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CHYPRE DE PARIS

Jacques Guerlain 1909
[ʃip-r də pari]
Family: aromatic, spicy, leather
Brown cardboard box
Period: The Belle Époque years

Thierry Wasser and his assistant perfumer Frédéric Sacone have re-created an extensive list of historic Guerlain perfumes, using the exact same ingredients as when they saw the light for the first time.

Guerlain is famous for its sensuality, and people familiar with the Jacques Guerlain classics — Après l'Ondée, L'Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Shalimar and Vol de Nuit — most likely are unaware that he created several perfumes that were very low on sensuality and only marginally floral. These perfumes, spanning his entire career from Voilà Pourquoi J'Aimais Rosine (1900) to Atuana (1952), were based largely on aromatic, spicy, leathery, smoky, dry, mossy and woody materials, with just a few drops of floral absolutes. Today, we would call them masculine scents. Chypre de Paris (1909) was one of these fragrances.

By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of perfumes with the name Chypre were being produced, without designating any common accord. Many of them shared an oakmoss accord though, that to modern tastes might smell rather inelegant. The name "Chypre" originated from the French word for the Island of Cyprus, however the Osmothèque suggests it was born of an independent etymology referring to "oakmoss". It wasn't until Coty made his Chypre in 1917, an amazing and very novel accord of bergamot, labdanum resin and oakmoss, that the word chypre began to change from name to noun. "'It's a Chypre,' perfumers would say of perfumes similar in structure to Coty's Chypre," explains Will Inrig from the Osmothèque. "Later would appear the common noun 'chypre' and the French adjective 'chypré', both referencing a genre sired by Coty's Chypre and propagated, somewhat confusingly, by Guerlain’s fruity chypre Mitsouko."

Jacques Guerlain's Chypre de Paris is not a chypre. It has oakmoss but no labdanum, and the bergamot is subdued. The top notes are leathery and somewhat bitter, with a strong scent of spices together with lavender's freshness. Jacques Guerlain's usual flower mix is mentioned in the note diagram (jasmine, orange blossom, rose, ylang-ylang) as is vanilla, but the Guerlinade materials are not very noticeable in this overall dry composition, whose base is made up of oakmoss and animal tinctures.

Perhaps the most precise way to describe the perfume is that it literally smells like a brown cardboard box. Frédéric Sacone points out that this characteristic aroma stems from calamus. The leaves and root of this wetland plant yield a fragrant essential oil that has been used to flavour such various products as wine, absinthe, bitters and pipe tobacco. Patchouli and nutmeg probably add to the brown cardboard effect. It's a peculiar fragrance that we assume only a few people would find attractive today. As a historical footnote, Frédéric Sacone tells us that Jacques Guerlain reused Chypre de Paris to make his Cuir de Russie in 1935. Upon researching Jacques' handwritten formulas, Frédéric Sacone discovered that Cuir de Russie lists Chypre de Paris, as well as Mitsouko, among its ingredients.

Bottle. Chypre de Paris came in the so-called square bottle, a standard bottle inspired by medicine jars.


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