Thursday, October 29, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 5 (Chanel No. 19)

This is Part 5 of a series of five posts in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Chanel No. 19. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Chanel No 19, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and today it's Chanel No. 19.

Since I've already explored Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel's background and inspiration in Part 4, today I'll just skip straight to the perfume!

As well as being innovative classics, the five perfumes in this series represent five very different styles - Oriental Vanilla, Musky Floral, Fruity Chypre, Floral Aldehyde and Floral Green.

Chanel 19  - a Floral Green, could also be considered as a perfume on the cusp of chypre though, with its oakmoss notes, but it's definitely green in tone in comparison with the others in this series.

Just to briefly describe No 19's style..

Green florals are often associated with spring and summer, since their notes are more astringent and refreshing, but there's a lot of variety in terms of the type of green-ness. Evergreen perfumes for example, which could be lovely in winter, but to my nose Chanel 19 in Parfum is well suited to any time of year, its green notes are mostly thanks to Galbanum and Vetiver, both quite deep-toned in their greeness - vetiver particularly is quite foresty in feel.

The summery fresh green of lime is described as citrus/hesperedic, and leafy green herbs as aromatic. So with No 19's deeper green tones, paired with iris, leather, lily of the valley, narcissus and oakmoss, there's a fuller perfume scent, i.e. it's not designed simply as a refreshing summer tonic.

The biggest difference between No 19 and the other perfumes in this series is the lack of vanilla, animalic musk and amber. Launched in 1971, No 19 was Coco Chanel's own signature scent, named after the day of her birthday on 19th August. The scent is alluring in its elegance, yet for many people it's seen as a cold, or 'stand-offish' perfume.

In fact, in many perfume forums, if someone asks for suggestions for a work/office scent, No 19 is most often mentioned. So there's a certain formality about No 19. Yet its associations are to do with the outdoors and nature.

Where the other perfumes in this 5-part series refer to musks, soapiness and gourmand fruity or vanilla notes, No 19 recalls a river valley or forest with its cool green tone. Which is why, for some, it's a cool scent and for others a comfort scent, in the sense that it's relaxing to be outdoors.

As someone who's very inspired by nature, I like the associations of No 19. At the same time though, No 19 does smell very perfumy and pretty old school, and though I have a small bottle of the pure parfum, I rarely find an occasion to wear it ( mostly just for myself every so often!). Its iris/leather combination exudes a sort of mysterious regal elegance, which is one of the reasons why No 19 has inspired many imitators. Nowadays it smells quite old fashioned to the modern nose (like the others in this series) but the aura is timelessly classy, always recognisable as 'a good perfume'.

It's a perfume that suits my skin, and I've noticed that those who suit warmer toned ambery or headier floral perfumes tend not to enjoy it so much, but as always you can never tell until you sample it.

Contemporary Perfumes similar in style to No. 19

As with all the classic perfumes in this series, No 19 comes in several varieties, as mentioned above you can read about the EDT, EDP and Parfum in the links at the top of this post. Also though, Chanel's No 19 Poudre was released in 2011 and geared towards a younger market with less leather and galbanum but with added slightly sweeter notes. I think it's lovely, but I find almost any perfume with iris and vetiver lovely!

Similar perfumes from this 60s and 70s era would include Lancome's Climat (more animalic) Jacomo's Silences and Vent Vert by Pierre Balmain. Vent Vert was actually one of the first green florals, before No 19, but it doesn't share No 19's perfumy polish and is a zingier more summery and astringent green scent. Chanel's La Pausa with notes of iris and vetiver is like a simpler paired down and more unisex No 19, and Chanel's Cristalle edt is a gentler, simpler floral green perfume with subtle oakmoss and refreshing citric notes. Chanel's haughty Cuir de Russie is, strictly speaking, a leather scent, but it does have No 19's leather/iris combination.

Contemporary green florals, or perfumes similar in style to No 19 would include Prada's Infusion d'Iris - a beautiful woody vetiver/iris with warmer orange blossom notes and a hint of incense, minus No 19's leather. Again, this is a perfume others describe as cool and distant, it really must depend how it works on skin because I've had so many compliments wearing Infusion d'Iris and never once been told it's 'cool' or 'aloof'. 'Easy on the nose' and 'lovely' tend to be the kind of remarks. If though, you'd prefer a warmer version Prada's Infusion d'Iris Absolue might be perfect with its warmer tones of benzoin and exotic floral touch.

If it's No 19's elegant iris you love, I recommend the poetic Iris de Nuit by James Heeley - a cool iris but complemented with a powdery violet, cedar and warm-toned carrot seed. Hermes Hiris is a very cool take on iris - I find it somehow too restrained, as though it's trying too hard to be elegant, but that's just me! A more earthy, dark iris would be Serge Luten's Iris Silver Mist, but to me that has nothing in common with No 19 and is far more rooty. Prada's No 7 Violette has something of No 19's beautiful elegance, but violet does tend to add a more romantic, powdery or soapy feel.

No 19 has a lovely spring flower green dewiness, and if it's this you enjoy then I highly recommend Cartier's Baiser Vole EDP. This deceptively simple peppery green lily is really a piece of understated genius by the current Cartier 'nose' Mathilde Laurent. It's sparkling yet soft, tart, green and peppery yet with a hint of sweetness, it's as balanced as a perfume can be. I find it uplifting, yet with a polished cool elegance. For gentle green florality try Frederic Malle's En Passant a romantically green perfume featuring lilac and cucumber.

For a fresh green floral perfume that feels more literally green and leafy, try Diptyque's Eau de Lierre (which really does smell like fresh ivy) or the more floral Ombre Dans L'Eau by Diptyque, which features lovely leafy notes alongside rose and blackcurrant.

On the left - my own little bottle of 19 in parfum

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