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?