I’ve gotten several packages over the last week or two. Some of them … honestly, you people. Some of them put me to shame. I’ll mention in particular the two Patricia de Nicolai decants from Anonymous, who has never looked anything other than wildly chic in her entire life, as far as I know. So the atomizers are beautifully wrapped, and they themselves are lovely, and everything is professionally packed.
My outgoing sample packages? Look like they were styled by the Unabomber, or a five-year-old with some lingering small-motor-skills issues. First off, I recycle all the packaging. Second, I … well, there’s no excuse, is there? Hug a tree, right? Hey, it’s FREE! Patty has mocked me to my face about this, wondering whether it’s just my general cheap-ass tendencies, or some other flaw.
Among the incoming gifties was a sample of vintage, circa-1980 Chloé, mentioned and batted around in a recent post. Generous Sender was worried about being busted by the USPS for Contraband Substances, so she’d wrapped it up super-carefully, nesting-doll-style. And when I finally got to the middle and popped the lid off the little earring box … well, there it was. Ghost of Chloé.
I meant to get to the mall this week to do a comparison with a new bottle of this still-available scent, and I’m afraid I forgot to do so. But several commenters on the last post said that the version you can buy now just doesn’t smell right. (And we’re talking about new bottles of “old” Chloé, not the “new Chloé ” with Chloé Sevigny as, I guess, muse – which in my opinion is perfect, as it tells me everything I needed to know about how awful it would be. And if you’re in the mood for an argument, go ahead and stick up for her as a Style Icon. I think in terms of style and taste levels, I’d place her on the spectrum somewhere between RuPaul and Lindsey Lohan, with maybe a sprinkling of Lady Gaga.)
Back to Original Chloé … notes are honeysuckle, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, hyacinth, lilac, coconut, bergamot, aldehydes, peach, jasmine, rose, narcissus, tuberose, carnation, orris, oakmoss, sandalwood, amber, musk, cedar and benzoin. It had Karl Lagerfeld’s name behind it – he worked as the head designer for Chloé, the French fashion house, at the time. To what degree, if any, Lagerfeld was actually involved in the scent’s development, I have no idea. At least in the U.S., it was a runaway hit that had nothing whatsoever to do with the fashion brand of Chloé – that is, women didn’t wear it the way they might choose No. 5 or Cristalle in order to project the image of Chanel. They wore it, in droves, or so it seemed to me, simply because they loved the smell.
Chloé smells very much of its time (1975) – it is a huge, easily-overpowering floral. There is nothing “fruity” in the modern sense – it is not a Sour-Patch-Kids-candy-fruity-floral, or fruitchouli, nor is it remotely gourmand. While I suppose it is “tuberose” more than anything else, it’s not tuberose in the manner of, say, Fracas, or something newer and nichier — it’s a much busier combination of florals. My 30-year-old sample gives a sense of elements having been compressed – the top notes are off a hair (a bit of that “old-perfume” varnish vibe) and the aldehydes I recall are mostly missing. From the vantage point of 2010, Chloé is intensely sweet and old-school, the sort of scent I immediately associate with Farrah-styled hair, Famolares and a Gunne Sax lace dress, perhaps on Prom night. And wow, I wish I still had my prom dress, because it looks like I could make some dough on it now!
Chloé is not a gentle melody of individual notes. The floral, vaguely tropical notes move at you like a Phil Spector-esque Wall of Smell – ylang, honeysuckle, coconut, jasmine and tuberose; the peach only adds to the sweetness. This is not a fragrance that one should overapply. As we move into the drydown, the intense sweetness fades, and the scent takes on a quietly smoky bitterness on the skin, reminiscent of papiers d’Armenies. Unsurprisingly, it is quite tenacious. I wonder what Karl would think of it now.
I’ve made no secret in the past of my personal feelings about scents, particularly vintage ones that I remember from back in the day. Chloé, as many of you already know, is inextricably bound up in my mind with my late mother-in-law, the Big Cheese’s mother, who died in 2006, having drenched herself for at least two decades in Chloé each time she left the house. (She had a very late, and mercifully brief, flirtation with Cartier Dragon’s Breath.)
The clothes I have of hers, some of which I wear regularly, some occasionally and some not at all, still carry the Ghost of Chloé, a smell that surely impregnated every surface of her bedroom and enormous dressing room — a spare bedroom in their apartment which she had converted into mostly mirrored closets housing her quite extensive clothing collection. I still smell the Ghost of Chloé on her coats, on her furs, on her scarves.
And so I find myself in a situation I think many of you have experienced. I happen to love that smell – I think Chloé ‘s beautiful – but I could no more wear it than I could jam my foot into her size 5.5 shoes. It makes me feel both happy and sad, and I am tempted to dab a bit of my sample on the items I wear most that are now losing their Chloé smell. But Chloé was hers, and apparently it always will be.