29 In Beauty/ Style/ Substance

Chanel No. 19 and The “Ultimate Accessory”

Chanel No. 19 and pearls

Last week my toddler had chicken pox, so we spent the whole week self-quarantined in our house, trying to find imaginative ways to distract and entertain our way out of both cabin-fever and genuine fever.  I was shattered from late-night wake-ups and the many extra hours that seem to be added to the day when looking after a sick child… hence no blog posts until now!

I did briefly escape the House of Pox for a trip to nearby Westfield, where I could quickly stock up on some necessities.  While I was there, I stopped at a Chanel counter and (waiting impatiently for a salesperson that never came) I spritzed myself with an old favourite of mine, Chanel No. 19.  That single spritz carried me back thirty years on its wings of fine mist, making me instantly feel like a sulky, bored-in-a-small-town, teenager again. As you probably know, the olfactory neurons in our upper noses connect to the nearby limbic system (responsible for memories and feelings) in our brains, so scent is intimately connected with our emotions. This is why scents like a familiar perfume, freshly cut grass, a baby’s skin, a cedar chest, cookies baking, rain on warm asphalt, and a host of other things (like Proust’s madeleine) can be so loaded with powerful feelings and rich memories for us.  While I know this on an intellectual level, it is still a shock to see how instantly my mind and heart time travel with scent.

Anyway, back to Chanel No. 19…  When I was a teenager, my father frequently travelled abroad for work.  On one of his trips to Paris, he went to the perfume counter at a department store and asked a saleswoman to help him select one perfume for me, one for my sister, and one for my mother.  She asked him to describe our personalities so that she could get a sense of us and help him choose the right perfume for each of us.  For my mother, they chose Joy by Jean Patou (which I used to steal from time to time as a teenager when I wanted to feel fancy).  For my sister, they chose Guerlain’s Shalimar.  And for me, they chose Chanel No. 19.  They were spot-on for all three of us.  Chanel describes No. 19 as “audacious and assertive. Never conventional” which is probably very close to how my dad would describe me to a stranger!  I wore Chanel No. 19 for many years; I considered it my signature scent.  After all, a perfume expert in Paris helped choose it especially for me, so who was I to disagree?  At some point, I ran out while I was travelling, and since I’m obsessed with perfumes and am always buying intriguing new ones, I just never re-purchased it.  Until last week!  I did some online research and saw that like all perfumes, the original components of Chanel No. 19 that I knew and loved have changed (Chanel reformulated it in 2000), so I tracked down a vintage unopened bottle on Ebay, and couldn’t be happier with it.  I bought the Eau De Parfum version instead of the Eau de Toilette, and it smells exactly like the bottles of No. 19 I wore years ago.

I love the history and stories behind perfumes.  In case you don’t know much about Chanel No 19, it was named after Coco Chanel’s birthday (the 19th of August) and was launched in 1970, a year before she died. The perfume was created by Henri Robert (who later created Cristalle) as Coco’s signature scent for her personal use and for her to give to friends.  It is a perfume with an extremely high concentration of iris root (‘orris’), which was revolutionary at the time… and still is, actually.  The roots of iris plants have to be dried for several years and a surprisingly fresh, powdery scented ‘butter’ is extracted from them.  Chanel uses it in such great supply that they cultivate their own fields of iris flowers in Grasse (Grasse is the perfume capital in France, and where I spent my 40th birthday, such is my perfume obsession!) so that they are not dependent on other producers.  In Chanel No. 19, there are also top notes of hyacinth, galbanum (a Persian resin with a musky green scent), neroli, and bergamot.  The middle notes are mostly iris root with a bit of jasmine, rose, narcissus, and ylang-ylang. The base notes are the traditionally masculine scents of sandalwood, oak moss, leather and cedar.  The overall effect, despite the many flowers involved, is not remotely flowery and girly.  This makes sense given that Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel herself was quite a tomboy and this fragrance was created specifically for her.  She popularised trousers instead of corsets-and-skirts for women, outdoorsy suntans instead of porcelain-white skin, and a working-man’s Breton striped tee instead of ladylike prints.  I love the juxtaposition of green freshness against rich warm leather in No. 19; they contrast beautifully.  To me, this fragrance will forever remind me not just of Coco Chanel (my fellow Leo and tomboy feminist), but of my father going to magical foreign places and bringing back an extraordinary present, chosen just for me by an unknown lady in Paris who seemed to somehow know just what I like, even now at 46.  Maybe I can also blame my deep associations with Chanel No. 19 for my love of all things French, including my husband, who grew up in Paris.

I love this quote from Coco Chanel: “No elegance is possible without perfume.  It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory.”  I’m sure I’ll write more on perfumes in the future (that’s most of my collection below; I genuinely love every single bottle) but I wanted to start with Chanel No. 19, a gift from my father and my first step into the world of grown-up style.

Perfumes

Here are some of the magazine ads for Chanel No. 19 that I remember seeing in the 70’s.  The original #girlboss looks like she’s having a lot of fun.

Chanel19collage

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Maggie
    February 1, 2016 at 1:32 PM

    LOL from the ads, this looks like a fragrance to make you want to choke men. I feel that way a LOT! xo.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 1, 2016 at 1:34 PM

      Choking and laughing going on! xx

    • Reply
      Thia
      February 1, 2016 at 3:19 PM

      Men often need choking, i find. 😉
      Orris is spectacular!

  • Reply
    Mithra Ballesteros
    February 1, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    I love all three of the scents your father chose. I wore Joy and Chanel No 5 when young (both perfumes were much too sophisticated for a teen.) and I’m adding Grasse to my bucket list. Fascinating post today. Hope you are pox free soon!

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 1, 2016 at 3:33 PM

      Thanks, Mithra! Joy is super, I might need to re-smell that again soon too. Grasse is spectacular if you are into perfumes. I created my own perfume at Molinard, which I highly recommend doing when you go! The Pox is almost behind us, I think. xx

  • Reply
    michelle
    February 1, 2016 at 3:10 PM

    Such a beautiful piece of writing Lisa, I was transported to my own memories on the wings of yours.
    I didn’t know the background of no.19, it’s a lovely story & Iris’ happen to be a favourite flower of mine – in fact I almost called my daughter Iris, although hubby was having none of it!
    I didn’t realise you could buy vintage perfume on Ebay – What can’t you buy on Ebay haha, good to know though.
    xxx

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 1, 2016 at 3:30 PM

      Thank you so much, Michelle! Yup, Ebay is super for finding vintage perfumes, you just have to do a little digging. xx

  • Reply
    Abby
    February 1, 2016 at 5:55 PM

    First of all, I hope your son is recovering well from Chicken Pox (and that you too Lisa are recovering from being trapped inside:) In regards to your post, I used to be a cosmetic and perfume fanatic myself (I named my daughter after the famous perfume Anais Anais de Cacharel), but life interfered and my focus has changed since. I only have one perfume bottle left from my once vast collection (although absolutely nowhere near yours:) and it’s (guess what) Chanel no 5. Here’s to Chanel! xx Abby

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 1, 2016 at 6:01 PM

      Thanks, Abby, we’re getting better Chez Pox! I used to wear Anais Anais as well; lovely lovely perfume. Chanel forever! xxx

  • Reply
    OneDizzyBee
    February 2, 2016 at 12:21 AM

    If someone had told me I’d find such enjoyment in reading an article about perfume, I would have rolled my eyes. Consider me proved wrong, and bigtime! This was a fantastic read! I wore No. 19 myself, back in the day. Just reading this brought back a few memories, no olfactory influences required (except perhaps a phantom one here and there). I currently wear something called Pheromone by Marilyn Miglin, and your article makes me want to do some research to see if there’s a fascinating story behind that one! Thanks 🙂

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 2, 2016 at 8:27 AM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, OneDizzyBee! I’ve heard of your perfume, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it. I wonder if you’d still like No. 19 now if you smelled it? xx

  • Reply
    Mindy
    February 2, 2016 at 6:08 AM

    I loved this post–I dare say Ms. Chanel herself would approve–the introduction to a fragrance is a rite of passage–plus she and my husband share a birthday, so I take a bit of Leo liberty. Your collection is stunning. I have a Pinterest board on scents I have known and loved–you brought back memories of my first memories of 19. A delight to read. Hope you and your sweet boy are back up and sharing adventures!

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 2, 2016 at 8:23 AM

      I’m off to look up your Pinterest board, Mindy! Thank you, I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading this. xx

  • Reply
    Lana
    February 2, 2016 at 6:29 AM

    Oh, I enjoyed reading this so much! I’ve always been fascinated by perfume, and used to have several favorites. Unfortunately, many of them give me migraines these days. My husband bought me a bottle of Hanae Mori Butterfly for Christmas, and I love it. It’s a very light fragrance, and it isn’t giving me headaches. Lovely post!

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 2, 2016 at 8:22 AM

      Thank you, Lana! I’m pleased you found one that doesn’t cause you migraines. I feel my whole day is better when I wear perfume! xx

  • Reply
    Joanna
    February 2, 2016 at 10:59 PM

    Loved reading this – thank you.
    Number 19 is still “the one” for me.
    I can (ahem) invest in new clothes and shoes with no difficulty whatsoever, but I have NEVER found another fragrance that is anything like it. Often wonder whether I’m “too old” for it now but frankly I don’t care. It has lifted my spirits on so many occasions I will remain true.
    Did do a little eBay search myself for a cheap teen favourite called Cachet by the gloriously named Prince Machabelli. Bought it, had my Proustian moment then shoved it to the back of the cupboard. Was also reminded of the time I dumped a boyfriend because he bought me a bottle of Charlie – I thought it was the least imaginative gift ever. After 35 years I finally feel a tad guilty.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 3, 2016 at 2:27 PM

      Charlie was horrible; the boyfriend deserved dumping! I don’t think you can ever be too old for something like No. 19… after all, Coco Chanel was wearing it at 87! As long as it brings you joy and rings true to your style, it is worth keeping. P.S. I just had a look at the hats on your website; they are MAGNIFICENT! xx

  • Reply
    Linda Hobden
    February 5, 2016 at 9:46 AM

    Hope your household is now pox free! Lovely blogpost – I haven’t smelt Chanel no 19 for a long time – I used to love the fragrance and my mum used to get a bottle for Christmas. This year I bought my mum Agent Provocateur perfume which she also adores. I do enjoy visiting the perfume counters and having a squirt of the expensive perfume samples! 😳

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 5, 2016 at 11:37 AM

      We’re all healthy again, thank you! I also love Agent Provocateur; that’s one of my favourites too! In fact, I think I’ll wear that today… xx

  • Reply
    sue
    February 6, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    I loved reading your post and actually wanted to go out and buy a bottle. There is something about good perfume it makes you feel special.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 6, 2016 at 1:45 PM

      Let me know what you think of No. 19 if you buy a bottle, Sue! xx

  • Reply
    Gilly Maddison
    February 13, 2016 at 10:05 PM

    This is a very lighthearted and entertaining post that really took me back in time. Not just because you mentioned Shalimar (which I have not had for YEARS!) but because you describe being quarantined with a Chicken Pox child so well! The tiredness and the tedium all came rushing back from 30 years ago when my boys had it. Love the story of your dad choosing perfumes for you all in Paris too. Lovely nostalgic post with a touch of today’s reality too. Hope your toddler is completely recovered now and life is back t normal.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      February 13, 2016 at 10:25 PM

      Thanks so much, Gilly! xx

  • Reply
    Liz
    March 11, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    What a lovely post Lisa and how special that your father took the trouble to chose a fragrance pertinent to your personalities. It’s amazing how evocative scent can be xxx

    • Reply
      Lisa
      March 11, 2016 at 6:11 PM

      Thank you Lizzie; it really is so lovely that he did that. Scent is such a time machine! xx

  • Reply
    rachel
    October 6, 2016 at 3:45 PM

    Chanel No 5 was ‘my’ perfume for years til a hideous bout of pregnancy sickness means it now only brings memories of feeling ghastly. Discovered Coco Chanel and I share a birthday mens I now feel compelled to give No 19 a go. I’d love to know more about your collection.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      October 6, 2016 at 7:23 PM

      I like classic scents and unusual scents with a lot of spice. I’m interested to see how you like Chanel number 19, but as I pointed out, the vintage version is SO much nicer than the current one. I also love (in no particular order) Habanita, Fracas, En Avion, Montaigne, Parfum Sacre, CdG’s Insence Jaisalmer, Tom Ford London, Schaparelli Shocking… among a host of others! xx

  • Reply
    Gail Hanlon
    January 7, 2017 at 3:10 PM

    I loved your post, it was a trip down Memory Lane and brought back memories of Chanel 19 for me, which I wore briefly in my 20s. My signature scent was always Diorella but I became exasperated with the reformulated version and the fact they don’t sell an eau de parfum variant nowadays. So hooray for Ebay, because I’ve also discovered the joy of buying unopened bottles with the original formulation.

    • Reply
      Lisa
      January 8, 2017 at 1:33 PM

      I’m so glad you’re in the know on buying perfume before all the reformulations happened! We’ve got to wear them and enjoy them before they’re all lost to the ether… literally! Thank you Gail, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post. xx

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