

Black Orchid (Tom Ford)

Forget every blurb you read about how the perfume was developed according to Tom's specifications it should smell "like a man's crotch." (Glurp! I know you wish you hadn't heard of that. Unless you're playing for the other team, in which case grab this to try out.) Thankfully, this truffle and flowers on a vanilla base floriental doesn't smell as crude as that might make it sound. But it's undeniably sexy all the same, and cozy too in its own way.

Santal Blush (Tom Ford)

A gorgeous, clean, dry sandalwood fragrance with an immediate message of sensuousness and no boozy aftertaste; beautiful and wearable, as tactile as smooth silk cushions. Unisex fare!

Molecule 01 (Escentric Molecules)

If you want to give the impression you don't wear anything (play them low and reap them high) this mono-molecule fragrance (it's full of just aromachemical Iso-E Super) at an optimum concentration will trick your date into believing it's just your skin smelling that good. Totally abstract, can't place it, can't put a finger on it, fuzzy, buzzy, delicious trail...

L'Orpheline (Serge Lutens)

This "orphaned girl" is such a peculiarly unisex blend that I dare anyone to smell it and attribute it to girls. Its slightly body odor-ish intimacy is kinda addictive; I wore intensely when it came out with no diminished enjoyment for its austere woods, intense musks, hint of herbal bitters and wink of sweet spice. I put it aside for a while but need to bring it out again. A bit of cozy dirt can be good for the soul!

La Myrrhe (Serge Lutens)

Myrrh gum is part of ecclesiastical incense alongside frankincense for millennia. You would expect a true blue oriental going by the name, right? Lutens infuses the bitter ambience of myrrh with candied mandarin rind and citrusy aldehydes which bring this on the upper plane of an airy aldehydic. Somehow it wears lightly but solemnly too (just like the season isn't yet dead cold, right?) and it resembles nothing else on the market. Crisp days bring La Myrrhe's attributes to the fore and it remains amongst my most precious possessions.

Antaeus (Chanel)

A masculine in my rotation and a powerfully 1980s at that, bringing the era back as surely as quarterback shoulder pads, Doc Martins and "mullet" hairstyles. Who said fall isn't about nostalgia? The beeswax leathery honeyed carnality is palpable. I consider it among my sexiest fall fragrances and feedback suggests I'm not delusional…

Hypnotic Poison (Christian Dior)

I'm cheating with this one, as I actually use the body lotion instead of the eau de parfum or eau de toilette versions. Still the fetish-y red, poisoined apple creates as much intrigue with its looks as it does with its scent. Fairy tales and original sin mix and testimonies say it works on guys like a magical charm. The bitter almond folded into vanilla cream radiates with the sensuality of musk and jasmine.

And for an interesting (a ha!) juxtaposition with what I was anticipating of wearing last year approaching the beginning of fall, here is the link to last year's autumn fragrances picks. And yet another list of autumn perfumes, divided into trickesters and treaters,  in the spirit of Halloween and Shamhain. For those celebrating Dia de los Muertos, here is a recipe for kolyva dessert, the traditional offering (spondee) to the dead in my culture.

Here's to a lovely rest of the fall season and a beautiful winter ahead!
Let me know which are your favorite or most worn fragrances this season in the comments.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Breaking the Cellophane on a New Bottle of Robert Piguet Bandit

Just some photos I took upon opening a third bottle of Robert Piguet's Bandit perfume. One of my favorites as it transpires.

photo copyright Elena Vosnaki

It wouldn't seem possible for such a forceful fragrance as Bandit, not to mention a collection of hundreds of scent, but yes, the two bottles on the left have been enjoyably drained to their last dregs. The one on the right is the latest one, the "new"one (bought a few years back as a back-up, please note).

all photos by Elena Vosnaki

Doesn't it look spanking new and cute? I can't wait to start wearing it again! Usually I wear it in the summer, but I think I'm missing out on this tough stuff during the winter.

There is a difference in the cap between the former batch and the batch I just opened (bought a few years ago as a back-up, as mentioned above). The older one, on the right, has the initials etched on the cap. The newer one is smooth and sleek. Also, please note the older one is polygonal in layout, while the newer one is round all around. Other than that no differences on the bottle design itself. 

This is the "certified" original formula, as assured by Givaudan. Some bottles bear this certification in further proof of the company's adherence to excellence.
Bandit by Robert Piguet is a marvel from 1944 coming alive on the skin in 2018. Priceless. 

All photos copyright by Elena Vosnaki

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