There are materials in perfumery which are damned by a couple of words. When it comes to patchouli the phrase “head shop” is the one. It refers to the endemic scent of the shops which sold paraphernalia for smoking marijuana that popped up in the 1960’s. There are all kinds of anecdotal stories for why patchouli was so prevalent. It was used to mask the pot smell. It was used to mask the unwashed smell of the clientele. It smelled cool. There is no clear cut answer to why. The downside is patchouli has lost some of its panache when it is associated with the bohemian.
I admit I carried this prejudice with me when I first started my perfumed path. I wanted to wear fragrance to add a touch of class not have it be the perfume of the plebian. Over the years I learned how versatile patchouli was as an ingredient. At turns herbal, earthy, resinous while being playful or serious. There is a reason it shows up in so many compositions. When it comes to The Gold Standard the perfume I consider to be the baseline for patchouli is Chanel Coromandel.
Chanel Coromandel was released in 2007 as part of the Chanel Les Exclusifs collection. It was one of the inaugural releases in this collection. Chanel in-house perfumer Jacques Polge collaborated with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake in designing it. This was interesting because at this point M. Sheldrake had become the de-facto in-house nose at Serge Lutens. In that capacity he had recently designed in 2005 an intense chocolate patchouli gourmand; Serge Lutens Borneo 1834. That was a patchouli of darkness and mystery. Working with M. Polge on Coromandel the patchouli is less of an enigma. What makes Coromandel stand out is it embraces the bohemian and the chic nature of patchouli in one fragrance.
Coromandel opens with a bit of citrus and a bit of jasmine. It is a simple one-two before the patchouli arrives. When the patchouli does come in it is the non-head shop version. It is that cool green slightly camphoraceous version of patchouli. The perfumers add a little pine to frame these characteristics. This is a classical feeling vintage-ish perfume aesthetic. This is the patchouli I learned about smelling other perfumes. The base turns it into that head-shop accord as frankincense, benzoin and amber give anyone who lived in those times a flashback. Despite my dismissal of this as plebian previously; in Coromandel it has been elevated because it comes after the more refined heart accord. It makes it easier to enjoy the full patchouli experience the perfumers have provided.
Coromandel has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I am usually critical of fragrances that try to have things both ways when it comes to designing around a specific material. It is a measure of why Coromandel is The Gold Standard for patchouli because it is one of the rare ones which succeeds at doing that.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
There is no single perfume which is ingrained in popular culture more than Chanel No. 5. It has come to represent luxury, style, aldehydes, heck even perfume itself. I’ve left giving Chanel the 101 treatment for so long because of that elephant in the perfumed parlor. The question I kept asking myself was would I introduce someone just beginning to explore perfume to Chanel No. 5 as the first Chanel to try. After almost two years of thinking about this I think the answer is Chanel No. 5 is best appreciated if you come to it after having tried many other perfumes. Below are the five Chanel fragrances I think are the best place to start learning about the perfumed side of Chanel.
Ernest Beaux was a genius and that is borne out because he followed up Chanel No. 5 with a string of successful fragrance one after the other. Bois des Iles was M. Beaux’s ode to sandalwood. Before you get to the sandalwood in the base you go through a phase of coriander and petitgrain followed by a floral mix of jasmine, rose, and ylang-ylang. When you get to the sandalwood it is strengthened with ambrette seed along with other musks. A judicious use of vanilla brings out the creaminess of sandalwood. If you own Bois des Iles you pretty much don’t need another sandalwood perfume in your collection.
Cuir de Russie was M. Beaux’s entry into the leather perfume category. He would create one of the most redolent leather accords using birch, styrax, and cade wood. If this was all there was to Cuir de Russie it would still be good. What makes it a classic is the opening of orange blossom which transforms into jasmine before the leather gallops through the garden. One of the earliest leather perfumes and to this day still one of the greatest.
In 1981 perfumer Jacques Polge would begin his time as in-house perfumer at Chanel. He would bring the perfumed side of Chanel back to life in a big way with Coco. M. Polge worked in a diametrically opposite way from M. Beaux. Coco is a perfume so filled with concepts and flourishes it is like trying to follow a Fourth of July fireworks show on your skin. M. Polge refines the concept of fruity floral by adding in peach to the lightly floral frangipani and mimosa. This top accord is what every fruity floral since has tried, and mostly failed, to achieve. M. Polge mixes clove with a beautiful Rose Otto with jasmine also present. It provides a sultry floral heart. The base is mainly patchouli but with a number of grace notes surrounding it with musk being the most prominent. Coco comes in both Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum. It is the Eau de Parfum you should seek out.
If I was going to pick one perfume to introduce someone to Chanel it would be Coco Mademoiselle. Seventeen years after the creation of Coco M. Polge collaborated with Francois Demachy with whom he co-authored many of the best Chanels during this time period. Coco Mademoiselle as the name portends is the younger fresher cousin to Coco. It is a marriage of orange followed by rose and jasmine before heading to a base which is a bit like a faux chypre. Patchouli and vetiver create a chypre-ish vibe as a cocktail of white musks keep it on the clean side. Coco Mademoiselle is the most accessible of the entire brand.
M. Polge would create a contemporary chypre with 31 Rue Cambon. When Chanel launched the Les Exclusifs M. Polge showed he could make a classical perfume with the best of them. 31 Rue Cambon is a chypre which seduces with softer lines than usual in this style of perfume. It still carries the strong green nucleus but M. Polge blurs the edgy qualities and turns it into something more meditative. It is M. Polge’s modern interpretation which makes it something amazing.
Chanel has become such an iconic perfume brand because it has never rested on its reputation generated by Chanel No. 5. For almost 100 years it has stood for some of the best perfume you can experience. The five above are good places to begin.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
There is no greater pleasure than to find a low price perfume by a perfumer who is more known for their higher priced works. During the 1990’s when Jacques Polge was at the height of his creativity for Chanel especially on the masculine side Chanel would allow him to make a perfume for a few other designers. He would make a masculine and feminine for jewelers Tiffany. He would also make two for Ungaro, both masculine. The only one of those still being produced is Ungaro III and it is easily found for around $25.
From 1987-1993 M. Polge composed what I consider to be four of the best men’s fragrances ever. Chanel Pour Monsieur Concentree, Tiffany for Men, Chanel Egoiste, and Chanel Egoiste Platinum. You won’t find any of those in the discount bin. The reason you will find Ungaro III in the discount bin is because the Ungaro Pour L’Homme and Ungaro II have been discontinued. Leaving this to languish in obscurity.
When M. Polge got around to Ungaro III he was really ready to form a bit of a pastiche of those previous four classic perfumes. There are callbacks to all of them as I suspect M. Polge worked off of some of the discarded mods from the development of the more well-known ones.
Ungaro III opens with lemon, petitgrain, and lavender. This is like a mix of Pour Monsieur Concentree and Egoiste Platinum. The heart is geranium, clary sage, rose, and clove. Again components of Tiffany for Men and Egoiste are present. The base is sandalwood, vetiver, and oakmoss. The sandalwood is Egoiste and Tiffany. The vetiver is Pour Monsieur and Egoiste Platinum.
Ungaro III has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
This might sound like perfumery by the numbers and it certainly is. But it is perfumery by numbers by M. Polge. These are pretty damn good numbers to be using. M. Polge was able to take all of the great masculine ideas he had laid out over the last six years and essentially make a greatest hits collection in Ungaro III. If you’ve smelled the four perfumes which make up Ungaro III you won’t find anything new. What you will get for around $25 is one of the greatest perfumers ever combining some of the greatest masculine fragrance trends ever. I’m not sure it gets better for a Discount Diamond than that.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the benefits of being able to look back and find interesting moments in a perfumer’s history is I have the benefit of perfect vision when looking backwards. One of the moments I realized was a real watershed moment in masculine perfumes happened under the aegis of two of the best designer perfumers working. As I’ve covered previously in the late 1980’s men’s fragrance was beginning a shift towards the aquatic and the fresh. Two perfumers who had been working together for about five years were not going to let it go down without offering an alternative. The three men’s perfumes Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge had a hand in from 1987-1990 were Chanel pour Monsieur Concentree, Tiffany for Men, and Chanel Egoiste. Messrs. Demachy and Polge would offer a less burly fragrance that wasn’t quite as aquatic or clean, as the burgeoning trend towards that style was beginning to dominate the market.
They combined on adapting the original Chanel pour Monsieur composed in 1955 by Henri Robert into the Concentree version in 1987. This was a follow-up to their only previous masculine release 1981’s Chanel Antaeus. Where Antaeus was the scent of a player circa 1980’s; with Pour Monsieur Concentree they were trying to define a certain more refined masculine style. If the aquatics were for casual perfume wearing. Pour Monsieur Concentree was for wearing once you came in from the sun. Messrs. Demachy and Polge took the original and intensified it. It was a divisive move as some think it throws the balance off and turns it cloying. I have the opposite opinion. They upped the central note of cardamom until it goes from just a hint of green into something that is no mere trifle at the heart of Pour Monsieur Concentree. This enhanced cardamom follows an energetic lemon opening. This opening would return in 1996’s Chanel Allure. The base was a classic chypre finish but again taken up a couple notches in intensity. I believe they took what was a traditional cologne and beefed it up into something which has much more presence.
Two years later they would return to the themes of Pour Monsieur but while being asked to create a perfume for the jewelry brand Tiffany. 1989’s Tiffany for Men seems like what Messrs. Demachy and Polge wanted to do with Pour Monsieur Concentree but were handcuffed into reprising the original set of notes. Freed of those constraints they would create a uniquely masculine Oriental. They start with bergamot to provide the citrus but juniper berry and coriander provide a bit of a gin accord to go with it. This time instead of just taking cardamom and upping the concentration to create green they take geranium and galbanum to create a seriously green floral heart. The base notes of nutmeg and pepper over a very creamy sandalwood are a fabulous finish. This is one of my favorite men’s perfumes of all-time because it really does have it all. The fresh opening into an intense green down to a spicy woody finish. I knew I didn’t want to smell like the ocean I wanted to smell like Tiffany’s.
In 1990 they would bring all of this together to create the unforgettable Chanel Egoiste. Again they open with citrus but the choice this time is the sweeter tangerine paired with a pale rosewood. Those rose facets will lead into rose in the heart which is enhanced by the presence of coriander. The coriander defines the spiciness underlying a great rose. For the base notes sandalwood is here but they choose to go sweet with vanilla and they use the botanical musk of ambrette seeds to provide a much more delicate muskiness to the final moments. Egoiste is considered to be one of the great masculine masterpieces and continues to be held in high regard.
These three perfumes provided a counterpoint to the perfume trends which wer ein flux. That I can still look back and laud them shows that Messrs. Demachy and Polge succeeded in giving men of a certain aesthetic an alternative.
For this installment of My Favorite Things I’m going to name my five favorite sandalwood perfumes. Sandalwood as a fragrance note is one of the more frequently used ingredients especially as a base note. Most of the sandalwood you encounter in these fragrances is synthetic. There original source of real sandalwood oil in the mid-20th century was from Mysore in India. It was sadly over harvested and is now protected. This caused perfumers to work with both synthetics and alternative sources of sandalwood from Australia and New Caledonia. Nothing has adequately replaced real Mysore sandalwood but the five fragrances below are special sandalwood perfumes on their own basis.
Chanel Bois des Iles– When Ernest Beaux originally created Bois des Iles in 1926 I am reasonably certain it was full of Mysore sandalwood. When Jacques Polge brought it back for the Exclusif line it is said there isn’t a drop of sandalwood at all in the reformulation. I’ve smelled vintage and the Exclusif side by side and accounting for age M. Polge has pulled off one of the great olfactory illusions, ever.
Diptyque Tam Dao– Perfumers Daniele Moliere and Fabrice Pellegrin create a sandalwood fragrance in three acts. Act one is sandalwood and rosewood which is liltingly fragile. The second act adds clean cedar to make the sandalwood equally delineated. Act three takes ambergris as a foundation to accentuate the sweet qualities of sandalwood. For many people this is the gateway to loving sandalwood as a fragrance.
Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle– Frederic Malle claimed in the press materials that this is the same species of sandalwood as Mysore but grown in a sustainable way. I have my doubts but perfumer Bruno Jovanovic keeps it simple using saffron, jasmine, and vanilla to frame the sandalwood gorgeously. Who cares where it came from?
Sonoma Scent Studio Cocoa Sandalwood– Perfumer Laurie Erickson wanted to make an all-natural perfume for her line and Cocoa Sandalwood was the first in this series. She takes New Caledonian Sandalwood and wraps it in spices and dusts it with arid cocoa powder. When people tell me natural perfume can’t have depth and richness I hand them my bottle of this to end that conversation.
Xerjoff Richwood– When I want my sandalwood straight with no chaser this is the one I reach for. Perfumer Jacques Flori uses real Mysore sandalwood at the heart and cassis, rose, and patchouli are present. Those three notes really just serve to draw out the complexity of the real thing. I think it is the single best sandalwood fragrance I own.
These are a few of my favorite sandalwoods but there are a couple I would have included if they weren’t discontinued; Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood and Amouage Sandal Attar. If you love sandalwood both of these are worth the effort of seeking them out through online sources.