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