André Courrèges Empreinte 2012: zombie chypre

Courrèges Empreinte

The chypre monster bit me and now I am infected. I love the classic chypre backbone, its robust, unapologetic grandeur. But this style is dead now, or is it…? For reasons I do not fully understand I have often found myself salivating over vintage Courrèges perfume bottles. I was probably transferring my interest from André Courrèges’s futuristic fashion creations. With a background in civil engineering, he imbued his designs with architectural structure and an outside-the-box futurism. Empreinte, meaning footprint, thumbprint, imprint, was originally released in 1970 and somewhere along the years has been discontinued, together with the rest of the brand’s perfumes. It was Courrèges’s first perfume release and is said to have been inspired by the first human footprint on the moon’s surface. In the case of André Courrèges, the couturier who dared dress Audrey Hepburn in astronaut-chic ensembles, this sounds quite logical. In 2012 the house of Courrèges decided to relaunch itself in the perfume business and last year I came across a dirt cheap bottle of the reissue version of Empreinte, heavily discounted in a shop that sells already discounted perfumes. It was a blind buy and quite a revelation. Although it is usually branded as a floral chypre the floral element is completely dominated by the essential chypre backbone. Aldehydes work as steroid primed muscles that dress these bones and create an explosive opening, electric and bright. What hits me immediately is a huge hay note, dry and woody that finds a strange partnership in the aldehyde’s wet and bright explosion. Soon after the bare, masculine opening the shadow of flowers joins the composition but it remains just that, a shadow. Probably some jasmine,  a little bit of rose maybe, but they are so much overshadowed by the woodiness of Empreinte that you only get the animalic parts of their contribution to the composition. They smell like the extremely concentrated left overs found in the bottom of a practically empty vintage bottle of perfume. Everything that used to be fresh is completely gone and what is left of the flowers is an indescribable fleshy, narcotic allure. If I had bought Empreinte online I would be certain that this is an ancient bottle that has lost most of its development leaving only aldehydes and basenotes trying to reconstruct what the perfume used to be. But I didn’t, my Empreinte is a brand new, shiny bottle. As it dries down the aldehydes cool off and sandalwood, patchouli and moss create a more personal version of the chypre accord that assaulted me in the opening. If anyone needs to understand what a chypre smells like Empreinte is the perfume to try. In a couple of whiffs it explains everything that has ever been written. A strong earthy vibe, a slight leathery note and above all, an incredibly emotional smell of animal fur. Thanks to the aldehydes, this perfume also mimics the cold-and-warm feeling of fur, the way it momentarily gives a cold prickly sensation before warming up.

Reviewers are not unanimous as to whether the 2012 version is a true replica of the 1970 original or a lacklustre reformulation. There are those who claim it smells exactly the same and has brought them memories from the past and those who say that it is a sad shadow of its past glory. Not having smelt the vintage version I imagine the truth must be somewhere in between. My Empreinte smells more ancient than many vintage miniatures I have accumulated over the years. At the same time however I can see cracks, little pinholes and rough edges in the construction that usually come with newer releases of classics. To understand exactly what I mean, it would help if you have an olfactory memory of Yves Saint Laurent Jazz in its different versions: first the original in black-and-white plastic bottle, then the last of the widely available versions in the glass bottle and then the La Collection version in the black square bottle. They are all essentially the same perfume. The glass bottle version however compared to the other two is like taking a piece of cheap polyester chantilly cloth and rubbing it against your skin: it is rough and unpleasant. The original Jazz and the La Collection version however feel like the exact same chantilly lace, only made of silk. Both cloths may look similar but their touch is like day and night. In Empreinte’s case however all this is irrelevant. This is a true chypre in the most traditional way and one can only admire the courage and conviction behind the decision to bring it back from the dead.

The true revelation that came with Empreinte however is that a hardcore chypre can be crafted even today with all restrictions in oak moss use in perfume. You can read more about this in an article in Perfumeshrine, but if all this sounds too technical for you, just buy a bottle of the new Courrèges Empreinte and experience a version of the oak moss galore that is skin-legal today. A classic chypre is possible today! So why we get so few of them? Probably because sadly nobody wants them. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. You, the perfume blog reader, may love them too. But regular people don’t. What do I mean by regular people? Well, people who don’t collect, obsess about, spend money on perfume. People who want to smell “nice” but at the same time are frightened by the possibility of exuding too much of anything. Too sweet, too strong, too sexy, too feminine, too masculine. While our special interests group has been trying to define the boundaries of perfume art and perfume craft, the general public has become more and more disconnected with everything monumental and timeless in perfume. Let’s face it dear friends, we are not regular people. We are “special”. We like excess to the point of not being able to recognise it. And Empreinte is excessive. I do not refer to its excessive use of aldehydes, nor to the excessive use of pissy musks and velvety, grey synthetic moss. Empreinte is excessive in its use of references. Nothing in its composition comes from today. It is all a blend of memories, personal end collective. One of the stronger olfactive memories most of us share is the memory of our mother, getting ready for a night out. Lipstick, hairspray, perfume and maybe a fur coat. Above and beyond anything I can say, Empreinte captures this moment in time, when mother leans over our bed to give us a kiss goodnight before she steps out. No one note being able to define this experience, just a sweet amalgamation of nostalgic chypre constituents echoing back from the crevices of our childhood.

Notes from Parfumo:  Aldehydes, Calabrian bergamot, Brazilian tangerine, Bulgarian rose, Jasmine, May rose, Mysore sandalwood, Australian sandalwood, Bourbon vetiver, Virginia cedar, Indonesian patchouli, Moss, Leather

Courrèges Empreinte notes

Notes from my nose: Aldehydes, Hay, Oakmoss, Fur

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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.

21 comments

  1. Normand

    I love this post! This week was a chypre-orgy for me… Paloma Picasso, Aromatics Elixir and even Azurée (well… more chypre cuir)… but the structure is forever perfume… suitable for both men and women when you don’t want to go unnoticed! Thanks.. always love reading you.

    • Thank you Normand. I am curious to see as what you would classify this. I think it is a bare chypre, no flowers, maybe a hint of leather but nothing that sticks out. I bought my bottle for something like 19 USD so I was amazed to see that such a strong chypre effect can be achieved today with cheap synthetics.

      • Normand

        Well.. Michael Edwards in his Fragrances of the World (2012) classifies the original 1971 Empreinte as a chypre cuir (dry woods, in english)… which is an odd family… not a pure chypre (mossy woods) but definitely a chypre structure with leather facets. Others in this family… Cabochard, Aramis, Cuir de Russie.

        The Société française des parfumeurs calls Empreinte 1971 a pure chypre… but in the chypre cuir subfamily… no flowers, no green notes.

        So… both classification systems seem to agree on this one.

        I know that I would absolutely love it.

        Normand

  2. From one of your “special” followers, I loved your comment regarding YSL’s Jazz and it’s reformulation being “like taking a piece of cheap polyester Chantilly cloth and rubbing it against your skin: it is rough and unpleasant, compared to the original formula.” As long as we’re talking about fragrances from YSL, we might as well add Kouros to our list of rough and unpleasant reformulations.

    Chypre perfumes are some of my favorites. I had a lengthy conversation with Frédéric Malle just over a year ago about that very subject: https://perfumuschicago.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/is-patience-still-a-virtue/

    • Very interesting read. I agree with Dinara, Bois d’Orage IS a scent every man should try at least once and consider buying. What I find perplexing about the chypre family, is that I catch elements of the chypre accord in fragrances that do not contain the classic chypre constituents. Francis Kurkdjian Lumière Noire pour homme is one of these fragrances. I am curious as to whether you experience it as a chypre yourself.

  3. It’s a chypre of sorts, Christos. While a wonderful fragrance, it is missing the citrus element.

  4. I just sampled Empreinte today for the first time at Odette Toilette’s Vintage Scent Session in London! I really enjoyed your impeccably timed review. 😛

    • Did it smell like a fur coat to you? 🙂

      • Admittedly my sampling of Empreinte was limited to the sampling strip I received at the Scent Session and the few times I revisited it throughout the evening to see how I was vibing with it. To be honest, scents like Empreinte and Robert Piguet’s Futur are quite a new genre for me, but yes, I can totally get down with the fur coat feel. I am seeing like a fur cold on a cold, dry night (especially the lining of the coat), followed by the slow, creeping warmth that would develop after wearing it for a bit. I felt as if Empreinte had these contrasting aspects to it – cool and warm but also arid and moist. It’s definitely a fragrance I would like to get to know a bit better.

  5. Christos, I loved this essay/review for the interesting points that you make about us perfumistas versus “regular” people who wear scent, particularly this thought from you:

    “A classic chypre is possible today! So why we get so few of them? Probably because sadly nobody wants them. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. You, the perfume blog reader, may love them too. But regular people don’t. What do I mean by regular people? Well, people who don’t collect, obsess about, spend money on perfume. People who want to smell “nice” but at the same time are frightened by the possibility of exuding too much of anything. Too sweet, too strong, too sexy, too feminine, too masculine.”

    I never thought about it this way, but I think you’re absolutely right. And you’re even more right when you say this:”Let’s face it dear friends, we are not regular people. We are ‘special’. We like excess to the point of not being able to recognise it.”

    This made me laugh, and yet I think you are very insightful. It makes me conclude that perfume people are also not frightened by the possibility of exuding too much geekiness, nerdiness, sentimentality, and sensuality … and that’s what I love about folks like us. 🙂 Thanks for this!

    • somebody twitted this scientific paper which showed that those of us who associate scents with images tend to smell differently: they inhale deeper and more times when they smell something new and they do not shy away from unpleasant smells. Instead they linger until they have deciphered them. I believe this explains a bit the situation 🙂

  6. Great post. I love Empreinte as well ( I have the vintage parfum ). I also think the word ‘fleshy’ is perfect for it. The one I have smells very peachy and pink, with that animalic mossy quality sort of shimmering beneath. I have only worn it out in public once, a very windy day in Yokohama, but I was slightly transfixed by myself.

    • No fruit in the current edp version. Just hay and right at the very opening I would go as far as to say even immortelle. The fur coat imagery is so vivid for me that avoid wearing it in public for fear that I will feel either like a pimp or like Elton John. I love its smell on my scarves and coats though. And it is perfect for the cold Geneva winter nights at home.

  7. I really enjoyed your review of a lovely piece of perfume history; the 1970’s “dirty chypres” as I like to call them.
    Sadly, I do have to concur with the consensus that theses scents just would not make a huge impact these days. People are too busy wanting to smell clean or like a fruit salad, or even worse like a desert. So truly, outside of us, fragrance lovers, there is not a huge market for the chypre scents any longer. I think most people would find them to earthy and dirty. Sad how everyone just wants to smell sterile or just blend in.
    It is us and us alone who will have to keep these classics around.

    • What I find most stressful is thay people want to smell like something they have already smelled before, be it a dessert, a flower, a fabric softener or a deodorant. Uncharted, new smells are a deterrent for modern perfume shoppers

      • I guess that daring nature is being lost, at least when it come to fragrance. Sadly, most scents are created to resemble ” comforting” aromas the wearer has smelt before. Sad to think about and sadder to have to smell.

  8. In theory every perfume could be “duplicated”, it is essentially a matter of costs , (not to speaking about IFRA….)
    I’d like to verify if new Empreinte is really similar to the vintageone.

    • It probably is true to the Idea but lacks in execution. Some wearers say it is, some say it isn’t. I suppose it all boils down to how much one is attached to sentimentality

  9. Pingback: Memory of Scent for Fragrance Daily: Grossmith Golden Chypre, like Mitsouko on antidepressants | Memory Of Scent

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