Vintage Chanel No.19

Notes: Galbanum, Bergamot, Neroli, Iris, Rose, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine, Leather, Vetiver, Sandalwood and Musk.

I was surprised when Lila (formerly of Perfume Lovers London) said that Chanel’s No.19 was her comfort scent. I had the impression that it was rather austere and aloof. Iris and galbanum with their cooling breeze aren’t most people’s idea of cosy.

Then last summer I had the opportunity to try the vintage EdT and Parfum from Portia’s extensive perfume collection. These were a very different experience to the modern incarnations. I was immediately swooning and bought both bottles.
No.19 was launched in 1970 and the perfumer was Henri Robert who also composed Cristalle and Pour Monsieur for Chanel.

Now winter is behind us, I’m wearing it day after day and I never seem to tire of it. I have even come to find it comforting – not in a cosseting way but in a calming, steadfast way.

It might seem superficially tender with its soft, airy aura of new shoots and delicate flowers but first looks can be deceiving. Like all the greats, it has a distinct personality. No.19 feels willowy yet unshakeable: you can rely on her to possess grace under fire. Her roots go deep into the ground. She has a quiet, inner confidence that feels like an olfactory safety net.

Aldehydes may not be listed but I sense something like them in the vintage versions. The body of the perfume is draped in a cocoon of silk. What really marks this out as belonging to another era however, is the presence of oakmoss. It’s lamented by perfume people for a reason. It’s such a rich, complex material with great depth and a dash of black magic.

Galbanum is such a tricky note. While I like the idea of green stems in theory, when it’s a major part of a perfume I often find it too sharp and harsh, overwhelming the rest of the composition. However, this is Chanel galbanum which is quite a different beast. It must be about as smooth and refined as galbanum can get.

No.19 is an incredibly cohesive fragrance. Every aspect feels streamlined and in harmony. The iris is bound up with the other chief accords and I picture green, blue and white intertwining strands. The base is a pleasing contrast of soft woods, earthy vetiver, low-key leather and feline musks.

Even though I enjoy the EdT, the Parfum is incomparable. It really blooms into a lush, slightly powdery, haze on the skin that has a similar feel to Chamade by Guerlain. The galbanum is also taken to another level to the point where it’s practically green syrup. It is eye-rollingly gorgeous.

Like spring, No.19 gives me hope. There is a chance of renewal after the bleakness of winter. An inner strength that was always there throughout the dark times surges to the surface when there is no longer a need to take cover. It is the chance to live rather than merely survive.

no 19

How do you feel about No.19?

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38 Comments

Filed under Perfume Reviews

38 responses to “Vintage Chanel No.19

  1. Your review compels me to try it! I’m not a green/galbanum fan, but now I’m off to find a vintage sample.

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    • I hope you can get hold of a sample for not too much money. It is an exceptional use of galbanum, I have to say. Fingers crossed you feel the same!

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  2. My favorite Chanel–until I discovered Sycomore.

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  3. Brigitte

    loved no 19 and wore it in the late 70s early 80s….I had that same large EDT canister you have in your photo (had the same style canister for no 22 which was white with a gold trim and for no 5 which was black with the gold trim). I haven’t smelled vintage in a really long time. I am curious now 🙂

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    • Nice to hear about those different cannisters Brigitte. I guess they look rather dated now but I love that I can keep them on my dresser without any worry of the sun deteriorating them.

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    • I have all three of those but only two are in the metal canisters. The No. 22 is the one I bought for myself in the 1980s. The No. 19 is a vintage one that I bought online in the last year, and I love it. I also have No. 5, and Cristalle, in the clear glass sprays. The No. 5 was my late mother’s; I brought it home when we cleared out her house after she died. There’s only a bit left, and I don’t wear it myself, just sniff it once in a while in her memory.

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  4. Matty

    A beautiful review. I haven’t had 19.

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  5. davina

    Beautiful review. You have a way of showing the personality of a perfume and bringing the experience to life. Pure poetry Tara X

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  6. Ahhhhh Tara,
    You speak of No 19 as you would a lover. With such authenticity and affection. Of course she suits you perfectly, you too are the austere shell for a warm and loving heart. Twins.
    So glad you’re loving CHANEL No 19
    Portia xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Portia, I so wanted to try it and you gave me the perfect opportunity. I was very fortunate I could get the bottles from you and not have to resort to taking a chance on ebay. You introduced me to my two of my three favourite vintages – Miss Dior and No.19. (The other being Vol de Nuit.)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jillie

    Aaaaaah, Chanel No 19 ….. I bought a bottle (with my student grant!) the moment it was launched and loved it. Still do, even the watered down contemporary version. I have often read comments by other fans that No 19 is what they wear when they want a “shield”, which implies that it is impenetrable and hard, but I find it soft, lush and comforting, albeit with a steely spine.

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    • Jillie, you are spot on. It’s much more complex than that and the contrast between strength and vulnerability is what makes it so special. Love that you got your first bottle with your student grant!

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  8. Grayspoole

    This beautiful review captures my perception of vintage No. 19, which is a completely different fragrance in all of the current versions. In addition to the galbanum, oakmoss, and vetiver, I would also mention the incredible quality of the iris…nothing else comes close for me.

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    • That’s really gratifying to hear. Especially as I haven’t known the vintage version for very long. Chanel use such a high quality of iris, it’s wonderful.

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  9. I love No. 19, and I too have the vintage EDT in the refillable metal canister. Have not tried the parfum, though I’ve eyed it more than once. I’ll have to get dressed up and go to one of the big department stores to see if I can try it at the Chanel counter, lol.

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  10. Sandra

    Hi Tara, beautiful review of a stunning perfume. I went through several bottles back in the day and not smelled the vintage in years. Your wear No 19 beautifully I am sure. Enjoy your treasures.
    Sandra xo

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  11. Hamamelis

    Hi Tara, I think this is the most striking and beautifully written review I have ever read. It contains all my favourite words and qualities…calming, steadfast, unshakeable, grace under fire, deep roots into the ground, quiet inner confidence, inner strength, hope, a chance of renewal after the bleakness of winter, a chance to live! No 19 is one of my best loved perfumes and never has been described more aptly. I have both vintage parfum and EdT (and current EdP and EdT), and they are always right on my skin. I love Heure Exquise too, but I think in the end no 19 surpasses it in its timelessness.

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    • Hamamelis, I think this is the most beautiful comment I’ve ever had! Thank you. It means a lot to hear this from someone who holds No.19 so close to their heart.

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  12. Hayley

    Love this review! Chanel 19 has been on my radar for a while now. I collect boots points and can’t decide if it’s better to use them up on the latest version or hunt a vintage bottle on eBay. Have you any thoughts? I too am glad spring is here am so over winter, thank goodness we’re on light nights now.

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    • Hi Hayley
      Oh yes, the lighter evenings are so good, as much as the clocks changing throws me off for a while.
      As you’ve got Boots points you could spend them on the new version with no worries. If you don’t have enough for the Parfum, try the edt rather them the edp. You can always go for vintage if you decide you love it and want to explore older formulations.

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      • Hayley

        Thank you Tara that is excellent advice! I think I will try and be patient and save for the Parfum. I’ve never had a pure Parfum so it would feel really special and I just can’t splurge £100 but I can with boots points 😉

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  13. I’m totally in love with your description as it sounds nothing like the modern version which I tried several times and just can’t process.

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  14. Everyone has pipped me to it, but I just want to agree that this was a superb and compelling review of what sounds like a remarkable perfume of contrasts. And I agree with Portia’s comment about why you might be drawn to it. I only know the modern-ish edt, but I bet the parfum is a plush marvel by comparison. The other people I thought of who use galbanum in a smooth and not overly sharp way are Puredistance, but it certainly can be a tricky note to woo people with!

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    • The parfum is a plush marvel, V! Very different in character to the edt.

      You’re quite right about Puredistance using galbanum really well. There are no sharp edges to Antonia or Warszawa at all.

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  15. I loved this review, Tara. Unfortunately I never smelled a true vintage version of no 19, and all the newer versions are too harsch. Since the prices for all vintage Chanel are not exactly cheap, I never dared to buy one, especially as I didn’t know what I was looking for neither in terms of smell, or look. Some years are just better than others. Some perfumes can get too old, too young, it takes a bit of investigation, unless of course one is as lucky as you, to be able to try before buying from a dear fried. 😊 you definitely made my curiosity for no 19 come out again, I might meet it some day, until then, I’m off to find my Chamade parfum

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    • Oh I know. It really was the ideal way to buy vintage. I went a bit mad buying these and the Miss Dior edt and parfum, but no regrets. Opportunities like that don’t come along often .
      Enjoy your Chamade. It’s such a stunner.

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  16. I’m not sure if I’m glad or upset that I finally got to read this review! 🙂 I love No 19 in its current (well, 6-7 y.o.) formula and own bottles of EdT and parfum and a decant of EdP. But of course now I want to smell a good vintage version, which I probably shouldn’t do since it’s such a heartache to fall in love with something unobtainable. But I’m so glad that you found your perfect No 19 (and want to shame Chanel for spoiling this beauty).

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    • Oh I totally understand that feeling. I certainly don’t think the current version is bad but it is sad that the old version is so exquisite in comparison. Sometimes it’s better not to know what we are missing.

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