Scent Memories – Chanel No. 19 Poudre

By the time Chanel No. 19 was launched in 1971, Gabrielle Chanel had passed. Named for the date of her birthday, August 19th, Chanel No. 19 is the aloof sister to Chanel’s ubiquitous No. 5. Also, No. 19 was the last fragrance that Chanel participated in creating because she clamoured for a fragrance to punctuate her resurgent success after her years spent out of the spotlight. Perfumer Henri Robert worked with Chanel to create this fragrance that was meant to be her personal scent.

But before we delve further into the allure of Chanel No. 19 Poudré, have you ever wondered what really happens when you smell something? How does your brain work to transmit the messages invoked by scent, how does it create scent memories and how do we go on to form associations with certain scents? This is the essence of the question being asked by the Fragrance Foundation, a UK non-profit that has designated March 21st as National Fragrance Day. Created to drive awareness of the sense of smell in society and to encourage persons to create a scent wardrobe, National Fragrance Day is an opportunity to think more about one of our most key senses and the ways in which it impacts us.

I thought of many fragrances I wanted to write about, ones that I own or have owned, ones worn by my mother and my aunt, even my dad although he always wore far too much. Then I decided against any of that because I’d likely be in nostalgic tears while writing. Thus, I decided to choose a different route and write about a fragrance that has not really been on everyone’s lips as much as others from Chanel.

I quickly went through a bottle of Chanel No. 5 in my twenties and I’m happy to leave it as such. Over the years there have been a few other fragrances that I’ve enjoyed but once I truly began to read about the art, science and history of fragrance, about ingredients and what it takes to create a fragrance, I have been much more contemplative in my purchasing. At the moment, I own only four proper fragrances, along with a fun, less artisanal one that I enjoy.

The version of Chanel No. 19 that Gabrielle Chanel worked on with Henri Robert, is the predecessor to the current No. 19 Poudré, a flanker as it is referred to in the industry, that was introduced to the market in 2011. The elements of Chanel No. 19 Poudré include iris, vetiver, galbanum, rose, lily of the valley along with musk, neroli, tonka bean and mandarin. Chanel No. 19 Poudré, created by perfumer Jacques Polge, is a contemporary reincarnation of the original No. 19. Monsieur Polge has been creating fragrances for Chanel since 1979 and is behind fragrances such as Allure, Chance and Coco Mademoiselle.

Chanel No. 19 Poudré is an iris driven fragrance that surprises me every time I wear it. It lasts through my exercise sessions and actually becomes more assertive during that time, I suppose because of the excessive movement. It’s also still evident when I wake up in the morning after it had been last applied during the evening. Floral, green, fresh, mildly musky and balanced without being cloyingly sweet, this is especially perfect if you choose your fragrances by the seasons. Thus, it is a superb Springtime and Summertime choice. I also think Chanel No. 19 Poudré would be a top choice for brides, again especially if the wedding is in spring or summer.

The top notes of Chanel No. 19 Poudré are galbanum, bergamot and neroli, while at the heart is iris, jasmine, rose and lily of the valley. The Iris flower has no scent. Miraculously, the scent, which is described as being powdery, comes from the root or rhizome. Iris has gained tremendous popularity, with Italy and China being a supply source. But in response to dwindling supplies and increases in costs, some years ago Chanel planted iris flowers at their holding in Grasse, France. Much care must be taken with irises and the methods through which the iris is harvested and refined. Extracting the butters from the rhizome is a delicate exercise. It is this ‘butter’ that is then refined to create the components needed for fragrances. Iris Root or Orris Root as it is also known, has been used in perfumery since the 17th Century, while use of the root itself traces back to the Ancient Egyptians. So using iris is not new, but it is for the masters and so it increases the value of a fragrance that is expertly composed.

In wearing this fragrance, I had a moment where I felt that a lingering question had been answered. As a little girl I was a Brownie (Girl Guide) or as it is called in the US, a Girl Scout. Our Brown Owl (Leader) always wore the same fragrance for the years I was a member. I’m convinced it was likely the original Chanel No. 19. To this day I still recall how she smelled, how her fragrance prefaced and punctuated every move that she made.

Even if she exited a space, the scent of her fragrance lingered. In my little girl’s consciousness, I associated her fragrance with being a serious lady, as she was. I saw her as being capable and in possession of knowledge that I wanted to have myself. I was always quietly in awe of her and when I think back on those years now I have to thank my parents, especially my mother, for having the foresight to enroll my sister and I in such a valuable organisation. And so, this is the potential and power that may invariably dwell in a fragrance.

Chanel No. 19 Poudré finishes with sandalwood, leather, musk and vetiver, a fragrance element that I am increasingly intrigued by. This is a quietly assertive fragrance, yet it is the embodiment of femininity, chic, smarts and the willingness to not blindly follow the pack. The dusky base notes are properly balanced against the softer components. The base notes further support the top and heart notes of this fragrance to render it appropriate for all the scenarios in your life. With excellent sillage, a single spritz is enough to cover you for the day and it will be sufficient for whatever is on your agenda.

Gabrielle Chanel was eighty-seven when she passed, and in that same year, with the release of Chanel No. 19, one of her final wishes came to life. She was formidable, like this fragrance. There are feminine and mildly masculine aspects to No. 19 Poudré and so it serves as a contemporary emblem for the modern woman who seeks to master home, family, career and self. It’s a tough undertaking, a blessing and a battle to reinvent the wheel it seems to me. While we tackle everything that comes at us, having a scent to buffer us can very well work as our anchor.

For purchase options, Chanel No. 19 Poudré comes in Parfum, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Parfum Spray and Eau de Toilette. Lastly, I’d love it if you chime in below in the comments with your scent memories, as it would be fascinating to compare notes.