Suzanne's Perfume Journal

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

Images: Frank Cadogan Cowper's 1928 painting, Titania Sleeping, is from; bottle image of Coty Chypre is my own.

​​I distinctly remember the first time I tried the legendary Coty Chypre (a fragrance that is, as any perfumista can tell you, no more, yet shall live on in perpetuity in the annals of perfumery). I remember it well because, frankly, I was disappointed. I’d been expecting a certain fierceness from the fragrance that was the signature scent of writer Dorothy Parker, who, by all accounts, practically bathed in the stuff. Yet I found nothing in Coty Chypre that spoke of Dorothy Parker’s piercing wit—maybe because my bottle of the eau de parfum dates back only to the 1970s, the last decade in which the fragrance was produced. (I would guess that the ’70s vintage is a tamer version than the Prohibition-era vintage of Parker’s day.) No matter that I found it soothingly green and pretty—my expectations were dashed. I put my bottle on the shelf and mostly ignored it for a long while.

Recently, though, two people entered my life—one via the Internet, the other in real life—who unknowingly encouraged me to revisit this fragrance, to cast aside what I know about Coty Chypre in terms of its history and really come to know it, the fragrance as it smells to me today, standing alongside the other, mostly modern fragrances in my collection. The first of these two people is a reader from Spain, whom I view as a friend and who asked me if I would help her purchase her own bottle of Coty Chypre. Her fresh enthusiasm for the fragrance was what got me to pick up my bottle and start wearing it again. At the same time, I recently began doing enrichment tutoring for an eight-year-old girl who is a gifted creative writer. She too has become a friend, and we recently spent a morning together combing the nearby park for signs of fairies. (Fairies being a favorite subject of hers).

With Coty Chypre on my wrists, fairy folk on my mind, and a fine spring day before me, I learned a lesson about fragrance that I should know well by now, but that I often forget: It’s the accidental, unexpected associations we bump up against when we smell a fragrance that are most defining—and what makes the perfume hobby so enchanting. Once I was able to let go of Coty Chypre as it existed in my mind as an artifact, I was able to experience it in that dreamlike state that seems as direct as it does surreal (as if, with a certain amount of clutter cleared from the mind, something genuine has room to lodge there). And much to my delight, I fell in love with Coty Chypre for being not the witty and modern fragrance I had initially imagined it would be, but a tender green scent with the sheen of a dragonfly’s wing emanating from its lightly powdery, floral middle.

The fragrance notes commonly listed for Coty Chypre include sage, thyme, bergamot, jasmine, rose, spices, oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli and civet. In the first five minutes of wear, it smells quite herbal, but not in a prickly or bracing way. To my nose, it possesses a gentle, sweet-meadow-meets-shady-woodland air that reminds me of being a kid, and finding that restful shady nook outside where you want to curl up with a book and hide from the world. As the jasmine and rose become more detectable, Coty Chypre does sway towards the feminine, never losing its cool-green-and-shady appeal, but taking on a dainty bit of powder and sweetness that speak of the ‘fairer sex.’ This stage lasts forever on me—and I love it. I feel like I am Titania, Queen of the Fairies, napping in the bower that is described in the poem, below, from William Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Oddly enough, it isn’t until the fragrance has reached the far drydown, hours later, that the scent actually smells the most green to me. On a humid day, when I have waited this long and then press my nose close up to the scent on my skin, that is when I can smell the bitter greens that others mention in review. It’s as if the mists of the fragrance have parted, and I am left with a bit of sage in that final hour. Perhaps it’s merely a fillip of my imagination—or fairy magic. Either way, I don’t mind being tricked; feel not compelled to wake me.

Vintage Coty Chypre: What I Discovered in the Mists

May 28, 2010:

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