Chanel No 19: my personal mantra

Sheltering austerity

Gradually I tend to forget Canel No 19 in my wardrobe but every time we meet again I aim left speechless by the way this perfume is composed and behaves on my skin.The first minutes open with an almost acerbic,  at the same time green and rooty accord. Galbanum and iris, the green and the white, the lively and the pale, mix like oil and water. The first moments are contradictory and kinetic. As the opening settles down it becomes thick and full of green juices. The green galbanum and the rooty iris create a microcosmos of vegetal glory. A delicate, white floral cornucopia starts emerging from the heart of the composition with notes of jasmine, ylang-ylang and neroli. This is the most feminine part of the composition. The flowers however remain etherial and float above the iris-galbanum combination which create an olfactory film on the skin. They seem compact and impenetrable, self sufficient and whole. As the composition progresses towards the final stages the floral elements have only left their delicate impression and what emerges is a very tangible, pale suede.

Chanel No 19 is the perfect example of what leather is to fragrance. It is the illusion created by the artistry of the perfumer, Henri Robert in this case, using the ingredients to evoke memories of leather. It reminds me of those abstract pictures that are supposed to become three-dimensional images when you squint and look sideways. When you focus on what you look at the illusion is lost. The drydown of Chanel No 19 contains the green beauty of galbanum, the soft, doughy iris that dusts the nostrils, the white light of jasmine, but what I feel when I let it sink in my skin is the photorealistic smell of the inside of a glove worn by a jasmine scented hand. I can see the velvety unpolished texture of leather. I smell the delicate hand cream the owner of the glove uses. And finally I catch the fleeting drydown of her jasmine perfume. Although I cannot pinpoint a single note that has the harshness of leather the sum of all notes is an incredibly luscious leather, soft and enveloping. In fact the way this composition is structured is so unique and balanced that I am quite sure a lot of women who appreciate Chanel No 19 do not even consider this a leather fragrance.

The question is, is this a unisex fragrance? Its perfectly polished composition comes off rather “round” and hence feminine. On the other hand its inherent austerity makes it totally genderless. I feel very comfortable wearing it, especially after the floral heart has bloomed and relaxed. Even when it was released Chanel No 19 was seen as perfume for the independent, self confident woman (as seen here and here) and today, with the huge shift in trends and tastes it is considered a little “mature” for the Prada Candy target group. I take advantage of its maturity to wear it whenever I can. After all Egoïste, the legendary masculine of Chanel has a distinct feminine side to my nose. In fact in warm weather I feel a lot more comfortable wearing No 19 than Egoïste. This is not that hard to understand if one considers that Egoïste is an evolution of a woman’s fragrance.

Chanel No 19 is the last perfume created while Coco Chanel was still alive. I am not sure how involved she was at age 87 in the creation of this fragrance but I find it quite hard to believe that she wasn’t. The elegance of this fragrance is undeniable. However there is an element of loss, of mourning in it. Some of it comes from the personality of Henri Robert, in house perfumer at the time who is also responsible for Chanel Pour Monsieur and Cristalle, both austere and composed fragrances. But some of it comes from the path of Coco Chanel’s life. A life full of struggle, success and solitude. Every time I wear this I feel enclosed and protected, like arriving at a safe house. However this is not a feeling of comfort and cosiness. On the contrary it is an appreciation of being left alone, of escaping troubles, of appreciating how one can be serene with very little. In difficult times Chanel No 19 has become my personal mantra. It helps me centre myself and find my personal little island of calm.

Notes from Fragrantica: galbanum, neroli, bergamot, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, iris, vetiver, sandalwood, leather and musk

Notes from my nose: galbanum, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, neroli, suede gloves

image of gloves from here

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About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.

24 comments

  1. Wow beautifullllyyyyy written.
    I am yet to connect with any Chanel, but to be honest I haven’t even given them the chance.
    I briefly gave an overview style sniff of their Exclusifs line and decided – these don’t work for me.
    And I guess the classics I tend to avoid anyway.
    Reading write ups like this make me questions whether I need to take a few steps back and understand these more.

    • I can see how this can be difficult to approach: there is no drama. But at some point in my life it just clicked and made perfect sense. It is worth revisiting though. Especially the edt version. It is one of those perfumes that whose edp version reminds you that less is more

  2. Funny you should be writing about No. 19 as I was wearing it yesterday. I too love it. To be honest I only truly discovered it at the start of this year in an airport waiting for a plane wandering through duty free stores at some strange hour. I bought a bottle of the EDT, loving the balance between rose and iris. I thought the EDP was more linear and focused on iris with frosty galbanum and the chypre accord- lovely as well and I knew I would buy it at some point in the future. I have since picked up a bottle of EDP online and I tend to agree with others who say No. 19 went through some small changes very recently. As a male, I connect more with the newer version. It feels greener, more vetiver, more modern. I don’t know if you have an opinion on this Christos but the older EDP version I have, has a very 90s fruity rose de mai note that I translate as being more feminine. It is a subtle difference in comparison to the No. 19 EDPs I find on the Chanel counters today. Last year I collected a number of Chypres unwittingly, and after this purchase of No. 19 I realised how much I like the style. I am thinking Miss Dior could be next as well as Guerlain’s Sous le Vent, next time I visit Paris. Thanks for the post! Always a pleasure to read your thoughts : )

    • I am so stuck on galbanum that I cannot focus on the rose in this one. I have only tried the recent versions and the clarity of the EdT seems to me more in tune with the cool austerity of the composition. I am glad you enjoyed my take on this classic.

  3. I’m going to wear it tomorrow!!! Your post brought back all the feelings I have about No. 19. Your post was very well written and your thoughts are totally insightful! Loved it! I agree with Clayton.. it IS always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

    Normand

  4. A beautiful writing about one of my true loves (though in my headboth iris and glove are of a different color).

    • I am alway astounded by this glove effect. It is so real that it is beyond me how simple ingredients can have the power to make all the right associations for such a detailed description of the smell

  5. Apointofsmell

    Άντε τώρα να εξηγήσεις στην άλλη τη διαφορά του 19 και πολλών άλλων κλασσικών που μαραζώνουν απούλητα στα ράφια, με το “σωρό” των αδιάφορων καινούργιων και πολυδιαφημισμένων που ξεφυτρώνουν κάθε εβδομάδα. Πόσο δύσκολο τελικά ειναι να δημιουργήσεις κάτι “κλασσικό”; Πως γίνεται και οι περισσότεροι από τους παλιούς αυτοδίδακτους αρωματοποιούς (Polge, Robert, Cellier, Guerlain κλπ) είχαν σχεδόν μόνο αριστουργήματα στο παλμαρέ τους; Φταίνε τα υλικά; Η μήπως ήξεραν “κάτι” που δεν διδάσκεται σήμερα; Νομίζω μία ποσόστωση τα νεολανσαριζόμενα θα έλυνε το πρόβλημα. Καλύτερα 5 το χρόνο και καλά παρά 100 και βάλε” κακοτυπωμένες φωτοτυπίες”… (παρεπιπτόντως χθες είχαμε βγει και έβαλα το Coco της Εβιάννας. Μ α γ ε ί α!)

    • Νομίζω ότι αυτό που κάνει τη διαφορά είναι ότι είχαν μεαγαλύτερη δημιουργική ελευθερία. Στο link για το Egoiste o Jacques Polges λέει ότι το Bois Noir φτιάχτηκε στα πλαίσα της επέκτασης της Chanel στην αντρική αγορά. Η επέκταση δεν έγινε αλλά το Bois Noir κυκλοφόρησε σαν limited release. Η ιστορία αποδεικνύει ότι είχε δίκιο. Ένα σημερινό Chanel, ή οποιοδήποτε άλλο άρωμα ευρείας κυκλοφορίας, ξεκινάει με πολύ πιο συγκεκριμένο brief. Και βέβαα ρόλο παίζουν και τα υλικά: την εποχή του Νο 19αν κάποιος ήθελε να φτιάξει ένα συγκεκριμένο accord ξεκινούσε από περισσότερα φυσικά υλικά με αποτέλεσμα το accord να αποτελείται από δεκάδες μόρια. Σήμερα το accord χτίζεται πάνω σε ένα τεχνητό υλικό που ξεκινάει πολύ κοντά σε αυτό που ζητάει το brief. Προστίθενται και άλλα συστατικά βέβαια αλλά το τελικό αποτέλεσμα αποτελείται από πολυ λιγότερα μόρια. Το λάδι vetiver είναι συνδυασμός πολλών στοιχείων. Αν αντικατασταθεί από vetiveryle acetate παίζεις με μόνο ένα μόριο και αυτό είναι μια ευκολία, μια minimal προσέγκιση, αλλά το τελικό αποτέλεσμα δεν έχει το ίδιο βάθος.

  6. I hadn’t thought of it as being leather, but now that you mention it I can see that. It’s beautiful and not as cold as they say. I don’t know if I can see it as a man’s scent, but I’d definitely be curious about a man who wore it.

    • I know it may sound a bit eccentric as man’s choice but if you think that most women consider this too stern nowadays I guess it makes sense for men to give it a try. I think (or I like to think :) ) that my skin tempers feminine perfume beautifully and certainly No 19 smells good on me!

  7. Beautiful review. Count me as one who doesn’t think of this as a leather scent, so I’m looking forward to wearing it next with that image in mind, and seeing if it reveals something new about the fragrance for me.

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  12. Chanel no. 19 has been an important scent for me since the seventies and remains as close to a signature scent as I may ever have. You captured the feeling of it beautifully, particularly the sense of safe enclosure and serenity. Once again, thank you.

  13. stlmelz62

    I had never read your blog before today, but found this entry when I googled Chanel No 19 to find the most reasonable price to replace my nearly empty bottle. This has been one of my favorite fragrances since I was a little girl in the 70s. My mother and her closest friend loved No 5. Like all little girls I tried on fragrances when shopping with them. I fell in love with No 19 during one of those shopping trips and it’s been on my vanity since I was 19 years old. Nothing compares to this fragrance, in my opinion.

  14. efi

    Hi, Christos. You couldn’t describe it better, more on the spot: the sense of sheltering and of being left alone escaping from troubles. Your way of writing makes me admire you. Your article left me impressed. I was wearing this little gem when i was following the seconde λυκείου, it was not a perfume for a young woman, but it made me feel unmistakingly elegamt and in a way unique. Actually i was the only one wearing it back then. I have to tell you that the fragrance was better then, more green, more persistent, which is a contradiction by itself. A more recent sniff left me a little melancholic.
    Καλή σου επιτυχία όπου είσαι.

    • You were a fierce 17 year old wearing No19 to school! All perfumes change with time and from my experience our memory is always very true when it comes to how a perfume used to feel. Next time I see you I will show you some nice green fragrances that I have discovered

      Καλό Πάσχα!.

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