Cool, inky, powdery, nutty, dark… It’s hard to explain what’s so compelling about the smell of moss, but Patricia attempts it here and shares her love for all things mossy and chypre.
It was many years before I learned that my favorite perfumes, for the most part, fell into a group called “chypres.” I had no idea that they had anything in common, except that I loved the combination of cool and elegant with dark and almost feral notes, the sacred and profane all rolled into one. Chypre, I found out later, referred to a distinctive accord based around several different elements, but as Victoria mentions in her article on the history of chypre, the important chypre ingredient is oakmoss.
The oakmoss is exactly why chypres are not without controversy. Due to restrictions by the IFRA (International Fragance Association) on the use of oakmoss because of its status as an allergen, the formulas of beloved old favorites have been radically altered. Enter synthetic oakmoss and the resultant buzz in the perfume community about dramatic change of beloved chypres like Guerlain Mitsouko, Chanel No 19 and Parfum Grès Cabochard.
But my story begins much earlier when a mother gifted a bottle of Miss Dior to a young teen who wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Was it pretty? It was. Was it sharp and nose-wrinkling? It was that, too. Miss Dior had already been around for a couple of decades when she found a place on my dresser top and had already enchanted many with her love-me-love-me-not quality. The green and peppery opening in Miss Dior progresses from gardenia and jasmine to a creamy drydown of sandalwood and dark leather. In the end, the teen decided that it was true love, and my fascination with all things mossy was born.
Yves Saint Laurent’s Y, created in 1964 and reissued two years ago, was another early favorite. It opens with a blast of green leaves, coriander and peach skin that is rather quickly followed by a dry, almost prim, combination of iris and moss. Very wearable, it was often reached for in the days when my perfumes could be counted in single digits. Gentlemen, don’t be put off by its designation as a woman’s perfume. Its crisp dryness would be very nice on a man. The same applies to many other chypres, both classical and modern.
After Miss Dior and Y, it was a short hop to young adulthood and Givenchy Ysatis (coconut and flowers and lots of them), Scherrer 2 (spicy ylang ylang and patchouli), Ivoire de Balmain (green jasmine and soap bubbles), and Krizia Teatro alla Scala (honeyed carnations and sandalwood). Though I wore them all, the closest to a signature scent during this time period was K de Krizia.
Created in 1982 by perfumer Maurice Roucel, K de Krizia exemplifies the flamboyant 1980s style. There is nothing subtle about its combination of exuberant green notes and lush hyacinth, although the fizzy opening of mandarin and coriander doesn’t indicate that what follows is a true bombshell. K de Krizia is also packed with rose, amber, musk, and sandalwood, and while a tart mandarin lingers in the drydown, the perfume is as curvy as Sophia Loren. Although these days I only need a small sample to remind me of its power, K de Krizia still moves me and brings with it a flood of memories.
Though the modern chypres lack the dark earthiness of pre-regulation formulas, they have a charm of their own. Favorites in this group are Keiko Mecheri’s Ume (cedarwood soaked in plum syrup), Parfum d’Empire’s Eau Suave (mossy rose and violet), Serge Luten’s Daim Blond (soft as apricot skin suede), Chanel 31 Rue Cambon (peppery iris and antique woods), and Acqua di Parma Profumo (patchouli mixed with jasmine and ripe peaches).
Right now, my favorite modern chypre is Chypre Palatin by Parfums MDCI. The first time I smelled it, I was nearly brought to my knees by its elegant but dramatic blend of tangerine zest, lavender, and rose, all wrapped in layers of velvety moss. The drydown of smoky vanilla and dry leather seems to go on forever. It promises to be my chypre obsession for this decade.
Extra: learn how to pronounce “chypre” .
Do you like chypres? If so, what are your favorites?