Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Origins of Chypre

Chypre is one of the most esteemed fragrance families and many of the most fascinating perfumes belong to the Chypre family. The term is somewhat of a mystery to the layman and the everyday perfume consumers, and even perfume sales people will often be puzzled by it (and now neither its meaning nor how to pronounce it).

Contrary to the common knowledge, the legendary Francois Coty did not invent the concept of Chypre perfumes. What he did do was modernize these composition with the use of contrasting citrus top notes as well as several synthetics; and also, he has created a solid foundation of popular demand for this magical perfume family with his witty marketing, that has lasted for many years to come.

So when did Chypre perfumes really originate? In the island of Cyprus, of course, and many cenruries earlier. We know about chypre scents being made on the island as early as the 12th century. They made primarily of labdanum resin and mixed with other local aromatics from herbs and flowers. Later on, pastilles or little Oyselets de Chypre (Chypre Birds) were formed from a paste of labdanum, styrax and calamus, mixed with tragacanth. The perfumes in those old days were burned as incense and the birds decorated and scented rooms. It wasn’t until the 14th century that oakmoss was added to these pastilles. A book from 1777 provides perfume formulas for two chypre compositions that included oamoss as well as civet, ambergris, musk and various resins and plant aromatics, including rose and orange blossom.

Image credit: Goat2, originally uploaded by Mareea

P.s. In case you wonder what the goats are all about - not only are they from Cyprus, but also, it was originally from the goats' hair that labdanum resin was combed and that is how it was traditionally collected.

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At October 14, 2006 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just caught this and thank God someone who knows sets the record straight on this! I don't know if Coty even ever visited the island!!
Yet, try to say that to people who know just what they read on boards...

My info is that the Romans created a mix of storax , labdanum and calamus in the island of Cyprus, which gave rise to the Middle Ages and Rennaisance alloys with oakmoss at its base. From then on the recipe got more or less standard.

Thanks for the interesting posts!

At October 15, 2006 10:50 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Chypre is more ancient than 1917. However, Coty's role in the promotion of this scent is extraordinarily important. It is mentioned in at leaast two perfume books that I know of (one is the famous Poucher's book, the other is I think "The History of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel"), that Chypre blends were made much ealier in Cyprus. I can't say I am surprised. Most perfumes are rooted somehow in much deeper history than just a few decades back... And most of it happens to come from the Middle East, Asia and India. That where all the wonderfuly smelly stuff grows naturally.


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