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March 15, 2006

Perfume Review: Chanel No 19

Chanel_19

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

Chanel No. 19 needs no words of praise because its beauty renders them superfluous. Its seemingly difficult facets—the aggressive verdancy of galbanum, the woody duskiness of iris—are arranged in such an exquisitely harmonious manner that one cannot but admire how the accords meld into each other, from the emerald dew of the top notes to the leathery suppleness of the base.

The number 19 refers to Coco Chanel's birthday, August 19th. The story goes that No.19 was her personal fragrance; however, this is unlikely, since the perfume was composed only in 1970, less than a year before her death. No. 19 was created by the Chanel in-house perfumer Henri Robert, who is also responsible for the chypre austerity of Pour Monsieur (1955) and the shimmery bite of Cristalle EDT (1974). Robert created only a few fragrances for the house; however, his contribution cannot be measured by the number of perfumes linked to his name. Being responsible for maintaining the quality of Chanel No. 5, searching out the best quality materials and adapting the formula for the parfum de toilette and eau de toilette, Robert has to be credited for the continuing success of No. 5. ...

And yet No. 19 remains a testament to his talent as an artist. It is said that upon approaching the Taj Mahal, one is teased by its ornate whiteness looming in the distance, until suddenly the magnificent edifice is right before one's eyes. In No. 19, the iris magically transports one from the soft luminosity of florals into the intensity of a leather-vetiver embrace. The elegance of No. 19 is underscored by the seductive allure of its seemingly chilly effect. A few rose de mai petals caught among moss covered roots conjure a passionate yearning constrained by feelings of decorum. At a time when women are encouraged to smell like chocolate covered confections, No. 19, with its strength and regal beauty, proves that femininity is not defined by "sugar, spice and everything nice." That being said, lacking sweetness or floral opulence, No. 19 would definitely be suitable for a man, especially in the EDT and EDP concentrations, where the accent falls upon the vetiver and leather.  If I were to choose between concentrations, the EDT and the parfum would be my preferred picks, for the radiance of iris-vetiver and the richness of iris-leather, respectivelly.

I admit that revisiting classical perfumes is a frustrating ordeal, because they are either no longer extant or only available as pale versions of their former selves. Of course, as many ingredients become untenable either because of ethical, economical or health reasons, the reformulation is only an expected outcome. Although still very good, Chanel No. 19 is no longer the same. The alteration must have been quite recent, because I have a bottle of the perfume purchased two years ago, and it is still true to the original beauty. I would recommend assessing the colour, which should be green-beige, rather than emerald (or dark green). Instead of the passionate vetiver and leather interplay subdued by iris, the composition meanders before fading into the slightly attenuated vetiver and musk base. However, the parfum concentration is still superior to the EDT and the EDP. Altered or not, No. 19 still remains a perfume to admire.

A side note on galbanum, fragrance and politics. When Chanel No 19 was created in 1971, it was formulated with a superb grade of Iranian galbanum oil, which was sourced especially for it. However, when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979, the oil became unavailable. No 19 had to be reformulated, which was accomplished with much difficulty, because the original galbanum oil was of a particularly fine, rare caliber.

Chanel No. 19 includes notes of galbanum, hyacinth, neroli, bergamot, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, iris, vetiver, sandalwood, leather, musk. Chanel fragrances are available directly from Chanel, Gloss.com, Sephora, and various other retailers.

Ad from Images de Parfums.

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