Monday, April 14, 2008

Twin Peaks: Chanel No.19 and Heure Exquise reviews & comparison

Two sisters cut from the same cloth, but parting ways in their pursuit of self-fulfilment is not an uncommon scenario in real life, but when it happens to fragrances the comparison warrants exploration. A beautiful icy queen in contrapuncto to a bohemian lady of pedigree is how these two seem.

In Chanel No.19 I find every bit of that confident self-assurance that few women project without appearing displeasingly haughty. Composed by Henri Robert in 1971 for Coco Chanel herself, who supposedly overlook its creation from start to finish and first commissioned it for herself while in her 80s, it's one of the compelling masterpieces of perfumery and I personally love it dearly.
A very cool and powdery iris sings in soprano voice above the greenest vetiver and crunchiest galbanum this side of pre-reformulation Vent Vert; green jasmine vine dew and a little wood and leather give it aloof sophistication. It wears equally well on a hot day or a cool rainy one and this is an admirable trait, making it a perfect spring choice. Poised between green floral and green chypre, to me it definitely leans to the latter, a very elegant and confident one at that, that does not demand dressy clothes but could be just as fetching with something more casual. I picture it with a crisp white shirt on and silver bangles on a warm day, hair down; carefree and free-spirited and a little audacious to contrast with its primness of character. It would be a grave mistake to pair it with twin sets and pearls, all the paraphernalia of prim and proper, subtracting from its strict-boss sexiness.

The three concentrations are quite different from one another and thus worth comparing.
The Eau de Toilette comes in a refillable spray bottle, same as the classic No.5 but in silvery brushed aluminum instead of black; or a flat oblong spray bottle with a rectangular black or silver cap. The Eau de Parfum comes in the classic flat Chanel bottle with curved edges, with a spraying mechanism, just like No.5 in Eau de Parfum. Parfum is of course encased in the loveliest flacon of the three, with the excellent craftmanship reserved for the top products of the line.
Each of them hides a different aromatic secret: Eau de Toilette is the sharpest, dewiest and startingly greenest of the three, an affair of iris and vetiver in a naughty tryst after the executive power breakfast.
On the other hand Eau de Parfum, a creation of the 80s, highlights the crystalline Rose de Mai, along with jasmine, appearing more amply floral and curvaceously richer, justifying the green floral categorisation. Parfum is closer to Eau de Toilette, with a subtler projection however, the green whisper of violet leaves and vetiver embracing the coolness and powderiness of iris. The hint of undergrowth via oakmoss is also a bit more pronounced, which might signal the toll of death for the precious formula in light of IFRA and EU restrictions in the near future (let's hope not!)

Myself I have a preference for the translucent, icy clarity of the Eau de Toilette. In fact I am perfectly satisfied with it to the point I don't feel the need for parfum in this one, unless one is concerned with sharpness and projection.
The Eau de Parfum has a tendency towards turning sour on me, adding to my frustration with rosy accents that I am forever trying to come to terms with. But for rose lovers, this is the concentration to go after.
There are also two distinct formulae on this one, as attested by two differently hued bottles in the same store, which were of slightly different batches: one more emerald green, another more yellowish. Light or time deterioration could not be the culprit for the difference, as the first pigments to deteriorate are blue-toned ones, then red, then yellow, much like it happens with wines (a purple or green hue in red and white wine respectively -both shades containing a bit of blue in them- is a sure sign of a fresh batch and not an aged vintage).
There is discussion of reformulation, which is especially poignant regarding parfum, if so. The Parfum flacons I have come across do not present shade differences (yet) and are uniformely an ambery colour juice, but this is not to indicate that it will not follow the other concentrations in the future.

Notes for Chanel No.19:
Top: lemon, galbanum, bergamot
Heart: violet Leaf, rose de Mai, jasmine Grandiflorum from Grasse, ylang ylang, orris Root, lily of the valley
Base: vetiver, leather, sandalwood, oakmoss

Heure Exquise by Annick Goutal means "exquisite hour" and refers of course to what Guerlain poetically called l'heure bleue: the moment when the sun has set, but the night sky has not yet found its stars.
There is a wonderful poem by Paul Verlaine titled "La lune blanche"/"White Moon" which uses the very phrase in the end and it would be magnificent to think that it might have served as an inspiration:

"The white moon shines in the woods.
From each branch springs a voice
beneath the arbor.
Oh my beloved...

Like a deep mirror, the pond reflects
the silhouette of the black willow
where the wind weeps.
Let us dream! It is the hour...

A vast and tender calm seems to descend
from a sky made iridescent by the moon.
It is the exquisite hour!"

~Translation from the French by Grant A. Lewis (, referenced through this link with a comparison with the French text.

According to Michael Edwards, if you like Hermès Hiris or Chanel No.19 (both boasting a hefty amount of iris and in fact sharing a similar skeleton of perfume structure with Heure) you will like Heure Exquise. And in this case the correlation is eminently apparent!
Composed by Annick Goutal and Henri Sorsana (her perfumery mentor) in 1984, at a time when such cool and shady compositions were not the norm, it departs with its soapy iris note.
Goutal pegs it as:
"A sophisticated trail of Turkish rose, a gentle powdery base of iris from Florence and Mysore sandalwood. This fragrance recreates the atmosphere of a rose garden that blossoms with the passing of each exquisite hour."
Heure Exquise is a gentler, less astrigent sister of Chanel No.19, drier even and more powdery, with a more romantic, presque bohème streak due to its animalic submantle. Despite it being a newer creation than the Chanel it posseses an Art Deco vibe that is more old-fashioned than No.19.
Ravishing green pepperiness of galbanum provides the arresting first impression while the mysterious mists of iris with its powdery note enforces the similarity. Rose blossoms emitting their aroma in a dusky garden peak through in true feminine form.
However on closer inspection there is an almost incense-like feel of woody resiny aroma which contributes to the sui generis character of the whole. A subtle vanillic hint plays hide and seek in the woody base, never sweet. The progression does not change much on a blotter or on the skin and the tenacity and sillage are a bit more subdued than No.19. It is less cooly composed, less correct in its demeanour, with hair slightly out of place perhaps and clothes that might defy the rules of ineffable chic, but more spontaneous and passionate as a result.

The comparison between the two fragrances reminds me of the two sisters in the film The Heart of Me, based on the novel by Rosamond Lehmann. Set in 1930s London, it features two sisters - Madeleine and Dinah, played by Olivia Williams and Helena Bonham Carter respectively - and their contrasting characters: one marries Rickie (Paul Bettany), a debonair City businessman; the other falls in love with him. He begins an affair which is to have repercussions throughout their lives.
To feel the differences between the two sisters, you can watch the trailer, clicking here.

Heure Exquise like Dinah "might not be the most elegant creature, but it has passion". If No.19 becomes seriously compromised it is an excellent alternative and a wonderful stand alone perfume in any case.

Notes for Heure Exquise:
Top: Turkish rose
Middle: Orris
Base: Mysore sandalwood

Pic of Chanel No.19 ad courtesy of Parfum de Pub, pic of Goutal bottles courtesy of Annick Goutal official site.


  1. I'm happy with Heure Exquise -- and Hiris. Chanel 19 eludes me. I have some smaller sprays and a perfume (or edp) and occasionally I will wear it.

    I think I like HE right now. I wore Hiris a lot when I first got it. It's probably the right time of year to try it again!

  2. If you're happy with it, then by all means stick with it! I would guess that with your warm personality, HE would be perfect
    And yes, it's the perfect time of the year to try again!

  3. Anonymous17:50

    I must admit, that I don't like the picture of No.19 advertisement. The woman and the man, they simply look too American. Maybe it is an advertisement made for the U.S., but it doesn't fit - in my opinion.
    But I love the scent.

  4. You do have a point, dear L: they do look American! Hadn't thought of it that way. I mostly went for a less used image :-P
    But I think that since No.19 was always tied to women's emancipation (time frame as well as confident scent), it fits that it was tied with an American association. Well, in a way...

    I do love the scent as well. I am happy you say so! :-)

  5. Anonymous20:39

    Agree with anynomous, the couple in the picture strike me as fresh and happy in the American way; that is for me both un-sophisticated and un-sexy. A pity, since the perfume is very sophisticated, an even sexy (in an intelligent way, but with bottomless mystical depths..)! I have owned a bottle in the perfume strenght, and the perfume caressed the cortex more than most perfumes, but also stirred something in the deepest part of the brain/soil.
    perhaps the Chanel I like the most, but I'm not sure, since it perhaps tend to be to "cerebral" (can't explain why this impression)

  6. Anonymous20:40

    too cerebral, I meant..

  7. Funny you should say that, SP! The American way connotating unsexy, unsophisticated thoughts. I am not sure I agree as much, although it's an interesting suggestion. The choice of the ad was rather going for the least used one and it suggested to me a certain dare on the woman's part: something that suggests a woman twisting the man around her finger and not the other way around.
    That's why I chose it. I can see it stroke some chords, nevertheless!

    I do agree there is an intelligent sexiness in No.19 and this is part of why I love it. Too cerebral, now there's a thought! And a very, very intriguing one (thanks for making me think about it that way)

  8. Anonymous22:26

    I didn't mean to indicate that the American way connotate unsexy, unsophisticated thoughts, but that the type of couple pictured look unsexy and actually also unsophisticated in a way that at the same time looked American. Of course Americans can be sexy, but for me this particular type of freshness as in this picture (that more often americans have than others) is NOT sexy. But I find some sexiness in no 19, therefore the discrepancy..

  9. Thanks for clarifying. I suspected so, but wasn't sure how you thought about it.
    It's interesting to note however that the ad is French ;-)
    (and the slogan is in French as further proof). I believe this is an aesthetic that was en vogue during the early 80s as attested by French Elle mag ads.
    Funny, huh?

  10. Anonymous23:40

    I love No. 19. It is one of my two "happy" scents, immediately uplifting. (The other is Kiki by Vero.) Imagine my surprise when I saw Tania Sanchez describe it as "neurotic" (p. 195) and a "cruel" "wire mother" ((p. 261). Hunh? I think this reaction is one for the analyst's couch.

    Thanks for the warning about not delaying a purchase.

  11. Anonymous01:38

    i don't know how i've not paid attention heure exquise! sounds right up my alley, messy hair and all. i love no. 19, but in the edp it sometimes feels as if it's wearing me. the edt sparkles! - minette

  12. Maria,

    I find it uplifting as well: icy but beautiful; and certainly very agreeable to wear.
    I can't account for others' opinions of course, but interesting to contemplate!
    I disagree bien entendu...

    It's always a good idea to stock up on a version that you love :-)

  13. Minette,
    thank you for chiming in. Yes, the EDT in No.19 sparkles! Exactly right! I feel the EDP is too much for me as well (not so with parfum though).

    I think you might give Heure Exquise a chance: it's very feminine and beguiling in its old fashioned approach.

  14. No. 19 is a new found love for me, it is, as you said, carefree elegance. I think towards the end of the POL discussion some people mentioned that the current parfum version is now made light green, and as far as I have understood from the discussion the smell has been altered long before the color change.

    This is the second review of Heure Exquise I read within a week, it's making its way up on my to-try-list.

  15. Anonymous10:46

    N°19 is the one and only for me, not the perfume but the "eau de toilette", green, subtle and sexy (to me) there is a hint of civette there somewhere... The perfume is also beautiful but too much on the vetiver side. Don't take me wrong; I love vetiver, but in this compo it makes it go on the sour side like you said. The extrait is gorgeous but I feel like you; I don't really need it,as I am perfectly happy with my eau de toilette!

  16. Dear L,

    you should definitely try HE and I am looking forward to your impressions.

    It goes without saying that perfumes change all the time: those batches of classic made in the 60s are not the same as those batches made in the 30s etc etc.
    I am not surprised No.19 has been tampered with, the question is how much and to what degree the formula has been skewed...

  17. Nathalie, welcome! (and bravo on your impecable English)

    I can sympathise with loving the sparkling, luminous eau de toilette in No.19: "L'audace a son numero!"

  18. I got to compare two different batches of No. 19 extrait side by side, they are (at least the topnotes) quite different, the newer one is very much more green and sharp. But there is always a complication when it comes to compare something new with something vintage, namely that fact that it's hard to know whether the difference comes from pure aging or formulation changes.

  19. Not to mention that one has to know exact vintage (not that something is merely old) to monitor any changes with accuracy, etc.
    Thanks for letting me know. It had to happen. Our stock of No.19 parfum moves in snail tempo so I might get lucky and score some more in time?

  20. Anonymous17:11

    It is great that we can compare our opinion of that picture, you picked it and it created a discussion. The man has too white teeth :) and looks like a very successful lawyer with his always perfect wife. That is the typical American picture of a happy, successful couple. And maybe I am weird, but it is not sexy in my eyes. :-)
    You completely confused me with the edt/edp. I will try and spray them on each of my hands next time to compare them.

  21. The man does have very white teeth, which is assuredly a completely American phenomenon, I won't argue with that!! LOL!

    No, you're not weird, that "image" you describe (asides from cultural references) speaks of conventionality which is rather anthithetical to the romantic ideal of adventurous passion. True.I am happy it provided such animated discussion :-)

    I confused you, huh? Sorry about that, not my intention :-O
    Well, EDT is more citrus-galbanum-iris-vetiver, EDP is more rose-jasmin-vetiver, if that helps.
    I know that EDP and EDT have been reformulated, but not sure on exact date.
    Is that a little better now?
    I am looking forward to your comments should you do the side by side comparison.

  22. What serendipity! I received a bottle of vintage No. 19 parfum today. I had to get some to compare to edt, which I absolutely adore. I’m not so in love with parfum. It is mostly vetiver and leather on me. Nothing wrong with that except that it lacks the stunning iris note and aggressive greenness of edt. I’m glad I first discovered No. 19 in edt. If I had tried parfum first, I would not have found this scent remarkable.

  23. I'm wondering how much our preferences have been changing, say it is 1978 instead of 2008 today, would we have found the advertisement more attractive?

  24. Dear I,

    I am so happy you chime in and confirm my own feeling that the EDT in No.19 is a liquid emerald! I love it, especially for the reason you're highlighting: the "agressive greeness". I do like the parfum as well, but I would rather choose that in the Rue Cambon collection scents instead.

  25. Dear L,

    very succinct point: time frame makes for a lot of difference usually.
    However this is an advertisement from the early 80s I believe, to be accurate.

  26. From their outfits I have also guessed sometime around the 80s, but I wanted to say a year that was ending with 8 to rhyme with 2008 ;-). Perhaps it is even more interesting, would we have found anything attractive if it is slightly ahead of time, or put in another way, what would people say about it by the end of 70s? We can probably not find the answer anymore, but just a Gedankenexperiment it was amusing.

  27. Anonymous14:55

    I haven't tried L'Heure Exquise (but i'll catch up!) but i wanted to chime into tell you how much i love the Verlaine poem. No.19 EdP is my favourite version because i like its denseness and warmth which is lacking a bit to me in the EdT-it turns metallic on my skin after a short while. No.19 is one of the rare greens that is cool and at the same time a little bit wicked inside. I like that. Spring and early summer are my favourite seasons for it.

  28. Thank you dear N! And I am all giddy inside knowing you love the Verlaine poem. Isn't it wonderful?
    I would guess that EDP would be good for you, in No.19 as it's more roundly floral chypre, less astrigent.
    Myself I also enjoy No.19 in spring and summer: it goes very well with warmth, even heat (same with Bandit, which I wear in summer)
    I love how you say No.19 is "cool and a little bit wicked"! Perfect! ;-)

  29. Anonymous16:51

    I Love it! <3

  30. Glad you do! And welcome :-)

  31. Anonymous20:04

    Dear Perfume Shrine:

    Thanks for your review and comments on this little reviewed, beautiful fragrance, Heure Exquise. I know I am way late to this conversation, but I just needed to comment. I obtained a number of AG samples late this spring, looking for some magnificent floral for a big occasion. I wasn't looking for anything like Heure Exquise at all, but had tested it, etc. with the other AG's. A few weeks later I revisited it. It was like falling head over heels in love, completely dumbstruck. I am normally a great floriental type. But suddenly, and without any anticipation, I completely fell for HE. I love this fragrance completely. I have a number of other beautiful fragrances, but I'd give them all up for this one now in a minute. It is so quiet, so beautiful, so wonderful. Yes, it does have that messy sophistication and tons of confidence. It goes with everything. It is like a slow burn with that wonderful, linear sandalwood. I must confess I hardly get any rose from this at all - just a wonderful iris sandalwood just dazzles me. I want to wear it all the time....I am so glad I found it! What a coincidence! No surprise - finding love when you are looking for something else entirely. I don't see much mention of HE on the perfume blogs, so I just wanted to share my love with a sympathetic post!

  32. Anon,

    I just discovered this comment, so profuse apologies for not responding any sooner, thanks for stopping by (welcome to Perfume Shrine!) and very happy you liked the review: I like Heure Exquise very much myself and find it very wearable. I wonder why it hasn't received the love it so rightly deserves.
    Enjoy in good health!

  33. Anonymous01:57

    i got the Americanism too apart from his teeth his jacket shirt and tie are the colours of American Flag !Subversive!

  34. Anon,

    oh but it IS an American-geared advertisement. Most of Chanel's are, actually. The French is for frenchiness (it's a well known catchphrase). The brand heavily advertised to the American market throughout its history. In fact the famous Deneuve advertisements of No.5 were SOLELY for the American market!! Deneuve in fact required that they never aired in France (And her own eponymous Deneuve scent was created for the US market too, and distributed by Avon!)

    (as an aside: I really don't know why the US market is being dumped so much in the mind of most perfume lovers)


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