The first time I became aware of the word “chypre” came while I was reading the classic detective novel “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett. One of the habits I had when reading was if I ran across a word that I didn’t know I’d try to infer it from context followed by opening the paperback dictionary I carried with me. The very last sentence in the paragraph which described the character Joel Cairo was, “The fragrance of chypre came with him.” In my mind I pronounced it ki-per while the context made me think it was perfume. The entry in the dictionary said it was “a non-alcoholic perfume containing oils and resins”. While the pronunciation instructed me to say sheep-ra. Years later as I truly became fascinated with perfume I would think back to how inadequate that definition is.
Chypres have been one of the most interesting style of fragrance from the moment I began to care about understanding more. They have evolved, and every great perfumer has their version of it. The new generation has been working with material restrictions while creating innovative new chypre accords. Occasionally the young guns get the chance to go back and try and make a chypre like they used to. For Ex Nihilo French Affair perfumer Quentin Bisch takes his opportunity.
Ex Nihilo Team (l. to r.) Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, Benoit Verdier
M. Bisch wears his love of perfumery out in the open. There is no doubt that he adores everything about its history and his part in the future of it. I would have enjoyed hearing the conversation when creative directors Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royere, and Benoit Verdier asked him for an old-fashioned chypre for the “new Dandies” of the 21st century. Which is what the brief for French Affair seems to be. M. Bisch decided the base was going to be as traditional a chypre accord as he could produce. Where he would innovate is in the top and heart accords leading to that base.
If there is an ingredient which is becoming a bit of a M. Bisch fingerprint it might be lychee which he uses to add some off-kilter sweetness to the more typical bergamot. It still has that lens flare kind of quality but through a kind of musty sweet. I like it a lot as it is a contemporary twist on that most pedestrian citrus opening. Slicing through the sweetness like a razor is violet leaves which cut straight through to a lush rose in the heart. Its dewy floral depths hold the focus until the patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver which form M. Bisch’s chypre accord rise up. The rose and violet leaves fall right in line as the earthy patchouli, the bitter oakmoss, and the sharp woody green of vetiver combine into a classic chypre accord. This is perfume classicism at its best.
French Affair has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage. It could get you a line in a novel if you wear too much.
M. Bisch’s enthusiasm is contagious and given the opportunity with French Affair he delivered his version of classic chypre brilliantly. So much so that if there is a remake of The Maltese Falcon in 2018 San Francisco this is the perfume that Joel Cairo should be wearing.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.