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.
How do you feel about No.19?