Chypre (french for Cypress) perfumes are one of the the classic fragrance families.
The authorities vary on giving guides to pronouciation. “Sheeprah” is close, but not exact. (I want to say “CHEYE-pruh”…definitely not correct!)
Chypres originated in the Roman Empire as a blend of mossy and animalic raw materials and botanicals. Remnants of Chypre type aromatics have been found in archeological finds. The Romans once produced a perfume in Cyprus that contained storax, labdanum, and calamus. It was dense and almost oriental in feeling and its use continued through the Middle ages, with oakmoss as its base.
On the Island of Cypress, scents were made in the 12th century, using labdanum resin and other local aromatics from flowers and herbs.
Perfumery guides from the 18th century give formulas for Chypre blends containing Oakmoss, Civet, Ambergris, and Musk, as well as various resins and plants, including Rose and Orange Blossom. In the 18th Century Chypre accords were described as mossy-leather blends.
François Coty reintroduced the name chypre in the twentieth century (1917), we are told in attempt to reproduce the aromas found in the Island of Cypress.
Classic chypre formulas are based on four single notes: Bergamot (other citrus oils may be substituted, but Bergamot is the classic), Labdanum, Oakmoss, and (usually!) Patchouli. These form the basic structure…with infinite possibilities and variations.
Modern chypres generally consist of Oakmoss, Patchouli, Labdanum, Angelica, or Clary Sage, with the addition of floral middle notes such as rose-jasmin and a bright, fresh, lightly sweet top note of Bergamot or even Lemon.
The term is usually reserved for blends featuring bergamot in the top notes and oakmoss and amber notes, often with patchouli as well—in the base. This of course leaves the middle wide open…giving room for various categories of chypres:
- Floral Chypres: Rose, Jasmine, Neroli or Orange Blossom, Lavender, Champa, Ylangylang, etc.
- Animalic Chypres: Angelica Root, Black Currant, Calamus,Valerian
- Fresh Chypres: More Citrus — Any citrus oil, Litsea cubeba, Petitgrain, Melissa, Yuzu Absolute, Lemon Verbena oil or absolute
- Green/Herbal Chypres: (Carven’s Ma Griffe was the first commercial “green chypre” and a beloved memory of my teen years.) Geranium, Basil, Tarragon, Helichrysum, Chamomiles, Bay Laurel, Davana, Hyssop, Sage or Clary Sage
- Leather Chypres: Choya Loban, Tobacco Absolute, Cade, Birch tar, Tea Absolute, Angelica
- Coniferous Chypres: Cedar Leaf, Pine Needle, Fir Balsam Absolute and Oil, Silver Fir, Scotch Pine, Cypress Absolute and Oil — any conifer, either absolute or oil, or, most interesting, the pair.
- Woody Chypres: Himalayan or Atlas Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Coriander, Agarwood Oil or CO2, Vetiver, Rosewood, Araucaria, Guaicwood, Carrot Seed