A review of Chanel no. 19
Indulge me for a moment. Imagine the year is 1982. The location Copenhagen, Denmark. Nothing like the Hipsterville it is today, nothing like the romantic, copper-roofed old Nordic city seen in movies, but a dire, dour downer of a town. Unemployment is high, spirits are low, and an entire generation is busy declaring they have no future at all with all the passion of the very young and disillusioned.
Picture this: Hanging around the fringes of political activism, underground art, the squatter’s movement and general malaise is quite possibly the world’s cleanest punk. Second-hand Doc Martens, fourth/fifth and sometimes sixth-hand clothes hanging by one thread, black of course. This young lady – for that she is – has few hopes of anything much at all, and maladjusted doesn’t even begin to describe her. She’s eighteen going on nineteen going on a very crotchety ninety, a dangerous age, getting into scrapes, getting into trouble, getting arrested at demonstrations for her fast and furious mouth, hurling old toilet commodes out of the windows of squatted buildings at the police who are there to kick her out, along with her closest eighty rabid activist friends.
When she’s not wreaking havoc with her fellow anarchists, she hangs out in one haven for the misfits and Misfits fans, a book café in a side street that never sells that many books, but people club together for vegan potluck lunches, argue about music and political theory, and where to run if the cops crash the next squat.
Remember, she’s arguably the world’s cleanest punk. Despite her demeanor, despite the forbidding eye makeup and the safety pins and the scuffed boots and bitten fingernails, she is scrupulously clean. Her beloved grandmother did not crawl out of the gutter of the working class just so she could wallow in her own brand of dirt. That, too, gets her into trouble, because soap and water are so oppressing, so bourgeois. So not punk. And there’s that other thing, that other not-cool thing to do that she does – she wears perfume.
One day, when no one is looking and she has a little cash that didn’t go into the communal anarcho-syndicalist potluck/LP/herbal tea kitty, cash she didn’t say she has, she sneaks into a local department store feeling in the mood for something sneaky and stealthily subversive. Two hugely guilty if very happy hours later, she leaves – with a bottle of Chanel no. 19 eau de toilette.
Sure enough, one warm spring day just after her nineteenth birthday, her sometime boyfriend notices an aura that has nothing in common with stale beer, herbal tea or cigarette smoke. Being her boyfriend, he makes a comment, and the poor girl is instantly lambasted for supporting such a capitalist, commercial enterprise as Chanel. Suddenly, even her very political stance is called into question – because of her perfume. She may be a punk – but she’s also a g-i-r-l. At age nineteen, someone finally notices!
Stealth subversion at its finest. A punk in French perfume, and not just any perfume, but Chanel no. 19, as opposed to the far more common no. 5.
These far too many years later, and the former punk is no longer quite so angry or so defensive. All these many years later, she still wears Chanel no. 19, whenever she’s in the mood for a little subversion. It calms her, grounds her and focuses her attention on the things that really matter.
Taking over the world, for instance. She can name at least two occasions where her qualifications – and possibly her Chanel no. 19 – landed her some very high profile jobs.
Chanel no. 19 is a chilly, green and even slightly intimidating perfume. The kind of perfume you’d imagine Sigourney Weaver wearing in ‘Working Girl’ – not compromising on femininity, or much of anything else, for that matter. It’s a take it or leave it scent, from the first cool, muted burst of galbanum to the far dry-down of earthy vetiver, and all the silky-smooth stages of iris and rose in between. It has no need to be loud, no need to wear its heart on its dark green sleeve, but you will notice it, you will pay attention and you will do as she bids you – or else. The perfect scent for Ms. Phrigidaire.
The different concentrations offer a surprising evolution of the same scent. The parfum is like cold, slippery, gray-green satin, emphasizing the happy marriage of iris and rose. The eau de parfum is less focused on the rose/iris and more on the leathery, vetiver and oakmoss base notes, whereas the eau de toilette is lighter, with more of a galbanum kick and a flirtier, more lemony iris middle.
It has certainly been reformulated due to IFRA restrictions. The Chanel no 19 I remember at age 19 was much richer, more faceted and less fleeting than the one you can find today, but having said that, some loves last well beyond the age of nineteen. Even this one.
Notes according to Basenotes
Galbanum, Bergamot, Neroli, Hyacinth .
Rose, Orris, Jasmine, Narcissus, Muguet, Ylang-Ylang.
Musk, Sandal, Oakmoss, Leather, Cedarwood .
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