If there is any genre which gets perfume lovers wringing their hands with concern over the IFRA/EU restrictions on perfume raw materials it is the chypre. The form was created by Francois Coty in 1917 with oakmoss prominent within its formula. Oakmoss is one of the ingredients which has been significantly restricted in its use. This hurdle has only inspired some of the best perfumers out there to see if in this new age where all of M. Coty’s ingredients can’t be used if an alternative can be found. Perfumer James Heeley is the most recent to take a crack at this with Heeley Chypre 21.
The original chypres were big blustery perfumes which were full of powerful notes like patchouli, civet, musks, and vetiver. Subtle it was not. When a modern perfumer reinterprets this they naturally look to “lighten” things up. Mr. Heeley does this while still using a bit of oakmoss to provide the bite of chypre but this is more a nip on the ankles than a full-fledged chomp.
Chypre 21 opens with the classic citrus provided by petit grain and bergamot. What I really liked was the inclusion of rosemary with the citrus. This was almost a nod to the Jean Marie Farina cologne opening. Every time I wore it I liked the cologne-like freshness these notes imparted to the early going. Rose is one of the more traditional floral notes chosen to accompany the chypre accord because it stands up to it. Rose is the heart of Chypre 21. Mr Heeley’s twist is to dust it with saffron adding in a beautifully exotic complement. The cologne intimations are fully banished and I am anticipating the chypre base to arrive any minute. When it does the oakmoss rides in on a flying carpet composed of some of the synthetic musks. If this was fifty years ago there would be a lot more oakmoss and the musk would be real. By having to use a lesser concentration and the synthetic musk equivalents Mr. Heeley makes a chypre which hums with precision but less powerfully. Patchouli deepens the chypre accord and sandalwood provides a dry woody foundation for it to rest upon.
Chypre 21 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mr. Heeley stated in the press release his aim was to create a fragrance “with a certain air of Parisian chic”. I think he has achieved this with Chypre 21. It feels like a chypre throughout with some interesting modern choices to give a more contemporary spin to it. By keeping it lighter I think Chypre 21 is more approachable by many for whom a real full-throated chypre would keep at arm’s length. Chypre 21 is enough of a chypre that I think it will still appeal to fans of those predecessors. I think what is best about Chypre 21 is it will also succeed at creating some new aficionados of chypre.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample supplied by Heeley.