Chasing a Memory

Today´s post was supposed to be on the two new Lubin re-releases, Nuit de Longchamp and L de Lubin. But since one smells exactly like the top notes of my CVS nail polish remover and the other one fills my head with a deep, profound, Zen-like nothingness, I dug up and finished a post I wrote awhile ago and was too annoyed/embarrassed to publish.

It´s no great secret that perfume houses reformulate their fragrances without announcing that fact to the general public.  They do so for various reasons: to save money; to bring a fragrance in compliance with some new tedious regulation; to save money; to compensate for scarce/banned/overharvested raw materials; to save money; to subtly tweak a fragrance in a more “modern” direction; and to save money.

Chanel has, I think, largely avoided the kind of shameful cheapening of its fragrance ingredients that some other houses have resorted to.  Nonetheless, as I sniffed and resniffed their Coco eau de parfum in the department store over the last few months, I became … suspicious. 

My friends, the current iteration of Chanel Coco is not half the man she used to be when I worked through a flacon in the late 1980s.  They shaved her legs, did some manscaping, made her stub out her cigarette.  She´s been powdered and plucked and waxed and fluffed to a glossy sheen, and … no thanks.  Luca Turin described Coco in The Guide as “terribly dated,” and all I can say is — dude, I wish.  Where’s that obnoxious, big-shouldered floriental I remember so fondly?

So there was nothing to do but buy a bottle on eBay, and lo – the exact same stoppered flacon I owned popped up for sale at a reasonable price.  I won the auction, sent my money, got my bottle, and … nooooooooooo.  It had clearly been diluted or adulterated with something.  For which I can´t/don´t hold the seller responsible, by the way.  It was one of those rummage sale deals, it was recognizably Coco, even if not very good, and what are you going to do?  I owned a pretty bottle, and that was that.

Coco was my first Chanel, and it arrived in my life during a time of personal and professional setbacks.  I´d tried and failed to get involved with several of the others (Cristalle, 5 and 22).  At the time Coco was my attempt at “classiness” via aspirational branding, and I loved the crystal flacon it came in.  But it was something more.  It was the first fragrance that made me feel and smell like an adult woman.  It was bitter and sweet, direct and complicated, fierce and yielding, hot and cold.  Long before I swore the oath of a perfumista and learned the secret handshake, Coco spoke to me.  It said, you may be broke, and scared, and wearing hand-me-down suits to your crummy job, and in a welter about all sorts of things, but you can still be beautiful.  I put on Coco when I stepped out of bed in the early morning — before I dressed the babies and made the breakfast and the lunch and had them both to daycare before arriving at my desk at 8 a.m.  Coco gave me the strength and a firm jab in the ribs and told me stand up tall, no sniveling.  Coco said, fake it till you make it.

I used up that entire flacon.  My favorite part was the last half inch, which at that point had become dark and viscous and smoky and strange.  It was probably not really office appropriate, but I wore it until there was nothing left but memories.

Anyhow.  I never posted this because I was embarrassed and annoyed by how weirdly upset I was about my bottle failure,  completely out of proportion to the event.  Weeks went by.  Eventually I bid on two other bottles (sprays this time), won them both, and gave it another whirl.

The bottles are from two different sellers in different parts of the country, and … both are off on the top notes in the same way.  Interesting.  One bottle was boxed and one wasn´t, and who knows how they´ve been stored, but I find it noteworthy how the same part of the structure crumbled in both bottles, I wonder what the issue is.  It´s not terrible, but whatever was constructed to greet me is now gone a little lopsided in the direction of varnish.  That blows off pretty quickly, though.  Then we are back to the glory that was Coco, with her unibrow and moustache restored to their proper places.

You can find various notes listed, but I´m going with the ones that sound most spicy floriental: frangipani, orange, mimosa, rose, jasmine, clove, coriander, labdanum, ambrette, opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood, tonka, and vanilla.   In my “vintage” bottles dating from the late 80s/early 90s, the emphasis is on the oriental aspect.   Coco is kissing cousins to Cinnabar and Youth Dew.  It is dense, honeyed, rich, with the spice notes featured prominently in the drydown.  In fact, my tiny vintage flacon of Youth Dew Bath Oil reminds me quite a bit of the last dregs of my first flacon, when it had boiled itself down to its essence.

In contrast, a spritz of new Coco EdP feels, well, newer.  It´s considerably brighter and sweeter, with far more emphasis on the florals, particularly the mimosa and rose.  It´s also considerably more powdery than my vintage versions (or my memory of it.)   It´s not that it isn´t lovely – it is, actually, judged on its own merits or as close to that as my biased heart can get.  To give Chanel credit, it isn´t thinner either.  It doesn´t have that strange, depressing anorexia you get when fragrances have been reformulated on the cheap.  And probably for many young women accustomed to fragrances with a more fruity or gourmand tone, Coco is about as far down the Sodom-and-Gomorrah path in the direction of Opium that they ever wish to go.

So.  I´m happy with my Coco experiment, or as close to happy as I´m likely to get.  I even found a use for my watered-down flacon: bedtime Coco.  It´s like an eau de cologne, and so weak it´s like I put it on that morning and it’s lingering on my clothes.  But it´s kind of nice that way.  For those of you who want a taste of the bad old 80s Coco, seriously – new Coco layered on top of a drop of Estee Lauder Youth Dew Bath Oil ($31 at Nordstrom or $3 at your local thrift shop) will do it.

84 Comments
knidonovan December 28, 2008

What a relief to have some pro noses with a liking of this perfume lessen my anxiety how it may have changed.. Coco was my scent in 98. I dropped years later when I couldn't afford to buy it any more. I recently took a whiff of it at the perfume counter and thought "I wore that?" I loved that perfume. At the counter it smelled "cheapened" more chemical than the deep, soft, spicy sophisticated blanket I remembered.

Pikake December 18, 2008

Wow, I am so entertained by this thread! I can't believe I just found this site today. Have been on MUA for over 5 years (portlandgirl over there) and POL (pikake there). You guys are so fun to read. Hope you don't mind me adding my two cents. I wore Coco like a mad woman in college (late 80's of course). Had a boyfriend track me down in a study room just by my my scent, that juice is so powerful. Too much for me now, but I keep a bottle on hand just to sniff it every once in a while. The parfum is heavenly though. Coco and Cristalle EDT are my fave Chanels. Was so thrilled to read the musings on Cristalle here as well. Love this site!!

mollypenny December 18, 2008

hey ladies, listen to this one- My mom just started seeing this guy. They've been on several dates and have been intimate. She wears coco and coca mademoiselle alternately. Last week he sends her this email saying "looking forward to seeing you tonight. please, don't wear any perfume, I still smell like you and my staff is asking questions that I don't need to answer." !!!!!!!!!!! WTF does that mean?! My mom replied that she loves wearing perfume and is not willing to give up herself so early on in a "relationship". He wrote back saying understood and it was nice dating her. !!! Then apparently after a week he told her he missed her and wanted to talk. I'm still waiting to hear the details. And yes, my mom is a bit heavy handed on the application. But I think the guy could of come up with a better way to say that.

Erin December 18, 2008

March, I've been trying to resist the urge to gush, but you provoke-- Dayum! You are such a fantastic writer. Where's your book?--I'm expecting Notes From The EDT Underground or some such soon. Seriously, I'd buy ten copies to give as Christmas presents. Or do you already have books that I don't know about? Please let me know. Really, it's not just flattery. Teaching writers is what I do for a living. You're the real deal. Thanks so much for your work.

March December 17, 2008

Friends -- migraine out of the blue. Will hop back on my responses later, sorry.

rosarita December 17, 2008

Coco is the closest thing I have to a signature scent. Now that I've become perfume obsessed, I hadn't worn it in ages and just dug it out the other day - it smelled great. Can't remember how old my current bottle is. I bought my first bottle - the edt - the year it was first introduced. I met my husband later that same evening, and he's made sure I always have a bottle onhand for gosh, what? twenty six years? Oy, that makes me feel old! I'll have to test out a new bottle next time I'm in a department store.

Zofia December 17, 2008

My mother used to wear Coco in the 80's. It suited her very well, she looks a bit like a paler Sade :) so she was the type. She had a bottle of the EDP and the parfum. Sadly for her and luckily for me, some of the parfum got spilt in her wardrobe and her clothes kept the smell at least throughout my childhood. This way the notes of the original stayed "in my nose" forever. Whenever I pick up the current version, especially the EDP, it feels as if some cheap and evil woman would try to replace and steal my mother from me. It is sickly sweet and has no oriental depth and none of the French quality it used to have. The last time I thought about the change in quality was when i was wearing my sample of JubilationXXV, I thought "this is how COCO used to be" in terms of blending and harmony of the ingredients. CocoMlle is not even a modern consolation for the loss: smells trivially of sticky orange-flavoured bonbons. No way to find the memory again i think, unless I hunt down the parfum version of coco, maybe..

violetnoir December 17, 2008

No need to feel embarrassed, March. Coco no doubt has been "cleaned up." Sad, isn't it? Hugs!

carmencanada December 17, 2008

I kind of feel moved to defend the two Lubin reissues here... I'm wearing L de Lubin right now and I love its hippy-chypre warmth. And I'm not getting any nail polish remover at all from Nuit de Longchamp: to me it's a lovely, classic, aldehydic floral chypre with a great balsamic drydown. To me they both have a nice vintage vibe. Nothing to say about Coco, however: I was wearing Habanita all through the 80s and managed to miss its heyday!

Elle December 17, 2008

I so understand the intensity of your disappointment and the lack of desire to even mention it. I have won my fair share of fake or destroyed bottles on ebay and usually am pretty accepting of it - just part of the gamble. But there was one scent I had really deep emotional associations w/ (Norrell 2) and when I got a bottle of it that was hopelessly turned, I was seriously, awkwardly depressed about it. It felt like a betrayal of sorts. Made no sense, but the fact remained - I felt incredibly sad about it. As a side note, in my ongoing quest for vintage scents, I found a bottle of Diane von Furstenberg's Volcan d'Amour which is a violet powerhouse 80s scent, but also reminds me quite a bit of my beloved Norell 2, despite the lack of violet in Norell 2. And now I'm going to have to go hunt down my Coco parfum (one of the rare lucky Chanel wins on ebay that I'm pretty sure is real and even if it's not, I don't care since it's completely over the top delicious).

Meliscents December 17, 2008

My husband got me a bottle of Coco just a few years ago & I just love it. I'm sure though, that I'd feel different if I'd smelled the original version. It does remind me of Youth Dew but even more like Youth Dew Nude. I think the perfume industry is trying to clean us up. The thing is, some of us prefer to be not so clean & a little naughty & maybe we don't want to shave our legs. I certainly wish they would stop messing with our smells. Oh here's a depressing thought! Do you ever wonder how many glorious perfumes hit the dumpster because someone thought they were jut to old to wear. It makes me sad! Well I'm doing my part in saving them with a little help from my friend Debit Card. :d

sweetlife December 17, 2008

Dearest March -- please see my replies misplaced above. All this talk of Coco has made me dizzy and distracted, apparently. Um, more than usual, that is.

elizablue December 17, 2008

Maybe that's why I wasn't into it when my roommate wore it back in '97! Or maybe it was because she alternately bathed in that or Jardins de Bagatelle! Here's an idea: we don't all have to be victims, right? We all have a story about "the 'bay" fragrance disappointments. What about a master list of good sellers and/or a blacklist of dubious sellers, passed on to those interested via email? I am all about a revolution and I'd be happy to organize emails to me and remove all names/email addys of the commenters..."Et me know!!!

Louise December 17, 2008

I wore Coco for a time when going to school in France as a college kid. It was very rich and deep and I loved it dearly, but my bf at the time thought it a bit much. So I gave it up-sadly malleable, no 8-| ? On later sniffing, many years later, I had a pretty distinct "meh" reaction-and now you're illuminated me. Damn reformulations. I think you know well my reaction to the modern Mitsouko, and the lengths I've gone to to collect versions of the older juice :o Ebay is certainly a crap shoot. I've had distinctly good luck, but have bought plenty of "tired" bottles, though never a fake, afaik. I figure my overall spending on good stuff should just be doubled due to mishaps. But, what a fabulous resource...how would we find those precious oldies without the evil bay :-? ? Enjoy those older Cocos :)

chanel22 December 17, 2008

I know the Coco of which you speak. You describe it perfectly. They handed out mini bottles by the handfuls in Saks Fifth Avenue in 1986 because it wasn't selling well. It was too masculine, I guess. I liked it, though. It was a couple years later before I bought a bottle, I must have gotten the last one. Shortly thereafter, I read that Coco had been reformulated because it just wasn't selling. I'm not sure if that was 1989 or 1990, but the good stuff you remember wasn't in production long. I'm sure Coco has been tweaked a few times since, no doubt. The edt is total water. The pure parfum smells like chocolate to me. Every concentration is different. I do have some Youth Dew bath oil and I'll give that a try. Thanks for the suggestion. Do you want to hear something that will make you cry? There is a 1990 bottle of Coco edp sitting on my MIL's dresser, full, that I gave her in 1990 for Christmas. It's killing me. Good thing she lives 2000 miles away or I might do something naughty.

Disteza December 17, 2008

You know, looking back at my eBay 'fume purchases, I haven't had a single one that was bad. Of course I've now cursed myself by writing that statement in public! I'm always leery of online auctions anyway, and I've taken to heart the "If it looks too good to be true..." saying. Generally if the price looks about right, and the seller is rated highly (especially by other users who have high ratings), the chacnes of the auction being legit are pretty decent. Also, don't skim the description, and don't be afraid to ask questions! :)>-

Divalano December 17, 2008

Roses!! Thank you so much for posting this! A couple of months ago I thought to give Coco another run, seeing as how I remembered liking it at one time. I was confused to find that it makes me sneeze & smelled just ... well, not like something that I'd want to wear. I remember thinking it was odd that I'd never noticed how much rose there was in it & I couldn't imagine I'd ever worn anything that rosy. Not that it was a big floral ... just, too much in that direction for me. I considered it proof of how untrained my nose had been in years past & how wrong most of my old scents had been for me ... so I thank you for letting me know that I wasn't entirely mad ;)

sybil December 17, 2008

Thanks for this blast from the past! Coco, my first stab at finding a "grown-up" perfume! All the lighter Chanels were too green and perky for me, alas. I wore it until I used up the bottle, and felt too something to replace it. At the time, self-denial felt virtuous, what can I say?! Now, I've moved on, but I probably won't go back and try it again. And, I've found all the Lubins profoundly unmoving--even Idole, which I really wanted to like. Smelled like I'd rubbed molasses into my skin, then wiped it off...

Melissa December 17, 2008

I hope that your reaction tilted more toward annoyed than embarrassed! Whenever I decide to hunt down fragrances on ebay, I have to summon up a state of mind that allows for 1. bad top notes 2. strange formulations 3. the occasional "wth is this?". All part of the thrill of the hunt. The majority of my scores have been great with a few duds along the way. As for Coco, for some reason, it never spoke to me. I recently bought the Chanel parfum coffret, and I am trying to decide what to do with Coco. Learn to love her? Gift her to a friend who already does? Sell her on ebay?

Robin December 17, 2008

"fills my head with a deep, profound, Zen-like nothingness" was pretty much my reaction to both of the Lubins...nothing they've done so far other than Idole has done much more than that. I wonder if there were animal-derived ingredients in the old Coco? And no doubt one or more now-illegal musks, right?

karin December 17, 2008

Beautifully written, March! As for Coco, it never grew on me. I couldn't do Opium or Youth Dew either. Guess I'm not a spice girl at heart, at least not for those three killers. My first Chanels were No. 5 and Cristalle. Haven't tried Cristalle in years, and I stopped wearing No. 5 ages ago when I gave a bottle away to a friend cause I just couldn't stomach it any longer. Not sure what happened to me and 5. I used to love it. Then suddenly it became too cloying. I've tried it off and on since, hoping to find that magic again, but it hasn't happened. I've never tried the parfum version, though, so I'm wondering if that may work. I also used to LOVE the body lotion! And the Eau Premiere is on my list as a possible purchase. I wore Allure on my wedding day 2 years ago, and am faithful to the Coco Mademoiselle EDP (love it). But Coco? Sorry, it's a firm noooo for me, watered down or not.

Olfacta December 17, 2008

In 1991 or so I bought a coffret of Chanel EDTs -- Coco,19, 5, 22 and Cristalle. I still have some of the 5, 22 and Coco. The 22, particularly, is super-strong and dark and incensey. Tried some of the new 22 recently and...it's not even in the ballpark as the stuff I have. It's "pleasant." Now I'm reading the same from you about the Coco. How to intrepret this? They're shaved, waxed, bleached and giggly. In other words, modernized. No thanks. I'll take the shoulder pads. Great post!

Shelley December 17, 2008

It was Coco-or some home version thereof-- that provided me with my fleabay lesson on reputable sources and tangible evidence of a price "too good to be true." I was ashamed to tell my story, because I KNEW I should have known... ...and, truth be told, because there was something about the juice inside that I found I liked, anyway. I, too, found uses for the watered-down version. And, at the time, I had no idea how much finagling I'd be willing to put into making perfume appear out of my wallet, so I figured that was as close to a bottle of Chanel as I'd ever get. So, I don't mind leaving it out on display...so pretty on a silver cake stand on my dresser...and spritz without compunction as desired. ;;)

Patty December 17, 2008

One word -- parfum. It's the only iteration of Coco that works for me now, and it's not nearly as blowzy (which certainly has its charm) as the EDP, just deeper, closer. I love it for the same reason as I love Opium. No excuses, just flounces your feathered hair back over your shoulder and get on with life. Always excellent advice. :)