Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Queen of Green: No. 19 (Part Two)

Spring Chinoiserie. Rose Strang 2013

Following on from the Queen of Green: No 19  Part One (in which I looked at at the Eau de parfum and Parfum), today I'm sniffing, as I type, the Eau de Toilette and newest flanker No. 19 Poudre.

No 19 takes subtly different forms across different batches within the post 80s reformulations, never mind the differences between pre and post 80s.

So in testing post 80s samples I'm aware of the heavier reliance on vetiver than oakmoss for a lasting and authentic foresty greeness. (though the contemporary parfum and eau de toilette do contain small amounts).

Vetiver doesn't have oakmoss's slightly salty/marine damp bark quality, it's smokier, more astringent, but in a perfume composition it can lend a velvety, dark green quality, blending beautifully with rose and iris/orris. Oakmoss is lighter in feel, whereas vetiver feels very much of the deep earth (and it is the roots that are used)

In fact, truth be told I'm awash in a sea of notes and impressions right now! So rather than get into pernickety detail when there are 100s of different absolutes and aroma chemicals in these perfumes, I will talk instead about impressions/moods and the more obvious facts such as sillage, longevity, floral, green, dry or woody qualities and so on...

No. 19 Poudre
Jacques Polge, current perfume composer for Chanel, created No.19 Poudre in 2011, along with Christopher Sheldrake (perfume composer for Lutens)

He spoke about the fact that many perfumes owe much to No. 19 and that it was a perfumer's wish, rather than a marketing requirement, to create No. 19 Poudre, just to illustrate in a more contemporary form the classic combination of notes that makes 19 an icon of perfumery.

I'm not alone in finding that it immediately reminds me of my other favourite Infusion d'Iris by Prada, which was launched in 2007 - gentle, elegant, powdery with the sense of a warm, perfumed woodland breeze.

The velvety soft vetiver/iris lifted by neroli and orange citrus notes is very similar indeed. But the drydown is sweeter, with a sweet musk (possibly synthetic white musk?) and less lasting than Infusion d'Iris, whose dry down is more about benzoin/vetiver (warm/woody, soft/green). Some will find this prettier than Infusion d'Iris I imagine.

To me, Poudre doesn't really say No 19, as much as make a statement that Chanel were here first. They're right - it's why I immediately liked Infusion d'Iris, which reminded me of No 19.

Poudre is pretty, soft and gentle, not floral. Focused on the powdery aspects of iris (hence the name!) which can be more rooty, starchy or cox's pippin apple-like in other perfumes depending on how it's handled. (Here's an earlier post about iris Iris Perfumes)

There's very much less iris/orris in this than there is the parfum, which has immediate and distinct iris notes. In general, I'd wear Infusion d'Iris rather than Poudre, as I'm not so keen on the sweeter dry-down (perhaps due to the note of tonka bean which is quite sweet) but I can see what Chanel were getting at - here's a contemporary version of No 19, and let us not forget that Chanel (or perfumer for Chanel, Henri Robert) was here first in the 70s with this ground-breaking cool green floral.

No. 19 Eau de Toilette
With the Eau de Toilette we're back on familiar territory.
Here is the more bracing feel of No. 19 as we know it - it has a cooler feel, far more floral. There's oakmoss here, at least in a small amount. The florals are all those that lend a spring-like feel - hyacinth, rose and lily of the valley (bright, clean/soapy) and narcissus (creamier, richer but fresh too).

I find the Eau de Toilette delightful, the mood is uplifting, tonic-water-like, which is why it's so suited to hot days (what's more delicious than a tall glass of iced tonic water and lime in hot weather?!). Though it must be said there's no obvious citrus in the Eau de Toilette (a small amount of bergamot) it's more as though the scent from nearby spring hedgerows is drifting past on a warm breeze while you sip pure icy tonic-water. I love it!

No 19. Poudre doesn't seem so strong on galbanum, with its bitter green tang, than the parfum and eau de toilette, which is why it's probably most suited to people who prefer their perfume softer, and with what some might term a more pretty quality (sweeter, gentler in feel).

Ultimately, at the end of this exploration of all four versions, my feeling is that the Parfum and Eau de Toilette reflect the spirit of No 19 in its original form. I find the parfum the most elegant, austere and rich. Its elegance is about a classically French, refined blend of spring florals, its austerity in the fact that there's nothing sweet here - any prettiness due to the floral bouquet is tempered with green rooty vetiver, and the mysterious waft of iris/oakmoss.

The Eau de Toilette shares this austerity and elegance, but in a minimalist sense; less rich, more 'natural' in as much as its florals, though similar to the parfum, are lighter, giving way to drier, more savoury facets such as oakmoss and galbanum. I can see what Elena Vosnaki of the excellent blog Perfume Shrine means when she descibes it as one to wear with a white shirt and silver bracelets. Exactly. If perfumes can be compared to wine, the parfum and EDT are a cool glass of Chablis, flinty, green, timelessly elegant and refreshing

To round up, here are some of the best blog posts about No 19

And lastly, this is Jacques Polge talking about No 19 and the making of No. 19 Poudre
(Click on bottom left of b+w image to play film) -

Spring Sycamore. Rose Strang 2013

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Queen of Green: No. 19 (Part One)

Variously described as 'beautiful' 'haunting' 'icy' 'green' 'elegant' 'feminine' 'complex' 'haughty', 'classy' 'graceful' 'soft', No. 19 (which comes in three perfume concentrations each with its own unique style) can be all of these, and in Part One and Two I'm going to compare these different versions of my all-time favourite perfume, No. 19 by Chanel.

Today I'll introduce a little about the history of No. 19, then describe the Eau de Parfum and Parfum versions, then in part two I'll explore the Eau de Toilette and latest flanker - Chanel 19 Poudre

(You can skip straight down to reviews if the history part sounds a bit tedious!)

No 19 was my first perfume love, and although it was only later on that I began to collect perfume through my interest in Prada's Infusion d'Iris, it's true to say that Infusion d'Iris actually owes a lot to No 19 - in that style of elegant green/iris/vetiver perfumes.

The first Chanel I wore (back in the 80s) was Coco, and while I liked its luxurious scent, given its bombastic 1980s style it really wore me rather than the other way around. I was a creative type, not aspiring to be a high-powered business woman! I tried various perfumes, and on some level I knew that none were right, until in my mid-twenties I discovered Chanel's No. 19.

The strange thing is, I can't remember how it was that in the early 90s I came to be in possession of a 7.5ml bottle of pure No. 19 Parfum. Nowadays this costs around £95 for 7.5ml  (roughly about two teaspoons-full of concentrated perfume).

I wore this as an art student, along with paint-stained, charity-bought clothes, and didn't appreciate what luxury I was dabbing on! I definitely did appreciate the perfume though. I remember its haunting drydown - like the softest perfumed wood-ash, wafting from my hair on a summer's night.

It expressed my love of nature, the peace of forests and meadows, but with something elusive and tantalising, which seemed just on the edge of the perfume. Now, at the age of 47, I'm absolutely aware that green spaces, the countryside, or wilderness, are essential to my peace of mind. It's what I paint about - trying to see beyond the layers. It's also how I earn my living, and this peace is what No 19 Parfum said, and still says to me.

But getting back to the more prosaic matter of that price though - £95 for 7.5mls! I know that those not as obsessed with perfume as I am might be expressing cynicism at this point - aren't we just talking about cleverly marketed branding? Yes and no..

Take No. 5 for example, everyone wore this during the 40s and 50s, Chanel realised that it was becoming ubiquitous and promptly signed up Marilyn Monroe as the 'face of No 5'. In an interview she was asked - 'What do you wear to bed?',

'Chanel No. 5' she replied (although in real life she mostly wore the appropriately fleshy tuberose perfume; Fracas by Piguet). Bingo! The price went up and No 5 became a Chanel exclusive luxury once more.
(update to text, she wasn't paid or signed up by Chanel but did make the remark, which caused sales to boom)

Although marketing does manipulate the human desire for things that are rare or difficult to find, this is not to say that Chanel didn't use the best ingredients, or have the best perfume composers (or 'noses' as they're called).

Chanel own their own fields in Grasse, France, where they've perfected the growth and extraction of perfume staples such as rose and jasmine - both of which feature in the heart of No 5 (giving that perfect alabaster cool balance of clean aldehydes and rose with underlying civet and heady jasmine suggestive of heated skin which No 5's aficionados know and love!).

Coco Chanel in her Paris apartment
As for Coco Chanel herself, No 19 (which refers to her birth-date of 19th August) was created for her by Henri Robert, just one year before her death. In an interview at the age of 86 she told this story about No 19;

Coming out of the Ritz, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned around to see an unknown face. I was just about to tell him off in no uncertain terms, when he said to me, with an American accent: ‘Excuse me, I am with two friends who want to know the name of your perfume.’ To be stopped in the street by a man at my age, that’s not bad, is it?

Apparently she occasionally gifted No 19 to a favourite client or friend, but it wasn't released to the public until after her death. And although it never became as popular as No 5, it's always had its devotees. No 19 isn't everyone's cup of tea; on opening especially its notes are green, it lacks vanilla or musk, or any of the ingredients that traditionally make a perfume 'sexy', or typically feminine. It's often described as an 'ice-queen' or 'bitchy boardroom' perfume.

The 1971 launch campaign (which I don't remember as I was only 4 years old!) promoted the idea of an emancipated up-front sort of woman who's ditched her corset (as indeed Coco's fashions famously encouraged women to do). It was seen as the opposite of a demure wallflower - men of a traditional or gentle disposition might even find the woman who wears it intimidating, the adverts seemed to imply.

Coco Chanel in the 30s
Tanya Sanchez (who co-wrote the blockbuster perfume book with scientist Luca Turin - 'Perfume: The Guide' ) famously describes 19 as 'wire mother' as opposed to a more 'snuggly' mother. She adds that it's for 'women who have ever wished to know what it is to be heartless'. (on reading this I imagined a great fluttering of paper across the globe, as women everywhere threw their copy of 'Perfumes; The Guide' across the room in disgust while from the grave Coco puffed angrily on her cigarette)

It's an amusing, if slightly strange summary of a classic by a perfume critic, who would be aware of the different versions of No 19 - from the slightly icy and bracing Eau de Toilette (perfect for a hot summer) to the soft, classic floral EDP, and on to the deeper, more haunting pure Parfum.

Perfumers past and present are often indebted to 19, or inspired by it. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, who creates perfumes for the world's top perfume houses, describes his first reaction to it:

The very first memory was when I was 16 years old, when I left my province and I went to Paris. At that time I met a girl who became my girlfriend. She was a student like me and she was passionate about perfumes. She wore Chanel No 19, a beautiful fragrance and I was completely amazed by this fragrance on her skin. Until then I had no interest in perfumes or any kind of scent. 

As mentioned, Chanel's No. 19 is in three very different concentrations which, amateur though I am, I'll now describe to the best of my ability. If you were so inclined you could probably spend a lifetime exploring the various vintages, but for our purposes I'm focusing on those available today (which are definitely reformulations with less oakmoss since that's been increasingly restricted since the late 80s).

The question is, which 19 would suit you?!

Generally the strength of perfume depends on how concentrated the perfume ingredients are, in percentage to alcohol and water, i.e.:

EDT (Eau de Toilette) Up to 15% perfume
EDP (Eau de Parfum) 15 to 20% perfume
Parfum (Perfume Extract/Parfum Extrait/Elixir) 40% perfume

Chanel No.19 Eau de Parfum
As mentioned, any perfumes created post-1989 have been reformulated due to restrictions on oakmoss. So one of the first things I notice up close in the Eau de Parfum is the idea of oakmoss. Perhaps they've used a little of the real thing here, but there's also a synthetic version - it's twiggy, dry and crackling like oakmoss, but it's a little more salty and has less of those subtle smoky facets of oakmoss.

Other than that, the main difference between EDT and EDP of No. 19 is that the EDP uses a large amount of Rose de Mai, or May rose. In this post-80s version of the EDP it's soft, dewy and slightly sweet (not vanilla sweet but it has a sweetness).

Oliver Polge (current 'nose' for Chanel) reformulated the EDP in a way that's faithful to the original, but I'd say this version is softer and more floral. Instead of the drydown to oakmoss, there's more vetiver and the iris is subtle.

But it's still No. 19, with the classic green, slightly powdery and astringent notes thanks to iris (which smells quite 'powdery'), galbanum (a resin with a bitter green quality), vetiver (a lemony/smoky/dry scented grass root which has an astringent quality) and leather, most likely a combination of birch tar notes and synthetics to resemble a clean leather (i.e. not suede-like).

There's a complex floral heart of hyacinth, rose, narcissus, lily of the valley and ylang (this probably varies in different formulations) but the main floral note is rose. As mentioned it's a dewy slightly sweet rose, which softens the perfume considerably. (it's possible this is due to the synthetic aroma chemical hedione which lends a moist quality to perfumes, opening up floral notes).

The feeling is still green though, lightly woody (cedar, sandalwood) and softly floral. Into dry down I notice iris more with its starchy inky, perfumed tones. I don't think anything in perfume expresses elegance so much as the combination of leather and iris.

Sillage-wise, I notice when I smell this on others how gentle it is in feel. I think it's the most approachable perhaps of the versions of 19. It's the most obviously feminine, in the sense that its texture is soft, powdery, and as mentioned slightly dewy in feel.

The longevity is quite deceptive, you may feel it's faded, but others can still smell it many hours later - an effect I've often noticed with iris and vetiver.

In summary, this is the softer, more feminine version of No 19 the rose is gorgeous and while it feels elegant and classic, I personally don't think it could be described as 'cold'. 'Proper' might be a way to describe it. In which case, considering that the original was meant to show a hint of daring - 'the up-front Chanel' perhaps it's debatable that this reformulation holds the original character in its entirety!

Chanel No. 19 Parfum
This too has slightly changed in reformulation, again there's more of a floral quality than I remember, but it has the unmistakable No 19 personality - it is slightly haughty and elegant, yet lovely, and into dry-down (thanks to the quality of ingredients) it feels natural. I find that this blends with skin, or lingers on clothes beautifully.

I can't remember if it was No.19 Parfum about which someone said 'this is how Galadriel must smell', but that would be a perfect description! The most obvious opening note to my nose is iris, or orris - which, as it's derived from the bulb of the iris plant, has a starchy quality. (I've described iris in some depth in a previous post Here). Iris tends to feel slightly haunting, or poetic, and there's been a resurgence of this note  in perfumery since around 2008.

Where the EDP is soft and dewy, the Parfum is more lean in feel, more distant perhaps. I sense more vetiver,, lily of the valley and possibly narcissus. In general, the feel is of timeless elegance. Into drydown that lovely perfumed forest quality that I know and love emerges, No 19 reveals its gentle side at this stage; a gentle mossy quality

To summarise (since I've already mentioned elves!) where Arwen might wear the EDP, Galadriel would undoubtedly favour the white and green aesthetic of No. 19 parfum - it conjures up morning light filtering through a canopy of trees, the scent of perfumed wood smoke lingering in the ashes of yesterday's fire, lily of the valley beginning to emerge from the mossy roots of an ancient oak. Peace and silence reign in the forest.

In Part Two, I'll explore the Eau de Toilette and the most recent flanker - No 19. Poudre

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A perfumed walk through Narnia

In last year's Christmas Perfumes blog - A Perfume for Christmas  - I covered many of my favourite Christmasy perfume themes; gourmet or incense themed perfumes, cosy/fiery perfumes, perfumes that remind us of red berries and cinnamon and so on. So I was wondering what I could suggest that might be a bit different this year, then I had it;  a perfumed walk through Narnia!

So without further ado, let's begin our journey with Lucy into the wintery magical land of Narnia..

Winter forest
Lucy's first foray into Narnia is of course into the woods through the wardrobe, and what could be more apt than Enchanted Forest!

Enchanted Forest by the Vagabond Prince
With this title and the Russia - inspired porcelain bottle I already feel like I'm entering a Narnian forest.

Enchanted Forest was released just last year. It's by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, known for his unique take on perfume compositions.

At first sniff, Enchanted Forest is like Christmas in a bottle - a very uplifting scent of resinous green fir cones and juicy blackcurrant (actually a bit like cassis liqueur). Like most Duchaufour perfumes though, it has complexity, and includes among many notes - rose, pepper and civet, creating an abstract, rich backdrop to the fresh intensity of fir-tree and blackcurrant.
Into drydown, a warm, slightly dusty (not mouldy) patchouli mingles with resinous pine needles, evoking forest floor and a grounded feeling, more unisex than the slightly sweet berry/green opening...

...and is that a touch of animal in the dry down, or is it the the scent of approaching faun?

The Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d'Orange
How literal can it get? Except fauns aren't real (or so we like to think). This perfume does actually smell quite goaty or faun-like into dry-down.

It has slightly singed notes of wood resin, there's a wisp of sweet rose in there, mingling with immortelle (spicy/warm maple syrup like scent) a nostalgic inky iris and cosy benzoin. But I definitely get goaty musk from this. It reminds me of Labdanum (resin from the rock rose plant) which can often smell like horse hair - quite earthy.

I envisage herbs, flowers and the remains of a bonfire, trampled into the damp earth by the cloven hooves of a dancing faun who's danced all night, then awoke at dawn with the scent of  musky sweat and fire-smoke clinging to his goaty/hairy body!

Not for everyone, and definitely more masculine than feminine to my nose, I love the creativity of this perfume.

Ah, I hear sleigh bells and sense a hint of evil in the air, it must be the White Witch with her dangerously tasty Turkish Delight...

Rose Otto Lotion by Dr Organic
This is the first time I've recommended a lotion rather than perfume, but Rose Otto Lotion by Dr Organic is as close as it gets to a Turkish Delight rose for me, it's very authentic and surprisingly long-lasting as a perfume. Rose Otto is made from the Bulgarian rose - and has a rich, sweet rose-scent rather than a lemony tea rose scent. I often use this as a base for other perfumes, especially those with smoky notes as there's something very classic about smoky sweet rose notes, to my nose.

Alternatively you might want to try  Keiko Mecheiri's Loukoum or Montale's Sweet Oriental Dream, but in my experience these smell more like almonds than rose-scented Turkish Delight

I doubt the White Witch would smell of sweet roses though, I'd imagine her scent as dark and dangerous, which to me conjures up -

Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle, an earthy patchouli/intense rose perfume with notes of dry incense. It's definitely a wild and slightly Gothic perfume, beautiful, but not necessarily comfortable. I tend to wear it on only the most dramatic occasions, and as it's so intense I've never needed to buy more than a 5ml roller ball decant, findable on the Perfumed (see links to right).

As the White Witch sends the enchanted Edmund on his way, it's almost time for Mr and Mrs Beaver to make their appearance..

Winter Woods by Sonoma Scent Studio
Sonoma Scent Studio is an independent one-woman perfumery, run by Laurie Erikson. With Winter Woods Laurie was inspired by the woodlands of the Sonoma Valley near California. 

She uses predominantly natural absolutes in her perfumes, so Winter Woods is a bouquet of beautifully natural oak, cedar and birch with wood resins and tangy green vetiver. What brings beavers to mind is the note of castoerum, a musky note that smells slightly urinous but in small amounts adds a furry warmth to perfumes. 

I definitely notice it in Winter Woods, but where it can be sickly in another perfume composition, here it lends animal warmth to a perfume that smells very outdoorsy and grounded. This is definitely the scent of the Beaversdam abode (minus the fish)!

But do I hear Sleigh bells again? Someone's hear to see you, but this time it's St Nicolas! Father Christmas, or Santa if you like..

He would probably smell a bit sooty and smoky, possibly slightly boozy too, so I'm going to go for another Sonoma Scent Studio creation -

Fireside Intense 
This is definitely the intense version of SSS's Fireside. You can take your pick from warm, cosy and smoky, or charcoal grilled and flamb├ęd in whisky! Fireside Intense has notes of birch tar (a leathery scent slightly reminscent of coaltar), whisky and sandalwood. There's something very cosy about it, but it takes a while to dry down into its more mellow, slightly buttery heart notes. It's probably perceived as more masculine than feminine, but I find it a comfort scent in cold weather.

Prepare yourself...the velvety paws of Aslan approach..

Let Me Play the Lion by Les Nez
Let Me Play the Lion is a tawny, warm perfume by Isabelle Doyen who's usually the in-house perfumer for niche French company Annick Goutal.
She has a wonderful way with resinous and woody notes and Let Me Play the Lion has a characteristically natural feel -

warmly spicy and resinous, with a touch of immortelle that turns slightly burnt-caramel-like into the heart notes. This is more medicinal - slightly more challenging than her usual style. (he's not a tame lion after all).

I'm tempted to skip the dark and tragic scene where Aslan is sacrificed by the shadier characters in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but we must face the darkness before light, and in fact the air of primeval ritual might be conjured up by Parfum Sacre Intense!

Parfum Sacre Intense by Caron
This is, as the name suggests, the more intense version of Parfum Sacre. Where the original's spicy nutmeg, myrrh and peppery opening becomes a gently salty sweet incense/rose, the intense version ramps up the rose, incense and pepper more at first, but then actuually becomes more gentle, even sweet into dry-down..

Heralding the dawn (and probably the most obviously Christian scene of the Narnia Chronicles) is the scene where Aslan is reborn..

Whether religious or not, an uplifting perfume that reminds us of sunrise can't be a bad thing, and to me that light touch is captured by Baiser Vole..

Baiser Vole by Cartier 
I've reviewed this several times, so suffice to say it's a fresh, dewy perfume which combines a peppery green lily with subtle vanilla that gives it a floaty, silky quality. 

The opening notes are almost clean and shampoo-like, but as it dries down it becomes more comfortable, and it's surprisingly lasting. I always feel uplifted by this perfume and although I associate it more with spring, I see no reason not to wear it on a crisp sunny winter's morning in the snow.

And as a reference to the swiftly concluded battle scene, as we approach the end of our perfumed journey...

La Vierge De Fer by Serge Lutens
Continuing with lily white floral theme,  in this perfume there's a subtle hint of sharpness with the addition of a slightly metallic lemony frankincense. This Lutens creation was inspired by the story of the Maid of Orleans, or Joan of Arc. The overall sense is of steely, yet delicate purity, like a cystal-clear drop from Lucy's healing elixir.

Lastly we have the happy scenes at Cair Paravel (not long before Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmund return to Professor Kirk's house and WW2) so let's leave them in their seaside castle, celebrating and dining sumptuously with Mr Tumnus and the Beavers. 

Their feast might include dates, spices and citrus sherbets from exotic lands, or delicious vanilla-scented puddings, conjured up by scents such as Cimabue by DSH Perfumes - a comforting saffron, citrus, lightly spicy, vanilla perfume, or, since this is their coronation ceremony, the noble Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens - a delicious concoction of chocolate and rose-scented relaxing into soft golden cushions...
Wishing you all fragrant Christmas holidays!