I came late to an appreciation of chypres, in contrast to most perfume fans. I still have yet to really appreciate a bitter green one, or a leather one, or a fruity one. Mitsouko hates me. Even the citrus ones like Eau Sauvage or Cristalle are not really to my taste. They just don’t speak to me. But the floral ones I do love, and I find in them a softness and elegance unmatched by any other genre.
As a teen I wore Prince Matchabelli Cachet (I admit that I generally preferred my Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, with its rounded white florals, especially if I was going to be dressed up). And when I went off to college, I longed and longed for the gorgeous Victoria by Victoria’s Secret, but on my drugstore-perfume budget, couldn’t afford it.
Many years later, once I had gotten sucked into the Kingdom of Perfume, I discovered that floral chypres – or florals with a hint of chypre base, in some cases, draw me almost effortlessly: Jolie Madame. Leonard de Leonard. Soivohle Centennial. The rose chypres like L’Arte di Gucci or Lumiere Noire pour femme. I adored the first two hours of Knowing, before its Lauder base asserted itself so firmly. I found Penhaligon’s (rereleased) Eau sans Pareil quite delightful, and very reminiscent of something I’m sure I smelled on a dear aunt in the 1970s. Mary Greenwell Plum, a fragrance so “me” that I’m considering marrying it, is a white floral with fruity topnotes built on a very quietly mossy base. Chanel No. 19, another love, I don’t consider to be a chypre, but it has something of that DNA as well.
Any time I investigated floral chypres, somebody was bound to mention the long-gone Deneuve. I started an ebay search and kept it going for several months, but nothing I found there seemed within my financial grasp. Partial bottles of EdT were going for $90 and up, and even the miniature 4ml bottles of parfum were close to $30 apiece. I had nearly resigned myself to never smelling Deneuve.
Then by happy accident, I was able to snap up a small partial bottle of parfum from a fellow perfume fan who hadn’t loved it. I adored it from the first touch of it to my skin, however, and when another perfumista friend mentioned a lucky score of EdT at an estate sale, I sent him a message saying that if he ever tired of it, I’d be happy to buy the bottle. When he decided to downsize his collection, he sold me the 50 ml bottle for what he paid for it, and tossed in a dab of parfum as well.
Catherine Deneuve herself seems intricately bound up with the world of perfume. She was for many years the face of Chanel No. 5, and starred in a film called “La Chamade,” based on a book which also inspired the gorgeous green floral Chamade by Guerlain. She’s frequently stated that she wears perfume to get into character, naming Frederic Malle’s Noir Epices and others as this kind of inspiration, and that she often uses perfume in her home. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire pour femme was designed as a bespoke perfume for her, before the decision was made to release it as a regular fragrance, according to Perfume Shrine.
Deneuve, the fragrance, was released in 1986, in connection with Avon Perfumes. Deneuve was herself involved in the choice of notes for the fragrance, and selected the packaging and advertisements personally, according to Fragrantica. The perfume was admired, receiving a FiFi award in 1987, but there were snarls with the distribution in America – something to do with Avon and its “neighborhood Avon Lady” marketing plan, more fully explored in this review at The Non-Blonde – and by 1994 the fragrance was gone, remembered as a dream of elegance very out of touch with both the in-your-face style of the 1980s and the quiet, not-a-perfume style of the 1990s.
So, after all the hoopla and hype, what’s this lovely and discontinued perfume actually like?
It opens with soapy aldehydes and a bright flash of bergamot, with a thin gauzy veil of galbanum. There’s a general impression of “green,” but it’s hazy and diffuse, with the florals peeking through almost immediately. And those florals! Beautifully blended, and very natural-smelling. It’s a very classic mix, reminiscent of Patou Joy or Chanel No. 5 in that rose-jasmine-ylang accord, with a delicate layer of metallic/spicy hyacinth and sprightly lily of the valley. This is all set on a base of great refinement, all oakmoss and iris and soft musk, with some gentle woods for strength and a hint of civet for body warmth.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition of clean/dirty here, with the soapy aldehydes, the green notes, the soprano woodwinds of hyacinth/ muguet and the face-powder moss/ iris accord on the “clean” side, and the rich rose/ jasmine/ ylang, woods, and civet on the “dirty” side. The effect is extremely elegant and ladylike, with just the barest suggestion that the well-dressed lady wearing this scent might have arisen from a warm bed quite recently.
The scent clings to skin fairly closely, with delicate sillage, and wears like a lovely secret. I love the way it gleams like good pearls, not calling attention to itself but simply glowing with quiet beauty. Lasting power, as with most fragrances produced before the late 1990s, is quite good, with the parfum lasting six to eight hours on me and the EdT five or six. There is a kinship to No. 19, though I find the green aspect of No. 19 much stronger than in Deneuve, and also to Miss Dior, particularly in the drydown phase.
It is definitively old-fashioned, but in such a beautiful way, that I find it very wearable. People under the age of, say, 25 tend to find it dated, but accustomed as they are as a generation to overt sweetness in perfume, I’m not surprised. (The exception is my 13-year-old son, who tells me this one’s “really nice.” But then, Gaze has a good nose.)
It’s a shame this one is so difficult to find, and so expensive when found. There are a number of fragrances meant to duplicate it, though I have not tried any of them and can’t speak to how well they approximate their inspiration. Long Lost Perfumes makes one called Cannes. I’ve heard frequently that a fragrance composed by Le Labo for Anthropologie, a limited edition called Belle du Soir (I’m sure that’s a deliberate attempt to evoke Deneuve by mention of her film ‘Belle du Jour’), is very similar. There’s also a “Deneuve type” fragrance made by The Fragrance Shop. If you’ve tried any of them, please chime in with a description. A friend tells me that the “Deneuve type” fragrance oil isn’t very close, but that the body lotion is really delightful and the dry body oil is even nicer.
The notes, according to Fragrantica: aldehydes, galbanum, bergamot, green notes, neroli, basil, iris, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang, rose, lily of the valley, violet, musk, sandalwood, oakmoss, cedarwood, and civet.