Sometimes the designation of a perfume as a "chypre" can feel mysterious. Guerlain Mitsouko, Carven Ma Griffe, and Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum are all chypres, for instance, but each smells so different. If you are stumped as to how a chypre really smells and need an olfactory benchmark — and a gorgeous one, at that — try Aedes de Venustas Histoire de Chypre.
"Chypre" is French for Cyprus and was linked with perfume in 1917 when Coty released a fragrance called Chypre. Coty Chypre was one of the first scents to move away from replicating something recognizable, like the smell of citrus or flowers. Instead, Coty Chypre sought to create an abstract impression of a place. Cyprus, a Mediterranean island that had bounced between Turkish, Greek, and French control was annexed to Great Britain in 1914, just before Coty Chypre came out. The idea of the sea and mountains of warm Cyprus, with resinous plants growing in the rocky soil, must have seemed exotic and alluring to Europeans in the midst of World War One.
The traditional chypre has a tart bergamot opening which balances its patchouli, labdanum (rock rose), and oak moss base. A perfumer can add flowers to this structure to make a floral chypre. For example, rose chypres include Parfums de Rosine Une Folie de Rose, Ungaro Diva, and Agent Provocateur. Or, a perfumer might add galbanum, green notes, and sharp flowers like jasmine to make a green chypre such as Balmain Vent Vert, Yves Saint Laurent Y, Carven Ma Griffe, and the dear departed Dior Dior. Add a leather accord for Dior Diorling, Grès Cabochard, or Balmain Miss Balmain. Add peaches for Guerlain Mitsouko or Rochas Femme, depending on how it's framed. You get the idea.
If a perfume is a solid chypre, you can usually smell it in the dry down, if not sooner. Once any sharp topnotes have died away, a chypre adds a fuzzy lens over a scent, giving the feeling of smelling the perfume through a loosely knit veil of warm mohair. Not all chypres smell outstandingly chypre-ish. Some floral chypres, for instance, are more difficult for me to identify as chypres. Other chypres — Christian Dior Miss Dior is one — reach out and spank you with oakmoss.
Aedes' Histoire de Chypre, created in cooperation with Molinard, is a classic chypre of the spanking variety. Aedes' website lists Histoire de Chypre's topnotes as bergamot, mandarin, neroli, jasmine and galbanum; its heart as jasmine, Bulgarian rose, osmanthus, and iris; and its base as patchouli, oakmoss, musk, and amber. Dominique Camilli of Molinard, inspired by a 1920s Molinard formula for a chypre, created the scent to be sold as a limited edition at Aedes. (The story of Histoire de Chypre's creation, told in a style that had me looking over my shoulder for Fabio, is on the Aedes website).
Histoire de Chypre starts with definite galbanum, boosting the neroli and jasmine of the scent's topnotes, but I smell its patchouli, labdanum, and oakmoss blend all the way through the scent's development. After half an hour, the citrus and green start to fade and the scent's chypre base takes over. I don't really smell much happening in the middle of the fragrance, but I don't mind since the scent is so fresh and yet serious and so easy but so definitely from another time. Histoire de Chypre's main drawback is that it doesn't last longer than a few hours. However, I'm sampling it from a vial, a few drops at a time, and it might do better when sprayed. All in all, Histoire de Chypre is a beautiful hesperidic, green scent perfect for a summer night and a good reminder of what a real chypre is, as unfashionable as they might be these days.
Aedes de Venustas + Molinard Histoire de Chypre is available only at Aedes for $225 for a 100 ml Lalique spray bottle of Eau de Parfum.
Disclosure: Aedes de Venustas is an advertiser at Now Smell This.