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.

chypre map.jpg

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).

fashionista

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

Review: Grès Cabochard — 5.0 points

Inspired by the ferocious whip of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), perfumer Bernard Chant took to the leathery character and created Cabochard (Grès, 1959). The leather accord was softened and balanced with verdancy and florals. Cabochard itself would become a legacy amongst the family of leather chypres and inspire a number of perfumery’s classics such as Aramis (1965) and Chanel N°19 (1970).

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From the start, the green combination of galbanum, armoise, and basil contrasts nicely with the earthy character. Styrallyl acetate in combination with aldehyde C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde) contribute to the green floral aspect. To complement the green, there is the freshness of mandarin and bergamot with linalool and linalyl acetate. The opening is certainly reminiscent of another era: bitter green with sharp freshness. It is bright and sparkling.

The composition reveals the floral heart as expected of a classical chypre. It is dominated by a bright jasmine accord different from those of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior (1947), a fresh rose note, and hyacinth. Its radiance is imparted by a muguet note. Also, the relatively high content of sandalwood compared to other chypres provides the apparent softness to Cabochard. Such pairing of the jasmine accord and sandalwood would later be found in the masculine leather chypre territory of Aramis.

Then, glimpses of leather appear. Along with isobutyl quinoline, balsamic benzoin, a castoreum note, and a costus note give Cabochard its leather character. Interestingly, there is a similarity between Cabochard and Aramis in their use of isobutyl quinoline with the floral-powdery musk ambrette, which is now banned due to safety concerns.

The warmth of its chypre accord is built around patchouli, oakmoss, animalic notes, woody notes of vetiveryl acetate and cedryl acetate, and the amber note of Dynamone, which is a base derived from cistus. The accord is sweetened by methyl ionone. The use of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone) to lend a soft creamy touch emulates the use of peachy aldehyde C-14 (γ-undecalactone) in earlier chypres like that of Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919). Spicy notes of cinnamon, clove, and a carnation accord provide a bright contrast to the dusky leathery character. The vegetal musk character of ambrettolide finally echoes the verdant top.

Cabochard is one of the few surviving leather chypre amongst feminine fragrances. Thanks to the brilliance of perfumer Bernard Chant, he extrapolated the iconic leather of Bandit. He softened the leather and gave it verdant florals. The interesting use of materials also gave Cabochard its creative twist and character. It stands on its own as another classic in the family. Although the reformulations may have rendered Cabochard more docile now, but one can still see a glimpse of its complex transformation.

Sources: fragrancex.com, Perfumery Practices and Principles