Mystery and Allure of Chypres: On Fragrance Families

Chypre

Fragrances in the chypre fragrance family remind me why I love perfume in general. Granted, the topic of chypre could fill a whole book, I offer some tidbits to incite curiosity to explore this great family further. I also offer a selection of favorite chypres, from classical and modern, as well as some advice to those new to exploring this family. …

The classical chypre is defined as a combination of five notes—citrus (often bergamot), floral (classically, rose or jasmine), woody (often patchouli), oakmoss, amber and/or musk. Much like the variegated olfactory facets that are combined to create a chypre fragrance, the emotional effects of chypres are complex. The past few years have seen the revival of the family, which is in many ways due to its memorable character and unique signature.

When the market is inundated with more than 700 new launches, the ability to stand out is important. At the same time, fragrance companies are afraid that too strong of a character will be a deterrent. Chypre fragrances are often able to strike the middle ground in this respect, although without doubt, the best examples are the ones that do not compromise (see my selection of modern chypres below.)

The unique combination of accords in chypre creates a sensual and mysterious effect, a play upon the warm/cool contrast of materials. Unlike the appealing crispness and freshness of many fruity florals or the familiar, mouthwatering effects of gourmands, chypre fragrances evoke a more abstract sensation. While classical chypres are often dark and rich, modern chypres based on experiments with various moss aroma materials and the new family of sheer ambers tend to have an interesting transparency paired with complexity and depth. Moreover, with fashion tending towards retro, it is not surprising that retro fragrance families are coming back. So where did chypre come from in the first place?

The biggest myth of chypre family is that it was created by François Coty when he launched his Chypre in 1917. In fact, chypre (the word is derived from the French name for the island of Cyprus) was a blend of mossy and animalic raw materials common during the times of the Roman empire. Chypre as a name for an accord is often mentioned in 18th century perfume manuals. Guerlain had at least two very fine chypres, Chypre de Paris and Chypre, both pre-1917. Indeed, my bottle of Guerlain Chypre from the turn of the 20th century turned out to contain a potent mossy-leather blend with a natural musk note.

This being said, Coty has to be given credit for establishing chypre as a fragrance family. Coty took the classical idea and gave it well-defined structure and distinct form. The classical chypre as we know it today is largely due to Coty Chypre establishing the convention. Ironically, its novelty was the reason for its failure– the rather startling, roughhewn beauty of Chypre mesmerizes, but it remains aggressive and unrelenting. Nevertheless, perfumers were intrigued.

The genius of Jacques Guerlain—the great perfumer heading the house that bears his name– was to refine the chypre. In creating Mitsouko, he softened the animalic impact of Coty’s Chypre, infused it with the lush sweetness of ripe peaches, added a spicy touch and placed the heart against a backdrop of an ornate mossy-woody accord. I look forward to celebrating Mitsouko’s 90th birthday next year; its impressive anniversary contrasting sharply with the short lives of many current launches.

Over the years, the family has evolved tremendously, and in fact, nowadays as long as the five elements of chypre are present in whatever guise (different citrus, different florals, moss synthetics and amber materials), a fragrance can technically be called a chypre. When I think of great chypres, Mitsouko, No 19 and Diorella immediately come to mind. Their elegance is tempered in a brilliant manner by sensuality. The bright, effervescent top notes belie the complex darkness of their hearts. As a result, the unexpected contrasts and the layering of sensations create a modern aesthetic, despite the fact that these fragrances were created in 1919, 1970, and 1972, respectively.

In my classical chypre hall of fame, I would also include Balmain Jolie Madame, Caron Tabac Blond, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Chanel Cristalle EDT, glorious Dior chypres such as Miss Dior and Diorama, Estée Lauder classics such as Azurée and Private Collection, Guerlain Chant d’Arômes, Parfums Grès Cabochard, Robert Piguet Bandit, Rochas Femme, Hermès Calèche, Jean Couturier Coriandre, Sisley Eau du Soir and Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum.

Some great recent examples of modern chypres include Chanel 31 rue Cambon, Sisley Soir de Lune, Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile Eau de Parfum, Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit, Hermès Parfum des Merveilles, Lanvin Rumeur, and Hermèssence Poivre Samarcande. The allure of a beautifully crafted chypre lies in its unpredictability, in its ability to tease senses and to spark imagination with its abstract form.

The classical chypres mentioned above exemplify the diversity of the family, but rather like full-bodied red wines, they can be a shock to a palate unaccustomed to them. If you are a chypre novice, I would recommend starting with the sheer and delicate takes such as Hermèssence Poivre Samarcande, Chanel 31 rue Cambon and The Different Company Bois d’Iris. They illustrate the fascinating qualities of chypres I described above, while allowing you to be seduced gently, stealthily. One thing I can promise is that this journey will be rewarding and delightful.

Gorgeous chypre artwork by perfumer and photographer Michel Roudnitska from Art et Parfum is a perfect illustration for the beautiful complexity of this family, whose Noir Epices for Frédéric Malle is a gorgeous modern chypre with a nod to the classical heritage.

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56 Comments

  • MarkDavid: Welcome back, V!!

    And with such a wonderful, informative article to boot! I came to this article today wearing some vintage Mitsouko, so that has to mean something, right?

    I’d love to hear more on the Ancient uses of the chypre accords. In fact, I’d love to hear more on the ancient uses of aromatics, period. When you have a moment and are so inclined, of course. :)

    So refreshing to see you back in action!
    -MD April 17, 2008 at 1:16pm Reply

  • benvenuta: Yay! It`s good to read you again!

    I didn`t know Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile Eau de Parfum was a chypre. I tried only the EDT and wasn`t aware of the differences between the concentrations. Another one for the “to try” list.
    I didn`t know that Hermèssence Poivre Samarcande and The Different Company Bois d’Iris were chypres, either. April 17, 2008 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Borhane: Dear V,

    I have only very recently begun, about two months ago, reading your blog and inquiring into perfumes. I must confess that your short pause has been more than enough time for me to miss you.

    Thanks for the rich, vibrant and stylish – as always – new post!

    b. April 17, 2008 at 2:38pm Reply

  • Linda: Dear Victoria, it is a pleasure to see you back! I love chypre fragrances, and I am excited to see several of my favourites mentioned.

    Greetings from London!
    Linda April 17, 2008 at 2:47pm Reply

  • Karl: Great article! I found your blog via the NYT and I just spent my entire lunch hour reading it. :D April 17, 2008 at 3:24pm Reply

  • Patti: Thank you for a beautiful tribute to my favorite scent category! My first chypre was the original Cachet by Prince Matchabelli. I did not know why I loved it, but then I was just a teen at the time. Over the years, as I chose scents for myself, almost all of them had a base containing oakmoss. And when I chose my first Guerlain (after three trips to the Saks Guerlain counter in NYC to test and sample) I chose Parure.
    I’m not sure why it’s bothering me that the new “modern” chypres can contain no oakmoss. It seems wrong to call them chypres. I think that the fragrance industry should come up with a new name for their category. To me, if it doesn’t have the oakmoss-patchouli in the base, it’s not really a true chypre. April 17, 2008 at 3:56pm Reply

  • scentsignals: so glad you’re back! i’ve missed your “voice.” i’m a chypre girl, too, from way back! it’s always nice to hear about them. – minette April 17, 2008 at 4:55pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: I will reply to individual comments later, but I just wanted to mention how happy I am to see so many chypre lovers here. It is an exciting fragrance family, isn’t! April 17, 2008 at 5:10pm Reply

  • Borhane: By the way, I’m curious to know which of the classical chypres you would find interesting on a men – obviously, this depends on the wearer, but you might still have general thoughts on this.. April 17, 2008 at 6:09pm Reply

  • Arwenelf: Welcome back Victoria!

    You have been missed. I would check your blog every day, and by looking at the date of your last post and the subject I would smile. At the time I complained that I had to wait for a few weeks to smell the Aqua Allegoria Figue Iris, and I am still waiting!!!!

    I really liked your blog about Chypres. Definitely a great category of perfume. April 17, 2008 at 6:10pm Reply

  • violetnoir: Woman, I have missed reading your posts so much, you could write practically anything. :)

    But in this case, your chypre post is as informative as ever! And wouldn’t you know it: I am wearing Mitsouko today and thinking about you.

    Hugs! April 17, 2008 at 11:16pm Reply

  • Kim: Thank you for coming back! I have missed reading your opinions. I have worn Paloma for years and last year was the start of my perfumista adventure, leading to the discovery of Mitsouko and Sisley Soir de Lune (surprised the Sisly doesn’t get more attention – it is marvelous). Still sampling my way through chypres so will try some of your suggestions. I look forward to more of your writing for my perfume education :) April 18, 2008 at 12:11am Reply

  • Judith: So glad to see you again, V! And your piece is wonderful! Chypres are my favorite category of perfume, and you certainly do them justice. Reading Kim’s comment just above mine reminds me how the Perfume Guide bashed the Sisley perfumes, Never mind! I love Soir de Lune anyway! April 18, 2008 at 8:38am Reply

  • Suzanne: De-lurking in order to join the chorus of readers who have missed you and are delighted to read this post on Chypres. Of the “new” chypres, I would love to own a bottle of Chanel 31 Rue Cambon–I find it exquisite. Will wear some from my sample today in celebration of your return! April 18, 2008 at 9:50am Reply

  • Flor: What a pleasant surprise! Nice to have you back. I have so many of the perfumes you reference that I think I can qualify for a chypre fan. :) April 18, 2008 at 10:34am Reply

  • lavinia: How great that you are writing again. I found your site one year ago and still have many reviews to read.
    The title says it exactly. Musing is the perfect word for chypres. I wish that people around me give more chances to chypre.
    No.19 is my big love too. April 18, 2008 at 11:44am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    So happy to tune in and see joyfully thay you are back ! Missed your writings , reflections musings so much. I too am a chypre lover.. So many I love .From an early age I came to love themand seek them out..From Jolie Madame, Azuree, Cabochard, Coriandre , Miss Dior, Paloma Picasso to 31 Rue Cambon- they are the most beautiful to wear.
    I am wondering what you thi/nk of creating more of them with the restrictions of oakmoss etc
    Wishing you all the best ++ April 18, 2008 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Romaine: I also would like to hear more about masculine chypres! Thanks so much. April 18, 2008 at 4:18pm Reply

  • Romaine: Sorry for another message, but can you please describe Dirty English fragrance? I think that it is a chypre. Thanks. April 18, 2008 at 4:20pm Reply

  • k-amber: Wonderful to read your comments again. I am wearing Guerlain Chant d’Arômes today and notice it is reformulated after reading your review. I hope I try an original version someday.

    Kaori April 19, 2008 at 3:55am Reply

  • Musette: Victoria,
    Delightful to have you back! What a lovely article – very informative. I was completely unaware that Poive Samarcande is considered a chypre. I’m wearing that today, having had to abandon En Passant (it made me cry). Like others have noted here, I would not have considered myself a chypre fan but so many of my faves on our your list so I guess I am! April 19, 2008 at 4:37pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: MarkDavid, how perfect about your wearing Mitsouko on the day I write about chypre (and my beloved Mitsouko, of course). I will post some excerpts from the books I have about ancient chypres. April 24, 2008 at 2:59pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Benvenuta, chypres come in many different guises nowadays, especially given new moss materials. So, they are not always as dark as classical chypres. All of those have some type of moss note. I enjoy them very much. April 24, 2008 at 3:02pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Borhane, thank you very much for your kind words. I am glad to hear that you are enjoying my posts. I will try to write more now that I am not traveling. April 24, 2008 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Linda, thank you very much! I am glad to see you commenting as well. April 24, 2008 at 3:06pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Karl, thank you! I am glad you like it. April 24, 2008 at 3:34pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Patti, Cachet by Prince Matchabelli is such a beautiful chypre. You were a chypre sophisticate from a tender age, but I do not find it at all surprising. :) Parure is another favorite of mine–rose and plum on a chypre base.

    I have made my peace with modern chypres. All in all, I prefer them to fresh fruity florals. April 24, 2008 at 3:36pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Minette, thank you very much. It is nice to have time to write. April 24, 2008 at 3:37pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Borhane, I would name Guerlain Derby, Hermes Bel Ami, Chanel Pour Monsieur (supposed to be the closest chypre to Coty Chypre), Goutal Sables, Dior Jules, YSL Kouros, Lauren Polo and Bogart Furyo (maybe not as well known as others, but very good). April 24, 2008 at 3:40pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Arwenelf, I still have not smelled it myself. I am still curious… :) April 24, 2008 at 3:43pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, wonderful to see you! :) And to be wearing Mitsouko today as well! Perfect timing for me. April 25, 2008 at 12:02pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Kim, I am glad to see someone else who loves Paloma and Sisley. I agree that Sisley fragrances are very good. I love that type of dark chypre in general. April 25, 2008 at 12:08pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Judith, nice to see you too! I like it too, nomatter what anyone says. :) April 25, 2008 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Suzanne, thank you for your kind words! I hope that someday a bottle will find its way to you. :) April 25, 2008 at 12:12pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Flor, yay for another chypre fan! April 25, 2008 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Lavinia, I am glad that you are enjoying them. Thank you. No 19 is an amazing fragrance in all respects. April 25, 2008 at 12:15pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Madelyn, what a beautiful list of favorites! I suspected that you were a true chypre lover. April 25, 2008 at 12:15pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Romaine, I gave a few suggestions above, but I think that this topic deserves its own article. It would be fun to work on that. April 25, 2008 at 12:21pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Romaine, I tried it only once so far, but my impression was dark, tobacco and woods. I will review it after I sample it better. April 25, 2008 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Kaori, I recently tried Chant d’Arômes and I loved it again. It is not the same as it used to be, but it is better than the reformulation I tried a few years ago. It was good to see that it is possible to return a bit to the original beauty. April 25, 2008 at 12:23pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Musette, I love that fragrance. It has a subtle mossy note in the background, which lends it a beautiful chypre like effect. Jean-Claude Ellena is a master of woods! April 25, 2008 at 12:24pm Reply

  • j: Does anyone have recommendations for a chypre that might be similar to the (now discontinued, although still available) Fendi? (I feel quite low-brow admitting my love for this perfume, but all I can say is that I love the way it smells on my skin, and how my room and arm smell in the morning 18 hours after I put it on the previous day). I’ve spent sooo much money sampling perfumes over the past 3 months looking for a replacement (although I have a big enough bottle to last me for quite awhile). So far, nothing has struck me just right. I did quite like Molinard Une Histoire de Chypre. April 25, 2008 at 8:48pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: J, I love the original Fendi. It was a beautiful chypre. I need to think of what might be a good replacement. It was really unique. April 28, 2008 at 10:39am Reply

  • Yulya: Hi Victoria, I have been thinking of Jean-Louis Scherrer for women. I love it dearly, get lots of compliments when I wear it. Who is making it now? Has it been discontinued?
    Thank you December 1, 2011 at 8:17am Reply

  • Victoria: Yulya, I love it too! Such an elegant, beautiful composition. It is still available, and it is now made by Designer Parfums:
    http://www.designerparfums.com/

    The same group that now owns Jean Patou. December 1, 2011 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Yulya: Ah, I see! Thank you, I am so glad that it is not discontinued. December 1, 2011 at 2:57pm Reply

  • Yulya: Dear Victoria, one more question. Has it changed a lot since it changed hands? December 1, 2011 at 3:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: You know, I have not smelled it recently. I am not sure. December 1, 2011 at 3:32pm Reply

  • Yulya: Well, I will then try and let you know :) December 4, 2011 at 5:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yulya, please do! I would love to hear what you think. December 4, 2011 at 5:49pm Reply

  • Yulya: Victoria, finally I have a bottle Jean-Louis Scherrer for women (new version)! EDP. Well, it is a little watered down, but as far as I remember the ‘old’ verions, it is very close and as beautiful as ever! Love it. And the sillage is great, too. March 29, 2012 at 4:57pm Reply

  • Victoria: What great news!! Thank you for sharing. I'm so glad to hear that it is still in a good shape. March 30, 2012 at 12:00am Reply

  • Beryl: When I was young my mother wore a perfume which she always described as Chrypre and its fragrance smelt like violets do. Is this possible? The closest I have come to it is Violetta by Penhaligons. I am so pleased I have come across your website as I find it so fascinating and will follow it closely. June 22, 2012 at 7:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Beryl, and welcome! Have you tried Balmain Jolie Madame:
      http://boisdejasmin.com/2006/01/fragrance_revie_10.html
      It’s a chypre with violet and leather notes. Not sure if it’s the one your mother wore (many chypres have violets), but if you come across a sample, I recommend trying it. June 23, 2012 at 3:28am Reply

  • yabin li: truly fine embroided essays,convery a crystal
    clear tone toward purfume impression. the indigrents come to very attentions,as citrus,
    rose,oakmoss,sensed quite essential west,while, strangely,maybe just because being mingled with rather banal substences,like jasmine,patchouli,,,the combination goes
    unexpected haply harmony motions. July 19, 2012 at 5:57am Reply

  • Pia: Iäve just discovered that it is chypres that I love! never new these kind of smells had a name and even that they were a group, so to speak. I have just fallen in love with Chanel no 19 having loved Cristalle for a long time! BUT my all time favorite and NOTHING comes even close to it, is Armani femme the original! it´s absolutely stunning+ hot,cold, rich, sharp, soft, exotic, mellow, minty, irisy, vetivery, mossy, golden, sad, mysterious, sexy, dirty, stylsih… Oh, I could go on! According to Fragrantica: Armani by Giorgio Armani is a Chypre Floral fragrance for women. Armani was launched in 1982. Top notes are aldehydes, pineapple, mint, galbanum, marigold and bergamot; middle notes are cyclamen, tuberose, orchid, orris root, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose and narcissus; base notes are sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk, benzoin, oakmoss and cedar. March 19, 2013 at 5:15pm Reply

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