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