Review: Chanel N°19 Poudré — 4.5 points

The singular composition of Chanel N°19 (1970) has since its conception inspired many fragrances. Silences (Jacomo, 1978), for example, clearly derives its composition from Chanel N°19, but with the shrills of galbanum tempered by a green fruity cassis note. More remotely is Beautiful (Estée Lauder, 1985), which despite its lack of green and mossy notes, also possesses the similarity in terms of its floral and woody notes. Other fragrances that take some elements of Chanel N°19 include Amazone (Hermès, 1974), Ivoire de Balmain (Pierre Balmain, 1980), and So Pretty (Cartier, 1995). And, more recently, the interesting Italian Leather (Memo, 2013), with the addition of green tomato leaf and balsamic leather to orris concrete, easily hearkens to the galbanum-orris-chypre of Chanel N°19.

Yet, there had been no single flanker from its very own house. So, in 2011, perfumer Jacques Polge decided that it was high time the spotlight be given to this gem. Thus, a fitting modern tribute to Chanel N°19 was born.

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Forget the tempestuous interplay of fiercely verdant galbanum, rooty orris, and dusky woods: Chanel N°19 Poudré is placid. Instead of the bitter green galbanum, its green note is gentle, like a shade of chartreuse with bright accents of mandarin and neroli. Its fluffy iris that gives the main impression is taken towards the direction of compact powder: musky, powdery, but devoid of retro-violet notes. And, instead of the mossy woods, its dry down is a warm embrace of musk, vanilla, and tonka bean that sweetens and warms the iris. The composition is not difficult, and has just the same sophisticated bearing of its grand dame.

Chanel N°19 Poudré delights in harmony. It is serene and elegant. It may not be a legacy like other compositions before it, but its rich harmonious accord is so easy to wear and admire. It clings to skin much like the scent of compact powder, and its comforting warmth begs one to sniff it again and again. In a way, it is a beautiful ode to the original.

Source: chanel.fr

Backyard Delight: Black Locust Blooms

Aside from being so close to the railway and the city incinerator, I love my current address for its prolific blooms. As the season progresses, the first to arrive are snowdrops, followed by violets, crocuses, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, and irises. Then comes the dandelions as the weather warms and the day is prolonged. Now the highlight of the month is the black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia).

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The major chemical components of the scent as revealed by headspace analysis include 54.6% δ-3-carene, 21% linalool, 3% (Z)-β-farnesene, and 3.9% anthranilate aldehyde. The prolific white blossoms hang from the trees like bunches of grapes, letting the warm, late-spring current carry their scent. They smell creamy, yet surprisingly fresh — somewhere between lactonic coconut and orange blossom. They make the night air sweet and redolent of the orange blossoms in Eau des Sens (Diptyque, 2015). Some people actually collect them for making fritters. Alas, the black locust blossoms are often gone in just a fortnight.

Sources:

  1. Joulain, D. 1987. The composition of the headspace from fragrant flowers: further results. Flav. Fragr. J. 2:149-155
  2. Kamdem, D.P., Gruber, K., Barkman, T., and Gage, D.A. 1994. Characterization of black locust floral fragrance. J. Essential Oil Res. 6:199-200.

Review: Chanel N°19 — 5.0 points

Mademoiselle Chanel once told the press an anecdote of how a stranger had stopped her on the street outside the Ritz, where she lived, just to inquire what her amazing perfume was. ‘Not bad at my age,’ thought the mademoiselle. She was eighty-seven years old, and the perfume was Chanel N°19 (1970) named for the date of her birth.

Chanel N°19 deserves its classic status, not the least of which is its quality materials that range from Iranian galbanum, Florentine iris, to May rose and jasmine from Grasse. More importantly, however, it is the way perfumer Henri Robert creatively explored the brilliant ideas of his contemporary, namely  in Cabochard (Grès, 1959) and Aramis (1965), that gave birth to a milestone in perfumery. He created an object of fascination and contemplation even amongst perfumers.

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The piercing verdancy of galbanum, tinged with bitterness, is a hallmark of Chanel N°19. This addition of galbanum to the chypre structure is perhaps a reference to the green galbanum opening of both Cabochard and Aramis. And, despite the non-aldehydic nature, it still feels like being splashed with a pail of cold water.

As Chanel N°19 develops, a rich bouquet of rose and lily of the valley unfurls. A hint of rich jasmine absolute dallies with the floral heart. These are backed by as much as 13% Hedione so that the florals diffuse and come to life. Interestingly, orris butter at 1%, especially noticeable in the extrait de parfum, provides a contrast of soft rooty powder to the sharp galbanum. Moreover, it is backed by ionones. Together they sweeten the chypre accord of Chanel N°19 and act as a bridge between the floral heart and the woody fond.

The dry down of Chanel N°19 is a dusky combination based on the woody-musky 12% Vertofix Coeur, vetiver notes, sandalwood, and guaiac wood. There is also a spicy carnation accord. These are darkened by a rough-hewn accord of oakmoss, mossy Evernyl, and a bit of leather based on isobutyl quinoline. In addition, the use of animal tinctures such as natural musk, ambergris, and civet in trace amounts probably provides the sumptuousness in the vintage composition. The chypre dry down recalls those of Cabochard and Aramis — leathery, mossy, and woody.

Chanel N°19 certainly has a striking character. Its leathery chypre is atypical of feminine perfumes. And, whilst its florals and woods may recall a floral aldehydic perfume, the abundance of galbanum and orris, the oakmoss, and the overdosed Hedione beg to differ. Interestingly also, its chypre accord contains little or no patchouli and musks. It also has little or no aldehydes, floral salicylates, and vanillin. These alone are perplexing.

And through the imaginative use of such materials and structure, perfumer Henri Robert cemented the classic signature of Chanel N°19. The verdancy of galbanum is set against the soft powder of orris, contrasting the texture. The green of galbanum also contends with the dusky woods. This potent ménage à trois of galbanum, orris, and chypre in Chanel N°19 is so original that few perfumes can remotely be considered as successors of this style. And, by a stroke of ingenuity, he added a large dose of Hedione, setting the composition aloft and diffuses its florals — it was the highest dose of Hedione used at the time since its introduction in Eau Sauvage (Dior, 1966). The result firmly established Chanel N°19 amongst the great milestones.

Of course, Chanel N°19 has been reformulated over the years since its creation. With its galbanum, for example, sourcing from Iran was problematic in 1979 when the revolution erupted. Natural animal tinctures that used to give Chanel N°19 its complexity have been excluded from the composition. The rich floral absolutes are now reserved only for the extrait de parfum due to the rising costs. Even the source of its orris is different as Chanel now uses the rhizomes of both Iris pallida and Iris germanica grown in its own fields in Grasse instead of the Iris pallida traditionally sourced from Florence, Italy. Despite all of this, Chanel N°19 is still recognisable and easily puts many modern creations to shame.

Its originality and quality are so enduring it deserves a hall of fame. And, the words of perfumer Christopher Sheldrake reaffirms that notion: ‘Chanel N°19 is a perfumer’s perfume, a connoisseur’s fragrance, it is a great tribute that so many people have been inspired by it’.

A note on the concentrations: The richest formula of Chanel N°19 is no doubt the extrait de parfum. Here, the galbanum is round and complex, with green and musky notes. The richness of roots and dusts in orris is palpable throughout the development. The florals are sumptuous with the luscious confit note of May rose absolute and fresh lily of the valley complex competing for attention. The dark mossy woods, the vetiver, and the leather accent buried within feel round and mellow at first, but gradually become dramatic. The interplay of verdant galbanum, rooty iris, and dusky woods is sublime, not only because of the dramatic contrasts, but also with each part unveiling subtly its facets and complements. The extrait is incredibly rich and complex it deserves a place on the pedestal of classics.

The eau de parfum formula created by perfumer Jacques Polge in the 1980s is the most diffusive, with sharp floral notes and rough woods. The verdancy of galbanum is penetrative, but short-lived. The floral heart is bright and diffusive, but not rich and buttery as in the extrait. The lack of orris is certainly felt. The fond features a rough-hewn accord of leather, vetiver, and mossy woods. The emphasis falls on the juxtaposition between verdant florals and dusky woods.

The eau de toilette follows the development of the extrait closely, save for its more radiant style. The sparkling green of galbanum is bolstered by the freshness of citrus. The floral components fuse into a well-blended accord. The dusts of orris is noticeable – even more so than in the eau de parfum. The leather accent is also buried amongst subtle vetiver and mossy woods. Overall, the eau de toilette feels balanced and substitutes the brightness for the richness in the extrait.

Sources: chanel.fr, savoirflair.com, faz.net, vanityfair.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, Perfumery Practice and Principles, SweetspotQC’s videos 

Review: Chanel Gardénia — 3.0 points

Gardénia (Chanel, 1925) was first conceived by perfumer Ernest Beaux as he revisited his earlier idea in Le Gardénia (Rallet, 1920). However, it has been re-orchestrated by perfumer Jacques Polge and re-launched as an eau de toilette that suits modern tastes.

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Despite the name, Gardénia in the current formulation is not so much a rendition of the gardenia. It is, perhaps, a conceptual theme of the ideal garden of white flowers for the Mademoiselle. It brings in groves of camellias, orange blossoms, tuberoses, and jasmines — pretty flowers in nondescript gardens. It is above all a pretty, modern, floral perfume.

The opening has, like many modern perfumes, the brightness of pink pepper oil at 0.8%. There is also a kind of green sharpness to suggest the foliage. Soon, the composition warms up with sweet floral notes and the lactonic creaminess. There are orange blossoms, jasmines, and tuberoses. The green nuance and creaminess of sweet tuberose set the tone for Gardénia. Its fluffy musk marries well with the white florals and forms the most of the dry down. It is sweet and likeable. It does not offend or inspire.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena likes the composition because it evokes happiness. I like Gardénia for being easy on the nose. I am treated to a pleasant floral perfume without an attitude. From the beginning, it does not try to make an impression with a hard strike at my nose. Nor does it plunge my olfactory bulb into deep thoughts, as the composition develops. It is simple, pretty, and balanced. It will not offend anyone, and is only guilty of not being interesting. It is nice enough, but never memorable.

Certainly, not Billie Holiday with gardenias tucked in her hair.

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Sources: chanel.fr, hipquotient.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

Review: Christian Dior La Colle Noir — 3.5 points

The moment I saw the name ‘La Colle Noire’, I was struck by the automatic translation that my brain provided — the black glue. But, then again, perfume names should never be taken too seriously in many cases. So, I read the description and learnt that this composition is inspired by Christian Dior’s holiday home. As for the juice, one can tell without having visited the château and its garden that the namesake La Colle Noire (Dior, 2016) by perfumer François Demarchy is filled with May roses.

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The Rose de Mai in La Colle Noire is distinct. There is jammy and honeyed richness along with the green depth of mimosa note. Accents of cloves provide a spicy contrast. And, after an hour, there is a light amber in the background. Its delicate warm tone is the perfect complement to the soft rose, and it gives La Colle Noire a classical contrast that is easily likeable.

And, classically, sandalwood and musk render a sensual aura in the dry down. The sum is pleasant and elegant as the May rose theme should be. It is carefully balanced and its ingredients smell of quality. The impression it gives is a photorealistic May rose with a warm twist of amber.

I like it for its quality and well-crafted composition, but other far more interesting rose themes abound. It will not sweep you off your feet like the oriental whirlwind of Portrait of A Lady (Frédéric Malle, 2009). Its richness is a tea spoon of raspberry confit, when compared to the red wine of Une Rose (Frédéric Malle, 2000). Nor is it the potent rose that provides a synergistic complement to the oud in Oud Ispahan (Dior, 2012). La Colle Noire is a balanced treatise on Rose de Mai, exploring its facets with quality materials. And, though far from being a literary trophy, it is a cogent essay on May rose.

How the château came to be named as such is more of a mystery than the composition.

Sources: oriental.ru

Review: Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur — 4.0 points

Named for the bygone fashion of men sporting their scented batiste handkerchiefs, the composition goes by the name of Mouchoir de Monsieur (Guerlain, 1904) — handkerchief of the gentleman. It was created by perfumer Jacques Guerlain well over a decade after Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). Yet, both fragrances share an uncanny resemblance, and one can see the interesting development and twist that Jacques Guerlain did to Jicky, its iconic fougère predecessor by his uncle Aimé Guerlain.

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The lavender at the centre of its fougére accord reminds me of Jicky, and it is similarly dressed up with plenty of citrus, a bit of herbs, some fresh flowers, and a warm sweet base. The juxtaposition between cool and warm notes is also there. But this time, it is the floral accent and fulsome civet that set the tone for the fougére accord in Mouchoir de Monsieur.

The fresh aromatic facet of lavender is enhanced by the brilliance of its top notes: bergamot, neroli, and lemon verbena. These form the cool refreshing eau de cologne accord, and I can imagine gentlemen of those days dousing their batiste handkerchiefs with the concoction.

Contrary to Jicky in which the floral note of its lavender is left as such, Mouchoir de Monsieur embellishes the dainty purple florets with a bit of jasmine. Dollops of civet impart a mellow depth, much like a creamy dark chocolate ganache. It feels very dandy and polished.

The composition segues into a warm sweet powder combining orris, vanilla, tonka bean, and musks with the floral embellishments. Compared to the rudimentary accord in Jicky, the famed Guerlinade is more recognisable here with its floral, powdery, praline sweetness. Its warm vanillic base is fully enveloped by the sensual civet cream, much like the warmth of ermine robes. Mouchoir de Monsieur ends as a faintly floral powder with sweet animalic puffs of civet that stay close to skin for five hours; it does slightly better on fabric.

Mouchoir de Monsieur might be a derivative of Jicky, but that does not necessarily mean that it is any less interesting. In fact, I see it as an experiment of Jacques Guerlain to develop a unique character in the house style. Just like Jicky, the cool hesperidic and agrestic notes contrast sharply with the redolent vanillic fond. It is a beautiful duel. However, the floral inflection and redolent civet are where Mouchoir de Monsieur diverges from its forebear and flaunts its dandy appeal. And, I should think of its memorable character as a glimpse of the La Belle Époque opulence.

Source: guerlain.fr, Sotheby’s