Chanel No. 19

I’ve noticed these four evolutionary tactics that fragrances employ:

1.) Lack trajectory but may have different notes stand out at different times (Black, 100% Love)

2.) Follow a linear, storylike path of introductory blast, conflicted buildup, climactic heart, and decrescendoing drydown (Chamade, Vanilia)

3.) Stuff themselves with minor notes alongside one consistent one (Si, Lolita, Delices de Cartier)

4.) Have several vaguely related notes come together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, that may or may not be consistent in mood (Mauboussin, Cuir Venenum)

Chanel No. 19, composed for Coco Chanel in her eighties, is a mixture of 2 and 4, but it goes even further and transforms its mood almost entirely from cold to warm, while still upholding its pale green structure.

The first impression I got was green, accompanying galbanum, violet, and iris. The iris is very strong from the beginning to right before the drydown. Cedarwood makes a brief appearance after the first 10 minutes or so, and then disappears as No. 19 begins to focus on foodier notes. It gets a bit warmer, and there’s a slightly perceptible citrus note sneaking in before the iris takes center stage again.

On the cusp of the drydown, the sandalwood takes its place alongside the amber and green notes for a lingering, accessible drydown. As the iris reenters for the finale, there’s a foody brown sugar note not entirely unlike that in Un Bois Vanille. To match its foodiness, the iris note turns to its yeast component for a warm, bready finish.

The trajectory takes about six hours, and the green iris aftersmell is around for longer than that. This is the eau de toilette. I want to smell the parfum at some point, and I’ll probably revise this when I do. I love it even though it isn’t of the aggressive leather/tuberose/jasmine/peach variety that generally knocks everything else out of the way in my hierarchy.

I couldn’t come up with any relevant anthropomorphism for No. 19. That’s not to say there isn’t one. A lot of reviewers liken it to an unhappy boardroom terror like Cristalle, but I think it’s both kinder and more interesting than that. Yesterday’s Perfume sees it as an otherworldly symbol of longing or other form of malcontent worn by a witch casting spells. Like an abstract painting, it’s one of those works of art that you can proect your own meaning onto.

Perfumer: Henri Robert
Price Range: Moderately Expensive
Recommended Occasion: Any
Release Year: 1971
My Rating: 9

Photos taken from this indispensable background writeup: I decided to amplify its more cheerful associations.

This entry was posted in Amber, Bread, Cedarwood, Galbanum, Green, Iris, Lemon, Sandalwood, Sugar, Violet and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Chanel No. 19

  1. formaggio says:

    A well-plotted review.
    When smelling Chanel No. 19 intentionally, with the name in front of me, I realized I had smelled it countless times in public. I hit a wall on what to think about it. I looked up the year: 1971. Ouch.
    Anyway, at this point a moratorium on Chanel No. 19 would be a rational response. In fact, Chanel has a few that could go on that pleading. I’d be happy to live in a world of other Chanel fragrances, I should add.

  2. formaggio says:

    Just re-read the review, and my comment. You wrote a systematic review of a great one, and from a fresh perspective. That is something to be wished for.

    • Scentsate says:

      Systematic? That’s an interesting word to use in a complimentary way. Kind of implies that I have a perfunctory opinion on this one, but I think it is a masterpiece. Nevertheless, thanks!

  3. DianaWR says:

    I liked so many of the scents you mentioned, I now definitely need to try No. 19.

  4. formaggio says:

    There was some logic in following Chanel’s timeline and revisiting your review of Cristalle, another unapproachable aristocrat, with that inimitable Chanel quality.

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