Never Change: Chanel Cristalle
In the world of perfume there are two poles – nostalgia on the one hand, and on the other a kind of reckless novelty. Nostalgia says “It Was and Ever Shall Be.” Reckless Novelty pipes “We’ll Add New Accord and They Will Grow Addicted.” Being a firm believer that you can have too much of a good thing, I try to not to side with either. A conversation that at forty-five minutes long was going to be put into your short book of Greatest Conversations became insufferable at one-hour thirty minutes. It is the same way with great perfumes. Nahéma parfum on a special evening out at the opera was divine; Nahéma Eau de Toilette sprayed on before the school pageant (and reapplied at intermission) is diabolical. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the sometimes-goodhearted attempt to improve on something deemed “old-ladyish,” viz. Mitsouko Fleur de Lotus, Shalimar Eau Légère and other latter-day flankers of Great Perfumes of Days Long Gone. I see nothing morally reprehensible about wanting to contemporize. Well .... with one exception.
Chanel Cristalle Eau de Toilette is, for me, one of the top 8 fragrances still in production. It is hard as heck to find – not to toot my horn, but Bloomingdale’s still carries it – and recently was flanked by something insipid and green called Eau Verte. It’s been around since 1974, one of the handful of masterpieces of Henri Robert. (No 19 and Pour Monsieur are its stable mates.) It straddles that shaded path between chypre and green floral, and is the quintessential warm-weather scent. Hyacinth, jasmine and melon are fronted by crisp, light citrus and green galbanum. It is youthful and full of irrepressible exuberance without (thanks to oakmoss) ever coming across as cheap or giggly. I grow worried that I don’t see testers out for it anymore – one has to ask for it, and even then the sales associates push the newer Eau de Parfum version (yes, version, not concentration - totally different fragrances). Why? Is Chanel embarassed by some of the scents in its stable? Will No. 19 fall victim to this sort of treatment soon?
Each day, my desk fills with three or four new scents for which there is nothing really new to say (or smell) except a shuffling of a few popular aroma chemicals. The vast majority strike me as old before they’re even released onto the market; a few stand out. This isn’t snobbery, it’s just a humbling reminder that precious few things are new under the sun (ever). In a sea of the static, the dynamic must swim against the tide. Cristalle did that. Thirty-five years ago, to be exact.
May it never tire.