THE WITCHY CHYPRES II : : : CORIANDRE by COUTURIER (1973) + BELLE DE RAUCH (1966) + PARFUM RARE by JACOMO (1985)

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I tend to do the olfactory in blocks. Or perhaps you might want to call it seasons, or periods, or phases – weeks where I only want vetiver or patchouli, months where I am desperate for vanilla and opoponax-laden orientals; tropical white flowers, oranges, or lemon. Right now, it is rose. Heavy, brocaded, spiced, velvet-rose-leather, ornamental chypres: grand, sensual, yet mysterious – like weighted winter curtains to shut out the cold and the outside world in a vast, rococco mansion hidden in the country.

We ventured outside today, properly, for a walk : for the first time in a week, and walked around our neighbourhood, the light exquisite and clear, the air full of clarity and the optimism of a brand new year. Call me naive, but I believe in this time. A time to just recoop and relax and regenerate……………. illness sometimes has the positive flip-side of allowing you to cocoon and shelter and not think: right now, also, we are nearing the end of Season Seven of Dynasty, having watched about 180 episodes since starting it at the beginning of 2016. We are entrenched. Of course I know that this 1980’s soap opera is laughable, ridiculous and over the top, but it is also completely mesmerizing for a myriad of reasons, dramatically; aesthetically (we watch it on DVD boxed sets, on a big screen, with a projector, and it is divine); observing the atmospheres and the fashions change, even though the characters are by and large continuously in the same place and trapped in the same entitled, and privileged, locations (though this familiarity of place is also exactly what makes it so addictive. Despite the absolute artifice, it feels real, like lived experience).

I am fascinated by witnessing, through the flamboyance of the clothes and the styles and the heavily, lacquered makeup – in particular the passionately beautiful face of Joan Collins –  the real passing of time, and of the gloriously outdated (and really quite gasp-worthily grotesque and sometimes amazingly beautiful) clothes that these women wear every time that they walk into the room; dazzling; outrageous: the quintessence of late seventies, then early to late eighties fashion that is now nothing less than a joke in some quarters, but which nevertheless, for whatever reason, on me exerts a magnetic, and irresistible, grasp.

And then the perfumes. Every dressing table replete with them. De-labelled of course and carefully photographed so as not to reveal what they are, but you know just from from looking at these women that they smell amazing; strong, overpowering, but perhaps this is one of the things – all this luxe and opulence and sartorial and olfactory unafraidness – that is making me crave these particular scents, these seductive temptresses with claws. As I wrote in my piece the other day, or rather last year in fact (so glad that we have left that one behind and are starting on a new period of time, even if today, I am already harking on about the perfumes of the past, sorry), I have been smothered in all my spiced and luminous roses: Krizia Teatro Alla Scala, the original Armani (divine, and surprisingly masculine in its tranquil and elegant in its inimitable way), and I finally drained my last drops of the beautiful Nombre Noir. Oh well, I can only hope that it one day crosses my path once again. But I am always, in any case, drawn to these scents that are compacted and compressed with their multi-tiered complexities, that radiate out the way that the best perfumes should. Not  just cheap, vanillic auras that promise easy sex and no secrets, but wry, enigmatic sphinxes with a hint of the inscrutable; come-ons that say yes, but which warn you, simultaneously, to keep a distance.

In my first dealings with what I call The Witchy Chypres (because they are: these scents are like sorceresses: Magie Noire, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, Sisley Eau Du Soir and Jean-Marc Sinan, these perfumes really are Alexis Colby Carrington at her most devilish and haughtily delicious), I describe these cool, semi-precious elixirs as being like black panthers –  an animal that, as I child, I would lie in bed and fantasize over and over again that I could just turn into, at will, and then transform, at my whim, into a great soaring bird that could escape any danger or threat and just disappear out the window and into the night.

Today’s perfumes, which I believe still fit into this category of dark, alluring, lip-glossed magicians, are perhaps more lithe and cryptically veiled in the concern of their own elegance; less sly ‘man hunter’, more held together, solitary; a preoccupation with the day and its intricacies, but not necessarily with the eyes that are inevitably cast upon.

Coriandre, for instance, which I have in vintage parfum (current formulations of the edt are said to be wan and uninteresting) strikes me as having quite a lot of similarities with the great 1000 by Patou, which I am still to review  ( well in fact I have, somewhere, a maniacally detailed account of the pleasures of opening the original parfum in its beautiful, beautiful boxes and flacon, and then applying the scent, but I lost the papers that I wrote it on, something that has happened quite frequently, in fact) – but in any case both of these cultivatedly high class fragrances are focuses on roses, violet, and patchouli and a magnanimously complex plethora of flowers and herbs and spices that support and cradle their spirits and create something beguiling and understatedly masterful. Coriandre, of course, as its name would suggest, has a noticeable green aspect in the head notes featuring angelica and coriander, though not in any overly distracting way; more as a side point to accentuate the full-bodied (but slender) form of its more sensuous, woody, base notes that on the right person, and in the right circumstances, might really be quite tempting, erotic ……………..reclining, stretched out, in a room somewhere in your imagination, in the moonlight.

Belle De Rauch is a more obscure perfume than Coriandre (De Rauch being one of those perfume houses that was popular in its day but disappeared a very long time ago), a boxed and immaculate parfum that Duncan picked up for me one day from an antiques shop in the nearby town of Zushi. Rich, oiled, but a precursor of some of the other perfumes mentioned here, this immediately struck me as being really quite ahead of its time. While pretty and ladylike aldehydes were generally the order of the day in 1966, this curious and attractive perfume, in extrait, is intense, emboldened, witchy, in its herbed and spiced roses on a bed of thick, natural Mysore sandalwood essence. It has almost feral, yet simultaneously mannered intimations, of a fierce, intelligent, and marvellous woman, self-satisfied and perfectly put together,  who will take no crap from anyone:  neither her husband, nor her lover.

Parfum Rare, by Jacomo, or Coeur de Parfum, as it was also known in its original form of release from 1985 – the perfume was later tweaked a little and released in 1987 as Parfum Rare – is another hard to find perfume that all true lovers of deep, incense enriched roses simply need to have in their collections. In parfum, this little nugget of ancient Egyptian Cleopatras is so tightly constructed with all manner of spices and balsams and animalics, so dense with perfumed ingredients for its occultist, brooding femme fatale, that it is verging on gloomy and subterranean………sealed; doomed, evenas though you were an archaeologist stumbling upon the tombstone, and golden, glinting, cursed jewellery, of Queen Nefertiti.

Such perfumes – the witchy chypres –  might seem outmoded to some people now,  reaching out desperately for an overdone plenitude of intricately embellished and deepily embodied roses and dark ingredients that no longer feels du jour and instant and social media-ish and light; but this is, I think, the whole point: not every perfumed person wants to be a likeable goody goody two shoes smelling friendly, and accessible, and fabric softener trustworthy; more shampoo- fresh and wholesome than a nun or a bar of health food shop cranberry-filled granola. Some people wear their perfume more like an amulet or armour, for protection and carnal self-hypnosis………defences that can come down, certainly; but which remain, at the outset at the very least, like fortresses of rich, indefatigable glamour; of sex that you are probably never going to get;  and of a bewitching  interiority of dignity, aloofness, and enticement.

I love them.

31 Comments

Filed under chypres, Rose

31 responses to “THE WITCHY CHYPRES II : : : CORIANDRE by COUTURIER (1973) + BELLE DE RAUCH (1966) + PARFUM RARE by JACOMO (1985)

  1. Renee Stout

    Perfume as an amulet…perfect, as that’s exactly what it feels like to wear some of my vintage chypres…no one I encounter during the day smells like me and I love that…I feel somehow empowered like a powerful woman with juicy secrets (LOl).

  2. Nancysg

    I never watched Dynasty, but was a faithful fan of Dallas. The Texas version of the rich and fabulous. It was all good over the top fun!

    • I was addicted to Dallas as a child, and in fact asked for that, the full boxed set, as a Christmas present for 2015. It was so outrageously expensive though that I opted for Dynasty instead out of curiosity. Dallas was fantastic, and I remember it vividly. I don’t think it had any character as amazing as Alexis Colby, though. It’s funny – she doesn’t appear until the last episode of Series 1 but the impact is UNBELIEVABLE. And she is the core of the production throughout the rest. You absolutely can’t take your eyes off her. The storylines are PREPOSTEROUS, but the acting is surprisingly good in some quarters, particularly the leads. Linda Evans as Krystle is brilliant, multifaceted and nuanced, very compassionate and yet long suffering herself, and Joan Collins, despite being the archetypal ‘bitch’ – and she can devastatingly cruel and vindictive – actually shows her character to have many different sides – she can work miracles with her eyes; eyes I can’t get enough of!

      It’s pure escapism, and that is what I have really needed recently. I think it can do you good sometimes to just escape from your own head – and what has contaminated it from without – and just fill it with something else, no matter how ridiculous it might be. In my case, doing this allows me to just stop thinking for a while and give my overworked brain and psyche a rest. Not teaching, not thinking about the world, just withdrawing into a world of fantastical excess and colour.

  3. Never watched Dynasty but now I think I must have missed something! Fab writing, as always. You do spoil us for other perfume blogs, Neil, because everything is so YOU.

    I just love how perceptions can be so radically different, and how there are no rights or wrongs in perfume appreciation. When I found my half-ounce, sealed bottle of Belle de Rauch parfum in its box, like yours (I also have a bit of Royal de Rauch — wish I had a gallon — and an ounce of Miss de Roach; a marvellous, under-valued house) I couldn’t find a darn thing about it. Great, in a way, since I’m very suggestible and if I read “rose” I smell rose, and so Belle was all up to the information my nostrils were sending me.

    Right away, I saw green and yellow and white, and I thought of . . . Doris Day! You may laugh, but it’s true. I have it on now. Under the hint of bright galbanum, bergamot and steam-iron aldehydes I sense a well-blended bouquet, almost blurred yet fresh, not muddy. The season is Spring. The flowers? Damned if I know, but I’d guess there are some of these: non-indolic jasmine, narcissus, gardenia, maybe hyacinth or lily of the valley. There is a kind of orris note that reminds me of vintage Chanel No 19, and perhaps some of its vetiver. The oak moss is present in a low-key way. The finish is surprisingly soft, sweet and musky, yet the green persists and there is that touch of hay that takes me back to the possibility of narcissus. It’s Doris in a pastel shift dress and matching sling-backs and just a bit of a back-comb.

    Anyhow, I’m probably way off the mark in reality, but the thing is we can all allow ourselves these harmless and exceedingly satisfying flights of fantasy. And next year maybe I’ll wear it and it will strike me as feral and witchy and I will try not to feel embarrassed that I wrote otherwise. It certainly is just what you say, most importantly: it is the fragrance of “a fierce, intelligent, and marvellous woman, self-satisfied and perfectly put together, who will take no crap from anyone: neither her husband, nor her lover.” Despite the fact that Doris took a great deal of crap, as it turned out.

    Love your connection of Coriandre with 1000. I will have to explore that. You always give us a hundred things to think about.

    • I know you love 1000: to me the connection is unmistakeable! I do think that I could be wrong about the Belle De Rauch, though. But my immediate impressions have always been quite dark and witchy. Again, it could be the batch. Mine is definitely not Doris Day! What is Royal de Rauch like?

      • For sure, with a fragrance fifty years old or thereabouts, bottle variation is pretty much a given!

        Royal de Rauch. Now there is your dark, witchy rose. I think. Worth trying if it ever crosses your path.

        I find it amazing, by the way, that luck has been with me so much as far as finding vintage fragrance goes, considering I live basically on the edge of nowhere. Speaking of witchy chypres, I found a 100ml bottle of Eau de Soir at a thrift store in Vancouver. For $6.99 CAD: just over five bucks US or 608 yen. Someone must have found it a little TOO witchy. (Fine by me. 😉 )

      • AAGH I WANT IT. Can we swap, somehow? I LOVE that vintage!

  4. BUT I have never, ever experienced the born-with-a-silver-perfume-bottle-in-his-mouth fortunate-ness that you possess. Not even close.

      • He says modestly.

        Oh, and I think I might be detecting that Mysore sandalwood now from the Belle de Rauch. Funny how so much is context, or alchemy; it smells lighter, finer, than the heavier (but still doubtless Mysore) sandalwood in something like very vintage l’Interdit parfum.

        I feel your AAGH. I wish we COULD swap. I know there are so many things you have that would prompt the same AAGH from me.

      • Can’t stand L’Interdit though. So bloody dowdy. I hate it! Especially the vintage parfum. Tons of sandalwood, yes, but it is somehow just so……clodhopping sentimental.

    • jennyredhen

      Where do you live Robin.. you describe it as the “edge of Nowhere”. Sounds intriguing. I live in New Zealand which is also the Edge of Nowhere.

      • The tiny community of Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, a 40-minute ferry-ride away from Vancouver.

        Very much a similar feel to New Zealand. I loved your country when I visited, especially the Coromandel Peninsula and Cathedral Cove and Abel Tasman Marine Park. Such a laid-back place you have, with incredible scenery. I think we’re both very lucky in one way, although not lucky at all when it comes to finding rare perfumes, I suspect.

  5. Karsten

    Hallo Neil,
    being Coriandre born in 1973, I like to say it is the perfume translation of this picture, which is from 1973 as well:

    the wonderful sleeve of “For Your Pleasure”, the 2nd Roxy Music album. I like to imagine the fatale leather/latex/fur dressed Amanda Lear glowing in the urban darkness smelling of the intimidating and alluring Coriandre.
    I wear it in vintage formula EdT. To me it’ s dark, it does not screams but can growl like the panther Amanda is walking with: it can be fur, but it can be claws as well. To me, Coriandre has claws, but it does not show them immediately. I realized that when I found it still lingering on my fresh laundry clothes.

  6. David

    Dynasty is always a good time. I prefer Pamela Sue Martin as Fallon, though. I always thought Emma Sams was too proper. I always try to identify perfumes on dressing tables in old movies. Movies from the 30s are the best. Old Ginger Roger and Fred Astaire movies are the best with their lavish Art Deco interiors. Happy New Year!

  7. Call me a clodhopping sentimentalist, then. 😉

    A few years ago a friend gave me her sealed ounce of l’Interdit, disliking it herself for its clodhopping properties. She’d bought it for herself, a big deal purchase, as a newly-minted stewardess (a glamourous job then for a small-town Canadian) in the early sixties. It was a symbol of her (relative) cultural emancipation. She’d been given some lesser concentration at one point and it was the only fragrance she’d had any experience with, and kept that expensive bottle of parfum intact over the decades. When she found out I was “into” perfume she gave it to me, knowing that for her, a woman in her seventies, it would feel dated. And she couldn’t bear to break the seal in any case.

    When I wear it, I think of Helen in her heyday. For me, I’m suddenly that innocent, excited young woman with the world at her feet. Heady stuff.

  8. Grayspoole/Maria

    Hello Neil and everyone-
    Happy 2017. I’m getting ready to re-enter the world as well after being blissfully secluded over the holidays with my family, knitting, reflection, a short bout of illness (glad you and Duncan are feeling better!) and of course, my perfumes. Chypres do possess dark magic, and I will certainly be strongly wafting these protective and empowering fumes in 2017. I don’t know Belle de Rauch at all, but I love the other two “witchy chypres” you discuss here. I can’t really explain why, but I tend to wear Coriandre in either the vintage extrait or vintage EDT version in the spring and cooler days of summer. It’s not really light or fresh, but I guess it’s like a taste of spicy salsa verde, with the rose peeking through, on warmer days. In my early days of vintage collecting, I knew I had to track down Coeur de Parfum. (My bottle says that in larger letters with “Parfum Rare” underneath.) I wear this one in fall and winter, all wine-dark roses, patchouli, orris, vetiver, civet, oakmoss, and NO tiresome, linear, contemporary woody aromachemicals (yes, Portrait of a Lady and Fille de Berlin, I’m talking about you). The vintage witchy rose chypres, as ornate and deep as they are as perfume compositions, seem to float up from the skin, while the modern versions just lay there, flat and heavy, after their topnotes disappear. Do any of you feel this too or am I just biased towards vintages?

  9. jennyredhen

    I have recently got ny hands on some vintage Coriandre as well. and am loving it.It was bought as a Xmas present for someone but I tried it and kept it instead..the scent reminds me of ma griffe.. maybe they have similar ingredients???

  10. purecaramel

    original Armani (divine, and surprisingly masculine in its tranquil and elegant in its inimitable way)
    Oh Yes!
    I’m a Flounder on the Hook with that statement.

    • purecaramel

      Coriandre, for instance, which I have in vintage parfum (current formulations of the edt are said to be wan and uninteresting) strikes me as having quite a lot of similarities with the great 1000 by Patou, which I am still to review ( well in fact I have, somewhere, a maniacally detailed account of the pleasures of opening the original parfum in its beautiful, beautiful boxes and flacon, and then applying the scent, but I lost the papers that I wrote it on, something that has happened quite frequently, in fact) – but in any case both of these cultivatedly high class fragrances are focuses on roses, violet, and patchouli and a magnanimously complex plethora of flowers and herbs and spices that support and cradle their spirits and create something beguiling and understatedly masterful. Coriandre, of course, as its name would suggest, has a noticeable green aspect in the head notes featuring angelica and coriander, though not in any overly distracting way; more as a side point to accentuate the full-bodied (but slender) form of its more sensuous, woody, base notes that on the right person, and in the right circumstances, might really be quite tempting, erotic ……………..reclining, stretched out, in a room somewhere in your imagination, in the moonlight.

      All I can say is. Witchy Efffing. WOW!

    • I love that perfume: sweet and complex and seemingly feminine but actually quite masculine in a baroque, white brocade shirt kind of way. Nothing like the Armanis now: this was more the Giorgio Armani of Grace Jones and Goude circa 1981

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