Ever wondered what makes the cut when it comes to a fragrance expert’s personal stash? Us too! Today marks the fourth instalment of our Inside Our Fragrance Expert’s Fragrance Wardrobe series, a candid look at Thomas’ fragrance collection to reveal once and for all the favourites that he turns to time and time again. The next stop on the journey? The Chypres…
The chypre has always been a rather difficult fragrance family for me. Stoic in their beauty, and often standoffish in their approach, these harsh and sometimes arid fragrances are evocative of the beautiful landscape of Cyprus and were innovative because they showcased the idea of flowers and nature in a different way. The first chypre was Coty’s Chypre, which launched in 1917. The structure was unusual; bright citrus top notes, warm labdanaum and a mossy, animalic base derived from oakmoss. Coty created a new type of fragrance entirely – perfumes that speak of bold characters, of angular beauty, class and torment.
With the changing availability of materials and the restriction of the use of oakmoss, the chypre has evolved dramatically since 1917. Modern chypres focus predominantly on floral notes accented by patchouli, often with a cocktail of musks as their power source. This is how we get from Chypre in 1917 to La Panthere in 2014 – two wildly different olfactory profiles that speak of the same character, where softness and plushness are balanced by sharp talons. It’s an evolution and a startling one at that.
My chypre collection is small but mighty. I have four or five favourites and whilst I may not turn to them often (it’s not always that I’m in the mood for a ‘don’t approach me’ fragrance) but when I do, I fall in love all over again. Here are some of my chypre staples…
Mitsouko by GUERLAIN
No collection of chypres is complete without Guerlain’s Mitsouko. Heck, no fragrance wardrobe is complete without this almost century-old gem. Mitsouko is often seen as the reference chypre and for good reason. It launched in 1919, two years after Coty’s Chypre, which birthed the genre. With Mitsouko, Jacques Guerlain sought to extend and improve the accord and he did so by softening it with a lactone material (delta-undecalactone) that gave a fruity fuzziness to the chypre accord, adding Mitsouko’s iconic milky peach accord. Mitsouko is an amorphous fragrance that moves constantly from stoic, angular, and almost standoffish to soft, cosy, and comforting. There really isn’t anything else out there and any perfume lover worth their salt needs a bottle, even just for reference.
Pour Homme by YSL
The chypre is to female fragrance as the fougere is to male fragrance, which is to say that it is predominately populated with feminines. There are, however, a few exceptions, one of which is the classic YSL Pour Homme. Created as Yves Saint Laurent’s signature fragrance, YSL Pour Homme is a woody cologne with a chypre tone. It opens with a bracing and vivid lemon note that makes way for a perfectly harmonised lavender-herbs-woods that follow. You could perhaps classify this one as a fougere, or even a cologne, but to me, it’s the distinct chypre feel, albeit with a masculine twist, that makes it one of the greats.
for her by Narciso Rodriguez
Out of all of the modern chypres, none are more iconic than Narciso Rodriguez for her. In fact, much in the same way that Coty created the genre with Chypre, Narciso is responsible for forging the modern style. Much like the older chypres, for her is abstract in style. It seems inspired more by textures (silk or chiffon) and colours (black and pink) than it is anything specific. The notes too are abstract – yes there is rose and patchouli, but it’s difficult to see where one starts and the other finishes. It all feels seamless and there is an airy, soft feel thanks to a heady blend of musks. It might be hard at first to sniff this next to Mitsouko and feel that it is of the same family but both share a subversive beauty that is not afraid to be aloof. for her is, without a doubt, a modern masterpiece.
La Panthere by Cartier
La Panthere is one of my most worn chypres. To me, it epitomises glamour but does so in a subversive way. It uses familiarity with a sense of strangeness (as seems to be the theme of Mathilde Laurent’s compositions for Cartier) to create something that is unconventionally beautiful. At the heart of the fragrance is a bold gardenia note – a sharp, shiny and creamy white flower with an odd, glue-like texture. This richness is not contrasted by musk it is emphasised by it, with a wave of soft, gauzy musks creating the feeling of a feline pelt that warmly wraps this burning flower at the heart. La Panthere is a beautiful, statuesque cat with blazing eyes – stare into them and be prepared to lose yourself.