Mapping The Classic Chypres

Whilst making a study of the classic chypres, I realised that they borrowed from one another in more ways than I could have perceived from sniffing alone. However, the results were anything but copies. By determination and strokes of ingenuity, their creators produced very original and creative compositions. In order to see the big picture of how each composition was inspired or influenced by the others, I drew the diagram of these timeless compositions whose traditional chypre structure dotted the landscape of perfumery.

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Chypre de Coty ( Coty, 1917) consolidated the structure of chypre family. Two years later, Jacques Guerlain appropriated the structure for the ripe peach skin and Guerlinade of Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919). This ripe peach was later put at the fore by Edmond Roudnitska in Femme (Rochas, 1942).

Inspired by Chypre de Coty, Jean Carles used the classical structural materials in Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) and built the composition with bases, which are bold accords based on synthetic and natural ingredients. This gave Ma Griffe a strong structure and an exceedingly complex quality. He would later apply this technique to Miss Dior (1947) with a  nod to the galbanum of Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1945) by Germaine Cellier. Even though I do not see Vent Vert as a chypre, I put it there because Miss Dior was indubitably influenced by it.

And, although its inspiration involves the leather accord based on isobutyl quinoline, Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), also by Germaine Cellier, still clearly screams of chypre. This brutal combination of leather and chypre was reworked by Bernard Chant in Cabochard (Grès, 1959) to make it more accessible with a floral emphasis and softer character. He would go on to establish this leather chypre accord in masculine perfumes with Aramis (1965) that retains some of the softness of Cabochard, but darkens its leather. I almost forgot to include another noteworthy creation, but thanks to Robert who mentioned  Azurée (Estée Lauder, 1969). Possibly by Bernard Chant as well, it  bears striking similarity to Aramis and Cabochard. And, of course, Bernard Chant was creative with Aromatics Elixir (Clinique, 1971), dosing the patchouli and floral notes whilst reducing the animalic touch to simply the castoreum puffs. Aromatics Elixir, thus, sets itself uniquely between a chypre and an oriental.

Charles Hard Townes, in his Nobel prize speech, commented, ‘Scientists do, as we have heard, stand on the shoulders of giants from the past’ — I could not agree more.

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Review: Aramis — 4.0 points

From the first sniff of Aramis (1965), it struck me immediately as dated. It was from a time when the grand chypre structure was in vogue. Had it been my first experience in choosing a perfume, I would have recoiled from the intensity and the tenacity of Aramis. It is a powerful idea.

But such strength alone is not what makes Aramis so memorable. It is, in fact, the way perfumer Bernard Chant creatively reworked strong ideas of his contemporaries to offer and firmly establish leather chypre amongst the families of masculine perfumes. As I smell Aramis, I am jolted by the ideas: the ferocity of leather chypre in Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), the verdancy of overdosed galbanum in Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1947), and Bernard Chant’s very own green floral and leather chypre in Cabochard (Grès, 1959).

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Aramis (in gold) and Aramis Adventurer (in azure)

The opening features some aldehydic sparkles, aromatic herbs, spicy coriander, and green galbanum. The latter feels like a creative citation of Vent Vert. The funky, sweaty cumin that follows, admittedly, startles me. Aramis is bold, indeed.

Soon, I notice a subdued floral accord, mainly of jasmine note, that seems to blend in smoothly with a lot of sandalwood. It creates a kind of bracing softness that contrasts with the strong debut and the imminent pungency of leather. This is where Aramis reminds me of the softness in Cabochard.

But this is also where it diverges: Aramis might embrace the same kind of floral softness and sandalwood, but it does not wrap its leather with flowers and verdancy. Instead, the leather accord based on isobutyl quinoline that was also used in Bandit takes centre stage. Oakmoss, patchouli, and vetiver provide a dramatic woody backdrop. Gentle puffs of castoreum add much of the animalic note. And, musks mellow the sharp leather accord.

One can think of sturdy leathery Aramis as the masculine counterpart of the more floral leather of Cabochard. Both are just as memorable and polished in different tones. For Aramis, the uncompromising nature of its mossy leather against a backdrop of rich chypre is the reason why it has since become an icon, and is amongst the most recognisable leather chypre for men. But then again, the galbanum-infused leather chypre of Aramis would find itself softened by florals, ionones, and orris, and given radiance by the first overdose of Hedione in Chanel N°19 (1970), another classic.

Sources: fashionista.com