“Think of a famous French perfume from the previous century and it will undoubtedly a chypre”
No perfume genre has had a harder time assimilating into the 21st century than the chypre. Often seen as the steely-eyed, stoic bastions of complex perfume personalities, the chypres of the world, take time to love. Established in 1917 by François Coty, the chypre genre has long been associated with the classics of French perfumery but can now seem dated, harsh and too complicated to understand. Personally I love a chypre. I adore their often standoffish nature and on the flip side, their sometimes cuddly, fuzzy hearts.
The problem with chypres is not that they are old fashioned, far from it in fact, the classic chypres are positively wonderful, no, the problem is that perfume houses don’t want to make them any more and when they do, we end up with something that is too sanitised, too pretty and ultimately not a chypre. The 20th century was the domain of Guerlain’s Mitsouko and Carven’s Ma Griffe whereas in the 21st century we have Idylle…
For his latest launch, Chypre 21, perfumer James Heeley intends to drag the chypre into the 21st century whilst paying homage to the classics of the genre. He wanted to create “an ode to Parisian chic” in the form of a “contemporary unisex fragrance” that takes all of the requisite building blocks of a chypre – bergamot, rose, patchouli, oak moss and sandalwood – but modernises them into something altogether more befitting of today. The result is both nostalgic and forward thinking.
Top: Italian Bergamot, Rosemary and Petit Grain
Heart: Neroli, Bulgarian Rose and Saffron
Base: Patchouli, Musc, Sandalwood and Oak Moss
How Does it Smell?
Chypre 21 opens dry and fuzzy. There is a generous dose of bergamot up top that is dewy and crisp, but without that usually sweet sparkle that is so typical of the note. Instead it presents an almost atmospheric sense of freshness that really is quite bracing. Surprisingly, Chypre 21 also boasts a subtle, but thoroughly on trend gourmand edge in the top notes, specifically a marzipan nuance that adds just a touch of chewy, almond-like sweetness that works as a subtle softener to the proceedings.
At Chypre 21’s heart is an effervescent rose note. This rose feels almost as if it has been drained of colour and instead of presenting a vibrant hue, such as pink or red, the rose in Chypre 21 is somewhere between sepia and beige. A light dusting of saffron ensures two things; firstly, that the overriding sense of dryness continues throughout in true chypre style; and secondly, it adds a wonderful savoury touch that plays nicely into the hands of not only the rose, but that marzipan hint found in the top notes.
Effervescence and lightness are key themes here and especially so in the base. Quite quickly, Chypre 21 becomes weightless, hovering just above the skin in a delicate haze. The base is mainly a soft breeze of patchouli, musk and moss that is earthy and metallic with a distinct mineral-like edge. It’s also wonderfully soft and smooth, with a suede-like texture that also spills over into its odour profile, finishing the composition off with a luxury flourish.
Chypre 21 is very much the thoroughly modern chypre one expects it to be, save for one key difference: it isn’t squeaky clean. Where many fragrances in this modern style are sanitised to a degree that renders them entirely un-chypre-like, Chypre 21 feels like a real chypre, albeit a very trendy one. Where it differs from the chypres of the 20th century, the Mitsoukos, Ma Griffes, Cristalles and Miss Diors (‘Originale’ of course) of the world, is its lightness. Chypre 21 has all the requisite parts of a chypre: bracing citrus top notes, a warm floral heart and a deep, mossy base, but it presents all of this in a sheer, velvety manner. Does it serve up modern Parisian chic? Why, absolutely!
Chypre 21 is available in 100ml Eau de Parfum for £125.
Sample, notes and quotes via Heeley Parfums. Images are my own.