I should never, ever read the “new and upcoming” fragrance notices at Now Smell This. Ever. Nobile 1942 Chypre is a case in point: I do really enjoy chypres when they are very floral, as this notes list would indicate. Also, the inspiration for the scent is enticing. I don’t know much about Anna Magnani, except that she was an early film star of the smoldering Italian type, and that from the pictures on her biography, she was beautiful. It makes perfect sense to honor an emotional, sensual woman like her with a beautiful floral chypre.
So when the word came that a friend was going to split up a bottle of Chypre 1942, I jumped into the split for 5ml, my head filled with dreams of the beautiful floral chypre I imagined from the new fragrance publicity release, which goes sort of like this (given the limitations of BabelFish and Google Translator, please bear with my interpretation of the original Italian):
“Languid like a lioness returning from the hunt, Anna comes into the house and collapses into her thoughts, enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke and wafts of Chypre. Chypre 1942 is dedicated to Anna, a woman full of life and faith in the possibilities of fate, who likes to observe and read the stars, witness the rising of the sun, fixing her deep gaze eastward. Anna’s unconventional lifestyle and naturalness overwhelm those around her, in a storm of instinctive charm and fascination. Her style is unconventional – the way she dresses, perfumes, and adorns herself. The scent’s originality and refinement fittingly crowns her perfect, attractive figure, and gives an air of imperious femininity.”
Believing a fragrance ad is a bad idea. Even if you discount 80% of the claims, you will nearly always be disappointed.
When I opened the package from M, before I’d even unrolled the bubble wrap, a very sweet and intense smell of baby powder blew out like a mushroom cloud. “I hope it doesn’t smell like that,” I said to Gaze, alarmed. “That’s dreadful.”
He made a face, too. “It smells like… I mean, just that little bit there, it smells like… powdered marshmallows.”
“But this is supposed to be a chypre,” I said, bewildered. “Wonder if I got the wrong split? I know M was splitting Muschio from the same house as well, and I just can’t imagine that something called Chypre is supposed to smell like… well, like powdered marshmallows.”
Because I was so confused, I sprayed some on a bit of paper – which I almost never do, preferring to go straight to skin. (I don’t wear paper, after all.) The top notes were almost chokingly powdery, intense and sweet. I went to Fragrantica to check out reviews there of this fragrance, and there was only one, from someone whose name I did not recognize from the split I participated in. It said something to the effect that the reviewer was puzzled by the name Chypre, since the fragrance was really more an oriental vanilla scent than anything else.
I tentatively decided that I was not, after all, insane.
I’ve now worn Chypre 1942 half a dozen times, in 90F weather and in 70F, at night and during the day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not a bad fragrance. The choking powder cloud became less pronounced each time I sprayed it (gunk in the atomizer sprayer clearing itself out?), and the sweet vanilla character more prominent. It’s not bad at all.
It’s just not a chypre. There is no oakmoss that I can discern in the formula, and the amber used is the vanillic, powdery stuff familiar to me from, say, Bvlgari Black, rather than the rich and sweet amber in Mitsouko or Alahine, or the labdanum in Coty Chypre or vintage Miss Dior.
There are some perfumistas who have a rigid definition of the chypre genre: Bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum must be in the spotlight – and if the fragrance under discussion doesn’t smell like the “Fierce Green” chypres Bandit, Alliage, Mitsouko, or vintage Miss Dior, fuhgeddaboudit. “NOT A CHYPRE!” they thunder on the fragrance forums. “Chypres must have the proper proportions of the three magic ingredients! No fragrance being produced currently can contain the right proportion of oakmoss! Patchouli does not make this scent a chypre!” And I concur that these touchy people have a point. If Coco Mademoiselle is a chypre, good heavens, almost anything could be called a chypre, our standards having been compromised to a shocking degree.
However, my own definition is a lot looser. Coco Mademoiselle is a woody floral with patchouli, and it is not a chypre. Idylle is not a chypre, either. Its moss is too slight and its amber nonexistent. But in my opinion, if a particular fragrance’s major characteristic is that tangy-bitter, almost dangerous smell common to Miss Dior and Coty Chypre, even if there is something else involved (citrus or florals) as well, it’s a chypre. I don’t even mind if there is proportionately less moss and amber than there used to be in a classic chypre. As long as I immediately perceive that bitter quality, the fragrance is going to be designated a chypre in my mind. Thus to me, L’Arte di Gucci is a rose chypre nonpareil, a big complicated rose fragrance sitting on top of a moss-patchouli-amber-leather-musk structure, bitter and dark green. Likewise, Mary Greenwell Plum is a modern floral chypre in my opinion: it may open with a tangy, fruity citrus, and it may continue with a soft white floral, but underneath it all, coloring the entire experience, is a quiet chypre backbone augmented with a bit of patchouli (and therefore “modern”).
Given that my standards for calling something a chypre are lower than many people would accept, you can believe me when I tell you that this Nobile 1942 fragrance is most definitely Not a Chypre. And I should have known when I saw the list of notes:
Top: bergamot, mandarin, orange blossom
Heart: tuberose, jasmine, damask rose, benzoin
Bottom: vanilla, amber, tonka bean, Mysore sandalwood, patchouli
Chypre 1942, released in 2011, was created by Marie Duchene.
So where’s the oakmoss? Missing in action. The rest of the fragrance sounds nice, to be honest – and I think my eyes saw “Chypre” and just skimmed past the absence of oakmoss. It could have been an omission; notes lists are so often incomplete or misleading. I suppose it’s really my fault for not noticing that this thing could not possibly be a chypre.
Well, then, what is it? I’d call it a vanillic-floral oriental. It does open up with a short prelude of citrus notes, backed by that flat vanilla-amber, and it does a brief impression of Shalimar Light (which I love, by the way). In just a few moments, though, it slides into a sweet rich floral, in which a slightly-powdery rose seems prominent to me. It’s perfectly pretty, as a matter of fact, and my bet is that The CEO will probably like it. After a couple of hours, Chypre 1942 heads straight for the familiar oriental route of amber-vanilla-tonka, with very little sandalwood noticeable. It does last for about five or six hours on me, with modest sillage shrinking down to skin-scent levels as it goes through its development.
As I said, it’s not at all a bad fragrance. I’ll enjoy wearing my small amount in cool weather. It is pretty, it seems to contain a fair amount of natural materials, and its drydown is coherent. That’s a decent combination of assets.
But it’s definitely not a chypre.