Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oohing and Aahhing Together on my Favorite Chypres Fragrances

Chypre perfumes are what I grew up with. They form part of my heritage because I practically grew up in the greater part of the world where they were conceived originally, the Eastern Mediterranean. Coty's version was a re-imagining. They also smell familiar because practically all the women in my family (and a few men) favored them. For us Southern Europeans the scents of powder, of dryness, of bitter-like scents, and associatively of lack of perspiration, indicate grooming and an immaculately polished appearance. Despite or perhaps because of the region's cultural preponderance to both a groomed rigidity and a carnal sexuality that oozes through every sweaty pore, chypres with darker, animalic elements have seemed both right and alluring. It's a paradox since high temperatures also favor a lighter scent; yet chypre fragrances have the added advantage to not only cut through the heat but almost alleviate it a bit to both the wearer's and the sniffer's mind thanks to their highly volatile citrusy top notes and their starched, mossy undertone.
In short they fit like a glove.

I like them all. Tailored chypres, classic chypres, nouveau chypres and patchouli florals too!

Initially my concept into sharing some of my personal favorite fragrances, as requested by readers, was to highlight less well known specimens. And in part that's what I did with my rather eclectic mix presented in my previous post on A few of my favorite less celebrated fragrances where I also matched them with some of my favorite verse. Chypres however for the reasons I have explained in that previous post have gained a status of rarefied "against the grain" chicness amidst the market selection.

Mossy fragrances can sometimes appear out of step too, dragging the "old lady perfume" stigma with them. I'm brushing that thought away with an assured "hell no care" shrug of the shoulders and I suggest you do the same. The truth is this fragrance family has included some of the most masterful perfumes in modern perfumery. And we can collectively sigh with pleasure at unapologetically liking them.

Here a few of my favorite chypre fragrances in alphabetical order.
NB. I did not include true leather scents though because technically these are a breed apart (though sometimes conflated with chypres). For leather scents please consult the Leather Series. Also discounted green florals, such as Chanel No.19 (which I love in summer heat) or Cristalle for similar reasons.

Armani original eau de parfum pour femme
I wore this in high school. A girl was so inspired she copied me relentlessly. Needless to say I'm heartbroken it got discontinued.

Aromatics Elixir by Clinique
Practically my very definition of a true chypre. Huge patchouli beast with rose, an enchanted forest. I first fell with love it in junior high. Almost every woman in Athens has worn it at some point or other. Huge best-seller and the most delicious trail on any passerby.

Bottega Veneta eau de parfum by Bottega Veneta
Rich prune fruity compote with a troubling under torrent. Delightful.

Cabochard by Madame Gres
My mother's beloved in its original formula and for that reason a poignant and sweet

Bandit eau de parfum by Robert Piguet
The scent of a dominatrix is also a fiercely green mossy one.

Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve (distributed by Avon in the US market)
What would you have expected from perfumista-celebrity La Deneuve? All that and more.

Diorella, Dioressence and Miss Dior (original) by Dior
I have covered all these in my Dior series. Linked above are detailed reviews & historical snippets.

Diorling by Dior
Cusp between leathery and chypre. Smooth as sin, beautiful like an angel.

Doblis by Hermes
La douleur exquise. Don't get me started. It's criminal that this smoothest of chypre -suede compositions isn't (and isn't going to be) re-issued.

Femme by Rochas
As feminine as its name suggests, as streamlined as a tailleur. I love the modern re-edition by Cresp where the note of cumin boosts the sexiness hundred-fold.

Jean Louis Scherrer I (original) by Jean Louis Scherrer
Liquid emeralds. This.

Jubilation 25 by Amouage
Proof that modern fruity chypres can be made to perfection.

Mitsouko by Guerlain
The reference fruity chypre with a mouthwatering (to me at least) cinnamon-clove addition, especially perceptible in the lighter concentrations such as the eau de toilette and eau de cologne.

Paloma Picasso (Mon Parfum) by Paloma Picasso
This is one of the loveliest, dense yet wearable chypre in existence. I don't know why people don't wear it more. It also lasts for eons.

Une Rose Chypree by Tauer Perfumes
Another modern fragrance that proves one can do a fabulous chypre with today's materials. My bottle has run out.

Y by Yves Saint Laurent
The most polished chypre gem. From the most elegant couturier to walk this earth. Deep love.

Concluding, it's not a coincidence I have reviewed in detail and referenced all of these perfumes many times. They resonate.

Feel free to add your own (or your own experiences with them) in the comments!


  1. Oh chypres! Many I love and own, others I'm still on the search, but I have to agree on Aromatics; it feels like the chypre definition to a t. I remember that Athens was also big in Narciso back in 2004/2005, practically smelling it everywhere. And of course Aromatics, and sometimes even Opium. That's something I miss from modern day Madrid; sillage and heavy hitters. Sometimes I'll catch a whiff of Opium, the real thing, but most of the times it's either La vie est Belle or something other. No wonder that when I wear PERFUME people act like hamsters in a cage. I guess they've forgotten how it's like. Not smelling like candy I mean!

    1. oh, how i do agree with what you say! it!

    2. Oh, Alexandros....I could not agree with you more! Enough said!

    3. Athens -thankfully- continues to be big on Narciso for Her! (When people can afford it! It's rather spendy here)

    4. Phyllis, it's a very suggestive image that hamster in a cage. Trust Alexandros to come up with a witty one!

  2. although i love many types of perfumes, chypres would have to be my favorites. i have and love a number of the ones listed above, among many others. i even have some little old bottles of earlier chypres long since discontinued and forgotten; many are empty or nearly so, but i can still smell a bit of what beauty they used to contain...there is a wild earth magic in the chypres, to my way of thinking...

    1. Dear A,
      trust you to bring on a nostalgic tinge to a comment *dreamy sigh*
      I used to do the same with emptied little bottles; they conjured such flights of fancy on what they might be at full dose on the right owner once upon a time...Perfume weaves a powerful spell, doesn't it?
      And chypres do speak of both earth and magic. Or "wild earth magic", perfectly put!

  3. Ohhh yess... chypres! What a wonderful list, i love them! I must try the new re-edition of Femme by Rochas. My all time favorite chypre is 24 Fauborg - Hermes, it's a tresor :), I never smelled Doblis. Oh, another interesting and classic chypre Clarins - Eau Dynnamisante. What do you say about my 24 Fauborg?

    1. You really should, yes.

      I love Eau Dynamissante for the summer, it's so sharply fresh and invigorating. Great name too.

      24 Faubourg is a marvel, so rich and classy, but not a chypre. It's more of a floriental. Strong orange blossom and amber background.

    2. My last aquisition it was Bottega Veneta edp by Bottega Veneta, so glad that you named on the list, and yes my favorites are florientals, you got me :).Please share with us your favorites orientals, "the heavy category".

  4. How could i forget Hypnose Senses by Lancome and Shalimar Parfum Initial..lovely chypres too.

    1. I think both of these also lean to floriental or oriental (nothing wrong with that! love orientals as well).
      You do have great taste judging by SPI and 24F above, these are wonderful, full bodied, classy and polished scents!

  5. Mimi Gardenia21:16

    I am so glad to see your posts Elena !
    Mitsouko for me though I do love ALL chypres .I may try V by Clive Christian ..I heard this is a chypre patchouli

    1. Hi there Mimi, thanks so much for stopping by and saying so :-)
      Hope everything is going well for you.

      Mitsouko is great especially because it combines so many things in such a streamlined composition: the spice, the fruit, the density, the earthiness, the muskiness...

      And there's room for patchouli chypres too. After all there are wonderful scents built on that concept. Haven't tried V. Let me know how it works for you when you try it out!

  6. Anonymous00:14

    I'm also Greek (a Thessalonian in Athens), so it's fascinating to read about perfume culture in Greece. So interesting about the popularity of chypres. I always thought that Greeks are very trend-driven when it comes to perfume (and beauty and fashion in general), rather than having a strong perfume identity. For what it's worth, my first perfume memories are my mom wearing the rose chypre Knowing by Estee Lauder. My maternal grandma always wore that lemon Myrto cologne, the one you could find find it in most bathroom cabinets, a funny corollary to the CK One craze that exploded when I was in my teens. That and White Musk by The Body Shop. Then there was a time when, in my age group at least, you couldn't wear Hypnotic Poison without reminding some guy of a former lover. These days, I can't tell you what perfume or fragrance family dominates, even though I use public transportation almost daily. Love your blog. - Ioanna

    1. Hi Ioanna, so nice to have you here and thanks so much for the kind words on the blog! Hope to have you around often.

      Like you yourself say chypres were very common a generation ago (women in the 80s wore them a lot) and continue to be quite common for the above 35-40 group (don't you smell Aromatics Elixir often? I do all the time. Chanel No.19 which is more of a sharp green floral with a very powdery trail than a true chypre also has a dedicated audience; it's always on the middle shelf of the Chanel counters and if you ask the sales assistants they say mature women buy it with dedication). Hypnotic Poison is also huge (even now, I believe), I have mentioned it often here regarding its cultural significance. It's the powdery/starched quality that people love, even if it's in an oriental context and sweeter. White Musk is also quite powdery; another one which was extremely popular as you say especially with youngsters.
      Like I said in the post, I believe Greeks are naturally drawn to something starchy and dry because of the climate and because of the belief in what constitutes "groomed" (you won't find them taking 5 showers a day like Americans but they like the idea of smelling non sweaty/non oily...)

      This is where the lemony colognes fit as well; your grandma did what everyone did, had a pick me up scent for when one felt down or nauseous or tired. You might enjoy this (the Turks who also live in a hot climate like lemony colognes and use them much the same way; the Spaniards have a tradition of lemony colognes as well):

      Citrus also mixes well with sweat; molecules in one cancel out molecules in the other. It all works out.

      I don't disagree that Greeks are very trend-driven. They are! Especially in the rather younger age-group of 20somethings and especially in visual fashions. However the population isn't made of just those under 30. In the public transport I often catch whiffs of aldehydic florals (like White Linen -again starched!-, Rive Gauche or No.5) on mature women and grandmas (polished coifed grandmas often smell delicious, do a mental check and see for yourself). Personally if you asked me I'd say that the preponderance all age groups balanced is for the floral patchoulis right now (the mock nouveau chypres) like Flowerbomb or Prada original.

      According to sales representatives I have asked La Vie est Belle does exceptionally well. Go figure. (Not horrible, it's a passable modern "fruitchouli" thanks to the iris -starched again!- but one could do better I suppose)

    2. Anonymous05:58

      Thank you for your reply, Elena, your blog is a recent, treasured find. I will run a search on Greece here to learn more about our mutual culture's relationship with fragrance. You are astute in noting that fragrance is not limited to the young, and to be clear, at 34 (35 in "Greek age") I am at the threshold of aging out of the "younger" generation. Due to the country's economic downfall, those in my age group, certainly including myself and my social circle, are experiencing an extended adolescence, and that extends to our fashion and beauty preferences. Our perfume tastes skew very sweet, simple, and beholden to whatever bottle some beatific movie star is selling us, because La Vie is not that Belle right now. Or is that too simplistic? The older women in my life certainly tend to wear more complex, "demanding" scents. And you're right, they do err on the dry, powdery side. Perhaps that is what unites all perfume-wearing generations in Greece. I wonder when and if I will get to the point when wearing one of these bold, sophisticated chypre perfumes would not be a jarring juxtaposition for my lifestyle and circumstances. - Ioanna

    3. Thank you Ioanna for the very kind words and sorry for replying so late. I kinda missed your reply while scrolling, profuse apologies.

      Laughing on the "Greek age" descriptor (I know what you mean!) and not really disagreeing with your assessment of that age-group's current limbo state. It is very astute and clever what you wrote there. It makes perfect sense! (No, it's not simplistic).

      I do think dry and powdery are HUGE pluses in most Southern European cultures (because living in a hot climate) and certainly our own. If you notice on the bus/undergrounds etc the factually old ladies (I'm talking senior citizens) always wear those delicious dry "starched" soapy smelling fragrances that are rich in aldehydes (White Linen, No.5, Madame Rochas etc.). It speaks of grooming. Of drying your clothes on the line. Of airing your closet thoroughly. Of being a diligent housewife. Still very much a desired stereotype in Greek culture! (so much for feminism, I suppose...) ;-)

  7. Miss Heliotrope01:16

    Ha - am wearing Mitsouko today. Bc I can.

    Love chypres, although I am more careful of them in Melbourne's dry summers - I often find it's not just the temp that needs to be considered, but the humidity -

    This list will undoubtedly be referred to for some time, given I already love a number on it. I do wonder, however, to circle back to our semi-ongoing conversation, whether it's not just the so called old lady aspect, but that depth that chypres offer that can make them tricky. Im never sure if I believe that you need to be older (how about less young?) to wear a sophisticated scent, but in a world where we increasingly seem to have the mainstream call for things to be black & white & ignore the complexity of opinions, meanings, differences, fewer things that offer depth are as popular.

    Which is of course, all a shallow summary, but there you go.

    1. As always an interesting commentary, thank you!

      I do share your opinion that it's the humidity that comes into account with Mitsouko especially. I find it blooms best in the rain. I always reach for it on rainy days.

      Green/citrusy chypres (Diorella) and sharp leathery chypres (Diorling, Bandit which has the added bonus of repelling mosquitos) are best to cut through humidity. For dry summers maybe reach for floral chypres without too much of an animalic quality (maybe Coriandre? or Knowing?)

      It's an interesting theory that the depth and nuance requires a more sophisticated -or rather more time investing, I'd offer- approach to perfume appreciation. I suppose we associate that with less young age, but it's not restricted to them. It also has to do with personality and just how much attention one gives to outside stimuli. Do you often actively think about your perfume (thinking in an intellectual context, not just what it reminds you of or if you like/dislike) and the perfumes of others around? There is a high chance that you might come to appreciate chypres. That's what I say when I consult.

  8. Fully agree with your point on familiarity. I grew up in Italy, I didn't pay attention to perfume back then. And yet the chypre trail has remained in my olfactory memory - whenever I smell a true chypre drydown, there's simply something familiar lighting up. And many times as much for Aromatics Elixir - which has been my mom's signature since forever.

    1. Beautiful smelling mother, M!!! *sighing with pleasure at the conjured image of a fragrant hug from someone wearing AE*

      Italians share many of those requisites from their perfumes; dry, powdery, starched, a demand for balance re:sweetness vs.bitterness and a non aversion to bitterness (it's no coincidence espresso and Fernet Branca are Italian!). Greeks have a sweeter tooth in food though. Maybe it's the Ottoman influence, I guess.

      There's also another Italian mainstay which I ADORE: Felce Azzura. My grandma used the classic scent for her bath products and the trail of bitterish powdery musk was unmistakable. And addictive. I love it for myself too. The Borotalco and FA are par for the course in Italian supermarkets I believe still?

      There you go: POWDERY (like I said to Ioanna/anon above) There's a big thing for powder in Souther Europe. Which goes back to...."Cipria".
      {for anyone interested in that connection: }

  9. Your columns are education and poetry in one. How would you classify Taif by Ormonde Jayne?

    1. Sorry for the late reply.
      I think Taif is best described as a floriental. It has the density of dates and rich liqueur like roses. Or a rich floral at the least.

  10. What a lovely, divine list. One to treasure! Thank you! Jean :)

  11. So cool that Tauers Rose chypres is the next on my to buy list.

    1. It's a FAB chypre! Proof one can do wonders going round IFRA.

  12. Ralph Lauren Tuxedo, in high school (early 80s), was my gateway chypre; in college, I fell in lifelong love with Ungaro Diva. My roommate had a bottle of Paloma Picasso that I borrowed. I haven't smelled that one in years. Then, through my 30s, Sisley Eau du Soir was my idea of a va-va-voom perfume. I have lately been loving Aromatics Elixir, but only at home alone. Two sprays of that stuff can knock birds out of the sky mid-flight. And while I love Mitsouko, it doesn't ring the chypre bell like the others.

    It is highly intriguing that Bandit is mosquito repelling. I've not bought a bottle yet because Cabochard and Azuree seem to cover the sharp green chypre category but I would very much like to test this proposition.

    1. What a lovely timeline, especially since you recall so vividly the periods the perfumes marked. Love Paloma and had been gifted Diva (at 18!) by my boyfriend and treasured the experience.
      Mitsouko is a fruity chypre and all those you mention don't lean fruity. It's in the big jovial group of Femme, Parure, Jubilation 25, Quadrille, Parfum de Therese, that sort of thing)

      Bandit not only repels mosquitos, it also repels most insects and a few undesired human specimens as well! ;-)

  13. I think you forgot the best of all in my opinion:GIVENCHY III [vintage of course]


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