No matter how many fragrances Chanel’s line up features, Chanel No. 5 hogs the limelight. Yet supposedly Coco Chanel’s favorite, the one she named after her birth date, was No. 19. Rumor is she kept No. 19 out of mass production so she could wear it herself and give bottles to special clients and friends.
In 1971, after Mademoiselle’s death, Chanel released No. 19 to the public. Chanel’s website describes the fragrance, developed by perfumer Henri Robert, as “A rich blend of floral and green notes, followed by May Rose and Iris from Florence. The finale: a chime of Chypre with a subtle, woody Vetiver note.” It goes on to say No. 19 is “Audacious and assertive. Never conventional.”
If No. 5 is the grande dame with pearls and Champagne, No. 19 is the ingénue. While No. 5 sits in the living room with nattily dressed suitors, No. 19 is getting back from a ride through the forest on a summer day. She smells of grassy meadows, jasmine and roses, the dry, mossy forest floor, and the leathery, recently soaped saddle. No. 5 can have all the prep school-reared boys inside, she’s going to the stable to make trouble with the groom.
No. 19 Eau de Toilette opens with a fluff of aldehydes that marks it as a classic Chanel. The tart green of galbanum slices through the fragrance for a good long time, as the tingling top notes burn away and a powdery iris and earthy vetiver kick in. This softer heart cushions the fragrance’s piercing green. A touch of sandalwood and clean musk sweeten the fragrance. For an Eau de Toilette, it lasts a long time — at least half a day on me.
No. 19 feels more youthful and grounded than No. 5, but it doesn’t feel particularly contemporary. Like many of the crisp, green florals of the late 1960s and early 1970s — Paco Rabanne Calandre and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, for instance — No. 19 may be a classic, but it’s also firmly rooted in its time. Some people might find it a little stuffy and angular.
This year, Chanel introduced a flanker to No. 19 called No. 19 Poudré. Chanel is calling the Eau de Parfum “A bold re-imagining of Coco Chanel’s signature scent” and describes it as including neroli, galbanum, jasmine, iris, white musk, vetiver, and tonka bean. Chanel’s house perfumer, Jacques Polge, created No. 19 Poudré.
Polge has already demonstrated his genius for making classic fragrances more easy for the modern perfume wearer to read. His greatest success might be Chanel No. 5 Eau Première, which softens the original’s aldehydes and infuses its floral heart with more light and playfulness. He also updated Bourjois Soir de Paris, and created the easier-wearing Eau de Parfum versions of Nos. 5 and 19. What would he do to No. 19? No. 19 Eau de Toilette already packs some powder. What kind of powder monster might be something called No. 19 Poudré?
In No. 19 Poudré, the sharp galbanum and sneezy aldehydes of the original are dialed back, and sweeter neroli and iris take their place. The iris is lush and fruity, and despite the fragrance’s name, less powdery than the iris in No. 19. This initial iris, mixed with jasmine, brings to mind the deliriously beautiful jasmine-iris combo in XerJoff Irisss. If the original No. 19 expresses itself in a sharp, soapy green and powdery second soprano, No. 19 Poudré sings a silky, full alto of wet orris, jasmine, and rose. Its green is crushed stems and leaves. I can definitely understand the modern consumer falling for No. 19 Poudré right away.
But the story is not over. After fifteen minutes or so, the iris-jasmine-rose combo cheapens and starts to smell a little like a cartoon of itself. It’s like watching a Monet garden landscape morph into a Polaroid photograph of a Monet landscape. The image is still pretty, but the texture and complexity vanish. As time goes on, the fragrance fades and sweetens a bit as tonka bean and sandalwood settle in until it disappears entirely after a few hours. I never really find No. 19 Poudré powdery at all.
So, No. 5 is the seductive bourgeois lady, and No. 19 is her rebellious younger sister. Who is No. 19 Poudré? Definitely No. 19’s daughter, but with thick, brunette hair and simpler, easier tastes. I suspect the groom had something to do with it.
Chanel No. 19 Poudré comes in 50 ($85) and 100 ($115) ml Eau de Parfum. Chanel No. 19 comes in Eau de Parfum (listed on the Chanel website as a limited edition), Eau de Toilette, deodorant, bath gel and body lotion.