Often, I have had to brace myself when smelling a perfume with the description of ‘chypre’ attached to it. The very idea of this fragrance family dates back to Roman times, but the characteristics of ‘chypre’ or ‘Cyprus’ only took shape due to the famed perfumery materials of the nineteenth-century Cyprus. A chypre comes with the key notes of bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, but is often combined with notes of rose, jasmine, patchouli, amber, and/or musks. It can be seen as a grand and dramatic perfume. It has been almost a century since this structurally defined chypre was popularised by the success of Chypre de Coty (Coty, 1917). I should think it safe, therefore, to say that chypre is not the kind of olfactory conception millennials like me are familiar and can readily appreciate.
As I have learned to understand the complex aesthetics of a chypre perfume, I am of the opinion that such a complex fragrance is not a grab-and-go perfume for every day. The rich complexity and, often, intensity of a chypre can be glorious, but the very same combination can also be brutal. With Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919) in the eau de toilette and eau de parfum, for example, I teeter between aversion and admiration whenever someone douses himself or herself liberally at the Guerlain counter. Only the peachy warmth and sensual Guerlinade in the extrait de parfum firmly establish it in my realm of admiration.
But thanks to the clever updates and spin-offs, there have been a fair share of chypres that I can access, like, or love. For instance, in Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), the zesty lemon and agrestic herbs keep the composition bright amidst the dark mood of oakmoss. In Chanel N°19 (1970), the galbanum and iris give it the idiosyncratic green and buttery softness to the otherwise rough-hewn structure. In 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel, 2007) and Cuir de Russie (Chanel, 1924), the addition of plush iris significantly softens the harshness. Similarly, Chypre 21 (Heeley, 2015) by James Heeley takes advantage of the rich, honeyed rose to not only give opulence to the composition, but also render a headstrong chypre more obliging.
A very fine bergamot introduces the bright top. The citrus is brief and would escape if one does not sniff within a few seconds of spraying. It is bright and refreshing, and the floral nuance brings us seamlessly to the heart.
It is a rose in its prime — rich, floral, and honeyed. A Provençal accent of rosemary provides a minty touch. Now its peachy glow and richness remind me of a sip of whisky that warms the body. As time passes, patchouli dominates with a warm tone setting stage for the emerging woody warmth.
Velvety sandalwood and musks lend much softness to the woods. And its oakmoss note is subdued, but persists there with a brooding accent to reassure you of its signature chypre. The final stage radiates the warmth of musky oakmoss. The overall result is understated and balanced. It has a nostalgic ring of the classical chypre, and it smells like money. It is certainly polished.
If you ever decide to make a foray into the chypre terrain, Chypre 21 would be akin to a modern gateway to get an idea of the chypre structure like Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior Originale (1947).
source: jamesheeley.com, fragrantica.com