When people talk about big, knock-‘em-out scents, they often mean white florals like Robert Piguet Fracas or Annick Goutal Passion or heady 1980s orientals like Yves Saint Laurent Opium and Chanel Coco. I’d like to add another category of perfume to this list: the fierce green chypre. I’m not talking about a moody green chypre like Jacomo Silences or a modulated green chypre like Estée Lauder Private Collection. I mean a no-apologies, cuts-like-a-knife, love-it-or-loathe-it green chypre. At the top of the list of fierce green chypres are Sisley Eau du Soir, Parfumerie Générale Corps et Ames, and Niki de Saint Phalle.
A fierce green chypre isn’t easy to wear. It’s a diva, and it will be bigger than you are if you give it an inch. Before you spray on a fierce green chypre, you’d better be ready to be fabulous. Make sure you have the energy for snappy comebacks, unleashed hilarity, or wanton passion — whatever the occasion calls for.
Of the three I’ve listed, Eau du Soir is the lady of the group. Eau du Soir, released by Sisley in 1990, includes notes of mandarin, grapefruit, seringa, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, iris, patchouli, pepper, juniper, clove, oakmoss, cistus, musk, and amber. On first spritz, all I smell is piercing, white grapefruit, dry as top-shelf gin. After five minutes or so, mint sweetens Eau du Soir and softens its edges slightly. Heavily peppered, herbal flowers join the mix, and as the grapefruit fades the earthiness of oakmoss grounds the scent. Under the buzzing green and citrus is a nicely balanced, unusual perfume that would be well suited to a woman who drives a white Mercedes convertible and vacations in Capri. She does not, however, have a small dog, and she’s bored by the conversation down at the country club. When you meet by the pool, you’re not sure if she likes you or not.
Corps et Ames by Parfumerie Générale, which came out in 2006, is the starlet green chypre. Corps et Ames' notes include Bourbon geranium, immortelle flowers, Melati wood, leather, and sandalwood. On first whiff, Corps et Ames smells like something pulled off the back shelf of a Weimar-era perfume shop. But when the dry herbal top burns down a little, the scent takes a modern turn as a whiff of immortelle rounds out the weediness of the geranium and sharpness of what smells to me like bergamot, grapefruit, and summer herbs. I can’t distinctly smell the leather. The scent becomes more beautiful and calm as it unwinds. Corps et Ames is both of the moment and a throwback to old glamour, much like Angelina Jolie. I might need a bottle of this.
Niki de St Phalle, released in 1982, is the bohemian green chypre. She can be beautiful and irritating at the same time. Niki’s notes include peach, mugwort, bergamot, marigold, mint, jasmine, rose, clove, iris, ylang ylang, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, amber, and musk. Niki de Saint Phalle comes on with a thick, green wallop that feels almost tannic, like you’ve been drinking black tea that has steeped too long. That mineral, tannic smell reminds me of the heart of Estée Lauder Azurée. Some people say that Niki de Saint Phalle smells like pine, but to me its green is more herbal than coniferous. I don’t smell rose, jasmine, or iris at all. Niki hangs on to her fierceness when other fierce green chypres have relaxed into their sandalwood and oakmoss, although a honey-like note enters as Niki dries down, giving it a youthful feel when Corps et Ames is still stark and Eau du Soir has rolled over to tradition. My favorite sales associate at my favorite perfume shop says that Niki de Saint Phalle smells best on pigmented skin, which tends to capture and moderate its power, but I’m pasty and I love it. Another interesting fact: sales of Niki de Saint Phalle funded the Italian tarot sculpture garden, open to the public and created by the real Niki de Saint Phalle, an artist known primarily for her sculpture.
Scentiments lists a 50 ml bottle of Sisley Eau du Soir Eau de Parfum for $86.99 and a 59 ml tester of Niki de Saint Phalle Eau de Toilette for $21.95.
Corps et Ames Eau de Parfum is $90 for 50 ml; for buying information, see the listing for Parfumerie Générale under Perfume Houses.