The Chypre fragrance category was derived from materials that were traditionally found on the island of Cyprus (Chypre in French) – for many centuries a hub for the trade in aromatic materials. In 1917 Francois Coty, originally from Corsica created a fragrance based on Bergamot, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Jasmine and animalic musks named Le Chypre which although no longer produced today is echoed in all fragrances in this category.
Chypre fragrances are based on a very specific group of materials namely oak moss, labdanum, patchouli and bergamot often with the addition of fruity or floral notes. This category is seen as sophisticated, but can be difficult to wear and is a classic fragrance family rather than a fashionable one. One of the great tragedies of today’s increasing cosmetic materials restrictions is that Oakmoss the major player in fragrances of this type has been almost outlawed due to the fact it may cause skin irritation on a small percentage of the population. This is a great shame as future generations may never know what great chypres truly smelled like. An IFRA compliant Oakmoss is available but is still restricted to levels of 0.1%
One of the classics that has allegedly been restored to it’s former glory in 2013 is Mitsouko by Guerlain which contains a sweet fruity peach top note from the use of gamma undecalactone (also known somewhat confusingly as Aldehyde C14 as it is actually a lactone rather than an aldehyde). I recently compared a vintage sample from the 1970’s that I bought online with a 2010 edition and the difference was alarming. In the 70’s version the musks were richer and warmer and the depth created by the mossy notes was flat and lacklustre in the more recent sample by comparison. I can only begin to imagine what the original 1919 version smelled like. Many of the more modern chypres make use of notes such as peach, plum and other exotic fruits to lift their appeal and make them more commercially acceptable in today’s market.
Floral notes such as lily of the valley, rose or jasmine are added to the classic chypre structure. Ysatis by Givenchy is a good example of this creating a more musky and less traditional chypre accord. Aromatics Elixir by Clinique was introduced in the 1970’s as a commercial answer to the patchouli oil worn by the hippy movement. Patchouli being a key component of the chypre accord obviously comes into it’s own in this fragrance.
Patchouli has seen a resurgence of late and whilst most could not really be classified as chypres the combination of fruit and patchouli has spawned its own little “fruitchouli” category – almost every brand has one!
The classic chypre accord works well with both amber notes to create Ambery Chypres such as Coco by Chanel and Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens and of course can also lead into the more masculine leathery territory.
Chypre Notes in Perfumery Include: Bergamot, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Patchouli, Vetiver, Benzoin, Castoreum