perfume as texture : a tale of mostly chypres

It has been a really long while since I posted. I had sort of promised myself that I wouldn’t post or comment about perfume until I finished a certain piece of work that needed to be finished more than a year ago. I’m still not close to being done with that, but I found this post of mine in the drafts. It was written a while ago (so it doesn’t count as breaking my promise, does it?). But first I was waiting on retesting the scents in question, and then I was waiting on completing the picture credits etc. But I think it is time I just let it go, credit-less and all.

Let’s do a small experiment, shall we?


Suppose that you were given two words : Kiki and Bouba, along with the above two images, and were asked : Which of the above shapes is a ‘Kiki’ and which is a ‘Bouba’?

What would your answer be?

Please answer, before reading further 😀

Did you think the left was ‘Kiki’ and the right was ‘Bouba’ ?

If you did, you joined around 95% of the people in an experiment who thought exactly that.

That sounds have shapes, and that this fact might in turn be the basis of how human language may have evolved, is something I find very intriguing. The way we associate certain sounds, with objects that look a certain way, could have actually contributed to how several languages may have evolved- how cool is that?!

I experience this cross-modal interaction of sensory objects with perfume as well. I am not a hard-wired synesthete but I often ‘see’ an image when I smell perfume. Most chypres, arrive to my nose with a signature : roughened or textured fabric. I pause here to laugh a little, because I just imagined several madame chypres with (textured) suitcases in hand, knocking at my nose, demanding to be let in. Anyway, watery jokes aside, I do associate chypres with a certain texture which ‘tells’ me almost immediately that I am sniffing a chypre. The texture of some rich, animalic chypres (the texture I ‘see’ that is) is not unlike that of a netted golden yellow shawl with a raised pattern. The kind that if you close your eyes and touch will feel a little rough yet not as prickly as a rug. An auditory equivalent to these kind of scents would be a low pitched buzz. Say buzz for 10 seconds continuously – that’s how some of these chypres smell to me (as opposed to the high pitched fizz of aldehydes).

Miss Dior (vintage EDT) smells rich, animalic and orange-golden with some fizz from aldehydes: this is a loosely netted shawl at its glorious textured best. Amouage Jubilation 25 would be less orange, more yellow, with the notes having a ‘closer knit’ so the netted surface is smoother.

Mitsouko (vintage PDT) smells to me a lot like the current extrait but less oily and thick. I distinctly smell clove, not the high pitched clove of Caron Poivre, but a lower hum of spicy clove-y oakmoss which gives it that slightly roughened texture. Not as warm as Miss Dior or Jubilation 25, Mitsouko is more aloof and angular, with a spine that demands one to sit up just a little straighter.

Tom Ford’s Moss Breches, which was my aha- chypre perfume, is  an exception in that it doesn’t ‘look’ yellow to me, but green. I’m probably biased to ‘see’ green because of the moss in its name, but I think it is also because of its more aromatic nature, as opposed to  the fruity or animalic nature of the perfumes described above. Clinique’s Aromatic Elixir is also a green netted shawl but slightly more prickly.

So tell me, how do you identify a perfume as a chypre? Do you clearly smell the oakmoss or is the ‘chypre-ness’ revealed to you more indirectly?


  1. Fist of all, I should say that it’s one of the most unusual and unexpected angles – shapes and texture (the latter one is slightly less unusual since that approach has been previously used by several brands in either inspirations or naming of their perfumes).

    Next, when I looked at those pictures but before reading the task I thought: ok… Angel and Flowerbomb ; -)

    I do not see perfumes either as colors or textures. Or forms. Unless we’re talking about bottles (especially blue ones ; -) ) or color of the juice. On top of that, I’m a bad perfumista: I cannot positively tell chypre from not chypre. And I’m not even talking about those that are arguably chypre. But I’ll be curious to see what others will say.

    (good to see you back – even with a short, not-breaking-your-promise visit)

  2. Hi Lavanya (waves!), nice to see you back blogging again, and spookily I have just left a comment on a post by Bryan of From Pyrgos on this topic. His post was about the difficulty in general of conveying one’s impressions about perfumes and specifically referred to a colour prism system for describing scents that he and Sigrun had been discussing. So I chimed in and said I have real problems knowing what the heck I am smelling, never mind describing it, though I do relate well to perfumes *in textural terms*… So your post really interested me – and yes, I had Kiki as the spiky shape. Which has reminded me that I wrote a post (many moons ago) on ‘Spiky and Fluffy Scents’, though only splitting them into those binary categories.

    To answer your question on chypres, it probably is the oakmoss I latch onto, or maybe just some bitter green earthy quality which could be galbanum or patchouli in some combination, I don’t know. There is a severity about some really old fashioned chypres, for example. But I am rubbish at definitely detecting something is a chypre and there are these more modern fruity ones that can be hard to spot anyway. The more retro and spiky, the easier!

    • *waves back*..I owe you an email..I have composed it in my head so many times but haven’t actually spilled any virtual ink lol. Yes- I remember reading your ‘Spiky and Fluffy scents’ post either around and after I wrote this post (ages ago though- so must revisit). One of the reasons that I postponed this post is that I wanted to actually compare oak moss absolute (which I have on hand) with the ‘oakmossness’ in these perfumes..I don’t think I did that very systematically but the oak moss (on cold sniff) didn’t really evoke too much of the oakmossy-ness that at least I latch on to. So I think you are right that the combination of that something green + oakmoss+ (sometimes) patchouli evokes the sensation of the oak mossy-ness in chypres..if that makes any sense 😀

  3. Interesting topic, Lavanya. When I looked at those shapes, my first impression was to call the one on the right Kiki, but then when my brain took in the less familiar name of Bouba, which has a very round sound to it, in my mind I then saw Kiki as the pointy image on the left and Bouba as the one on the right, and I couldn’t see it any other way after that.

    With chypres, I think the oakmoss weighs on my awareness, but overall, they are revealed to me more indirectly, as you say. And when they do, they have an angularity to them and I see them personified as svelte women with good bone structure … which means that when there is a fruitier, fuller chypre like MDCI Chypre Palatin, I don’t always see the chypre connection. (Chypre Palatin has a more round oriental base that somehow doesn’t equate to chypre to me.) But at any rate, studying my language, I’d say that shape is coupled to the olfactory sense for me more so than texture, though texture is sometimes present and color very much often figures into my perception.

    • How interesting about Chypre Palatin- to me it smelt incredibly chypre-y but I see what you mean. Oh and I just recently realized that Opus I is officially a ‘chypre’ and I certainly don’t find that connection obvious..Even the notes don’t sound particularly chypre-y to me. You?

  4. Tara

    Apologies for lateness, Lavanya! Lovely to see you.

    I am in with the 95%. Fun experiment. I definitely feel chypres are very textured. Not at all smooth. So i smell something “mossy” with an edge to it. I tried Alyssa Harad’s vintage Mitsouko on Tuesday and it was so rich and textured it was quite something. Somewhere between slightly bitter moss and the tang of sea brine.

    • Thanks Tara- and I probably should apologize for my lateness..:) Sea Brine? Interesting. Was it vintage Mitsouko parfum you tried? I have been meaning to get myself a sample of that from STC.

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