Thursday, July 9, 2009

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.


Blogger tmp00 said...

I love this fragrance: it's as much a part of my childhood as "The Muppet Show". Girls who babysat us in Fair Isle sweaters wore this, as did out moms as a "day" perfume. It's one of the few things from the 70's that I think need never be "modernised" in the way that Eau Sauvage better not be dicked with.

July 9, 2009 at 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must try this--someday, somehow--as I've turned into a Chanel gal through and through. (Loving the No. 18 as much as ever!) I have Cristalle edp, and I've heard repeatedly that it's a different scent from the eau de toilette. Edt sounds exquisite for the summer. Thanks for stoking the flame!


July 10, 2009 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

tmp00- My sentiments exactly. The Seventies was a modernized era to begin with, or itself the people who drove culture and design thought so.

July 11, 2009 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

I beg to differ: the other two Henri Robert perfumes are both great, with N°19 coming pretty close to perfection!
That said, I share your admiration for Cristalle and your lack of same for Cristalle Eau Verte, a piddling unpleasant little citrus in my opinion. At least they didn't go and replace the former with the latter, I'll say that for Chanel.

July 13, 2009 at 4:26 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

D., Mea culpa, mea culpa. No 19 is very close to perfection, and for some reason I always HR mixed up with Jacques Chabert. Don't ask.... I'll edit the posting.

July 14, 2009 at 7:44 AM  
Anonymous Musette said...

I loved Cristalle - still do - but could never wear it, as it always made me weepy (yes, it actually could bring me to melancholic tears). But it is beautiful!

Do folks really consider Mitsouko 'old-ladyish'? Yikes! It is my go-to scent for whenever I need some armour.

Nahema, reapplied at intermission! My head hurts, just thinking about that!

A wonderful post! Thank you!


July 15, 2009 at 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry this is so late (not too late I hope) as I have only just discovered you! Cristalle was what I wore on my wedding day in 1980 and I have always loved it - until this year when, without any doubt at all, Chanel reformulated it. Not by much, and most people (sales assistants on the whole)seem unable to detect the difference between the old and the new. But it is so obvious to me and has ruined it. It's lost it's sharp zinginess (perhaps a citrus element, and altho' Chanel have denied that it has altered the fragrance, my nose is really good, and the last few drops of my old bottle, and some testers in stores still smell as they used to. So, what to do? Another great loss. I should be interested to find out if other fans have realised this.

September 28, 2009 at 9:05 AM  

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