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Chic and Chypre: Fragrance and Love and You

Updated on October 24, 2014
TokyoMilk at Marcel
TokyoMilk at Marcel

Two New & You

My first stop was to check out some local shops to see what is happening in the world of perfume that I might like at the moment. I stopped in at the boutique Marcel, on Hope Street in Providence (Rhode Island). There, I found two independent perfumers who are excellent: West Third Brand/Societe de Senteur and TokyoMilk.

TokyoMilk has a great number of perfumes, generally comprised of five distinct notes. Some of the bottles are black with a white illustration printed on the glass, others are clear with a black illustration on the glass. In the duskier darker range I found “Kabuki”, “Dead Sexy”, and “Eden” – all of which had a delightfully complex rather spicy chord, which ended as a warm, dry smell that is both distinctive and very wearable. “Dead Sexy”, my favorite by far, is dark and musky and oaky and smells like skin and rumpled sheets and oak furniture and fireplaces and making love in the afternoon. It doesn’t smell too much like fragrance; so it’s not perfumy or heavy as I would have expected it to be.

The mark of a good perfumer is when perfume doesn’t smell like perfume at all but rather mixes naturally and synergistically with your natural body oils, which are variable from person-to-person (which is why the same fragrance will smell different depending on who is wearing it). Another factor in how perfume smells is not just the quality of essential oils used to make the fragrance (synthetics will never replace true essential oils in perfumery no matter how we try: some smells are near impossible to duplicate and even if one does manage to do it the success is short-lived and the note turns to a false or sour or overly sweet note. True essential oils may change but they retain their basic character and integrity. “Dead Sexy” comes in a clear glass bottle with a skull and crossbones on the front. All of TokyoMilk’s fragrances come in chic black or clear bottles with a simple illustration that varies for each fragrance. The line is affordable, not too difficult to find, and endlessly wearable.

Tokyo Milk products can be found at select retailers (Sephora is one, if in Providence visit Marcel) or on the company Web site.

Marcel also introduced me to West Third Brand who are excellent makers of perfume. The company was founded in 2008 as a base platform for nose Michael Loring Probst to create his signature fragrances. You can find all of the West Third Brand fragrances on the company Web site.

Societe de Senteur

Societe de Senteur was created in 2013. At Marcel on Hope Street you’ll find of “First Arrow”, “Road Trip”, “Love First”, and “Beautiful Savages” (which has a distinct tuberose top-note that echoes to the tuberose-intense “Fracas” ) all by West Third Brand/Society de Senteur.

“Love First” was the most memorable of all of these fragrances. It has a very elusive, hard to capture top-note of really fresh lilac that is still damp with the night’s dew or with rain. Unlike a lot of perfume oils that smell very dry if not really pure or if synthetic, Societe de Sentuer’s “First Love” retains a distinctive wet lilac smell. “First Love” is a blend of tamarind blossom & pepper with subtle hints of rose, cranberry plus wood notes blended with patchouli hints of vanilla, black violet, and cacao flower.

Fans of more woody notes with hints of tobacco and leather will want to check out “Road Trip” which has a rich, layered effect and smells like a fabulous love affair with a backdrop of a vintage car with real wood panels and aged leather interior and of silk and skin. Incredibly sexy with individual notes of white musk, patchouli, and star anise hints of iris, osmanthus layered with sandalwood, vetiver, and cedar.

You can check out the perfume notes in all of West Third’s fragrances by clicking on the perfume you are interested in at the company’s Web site at To see all fragrances made by West Third visit the main company page.

La Legende de Shalimar | A Film by Guerlain

Classics: Forever New

Some classics that I turn to again and again and that have the most natural smell to my nose are “Chanel No. 5” (women), “Chanel Pour Homme” (men); “Eau Savage” (unisex but made for men), “Shalimar”, “Nuit de Noel” by Caron, “L’heure Bleu” by Guerlain, and almost anything made by the London-based perfumer Penhaligon’s.

Most of what I prefer falls into the chypre family of fragrances, a term derived from the French word for Cyprus. All chypre fragrances are comprised of the following combination of essential oils: bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum. This family of fragrances is named after a perfume by Francois Coty. Some famous chypre fragrances are “Mitsouko”, “Chanel No 19”, “Chanel No 5”, “Aqua de Parma”, “Ivoire” de Balmain.

Chanel, Chanel


The group of Chanel fragrances are excellent and I think can be worn by men or women. I long made a habit of wearing Chanel’s fabulously light and not-at –all cloying men’s fragrance, “Chanel Pour Homme”. Like “Chanel No. 5” or the greener No. 19 or the more powdery (but I think discontinued) No. 22, “Chanel Pour Homme” just smells the way skin should smell. It smells a little powdery a little musky sort of light but not too light and most of all it smells clean without having a heavy citrus or ozone note. Chanel No. 5 is the same way: powdery light, sort of brings to mind orris root. You can find most of the Chanel fragrances either online or at fine department stores. Once in a while I find one at a drug store somewhere, particularly in larger and older drug stores in really urban areas. They seem to always be covered in a layer of dust and hidden in the back shelf, as if no-one wanted them. The truth is few people think to look at Walgreens or Rite Aid and it’s the smart shopper who asks (I’ve had them retrieved from the back room, their perfect white boxes layered with store-room dust). If you want to be sure, though, check out Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus or Macy’s or most big department stores. You can also almost always find them for sale online and there are many companies who make essential oil blends that are facsimiles or “like” these fragrances but without the alcohol.

Colonial Drug: Where To Find It

Colonial Drug: Where To Find It

You can find pretty much any perfume or cologne or fragrance at Colonial Drug. Colonial Drug was (and still is) famous. It For more than sixty years, Colonial existed as a little shop in in Cambridge Massachusetts not too far from Harvard that had big, glass-front windows and inside shelves of glass and wood that were layered with rare and exotic perfumes. I used to go in there and smell everything – they had fragrances that had long been discontinued and others that were just plain hard to find. This fact and the fact of their very caring employees and owners (who seemed always to be working) made Colonial perhaps the best place to go if you were either already educated about fragrance and knew what you were looking for OR if you weren’t but wanted to find someone who was. Either way, you couldn’t lose at Colonial.

They have since moved (sadly closing their Harvard Square doors in 2012), they are now based in Newton, Massachusetts at 360 Watertown Street Rte 16, Newton, MA 02458. You can reach them by phone at: (617) 864-2222.

Madame Rochas and Femme

I used to find “Madame Rochas”, a fabulous fragrance for women at Colonial Drug. It was actually the fragrance “Femme” by Rochas that attracted me to this company. Madame Rochas was first created by Guy Robert in about 1960 then it reappeared in 1989 in a second formulation. The fragrance is a complex blend of aldehydes, bergamot, lemon and neroli at the top. The middle notes are flowery: jasmine, rose, tuberose, Lily-of-the-valley, Oriss root, ylang-ylang, violet and narcissus, whilst the base touches us with sandalwood, vetiver, musk, along with the accords of cedar, oakmoss and tonka beans. I tend to think of Rochas as slightly more feminine than most of the chypre family of fragrances and quite grown up and quite feminine without being flowery.

The best fragrance by Rochas to my mind remained, however, the complex “Femme” which had top-notes of peach mixed with cumin which produced such a wonderful and unexpected and very sort of antique smell, really traditional and sexy without being overwhelming at all. I’d still buy it but be warned that the formulation has changed and there are quite a few complaints among those in the know who knew the fragrance in it’s original formulation. I can only speak to the old formulation (look for “Femme” by Rochas circa in 1989, apparently the last year in which the original formulation was made) which was fantastic and can probably still be found if you’re willing to do a little leg-work.


In other classic fragrances that are versatile I like “Shalimar” which is woody and mellow and oakmossy and smoky without being too tobacco heavy. “Shalimar”, made by Guerlain, was created in 1925 by Jacques Guerlain to honor the love between Emperor Shahjahan and hjis wife Mumtaz Mahal. The story has it that Prince Khurram (Shagjahan) was in his twenties when he became entranced by a young girl whose name was Arjumand Banu. Utterly under Arjumand’s spell, the prince married her and her name was changed to Mumtaz Mahal (which means Jewel of the Palace). The couple were largely inseparable and lived a a near-perfect love until Shahjahan died when giving birth to their fourteenth child. Utterly devastated, the Prince built the Taj Mahal as a tribute to his wife and their unending love. The perfume “Shalimar” derives its name from The Gardens of Shalimar, which was Mumtaz’s favorite garden. It is a blend of lemon, bergamot, jasmine, may rose, oppoponax, tonka bean, vanilla, iris, Peru balsam, and grey amber.

“Shalimar” is a classic and you can find it online or in most department stores and most of the time at your local CVS pharmacy (most have a perfume case in which the perfumes are locked up – ask someone at the counter for help). Fortunately “Shalimar” is still in it and is still very affordable. You can purchase “Shalimar” online very easily at this retailer and at Macy’s which has all “Shalimar” products, including the body cream which in this case is actually quite worth it. The same is true for “Femme” by Rochas which has an excellent body cream.

Chanel No. 19

In the greener notes I really like “Chanel No. 19” which is a green, chypre fragrance. It comes in a silver bottle, has quite a strong top note of galbanum. You may or may not like the smell of galbanam. The first requirement is that you like most chypre smells. “Chanel No. 19” boils down to a really sexy skin smell that has always smelled to me like the way a sexy confident and natural woman ought smell. At first application “Chanel No. 19” always makes me think of Paris or New York City in the summer and how my neck always gets slighty damp below the hairline. It is like that and a simple ivory silk blouse and clear skin and light eyes and gin and tonic. It isn’t trying to be sexy yet it succeeds where many (if not most) other fragrances that are trying to be sexy fail. Perhaps that is because like most things that are sexy and most people who have any charisma, it seems effortless even if it isn’t. It should seem effortless. Trying too hard almost never succeeds. There is an almost unstudied casualness behind true chic.

You can find all of the still-current Chanel fragrances and special offers on the company’s Web site at and some more information about Chanel fragrances at Fragrantica.

Fragrance and fragrance oils and scents in general, whether candles or perfume or skin lotions or even cleaning products, change my day and how I feel and whether or not I am productive and happy and even some major life events as I began this article, like falling in love (or not).

Change your world today by finding the fragrance that is absolutely right for you. I’ve listed some of my favorites here – so stay sweet and chypre and fall in-love and keep an eye out for my next piece on scented and perfumed candles and fragrance oils (and burners) for the home.


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