Chanel Cristalle Eau Verte (2009): Unfettered Flanker, or The New Freshness of Magnolias {Perfume Review} {Fresh Notebook}


Chanel Cristalle Eau Verte Eau de Toilette Concentrée is the latest flanker to the original Cristalle Eau de Toilette.

Notes are: Sicilian lemon, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, a magnolia accord, and abstract white flowers.

The Background

The original Cristalle Eau de Toilette was launched in 1974 as a fresh abstract floral counterbalanced by a classic touch of chypre (my characterization). It was followed in 1993 by an Eau de Parfum version in answer to customers' requests for a more lasting version of the Eau de Toilette. This functional motivation translated into a variation attributed to the then Chanel in-house perfumer Jacques Polge (at a time when nose François Demachy was also active at Chanel's) that perfectly fit the bill: to this day it is a bit louder, lasts more at a slightly amplified volume perceptible by more people, with some differing facets. But beyond this dutiful attitude, it was not able to eclipse Cristalle created by Henri Robert with its perfect balance of ingredients and its winning subtlety. For Chanel, it was reportedly an opportunity to reach out to their "younger" and "more hip" beauty customers and make Cristalle more mainstream. As Chanel president Arie Kopelman stated at the time, "Our goal is to convert Cristalle from a niche fragrance into a broader business,".

The new Cristalle Eau Verte Eau de Toilette Concentrée (Cristalle Green Water Concentrated Eau de Toilette) which just came out to welcome spring 2009 is separated by several more degrees of freedom from the original composition of 1974...


Where the Eau de Parfum of 1993 attempted to be a faithful variation and as a result was not able to remove all of the shackles weighing down on the creative process, the Cristalle Eau Verte is surprisingly irreverent, even impertinent. Its very name does not prevent it from smelling the way it wants to smell, not necessarily green first and foremost but rather as the rendition of a certain idea of green derived from a natural green facet of the magnolia flower. The perfumers decided to take the route of creativity informed by reality. Cristalle Eau Verte is striking, to me, for its byzantine and very indirect, rethought structure. This is a fact that will not necessarily appear to the casual smeller. In this sense, I see one level of perception that is offered to the normal perfume wearer and another one proposed to whoever wishes to delve more deeply into the perfume's architecture.

The recent reworking of Chanel No. 5 into Eau Première revealed an equal capacity to respect the past and take some liberties with an iconic classic. The stakes were admittedly very high. The result is brilliant. The latest Cristalle Eau Verte systematizes the approach expressed with Eau Première with its effervescent youth-lift aspect but at the same time, Eau Verte seems to feel freer and even to want to enjoy a moment of relaxation after the particularly serious task of refreshing Chanel No. 5.

Cristalle admittedly allows for more liberty as it is less well-known. But the freedom was used judiciously nevertheless to please, but with less of a curatorial responsibility to fulfill. It has adopted more of the stance that white florals speak to the feminine in us and cannot miss its target. Beige by Chanel, just before that, was an interesting subdued portraiture of a certain privileged feminine personality embodied by the symbolism of elegant white florals, a symbol of innocence and grace with an animalistic ambivalence, tellingly cherished by Coco Chanel.

Where one might have expected an obviously accentuated green and even crisper rendition of Cristalle, one encounters a more deeply white floral interpretation of it as well as a warmer one. If the jus were not colored green one would be tempted to see "verte" as another translation of "première" that is, a reference to youth rather than sappiness, literally.

Seen from several different perspectives, the new Cristalle Eau Verte heralding new beginnings seems to be more of a perfumer's flanker than an institutional perfume-house flanker per se as I had elaborated upon already with Kelly Calèche Eau de Parfum by Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermès. Despite the Jacques-Polge attribution, it is hard in fact to not detect the presence of his right arm, perfumer Christopher Sheldrake with this new addition of a "magnolia accord" followed by an "abstract white florals" one found in the perfume - as it offers familiar intonations.

How It Wafts

Cristalle Eau Verte opens on a prolonged modulation of citruses (fruity mandarin, kumquat-like, zesty lemons) blended with florals and with a light, added layer of balsamic depth. It is wonderful, is my first or second thought, and immediately calls to mind the style of the work done on Eau Première: a rhapsody of citruses, a masterpiece of subtlety, especially in the drydown, a surge of youth and zest allied with refinement (ambrette seed).

The earlier stages can also be described further as verdant, very citrusy, a bit powdery, dry and vanillic. The magnolia already accord surfaces in the background while the dry-lemonade sensation takes on a mouth-watering quality. The dryness is reminiscent of the original Cristalle.

The surprise here is to rather quickly become aware of a perfumer's intimately known accord, the one created by Christopher Sheldrake for Nuit de Cellophane revolving around mandarin, jasmine-y osmanthus and sandalwood in the Serge Lutens perfume, but as if lightened up (it is not as jasminey, fruity, spicy and opulent) and made more to befit the personality of a Chanel perfume. It appears below the cool hesperidic surface like a warm floral heart the color of an orange fire agate, resulting in an orange/green contrast one can detect in some perfumes made by Sheldrake for and with Serge Lutens (Tubéreuse Criminelle, Un Bois Sépia...). As Cristalle Eau Verte develops further it takes on an almost edible quality and calls to mind the thick "oily" floral impression evocative of a sesame paste of an osmanthus I detected in Nuit de Cellophane by Serge Lutens. I then remember that Sheldrake is the nose behind the accord but also that it is a molecule used for white-floral accords.

cristalle-eau-verte-eau-de-toilette-concentree-spray-50ml.3145891112504.jpg As the perfume evolves further, it regains its original green herbaceous character most perceptible in the Eau de Toilette version of Cristalle. Very pale flowers come to float on the surface of the perfume. The green notes are quite subtle past the top notes, as if but a mere celadon-colored freesia-dew found sheltered underneath white petals. Eau Verte has a contemporary aqueous floral quality but acting as a minor even almost secret facet rather than a front-and-center impression like in the aquas of the 1990s epitomized by the pionneering New West by Aramis.

The drydown feels technologically and conceptually innovative with its seeming exclusive focus on an abstract millefleurs floral impression, in the best sense of the term. The most classic way to conclude a perfume progression usually is to end on an animalic accord. In this case, the flowers take precedence offering a very stylized and subtle impression of ethereal, floral skin. The long-term drydown is very lasting and evanescent at the same time. It just smells, again, superlative.

The flanker philosophy of Chanel in this case appears to have been dictated less strongly by allegiance to history and tradition as is one of the fortes of the house than by a desire, perhaps, to exorcise the demons of too tame, in spirit if not in volume, a flanker rendition in 1993. Interestingly, the press material do not mention the 1993 Eau de Parfum preferring to draw a direct link to the Eau de Toilette from 1974.

Cristalle Eau Verte offers a parallel with both Eau Première and Beige in the recent period with its own youthful and wedding-party-like notes of citruses and white florals. It is arguably a continuation of the white-floral heritage at Chanel's inaugurated with Gardénia, the Grande Mademoiselle's favorite flower interpreted in a perfume; Coco Chanel also liked another heady white floral, tuberose; greenness here expresses itself almost as discreely as the lining of a skirt; Christopher Sheldrake can appreciate white florals just as much as Coco Chanel did (Beautiful by Estée Lauder is one of his references), and unsurprisingly perhaps, works with his personal accords. It all makes sense in the end, except that everything is a little allusive and indirect when taking Cristalle Eau Verte at face value. One should never take a perfume at face value. It is a rather complicated affair. This is why it is best expressed in perfume form.

Related Posts

5 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Marie-Helene,

    Thank you for your well-informed review. So many others have completely missed the subtle but brilliant composition of this entirely new fragrance. It is important to know where a fragrance fits on the historic arc of the perfumers' work. One should not be disappointed that it doesn't smell just like Cristalle. It shouldn't! This fragrance just became available at Nieman's in Orlando. I couldn't find it anywhere in Michigan. Too bad . . as it seems a wiser US launch would have been spring. Regards, and please keep writing, Teresa

  2. I agree with the previous comment, I have read so many reviews shooting Eau Verte down just because it is not "a copy of Cristalle", and they make me upset.
    I believe you must judge a perfume by what it evokes, what it cointains, and how it makes you feel. Since I use Eau Verte, I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE smelling it on me, on my clothes, on my hair. The drydown is fantastic.. I used to wear Mademoiselle and hated how my clothes smelled at the end of the day, so powdery-granny like!
    So Eau Verte is giving me exactly what I wanted and needed.
    Also a note, I constantly get people to ask me what fragrance I am wearing, women AND men...
    Thanks for such a great and informative review!!

    • "I believe you must judge a perfume by what it evokes, what it cointains, and how it makes you feel." This is an excellent reminder of the one-on-one relationship one can cultivate with a perfume. As a user, it's definitely the way to go!

      Chant Wagner
  3. Fantastic review, many thanks

    • Thank you for your kind words

      Chant Wagner

Leave a Comment