My life with Chanel No 19

I’m not a person of remarkable talents but I do seem to have been born with a taste for good fragrance. Witness: Chanel No 19 was one of the first fine fragrance I ever bought.

I was a fragrance snob then (why? I was not a snob in anything else, I hope) and wanted the best, so I tried Chanel No 5. It smelled like cosmetic powder to me, and anyway, I was a serious-minded girl and wanted to take the road less travelled. I bought my first 50 mls of Chanel No 19 in about 1986, when I was 21. A few years later I bought the parfum – and was disappointed. I liked its depth and richness much less than the EDT’s sparkling edge, and it didn’t last on my skin as long as I thought a parfum should. Still, I wore them both often until somewhere in the early or mid-90s, when I stopped.

I don’t know why. I was wearing other things. White Linen. Magie Noire. Eau de Givenchy. Paloma Picasso. Pleasures. I cranked up my interest in No 19 in about 1999, when I asked a friend to pick some up for me Duty Free. I got the EDP, and again, I was disappointed. Somehow it made me sad, where the EDT never did. Still a fragrance snob, I was puzzled. The deeper the concentration, I thought, the better the fragrance. (The longer a book, the better it is likely to be … ?)

So I stopped wearing the No 19 again, and almost stopped wearing perfume altogether. This was when my children were small, we had hardly any money, and I felt selfish indulging myself in perfume. I did discover a retailer that sold perfume miniatures and, guiltily, picked up Arpege, and Cristalle, and a few others.

When my husband announced that he was leaving me for someone else, one of the first things I did was go out and buy myself a bottle of Diorissomo. Yep, classy. Slowly, as my finances sorted themselves out, I began to buy perfume more often, with much less guilt (still some left). The rest is common perfumista history. I discovered blogs, online discounters, The Perfumed Court. You can all chime in now, as we all start singing off the same song sheet at some point don’t we?

As my collection grew I had to sort it, and about a year ago I was staggered to discover on various shelves and shoe boxes that I had three – three! – long-forgotten bottles of Chanel No 19 EDT, in the old 50 ml dab-on bottles. One I had emptied. It had sat on workstation at work for years until I changed jobs and chucked it in a box with old pens and pencils and stained coffee cups. The second and third bottles still had plenty left in each. I don’t know why I replaced the second with a third except that maybe the second had started to turn, and I assumed it was no good. I have no memory at all of using so much No 19. How I must have slathered it on; I must have been almost pouring it on my breakfast cereal. How I managed to afford it during those years when I was a student, it is another mystery.

Now I know two things. Firstly, that the EDT is beautiful. Period. And secondly, that ‘turned’ perfume is often quite fine. It takes only a minute or so for the damaged top notes to fade, and the perfume proper to emerge. One of my No 19 EDTs is a clearer green than the other. Strangely, perhaps, it seems to be a bit more damaged than the other, but not much.

It is probably the bitterness of galbanum that makes the EDP and parfum seem ‘sad’ to me. I value them now for their deep, leathery dignity, as indeed I value sadness, for I have known it. The parfum is nearly gone, but before it died I bought, as a Christmas present to myself in 2010 (hurrah!), a new 3.5 ml of the parfum (part of a Chanel set). It is drier, harsher perhaps, but still lovely.

I have restored the empty No 19 bottle to my office desk, and am happy to say that I favour short books, and No 19 in the EDT version. The EDT came out before the EDP, and this explains why those gorgeous magazine ads do not suggest ice maiden or boardroom bitch at all, but are all vivacity, wit and sparkle. I can see how this was done deliberately to distinguish No 19 from the tradition-laden No 5. No 19 was called ‘The Unexpected Chanel’.

Many reviewers of No 19 have politely declined to accept Tania Sanchez’s opinion that No 19 is a ‘wire mother’ fragrance. Barbara of Yesterday’s Perfume finds it ‘both light and dark at the same time, like the moss, damp leaves, and mushrooms on a forest floor shaded by a canopy of trees.’ Witchy rather than bitchy, in other words.

Anyway, I have been wearing No 19 for pushing on 25 years now, on and off. I can boast of wearing vintage, but not because I’ve trawled eBay for it, but because I bought it new so long ago. I try a lot of different fragrances all the time now, but it is wonderful to have such a long history with just this one.

And I’m intrigued. In the US, the EDP is not always available;at the moment is in limited release. Here in Australia it has always been available, as far as I know. Odd. So: many of you reading this may know the EDT better than the EDP. Does the EDP come as a surprise?

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35 thoughts on “My life with Chanel No 19

  1. What a beautiful post! Thank you!
    I enjoyed reading about your history with N° 19.
    You made me get out my sample of the EdT again and re-aquaintance myself with its green witchiness (I am not in the wire-mother camp either).
    Over here all incarnations are and always have been readily available as far as I know.

    1. Thanks Olfactoria, glad you enjoyed it, and that it has sent you back to No 19.

      Off topic: I have really enjoyed your reviews of Hermes’s Jardin fragrances. All ready to go on the ‘Toit’ addition now!

  2. I loved reading your no. 19 story – some fragrances follow us through our lives. For it it has been no. 5. I got is as a gift when I was still in my teens. The buyer probably the best thing he knew of and was recommended, and I knew nothing about perfume, so I didn’t know that I “should” not like no. 5 at age 17 or 18. And I loved it! I wore all the way through my 20s as a poor student and my denim jackets and backpack were all no. 5 scented.

    I came to no. 19 about 3 years ago – I wanted something classy and classic and something with iris. I got all that. And I bought the EdP. I don’t think I really considered the EdT and I don’t know why. So for me no. 19 is the EdP and I still love to wear it. It’s been one of the probably three perfumes that have gotten the most use over the past few years. It never lets me down and it lasts all day on my skin. The last leathery green and dry drydown before I go to bed is deeply satisfying. I can also see myself getting interested in the EdT simply as a matter of my appreciation of the fragrance.

    Incidentally, the EdP came into my life at the same time that Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile did. A friend passed hers on to me because she found it too heavy. I don’t. I like heavy iris, it seems. But it’s never a toss up between no. 19 and Iris Nobile. No. 19 serves as a backbone, a kind of support and confidence when I need it. Iris Nobile is a different experience – it seems more outgoing and more in need of a bit of supervision from me.

    1. Thanks Marie, I love stories like yours, especially the idea that a fragrance follows us through our lives – how true! As a young person, you obviously had fully formed taste in good perfume too. A denim jacket scented with No 5 sounds perfect.

      Thanks for the mention of Iris Nobile. I have not explored the Acqua di Parma line all that much, so I’ll keep an eye out for it. Is it the EDT or the EDP that you have?

  3. Yes, I was a luxuriously scented poor student 🙂 A fellow student used to say that I was the only person she’d ever met whose very student like backpack let out a wave of Chanel no. 5 whenever I opened it! That fragrance just sticks to everything I touch and in that respect it is perfect for me.

    I have the EdP of Iris Nobile, but I don’t know the EdT at all. I really like IN – it is luxurious and very feminine in my opinion, not in a young and lets-go-dancing kind of way, but classically feminine. If one loves iris, that is 🙂 As is the case with no. 19, it’s a fragrance I’ve never regretted wearing, but must be applied with a lighter hand than no. 19. Again, I’m refering to the Edps, as I don’t know the EdTs.

    I’m quite happy about having a life scent, because it means that it will never really be ruined by any particular event (at least I hope not) – heart ache in particular seems to be able to ruin a fragrance for you, I’ve had that happen a few times, but those were fragrances I hadn’t worn for a very long time. I think that no. 5 has seen so many ups and downs that I doesn’t stick to any particular memory. I have the sense that the same could happen with no. 19. And there are a couple of other scents I’m willing to fight for and declare above hard times related ruining.

    1. I like that term ‘life scent’. I’m definitely checking out that Iris Nobile. Still, I’m cautious about falling down the ‘iris note’ rabbit hole, as it sounds like an expensive one. Of all the scent notes to be obsessed by, iris is the big one!

  4. I too am a lover of no 19, and I have only the EDT. In fact, I’ve never even smelled the EDP or parfum, though I would like to.

    It’s beautiful and so easy to wear; I reach for it when I want to feel uplifted and bold. Also, I wore it quite a bit when I was testing Puredistance Antonia—as a side-by-side comparison tool, and I found that 19 really held its ground next to that luxury extrait.

    Thank you for sharing your story Anne-Marie!

    🙂

  5. When I got interested in perfume again after a long period of deprivation, three years ago, I started with a sampler of Chanel classics from TPC. No. 5 I was familiar with, it having been my mother’s scent, so I chose Bois des Iles, No. 19, Cristalle, and No. 22, all in edt. I expected to love No. 22 best, but it was the first one I tried, and the one I kept going back to, huffing my wrist the way we do…

    Then came the ebay searches. I bought a small bottle of edt labeled “vintage” – when it arrived, it was bright green and smelled much less interesting than my TPC sample. And then I bought another small bottle of vintage edt (legitimately vintage, this time), one of eau de cologne, and a small bottle of parfum, before finding an older bottle in its silver case.

    I love it. And forget the “wire mother” nonsense – it’s all Booted Adventuress, with a spine of steel and joy in her heart.

    I did recently try the edp at the Rome airport Duty Free – both times I went through there! – and found the edp softer, with less galbanum and more rose. The CEO does not care much for the varieties of No. 19 that I own, but he expressed pleasure in the edp. I was disappointed to find, though, that it doesn’t last more than about three hours on me, not even when sprayed on my scarf.

    1. Ah, now the EDC is one form I don’t have. I’ll keep an eye out for it (not that I need it, as you can see!). I once had the soap, and it was lovely, but I don’t think they make it any more. Occasionally on blogs I’ve seen people sigh nostalgically over the No 19 soap. I agree that the EDP is softer and rosier. I wonder if I have a spine of steel? Sometinmes, maybe …

      Cristalle is another one where there are significant differences in EDT / EDP , or so I have heard? I’ve only smelled the EDP.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful post, Anne-Marie. I think perfume accompanies us through the happy and the sad, and I know from experience that I can resignify a perfume’s meaning if I love it and I unluckily wore it when something sad happened.

    I only have the EDP, but it is a melancholy scent to me, too! I’m going to have to give the EDT a try and see what else I can find in it. I love No. 19, but it’s a moody fragrance, not something to wear lightly (even though it’s subtle).

    I have to say, the pictures of those Chanel No. 19 bottles are giving me the shivers. I. Need. Chanel. No. 19. NOW!

    🙂

    1. I adore that ad with the girl in the white and black dress. It’s my favourite perfume ad ever. You can have fun on YouTube with No 19 ads, too. Yes, do try the EDT; I’d be interested to hear what you think.

  7. Geez, Anne Marie…talk about nostalgia in a bottle! 😉 That photo – and all those gorgeous ads – brought back memories I never even knew I remembered.

    I came to no. 19 at age…19 (cliché, I know!), in the EdT version, and for a while, I was Copenhagen’s best-smelling anarchist! While I’ve often strayed off the no. 19 straight-and-narrow since then, I’ve loved it without fail and in any version ever since, have never been without a bottle since and stuff Tania Sanchez’ ‘wire mother’. I’m pretty certain no. 19 in the EdP landed me not one but two very good jobs, a few dangerous liaisons and broken hearts on both sides of the Atlantic. Why? It’s THAT…good!

    The EdT, which many prefer, seems to highlight the green/iris facets, but I actually like the EdP better – and so far as I know, it has always been available in Europe since at least the 90s, when I switched concentrations. The EdP on me is deeper, more leathery and rosier and not a little chillier, but that suits me just fine. Some days I want a little chill. The drydown is divine, it lasts all day and never gets tired – what can I add that you haven’t already said?

    Oh. Yes. That I never hope to be without it. Ever. If that’s not a classic, what IS? 🙂

    1. Man! You are the one who should be writing the ‘My life with No 19’ post! I’ve lived in a very placid little stream. Reminds me that that Katie Puckrick goes back a long way with No 19, too, I think.

      You and Marie (above) are right – a fragrance that can stick you through all sorts of life situations and moods has to be good. Its several concentrations mean that it has very wide appeal. The EDP is chilly – good description.

      Tania Sanchez is of course entitled to her opinion, but few people who are serious about perfume seem to agree with her. A pity, if it puts budding perfumistas off the scent.

  8. This sentence is brilliant in capturing so much, so simply.

    “When my husband announced that he was leaving me for someone else, one of the first things I did was go out and buy myself a bottle of Diorissomo.”

    And I must second (or third) the Iris Nobile. I’m not normally an iris person, but IN has such clarity and elegance (for me, but I’m admittedly not very elegant!) that I find myself reaching for it often, and especially when I want something that will be interesting but widely inoffensive. 🙂

  9. AM, all this no. 19 talk has led to my purchasing a bottle of EDP.

    I don’t know if this counts, technically, as an unsniffed purchase, since me and the EDT are already good friends… but resistance was futile!!! I didn’t stand a chance 😉

    1. Oh wow! Okay, I have to take full responsibility don’t I? (Tremble.) But how exciting! A new bottle of a Chanel is always a big moment. You must let us know what you think.

      1. Yep, I’m holding you responsible 😉 Well, you and Tarleisio, because she’s a ‘lifer too! LOL.

        Don’t worry, I’ll let you know all about it (with pictures too) as soon as it arrives! Priority mail should take less than a week…

        Yay! 🙂

          1. LOL, yes, I am on a strict budget!

            April is the first month that I am back to my normal budget—Memoir ate up February and March… and I still have $50 left for the month of April! Hooray! That means samples and maybe a split!

            It’s good to know I’ve got friends to keep me accountable 🙂

            xo

  10. Thanks Lisa, much appreciated.

    Okay, I’m heading over to TPC right now to dump a sample of Iris Nobile in the cart. Interesting but widely inoffensive – yes! Silences is good for that too. Wore it yesterday.

  11. How lovely to see those old square-based bottles again! If I remember rightly my empty bottles (four, I think) are still resting unstoppered in the back of my mother’s dressing table drawers like smooth scented rocks in the dark among her soft things – and I think there may be a dab on stoppered rectangular one there amongst them. I was quite young when, after many ‘experiments’, I realised that No 19 was the only fragrance that didn’t give me a super migraine. It’s still the same today, as though I was physiologically put together for No 19 only. I have grown up with this perfume – from girl to woman to mother to wife – a much needed constant in my life. And now even as I type, the EDP lingers on top of my left hand just above my wrist where it likes to sit best. Yes I have given it a persona, weirdly enough for me, it has one. But to me it’s not bewitching, but ethereal but grounded. I have told my family to sprinkle me with No 19 when I leave this earth. So many times I walk into a wafting scent that my own grandmother wore. She passed away many many years ago but there’s no denying that her perfume (yes good old 4711) serves a connection of some sort for me and weirdly ‘she’ seems to manifest in my lowest moments. I believe scents are a part of our subconscious and details a memory so much faster than just mind recollection. Even my saddest memories, that burst to mind in a combination of fragrance and setting or fragrance and action, are good memories because those experiences were/are my life. So thank you annemariec for the square-based bottles. I love having No 19 near me and I am forever spilling my No 19 trying to get it into a small atomiser to carry in my handbag. I recently saw that No 19 came in a teeny 3.5ml parfum and tried to buy it but found it nowhere except via the internet. I don’t buy Chanel via the internet as I don’t want a fake. If anyone out there knows where I can buy the real deal I would be so grateful if you would let me know. Also just for the Chanel mums out there. What do you tell your 7yo son, who while cleaning your dressing table, drops your 3/4 full 100ml bottle of EDP Chanel No 19 onto the wooden floor and gurgles out all bar 1cm at the bottom of the bottle? Do you say ‘I love you more’, soak up the spill and roll on the white floor stain every time you feel like it?

    1. Oh goodness! Not much you could say to your son, I think. Your horror as you clean up the spill would be enough to communicate to him his mistake! (If he was 17, that would be another matter: he could mow lawns until he had bought you a new bottle!)

      What a wonderful story you have with No 19. Have you tried the various concentrations? I especially like your phrase “I was physiologically put together for No 19 only”. And I agree that perfume and memory are deeply connected. I’ve certainly had the experience of perfume reminding me of memories I didn’t know I had.

      I love to dab perfume and miss dab-on bottles now that they are rarely produced. I think I got this from my mother, who was outraged in the 80s when her favourite perfume came out as a spray. There is something so perfect about the shape and proportions of the old Chanel bottles.

      Those 3.5 ml bottles of extrait come in a set with other Chanel extraits, so you can’t buy them individually, as far as I am aware. You do see them on eBay going very cheaply and I would certainly bought one myself if I had not decided to get the whole set. I could be wrong of course, but I doubt anyone would go to the bother of faking them on eBay because they would surely not make much money out of them. I mean, I’ve seen them selling for about $30 – not much profit to be had there, for all your trouble. If you spot a seller who sells them regularly – I think there was someone once who carried them often – keep an eye on his/her feedback. If they are selling fakes, someone is bound to say something?

      Anyway, thanks Phi for your comment. It is always great to ‘meet’ another No 19 lover.

    2. Adding: you can buy online little funnels for perfume decanting. Sorry if you knew that already.

      1. LOL – If he was 17 he would not have come near my dressing table! Hahaha. I wore the different concentrates when first deciding which No19 was me (many years ago). I’ve been using the EDP for about 25yrs now but should give the other concentrates another try because my skin balance has most probably changed. Has anyone ever noticed a slight change in the fragrance during their years of using No19? I noticed it during the 80s and when I investigated I learned that due to goings on in the Middle East a certain ingredient (galbanum I think) was not available so Chanel altered No 19. It is still a stunning fragrance though but I wish I could go back in time to just get a sniff of the original version. Of course I have now completely forgotten the original fragrance. Sigh… Re the 3.5ml, yes I think I’ll give ebay a go. Hope all will be ok. I had a funnel but lost it – I will have to get another one – I can’t bear to waste more precious drops!

        1. Yes, I’ve read that story somewhere that early in its history, No 19 had to go to a lower grade of galbanum. Happens a lot of course.

          I love vintage perfume, but one of the reasons I love new and niche stuff as well is that it (hopefully) is made of raw materials that are and will be available and sustainable now and in the future.

          Good luck with your 3.5 mls!

  12. Such a great post… I discovered No. 19 when I was 19 as well! It was my first grown-up perfume. I had the EDT. It was my conquer-the-world scent. What’s odd, though, is over the years No. 19 seems to be the one Chanel that goes bad faster than any other scent I’ve owned. It never used to be that way. I recall wearing it for years, getting compliments, buying the refills, and then BAM! one day, it just smelled sour right from the start. I went through several new refills but each only seemed to last a couple of months before it was “off” as well. Sigh… The EDP seemed to do the same thing. Do I need the parfum?

    Can we collective strangle the person who decided to change Cristalle, which I’ve always thought of as a cousin to No. 19? It was persfect in its green-ness before someone decided it needed an overdose of the honeysuckle. I don’t even see the EDT any more, just the too-sweet EDP.

  13. Of course you need the parfum! Every No 19 lover should try it! 🙂 Seriously tho’, you can often pick up a 3.5 ml mini of the parfum on eBay. At Xmas Chanel releases a gift set of five of its parfums, including No 19, and these seem to get broken up and sold as individual items on eBay. Last time I looked No 19 was going for about $US30.

    I can’t account for your No 19 going off so quickly. I’ve had mine for years and it is generally okay, although the top notes in my vintage EDT have turned a bit. Did you get your recent ones discounter which had not been storing them correctly, I wonder? I’ve never heard of that happening but it’s the only explanation I can think of. Chanel quality control is usually exemplary.

    A lot of people complain that they don’t see the EDT of Cristalle any more, just the EDP. I prefer the EDT, as I know a lot of people do. But Strawberrynet is selling 60 and 100 ml bottles of the EDT, I think.

  14. Chanel No 19 is a lovely fragrance that I enjoy a lot. I like the edt but the edp is richer with more rose and iris. To me the iris is lipsticky if that makes any sense. The downside is the edt doesn’t last very long on my skin. I enjoyed reading about your long history with No 19.

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