Vintages The Fresh Scents of the 1970s Part 5: Chanel Cristalle

The Fresh Scents of the 1970s Part 5: Chanel Cristalle

09/29/15 05:52:20 (12 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

To consider Cristalle by Chanel a predominantly "fresh" scent begs the question: which version of it? Contrary to some of the previous fresh scents that dominated the 1970s and which we have reviewed in previous installments (links are at the bottom of this article), Cristalle has circulated in two distinct variations that differ considerably.
 
Although only one of them is set in the 1970s, namely the eau de toilette original version, the 1990s eau de parfum edition is also popular and perhaps blurs the lines most between simple freshness and ripe enigma; if the citrus burst of the eau de toilette is a sunny but still crisp morning, then the more floral chypre leaning of the eau de parfum is late afternoon when the warmth of the sun has made everything ripen and smell moist and earthy.
 
 
But the two faces of Janus have more angles to exhibit still. The structure of the eau de toilette is citrusy green, almost cologne-y, with only a hint of chypre; more jovial, more unisex and altogether happier.  Indeed early ads claimed:
 
 
 
Now. A fragrance with the freedom of cologne, the force of perfume.
Never before have you been able to change yourself with such fragrant energy. 
 
Cristalle. A brilliant burst of new fragrance by Chanel.
 
 
The structure of the eau de parfum is more feminine, with the floral offset of jasmine and ylang ylang bringing to the fore the more romantic elements. If the former is a brainy librarian, the latter is a brainy librarian with one button undone on her blouse. As you would surmise from my description, I like and respect both but would personally find more cause for celebration in the latter.
 
This is perhaps a unique point of view in the perfume loving community where original editions are without fail considered superior and more sophisticated; no writer's doubt, the review practically writes itself. Still, and it is a point worth considering, Cristalle is a case in point where the genius of Henri Robert is fittingly corralled to that of Jacques Polge, the two perfumers responsible for the creation of the former and the latter editions respectively. But why is that to begin with?
 
The 1990s have gained an odd reputation in perfume lovers' minds because they mostly contributed the mega (try Godzilla) trend of the "ozonic" and "marine" fragrances, scents cutting loose with the denser and richer French and American tradition and ushering a sense of Japanese zen into personal fragrance. At the time they produced a huge chasm with everything that preceded them (and fittingly one of the first to do so was Kenzo pour Homme in 1991).
 
Suddenly one wearing such a quiet scent seemed like someone walking in velvet slippers contrasted with a Louboutin stiletto wearer, emitting Dior Poison, marking some poor 18th century parquet floor; you instantly knew who was going to get more sympathetic smiles and friendly nods of the head and who was to be greeted with wrinkled noses. Such were the mores then; we have become loud with our scent choices again of course. But the overindulgence in quiet can become deafening in the end and this is what happened by the end of that grunge-dominated decade. Still Chanel Cristalle eau de parfum managed to straddle the ground between quiet and loud, producing a composition between soft flannel wool and luxurious yet rough soie sauvage which was advertised with the immortal line: "Exuberance comes of age!" Let there be no more claims that this version is unsophisticated.
 
Another interesting nugget is that Cristalle, especially in the eau de parfum edition, has that infamous overripe melon and stale meat note, common in Diorella and Eau de Rochas, two other great fresh scents of the 1970s, which had prompted Tania Sanchez to write that Diorella is like Vietnamese beef salad and Luca Turin to reference the garbage-leaning note in both Le Parfum de Therese and Eau de Rochas (both featuring the same on-the-verge-of-unpleasant effect). Considering that from all the 1970s scents Cristalle is the one closest to Diorella, yet lacks that overripe note (so beloved by perfumer Edmond Roudnitska) in its eau de toilette concentration, it makes for a puzzling consideration indeed.
 
 
Despite lacking that characteristic rotten fruit & garbage tang which can act like a faulty brushstroke put on purpose in an otherwise exquisite painting, Cristalle eau de toilette has endured and has gained new fans over the decades exactly because it is a triumph of mind over matter. It feels tinglingly fresh, yes; it feels brainy and perfect for sharing whether you are a man or a woman. It also fits its architectural packaging to a T, perhaps more than any other perfume in the Chanel stable. It feels sleek and sparse and 100% proud of it. It also means that when you opt for it you know you're picking the freshest thing in the shop; there is nary a fresher scent on the Chanel counter now or ever. Only the galbanum throat-slicing-blade of the original No.19 could be compared for sheer chill! 
 
In my perfume consulting, I sometimes hear  people reject the citrus scents as either cologne-y (which is not entirely false, they do share DNA with that) or as not in step with contemporary sensibilities. To the latter segment I will end my essay with anecdotal evidence.
 
When I had interviewed Linda Pilkington of Ormonde Jayne fame she had confided to me that she loved Cristalle (she also mentioned she used to layer Eau Sauvage with Diorella, which probably makes a throw together impression of Cristalle at least according to my tentative experiments back home). Such is her love apparently for it that one of her very own brainchildren, the wonderful Tiare, shows its kinship with Cristalle in no uncertain terms; in fact almost an improvement on it, if that sort of thing were possible. Nothing but the name would throw you off; tiare is a tropical gardenia essence coming from the Tahitian gardenia, but Tiare by Ormonde Jayne feels like the niche version of Cristalle you had been hoping would never get messed up with. It's one testament to the eternal appeal of this classic Chanel fragrance.
 
 
If you missed them, the previous parts can be found on these links:
 
The Fresh Scents of the 1970s
 
 

Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests.

Her writing was recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she contributes to publications around the world.

 



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Musume
Musume

Please, write an article about Eau de Courreges. It`s one of my favorite scents and I find that not many people know of it. Beautiful and inspiring article of Cristalle, by the way.

Oct
02
2015
nero77
nero77

I have only had and worn the edt. It's unisex so I love wearing it.

I actually think that Cristalle is "sharper", "colder", and "b****ier" than No.19, to which everyone attributes those descriptions. To me No.19 is the shy librarian, the beauty. Cristalle is the "Ice Queen" fragrance for me. Just lemon, oakmoss and galbanum, with sparse florals such as hyacinth. At least No.19 had warm Iris.

To me Cristalle, No.19 & Pour Monsieur form a green, floral chypre trilogy by master perfumer Henri Robert... would you agree? :-)

Oct
01
2015
nitsa62
nitsa62

I have Cristalle edt for few years now, I think its the original, a little sharp in beginning reminding me of NO.19s top notes, but then it settles down to a fresh green scent, luv it in summer, thnx for reminding me about this one, I have so many and I forget the beauties I have

Oct
01
2015
Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

Thank you guys! :-)

@Bivivling,

One fragrance that immediately comes to mind as totally different in the main two concentrations is Rykiel Woman: the EDT (later launch) is a completely different perfume than the EDP. Blindfolded one would never in a million years guess they're connected.
Most of the Chanel fragrances do have differences between the various concentrations, but surely not that wide. Still, very interesting to try and compare between them.

And I do hope that Fragrantica would bind these in a History of Perfume volume ;-)
Jeca, that's up to you!

Oct
01
2015
Henriette
Henriette

Reading you is always a feast, thank you, Elena.
The original Cristalle, the one which came out in 1974, was an EdT which was totally different from the EdT of today.
Actually, on the box it was simply "Cristalle" without any other specification.
I still have that box and that bottle.
It was very creamy and totally lacked the sour-sharp edge in the current version.
It was extremely long lasting and it developed like one of those flowers which blossom and come in full bloom in a few hours.
It was spectacular, unique, different from everything else not only in the '70es but even today.
The current version is very good, much better than many other scents around and still a favourite of mine (I am never without a bottle of Cristalle) and I love both the EdT and EdP, but the original Cristalle was from a totally different planet.

Sep
30
2015
fleurdefi
fleurdefi

Now I understand why when people talk about Cristalle on the boards it doesn't sound like the sample I received in high school and cherished. I would have been the EDT, not the EDP. The description of the EDT sounds exactly how I remember it. Thank you for explaining the difference between the two!

Sep
30
2015
mendosita
mendosita

bibibling- that would definitely be Addict. Why did they realease edt that is so COMPLETELY apart from edp I just have no idea :(

I love the article, Cristalle is one of the fragrances (next to Shalimar) which I would love to wear but somehow I just cannot. I even had an edp bottle once, but I gave it away. Maybe I should give a shot to edt version.

Sep
30
2015
milkyway
milkyway

Thank you, Elena! I adore this fragrance. Chanel really knows how to compose refined fresh scents, a surprisingly rare ability. I have been recently looking to find a modern take similar to it, but am yet to come across the one I would like as much as Cristalle.

Sep
29
2015
cbluestar27
cbluestar27

My signature scent! I love Cristalle eau de parfum! I get more compliments on it that anything in my collection.

Sep
29
2015
jeca
jeca

Thank you, Elena, for choosing this wonderful fragrance by Chanel. This is one of the kind fragrance, I didn't understand it at all at that time, but I always appreciated its uniqueness. And I love it now.

Sep
29
2015
bibibling
bibibling

Wonderful article! I feel like I learn such a lot from these, Fragrantica should bind them up in a 'History of Perfume' book sometime!

A bit off-topic but what is the most different EDP vs EDT that you guys know of? Like, so different that no one would even guess they are even the same perfume name or company? (And I wonder at that point why they don't just give it up and call it a flanker name instead of EDP/EDT?)

Sep
29
2015
perrfumefreak
perrfumefreak

This is a whole era I missed out on. I was born in z1975, I dont remember my mom ever having any perfumes around, except some Avon stuff that I didn't like at all, even at 4 years old. I wish I could go back in time, load up on a ton of 70's and 80's perfumes and see what I missed out on. Because all I remember of 70's scents ate cologne bottles shaped like beats and stuff....

Sep
29
2015

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