An Embarrassment of Riches


– A review of Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin

Sometimes on gray ordinary days, those days you expect nothing more scintillating than more of the same gray, the same mundane, the same quotidian wonders of simply being alive and able to breathe, lightning will strike out of nothing and nowhere. Subterranean rumbles shake the bedrock of your soul and new, untold tales will take you unaware.

Any perfumoholic will tell you… these are the moments we breathe for, the revelations we seek, even as we all know one irrefutable fact.

You don’t find revelations so much as they find you.

This happened to me recently on a completely humdrum day, a day of few expectations and less anticipation, rooting around my perfume cabinet looking for the backlog pile, and MDCI’s Chypre Palatin fell into my hand as if planted there by the Fates themselves.

At the time I received it from a perfume fairy, I couldn’t quite decide what I thought about it. All my usual phrases came to mind – decadent, delirious, a throwback, opulent bordering on over-the-top and maybe just a bit… too much for a D-list blogger buried in the Z-list boondocks of northern Europe.

Mind you, as a devoted (if not definitively debauched) Amouage fan, that says something. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure whether I had enough chest hair for this one. My initial impressions were of shaving soap – of a kind sold in 18 karat gold cans with dead-exclusive distribution and three-figure euro price tags – but I felt this needed two glands and one appendage I certainly don’t have even on temporary loan, so back it went into the cabinet and off I moved to other preoccupations.

Yet something tugged insistent at the back of my mind about Chypre Palatin, as if it held a secret that was just beyond my reach at the time. When this happens, it also happens that a perfume I can’t quite grasp will return to haunt me later, and just as with those epiphanies, when I least expect it.

One night over the holidays while buried in a book by Edith Wharton, I dug in the cabinet for something to wear as I read. The Fates decreed it Chypre Palatin, and made the penny drop at some point in the story where I was riveted by the dastardly deeds of the British upper crust. I settled down to read, Hairy Krishna purring on my lap, and…what was that?  That minute-long burst of hyper-expensive shaving soap morphed into something so utterly beautiful, it was like hearing a three-chord death metal guitarist suddenly flip during a soundcheck and break out the first movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale and play it – exquisitely. (True story.)

All associations of shaving soap and lavender machismo were gone, and in their place was a thickly embroidered, three-dimensional tapestry of chypre, the kind of chypre you rarely find any longer, a chypre to live and breathe for.

One distinguishing characteristic of chypres, or should I say, the best ones, is their stubborn refusal to be taken apart, especially in the heart notes. Those who can are better noses and writers than yours truly, but the very best of them are so peerlessly constructed, so seamless and gravity-defying, they exist more as an evolving aura than as an easily decoded mélange of notes that progress from one stage to the next. With the best chypres, there is no linear time travel from point A to point B – they can spiral, circle and even dance around and through their notes, and all you can do is enjoy the scenery  and the story as it unfolds upon your skin.

Chypre Palatin is no exception. After that initial barbershop blast which lasts less time than it takes to tell, this marvel opens wide into a limitless horizon of plush, posh elegance with a surprising fruity-green pulse, a pulse that slowly deepens into a sweetly leathered, mossy animal throb, the kind that would spell danger were it only slightly less refined, and even then, I’m not convinced it doesn’t.

This is not your usual gender-bending masculine-leaning perfume, nothing like those run-of-the-mill ‘chypres’ that pass through the needle of the IFRA these days. This is a defiantly green and definite challenge to all of them. Chypre Palatin has a vintage heritage and a classical structure yet nothing like a vintage feel. It walks an improbable tightrope walk between opaque and translucent from its surprisingly dark opening through that blooming, fruity-floral heart all the way to its rich, brocade-leather-vanilla-moss drydown many, many hours later, and just like Beethoven’s Pastorale, with not one note, one refined phrase, one phase out of place.

On a man of discernment, it would be devastating. On a woman, it is a sublimely elegant revelation. (At least on this woman.) As a perfume, it is, for lack of a better term, as much an embarrassment of riches as the rose petals in Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s painting above, like a moment you look up or around you – and all you can see, all you can sense is beauty everywhere you look and every time you breathe.


Top: Lavender, labdanum, hyacinth, galbanum, sage, clementine, aldehydes

Heart: Iris, jasmine, gardenia, rose, plum

Base: Styrax, benzoin, tolu balsam, vanilla, castoreum, leather, costus, oakmoss and immortelle

Chypre Palatin was made by Bertrand Duchaufour in collaboration with the Creative Director of Parfums MDCI – Claude Marchal. Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin is available directly from the Parfums MDCI website by email request, at First in Fragrance and Luckyscent. Parfums MDCI also has an exquisite sample program of 5 12 ml samples redeemable with any full-bottle purchase.

With deep gratitude to Diane for providing this window of opportunity! For the review of Chypre Palatin I wish I could have written, I recommend Suzanne of the Perfume Journal.

Image: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888).

18 thoughts on “An Embarrassment of Riches

  1. Yes, that line smells like riches. We are fortunate to get to touch the hem of the garments — in other words get our hands on and noses into the samples, even to know that they exist. That day of exquisite pleasure they give you.

  2. Wow you write about this incredibly! I tried it on my skin twice when in Jovoy, at first I thought I loved it – with the leather unexpectedly working it’s way through the entire fragrance, but I found the drydown disappointing – a typical Duchaufour signature slobbed on the bottom 😦 Maybe I need to try it again, but it put me off for a while.
    Still – a very interesting release and a standout chypre (initially at least) for sure 🙂
    Lovely review Genie 🙂

    1. Thank you, Smellythoughts! I know from experience that sometimes, complex perfumes such as Chypre Palatin take a few tries to truly understand, because my first impression was, well…shaving soap! But this really IS a standout and unusual chypre – and how many of those are around any longer? 😉

  3. Really great chypres *are* difficult to describe – I quite agree with you about their refusal to be parsed. 😀 Until I read your review, I thought of Chypre Palatin as smelling more oriental than chypre-like, but now I find myself nodding my head so much in agreement with you that I’m thinking of it differently … almost like a marriage of the two genres … and such a marriage truly is an embarrassment of riches. Gorgeous review, Sheila! (And thanks for the link love.) ❤

    1. I suspect that’s precisely why I love spectacular chypres so much, Suzanne – that they’re impossible to parse, deduce or deconstruct. I remember reading CP described as a “green Oriental chypre” and thinking what on Earth is THAT? But it does indeed combine both categories – and how spectacular is that? 😉 The link love – well, of course! ❤

  4. Hi! I love Amouage too, even though I’m only familiar with Ubar and Gold (Gold is the better of the two imo.) I’m glad you mentioned how embarrassing it is to want to spend $300 and up on perfume. It feels kind of ridiculous to me too. I mean, that kind of expenditure makes more sense with clothes even: at least they cover your body!

    (I’m a hypocrite though. I have Amouage Gold.)

    At first I thought you were talking about an actual shaving soap made by Amouage. I couldn’t stand behind that one at all.

    What book was it by Edith Wharton, btw?

  5. In some places,pricing is evolving to the point of utterly ridiculous – and Amouage exclusives and MDCI aren’t even the worst of them, not even in those portrait-bust bottles. So do you get what you pay for? Well, that’s always a loaded question, but I’d have to say yes, at least with MDCI (and Amouage!) I’m a hypocrite too. 😉 So far as I’ve been able to determine, I’ve never seen a shaving soap with a three-figure euro price tag, but you never know! 😉
    The book was Edith Wharton’s last incomplete novel – The Buccaneers, finished by Marion Mainwaring. Although the happy ending was a bit overdone, the rest of the book was an absolute joy. I came across it in a thrift store, bought it and devoured it!

  6. Not normally my category of perfume, but I really feel I should try it anyway, because of its lack of vintage feel. And my mum was a fan of Edith Wharton, so I always prick up my ears when I hear her mentioned. And who couldn’t be tempted by a bit of “sublimely elegant revelation” on a snowy January day?

  7. I blame you my dear. I tested and reviewed this a while back. After reading your review and then taking out my sample, my credit card came out and I ordered a bottle. After wearing this all weekend all I can say is no regrets. This lasts so long and it’s funny that it does morph and change throughout the day…and surprisingly as the day wears on it becomes more spicy. I thank you, my wallet doesn’t 🙂 xoxxoxox Steve

  8. those “hauntings” are very interesting. Glad you went back to it and would love a sniff someday. Heck, on your recommendation Tarleisio I will buy the beautiful sculpture bottle unsniffed. in my dreams anyway!! xo M

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