Monday, March 15, 2010


In last week’s post, I called Cartier’s “So Pretty” a rose chypre. 

That wasn’t quite right. It’s actually a (no!) fruity floral. I just couldn’t bring myself to use that dreaded term.

 I guess I have some ‘splainin’ to do.

In the world of fragrance minutiae, this teeny little corner of the universe that means so much to me and you, a Chypre has high cheekbones and a well-modulated if somewhat husky voice, whereas a fruity floral designation usually means one thing and one thing only: trailer trash. 

To me, a Chypre has what I call “the pinch.” It’s a nearly physical reaction to the dry, astringent quality that comes from -- and only from -- oakmoss. It’s like vinegrette salad dressing. Without the vinegar, the oil just tastes, well, oily. You can’t substitute for it. You can put in all the citrus juice and herbs and mustard you have, but it still won’t pinch. 

Since the unfortunate and, imho, dubious death of oakmoss as a perfume ingredient, there are lots of “Modern Chypres” like Ralph Lauren’s “Turquoise” and Lauder’s “Jasmine White Moss.” Pleasant as they may be, they don’t have the pinch. There’s a certain desperation in the combining of patchouli and whatever else they can find on the shelf to duplicate a real Chypre. It doesn’t work.

As for “So Pretty,” I did find a vintage mini I had, and I’m comparing the vintage and the modern as I write this. It is a little drier. The modern is a little lusher and -- dare I say it? -- fruitier. Even the vintage, though, doesn’t pinch. Therefore, not a Chypre. Not in my book. 

Along with other perfume bloggers, I can’t imagine why the industry continues to use the term; a fond look back, perhaps? Uh, no. Unless one is something of a scent analyst, this is beyond esoteric; the public could hardly care less. So who are the manufacturers naming for? Us? Themselves? And, why? Confusion, or a lack of imagination?

I have a suggestion.

Let’s use "Chypre" for buying or describing vintage perfumes only. For the “modern” (ie Not) Chypres, well, hmmm...we can call them “Chypish.” Pronounced “Sheepish.” In honor of the bravery, iconoclasm and, well, chutzpah the modern fragrance industry has shown as it steadfastly resists the denigration of its five-star classics.

As for florals with fruit: one comparison that came to my admittedly lowbrow mind is television’s “Situation Comedy” or “sitcom” as it is better known. “Sitcom” is usually used in a derogatory way. That deserves its own continum too, though. From “I Love Lucy,” a landmark for all time, to “All In the Family,” a landmark of its time, to...well...wait a second. It’ll come to me. OK. I’ve got one. “The Office.” 

“Nahema” would occupy the landmark category, and it is a floral with fruit notes.  So is “So Pretty, “ which, while not a landmark for all time, feels a lot like its time and lives up to its name rather well. The floral is primarily rose, whereas the fruits vary, berries, peaches, plums. The fragrance is mixed with skill and some restraint. And, in spite of all that, it is a fruity floral.

What has give this unfortunate category its bad reputation is the screaming, hair-pulling girlfighting reality-show-contestant modern “fruity floral;” -- screechy, sugary, synthetic liquid neon designed to keep some celebrity’s name out there and, incidentally, convince the 12-24 female demo buy it by the barrel. 

Let’s call this type the“Frooty Floral.” (Many already do.) This designation says what it needs to say without insulting an entire fragrance sub-family. It’s code, sure. Nothing wrong with that. It’s not as though the larger world is waiting. And it’s not as though anything perfume bloggers say is going to influence the Suits at the big conglomerates. But I’ll feel better about the whole thing.

And I’ll be able to use the term “fruity floral” without flinching.

Photo used under license © Coccon |

More discussion about these issues can be found at the blogs (links to left) Grain de Musc and Now Smell This.


Bloody Frida said...

Sheepish - LOVE it!!!

ScentScelf said...

Ah, what we'll do for love. ;)

But I do like "sheepish"...and for the modern (fakes) that don't work, they can be Wolves. (In sheepish clothing, natch.)

This television thing could get out of hand. I like "landmarks" for "screamers" that work...but what if it is not a fruity floral screamer? What if it is...oh, say, just a floral screamer? Would that be a landmark costume drama?

Your passion has drawn me in... :)

Starscent said...

Wonderful post with insights about both language and perfumes. I,too, like "So Pretty" but I am embarrassed(for myself)to wear a scent with such a name. What a snob I am, but an authentic one (not just when someone is looking).

Anonymous said...

"frooty floral " indeed... though by no means "froody"... (hope there's someone else out there who gets this, otherwise this will just sound silly!) cheers Wendy