Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chypres, and guest posts

Group guest post yesterday at Perfume-Smellin' Things - go check it out! There's a drawing, too.

We divvied up the fragrance families for this post. Because I was checking email infrequently, I ended up being more-or-less assigned a family: chypre. (I did have a choice, but it was limited to things I mostly don't wear.) Unfortunately, I found myself neither tremendously knowledgeable nor very excited about any scent in particular.

Here's the deal: you'd recognize any other chypre as such after sniffing one and knowing what it was. They're classic "old lady" perfume: not heady, resinous, and spicy-sensuous like most Oriental perfumes, but complex, floral, and ladylike. There is a chypre accord that enlivens any fragrance in this family: top notes of citrus, a (usually blended or rose) floral middle, and a woody base with oakmoss, and possibly patchouli or musk.

This is not a combination for me. I don't like a lot of florals on my skin, because they take on narcotic, noxious, sickly-sweet overtones and have a lasting power that recalls the half-life of plutonium. Patchouli and musk make me cranky; oakmoss smells naughty, but male-type naughty, on my skin, and it wears me instead of the other way around. And every citrus smells like armpit on my skin. The result, on my skin, is "unwashed old lady who's been rolling around with a dockworker" and that doesn't spell success.

Chypres are not, in themself, disgusting. Pat loves them and finds them to be the epitome of femininity. The way L'Oreal lipstick smelled in the 80s? Chypre. Your grandmother's prettiest perfume -- the one she wore to church when she got all dolled up in her brooch and high heels? Yep. How you imagine Jayne Mansfield smelled? Probably a chypre.

So I hitched myself up by the bootstraps and decided to learn to love this genre. In so doing, I sniffed a lot of chypres that were new to me. I found one, "Hasu-No-Hana" by Grossmith, that is beautiful on me. It's a big scent -- like the archetypal great-grand-dame of chypres, "Mitsouko." But it's sexy and loaded with va-va-voom and if I'm going to wear something that isn't me, I might as well roleplay a bombshell. And hey, it's a fragrance from 1888 that has been reanimated by Roja Dove, a perfumer whose fragrances have fairly universally been masterpieces in my estimation.

Honorable mentions were Keiko Mecheri's "Iris Poupre," which is truthfully more about the rounded, rich iris root fragrance and less about the chypre; Parfumes MDCI "Vepres Siciliennes," which is like the floating scent of blossoms on the breeze, but which eventually gave me a headache as it remained rather top-heavy and piercing; and Domenico Caraceni's 1913 Eau de Toilette, which was angular, a little masculine, and sweetly fresh. Dizzy-making and too-heady or just I-found-'em-forgettable chypres included PG's "Querelle," PdN's "New York" (which I loved at first but turned to melted plastic and hot asphalt on my skin within a half hour and Would. Not. Wash. Off.), Tremlett's "Royals Heroes," and Tauer's "Une Rose Chypree" (predictably -- I hate rose on my skin) which were too rich for me, and Montale's "Chypre Vanille," which went on sexy but eventually made me very unhappy through its overgenerous patchouli and oakmoss and vanilla, and wouldn't scrub off even with laundry soap.

The big offender, which I hate passionately and would hiss at like a cat if I encountered it in the wild, is Vero Profumo's "Rubj." That's a shame: I really wanted to love it and I liked its kicky opening. But within moments it had turned into a horror show on my skin but painted a vivid picture: the overall cardboard-and-mixed-spices of an Asian grocery, the nag champa and cherry incense from a head shop, L'Oreal lipstick (back when it smelled like grandma's purse), and SWEATY MAN CROTCH. And it would not go away, and would not go away. I got it on the outside of the sample vial and now I can't handle it because aieee, it will never go away!

Also in the course of my journey of discovery into chypres, I decided to make one for my brother's birthday, just to get to know the style. But an eccentric one. I used lime, bergamot, and tangerine at the top (with other things, of course), lemongrass at the heart, and oakmoss and amber at the base to compose a chypre accord -- and it was wonderfully do-able! And then I loaded it with lemon, licorice, and leather scents (at top, middle, and base respectively) to give it substance and uniqueness.

I like it best of all. And Robert likes it, too, which is the best part.

Anyway, thought I'd rant a bit about what I've been sniffing, before I clear the sample vials off my desk. I'm listening to Fletch chatting with Pat over the baby monitor and am going to go get some snuggle time. Happy Saturday!

P.S. I really love "Mitsouko," but I didn't want to be lazy and phone in my usual choice -- I enjoyed the chance to do my homework and learn a little! I just wish I had never touched the vial of "Rubj." :)


Heather said...

I work to cajole Troy into reading a post about perfume, but so much more as well! With "unwashed old lady who's been rolling around with a dockworker" and SWEATY MAN CROTCH I try to tempt, but perhaps this is the wrong approach?

The giggles will bubble in my throat until sleep, I believe. What fun! So many words beyond me alongside the image of scents I cannot smell.

(Skin Musk has been Troy's favorite ever since our seventh grade adventures and I've yet to find any other that will satisfy or tempt him so.)

Anyhow, again thoroughly enjoyed and as tempting as those recipes you dangle (though nothing has come close to those chubby baby cheeks and the power they wield).

Ducks said...

I love, love, love Skin Musk. Unfortunately it has been reformulated and it doesn't love me as once it did, but it's still a dirt-cheap sekrit weapon. Wonderful stuff. And you might be gratified to know that Sarah Jessica Parker, when she worked on her own signature scent, presented the perfumers with three elements -- and that was one of them. (She was really hands-on and impressively knowledgeable in the process of composing her fragrances; a stand-out amongst the figureheads for celebu-scents.)

I'm so glad you enjoyed it -- it's always a gamble with such an esoteric subject. :)

Heather said...

Ahh, I thought something was different, but I thought maybe it was 25 years on me rather than in their formula.

Interesting to know about Sarah Jessica Parker. Now I want to go on a smell safari at the mall.

Linda, when your boys give you time, would you describe Skin Musk like you do the others? Break it down, make it pretty? I'm so fascinated by your ability to do so and would get a kick out of knowing the 'ingredients.'

Ducks said...

Absolutely! :) And might I recommend Chandler Burr's book _The Perfect Scent_ to follow the SJP story (and others -- it's a wonderful read, and if I remember rightly it's not too technical to be a bedtime book)? It's where I got the information. ;)