Oh me, oh my, you make me cry, you’re such a good-looking woman….
Can chypres be sexy? I never thought so until I fell in love with Femme by Rochas. Femme is sexy with a capital S. I love both versions of Femme – the vintage one with the musky plums and oakmoss, and the current version, all sharp and woody and armpit-cuminy. But I thought that Femme was an outlier. Chypres are just too upright and stiff-backed to be sexy in that low-down, guttural-growl kind of way.
Enter Shangri-La by the British indie perfumer, Hiram Green. I admire Mr. Green’s approach to making perfume. He does it slow, releasing only two perfumes in two years – and he does it right. Named for the fictional land described in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’, Shangri La is his second fragrance, released in 2014 after Moon Bloom, his extremely well-received tuberose soliflore in 2013.
Shangri-La, at the risk of being painfully literal here, is indeed a Shangri-La for the chypre lover. It restores my faith in the belief that modern perfumery can still turn out perfumes that rival the old greats from the past, and perhaps even surpass them now and then. Shangri-La does not surpass Femme or Mitsouko for me, but it was and is a beautiful surprise that evokes strong emotion in me.
It is also pretty sexy, in a carefully-contained way.
It opens with the traditional chypre sally – a bitter, bracing bergamot – except here it feels more lemony and sparkling than the Mitsouko bergamot, which has an aged, darkened feel to it no matter the iteration or vintage. A wave of champagne-like bergamot, then, to usher in a velvet heart of peach, rose, and iris, held aloft by a bed of what smells like real oakmoss. The peach and spices develop into a sticky compote that darkens and thickens with time – part jammy fruit, part leathery peach skin. It smells delicious – not fully gourmand thanks to the bitter facets of the iris, bergamot, lemon, and moss – but also not as forbidding and dusty as Mitsouko.
Beyond the peach and the lemon, Shangri-La is actually all about the jasmine for me. I wore it to bed one night and woke up in the middle of the night surrounded by the unmistakable, creamy scent of night-flowering jasmine petals.
Bubbling just underneath the skin of this peach and jasmine combo is something enticingly dirty-sexy and musky. Could it be a touch of castoreum, perhaps, or a not-so-clean musk? The mystery note is not explained, although I am sure it is not civet, because the dirtiness is warm and round, not sharp or urinous. Possibly it’s the jasmine, although I don’t think the more indolic Sambac jasmine has been used here – there’s a smooth fruitiness that suggests jasmine grandiflorum.
Either way, the overall effect is of a deep, sensual fruity-floral chypre that does indeed feel like a true chypre from top to bottom, but also has a welcome sexiness to it that would make me want to wear it in more relaxed situations than would normally call for a more uptight chypre.
It’s on my hit list, for sure.