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


  1. Once I stopped expecting No 19 Poudre to be a better version of No 19 (as if it was even possible! ;-) ), I started enjoying Poudre more. I mean, not more than the original but more than I liked it once I tried it first.
    No 19 Poudre was my first and so far only unsniffed full-bottle purchase so I'm glad that it taught me not to do it again.

  2. Know what you mean Undina! It has some lovely qualities, but so similar to Infusion d'Iris it seemed to me they were making a statement!