MASTER OF CHYPRE: : IMPREVU by COTY (1965)

You know you are in safe hands with Bernard Chant. Master of the complex, but effortless, patchouli powdered chypre, this genius perfumer created the inimitable, emotive, and very distinctive adult sillages of Grès Cabochard, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and Aramis (as well as the underrated rose patchouli quiet fervour that is Aramis 900) : all scents with his muted animalic signature, an allusion to sweat and the bedroom – particularly in the later, ultra-suggestive stages of Aramis Devin – when the moment is right, much later – after dinner – after drinks – but always with that Trans-Am panache and committed All-American French elegance.

While sometimes all of this compressed, pressed-pant-suit-and-teased-out-bouffant style that is quite prevalent in this perfumer’s work (each ingredient minisculed and moleculed into place in a symphonic exactitude that is astonishing) can arguably become a little Florida retirement home – see my piece on Estée Lauder’s Cinnabar, another Chant creation I personally find too stuffy (I am not familiar with Aliage, nor Halston Original : : : : enlighten me), the incredible muted luminosity of his moted creations – the concentrated perfume trailing the wearer like talced dust particles of scent in the air; an incredible presence – is justly revered the world over by perfumers, and perfume lovers alike, so much so that just four years ago Parfums Dusita even directly referenced the wonderfully dry and emotionally arid end notes of Cabochard in its densely chypric Sillage Blanc, a modern reworking of the style that conveys perfectly its continuing relevance. Bernard Chant perfumes are still worn the world over – Beautiful, a creation for Estée Lauder in collaboration with Max Gavarry, whose Dioressence shares some olfactive similarities with this perfumer’s style, and Sophia Grosjman, more overtly feminine and rose-based, is still one of the most successful perfumes in existence.

Although Bernard Chant’s résumé is mainly focused on the dry and aromatic chypre, the perfumer did also work with floral accords, such as Ralph Lauren’s wonderfully wide-eyed debut perfume Lauren, and later, the very unique rosewood freesia modern American classic that is Antonia’s Flowers. However, even when moving into fresher territory, there was also something niggling underneath; a suppressed emotionalism that you could always detect beneath the primmer surface. An awareness. In essence, this perfumer was simply incapable of the simplistic.

While Bernard Chant’s work for Coty – his only contribution to the house – has perhaps less iconic immediacy than some of the other masterworks in his catalogue, this sly, aromatic leather/fougère fragrance occupies a special place : somewhere between the flowers and the earth : the woodland in between. Fitting in with perfumes such as Lentheric’s Tweed from the first part of the twentieth century when society flirted with modes of masculinity in dress and scenting, the notes of the two perfumes are almost identical, with the exception of a prominent lavender note in the latter. Neither are typically ‘feminine’; both strike me as active and on the go. If there is anything unexpected about the perfume (‘imprevu’ means ‘unforeseen’), it is in the way that the standard, slightly dusty – and admittedly, slightly boring – aldehydic opening of bitter orange, bergamot, coriander and neroli and the expected carnation, jasmine/rose and orris heart, gradually morphs into a highly engaging, androgynous warm, oakmossed ambergris woody musk / vetiver / sandalwood dry down that on me is very reminiscent of vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme: on skin this perfume just gets better and better. While the Coty is a tad lighter, more ‘elevated’, the end impressions of the two, on me at least, are still virtually indistinguishable. I am enjoying it. Available quite reasonably online – in the past I have had the parfum de toilette and edt but was not moved until now to write anything about it, the parfum D got me the other day for nothing from a flea market is the reason I am writing this review: in its subtle ardor and expansiveness, and its internal sensation of happiness, it has become quite clear to me that this pleasing – and indeed unpredictable – perfume was yet another string in a brilliant perfumer’s bow.

19 Comments

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19 responses to “MASTER OF CHYPRE: : IMPREVU by COTY (1965)

  1. “While sometimes all of this compressed, pressed-pant-suit-and-teased-out-bouffant style that is quite prevalent in this perfumer’s work (each ingredient minisculed and moleculed into place in a symphonic exactitude that is astonishing) can arguably become a little Florida retirement home”
    LMAO
    Probably will be me in 20 yrs, although I hope to be sporting a caftan & turban as my mom & Liz Taylor did rather than the pantsuit & bouffant.

      • I can’t stand Cinnabar.
        After reading your comparison of Opium & Cinnabar I wonder if it is the “mellis” (honey) accord that you refer to as the “rich divorcee” base. The mellis accord consists of patchouli, eugenol (usually as cloves or carnation), tonka/coumarin, spices/cinnamon’coriander/nutmeg, woods, muguet/linden/hydroxycitronellol and benzyl salicylate ( the balsamic, mildly floral, slightly phenolic scent of many old school suntan lotions like Coppertone and Nivea cream). It is the base of Opium, Cinnabar, Tabu, Coco Chanel, Krizia Teatro alla Scalla, and Youth Dew.
        I personally find all mellis accord based scents nauseatingly stuffy and overbearing. As a healthcare worker I noticed that women who smoke or leak urine tend to wear mellis based perfumes. Thus, stench of cigarette smoke and stale urine are forever linked in my mind with Cinnabar, Tabu, Opium, & Youth Dew.

      • Blimey : tell it like it is !

      • Fascinating about the ‘mellis’ accord : I didn’t know this was the base – though I love the Krizia. Tabu is very problematic

  2. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Cabochard! It is hidden among my small treasury of scents. And I bought the vintage edp some years ago on your recommendation and my memory of the perfume, cher M Ginza! Maybe that will be my old age flag! I like the german translation Trotzkopf, suits me down to a t.
    Imprevu feels like another elegant scented cruiseship to steam ahead among the other less flavoured battle-axes.

  3. Oh how I adore Imprevu!!!!!! It was one of my Mama’s favorite scents and I always adored it on her. I only have it in the parfum concentration and it is just perfect, it really melds with my skin.
    I have to say, I am one of those people who own 5 bottles of vintage Cinnabar. It is one of my treasured comfort scents. It is warm and cozy, practically perfect on days I am suffering from a migraine. I doubt I will ever have a bouffant, I am a chignon type of woman, nor wear a pantsuit, I prefer dresses and skirts, but I will be ensconced in clouds of Cinnabar 😉
    If you have not tried Alliage, or Halston, you must! Alliage is a fabulous floral-chypre which is easy wearing but packs a big oakmoss punch. Halston is a scent that will literally have you envisioning white polyester pantsuits and gold lame dresses. It really encapsulates the disco era. Both need to be vintage, of course, newer versions (I have heard) are just weak impressions of the originals.

    • Sold! I need to smell them.

      Very happy to hear that you also love Imprevu and that it has important memories for you. It is definitely a very positive perfume – very comforting when it gets to that final accord.

      I LOVE disco perfumes: need to smell Halston!

  4. Robin

    Here is a writer who knows his stuff. Who else could write about these compositions with such depth of knowledge? Loved every minute of the read.

    I can’t stomach Opium, but for some reason I can tolerate the similar Cinnabar reasonably well.

    I’ve only smelled Imprevu in lesser concentrations and never remember it wowing me, probably for that very reason.

    Vintage Aliage is a first-class green chypre. One of the best of the genre, full stop. Woodsy (tee hee) with a bit of extra coniferous zest. The artemisia is handled deftly. Has aged well.

    Vintage Halston is a favourite chypre of mine. Insanely well-blended and therefore pretty much impossible to parse and describe beyond that. Prettier than Givenchy III. You must not make the Champagne/Yvresse mistake if you spot this one, dear N.

    Thanks for a really satisfying piece.

    • And thanks for these extra salivating details in response.

      I feel I am destined to love Aliage.

      Please, if you have a moment, go further into your Opium rejection. I am intrigued. I actually quite like Cinnabar, and have a bottle, but there is SOMETHING too crotchety about it that always irks me. Woman as taxidermy. Or do I go too far?

      • Robin

        Crotchety, in a Florida retirement home way, is a really good description of Cinnabar. I don’t wear it for that reason, except to bed in the winter by myself, but a niece I gave some parfum to — she’s in her late thirties, long corkscrew curls in auburn, fair skin and freckles, lanky, outdoorsy — gives it some kind of bohemian casual vibe that is a long distance from Fort Lauderdale. I’m just too close in age to those retirees and it feels too relic-like.

        You are destined to love Aliage, I feel. And I love your idea of Imprevu on Ric. P.S. Ric had rejected Yatagan a few years ago when he was fairly new to wearing fragrance. Hoping the situation might have evolved, I slipped it into his rotation last week. He’s worn it twice. Never mentioned it, so I’m excited. It means he hasn’t noticed it (as something not-good), and possibly even likes it. I’m keeping quiet about it so he doesn’t have room to second-guess his acceptance. A triumph!

        Opium came out when I was 20. I was wearing Tatiana at the time, loving the green hyacinth, jasmine, narcissus. Je Reviens as well. I was your basic long-haired hippie chick from the west coast. Opium was, to me, loud like Giorgio was loud four years later. Suffocating, trying too hard, strident, far too hot in the spice department, with a sour, ugly amber underneath. I associated it with red lipstick, heavy orangey foundation, leopard print satin, hot rollers and hair spray, cheesy disco, Studio 54 and much older women: at least 35, if not 40(!). And I have not been able to get past that association.

      • So fantastic to read these recollections. Like your niece, though, I have really loved Opium on other people. When I was housesitting alone in London and got pneumonia, the only perfume they had in the house was a bottle of Cinnabar. It is actually quite fascinating in some ways.

      • Ps I have my bottle of Tatiana to a drag queen called Tatianna. Now regretting it

        ( hippie in Je Reviens = Heaven )

      • By the way, I did go back and check the Santo Incienso for you on Tuesday ( but not on skin; I was too scent ready with my green tea look).

        Three cards sprayed heavily though alerted me to the probable presence of scandal-wood. I don’t know : perhaps I was LOOKING for it so it was more readily noticed it this time more than the frankincense, but in any case unless you are feeling super reckless, check first !

    • As for Imprevu: YES: boring – it just feels too generically of that ilk. But as Brielle says, in the parfum it is gorgeous. I bet it would smell fabulous on your woodcutter.

    • Robin

      Thanks for the note about the scandalwood. I will wait, I think.

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