Donna Karan Chaos

Some dreams die hard. I suppose I will never be six feet tall. I have grudgingly given up the fantasy of a stolen night of passion with Anderson Cooper. But I make the days bearable by maintaining (and crossing names off) my private list of fragrances I need to smell while I still can – Coty Chypre, Guerlain Ode, Lanvin Scandal. You get the idea. If I have faith, sooner or later a taste of the most obscure scents will magically appear in my mailbox. Compared to many, Donna Karan Chaos isn´t even that obscure. Released in 1996 and discontinued (I think) in 2002, it has a cult following and you can find bottles regularly online, providing you´re willing to part with several hundred dollars. For much less money, the curious can buy one of the wee spray samplers on eBay. I lucked into a set of them recently, and was looking forward (perversely) to adding Chaos to my list of discontinued things that I enjoyed smelling but decided I could live without.

On the DK spectrum, Chaos somewhere between Cashmere Mist and Black Cashmere. Cashmere Mist (jasmine, muguet, bergamot, sandalwood, amber, musk) is described on its own website as “intended to be smelled by the wearer and those closest to her.” I think that for many people, it is precisely the comfort scent suggested by the name – snug, warm and close, it is a soothing skin scent, developing in a gentle arc from the more floral aspect at the beginning to a gentle, somewhat woody musk drydown. While I admire Cashmere Mist as a concept, it´s never been a comfort scent on me. The green note (I’m assuming some combo of muguet/bergamot) is always a bit too jarring and insistent, although I suspect that with less of that I´d love it.

Black Cashmere, on the other hand, is the sort of fragrance with much less universal appeal, but if you´re all in on the incense and woods, it´s pretty fabulous. While I´ve seen various spices listed as ingredients (saffron, clove, nutmeg, pimento berries, white pepper), the reality for most people seems to be a deep, rich combination of incense and wenge wood. While I wouldn´t change a note, some people complain of an odd, waxy note, and even more people seem to like the fragrance in theory (or on a scent strip) but find it much too strong in practical application. If you´re one of those people, I urge you to try the lotion, which to me smells precisely like the fragrance (that isn´t always true) but manages to amp down the entire effect considerably.

Chaos (notes of sandalwood, cardamom, cinnamon, padukwood, agarwood, saffron, clove, amber, musk, sage, lavender, chamomile, coriander) falls somewhere between the two – it is a comfort scent of the first magnitude (as far as I´m concerned, the name´s meant to be ironic), harmonious and close to the skin. It has Cashmere Mist´s fine-gauge gentleness rather than Black Cashmere´s kohl-eyed assertiveness. Chaos bears some relationship to Black Cashmere in terms of smell – it is a cousin, or (possibly) the Femme version, if Black Cashmere were Homme. They share the caramel/wood/nutty note, one of my favorites in any fragrance, but Chaos has only the lightest touch of incense. Thanks to the inverted ratio of woods to spices, Chaos blooms rather than retreats into Black Cashmere´s inky darkness. The spices together (I notice the cardamom and saffron most) complement the woods without being in any real way a gourmand note. The sharpness of the sage, lavender and chamomile keep the woods sheer. It´s difficult to describe the effect – Chaos wears lightly, and subtly, but it is by no means a “light” fragrance, and a spray or two carries me through the day, with its presence always detectable.

Each of us has a relationship with scent that is deeply personal, and I am no more able than the next person to parse precisely what fine oscillations in my brain caused by a particular perfume might move me so. Chaos doesn´t remind me of anything. It doesn´t take me any particular place. It provokes no deep associations or emotions. I am not even sorry I have discovered it so late, and maybe this besotted infatuation will pass, but Chaos is bringing me dangerously close to perfume monogamy. I have no idea why it was discontinued. I´ve read two stories: first, that Karan designed it for her husband (or he for her) and she pulled it after her husband´s premature death; and second that LVMH (?) axed it when they acquired her company. I would describe it as a fully unisex scent, woody rather than sweet, and maybe it just didn´t sell well. But now I understand why folks on Basenotes and elsewhere get weepy and bitter when they reminisce. It´s that good.

So, this week´s giveaway is one of my little sample sprays of Chaos (FYI – it´s not full, because that´s the way they were manufactured). If you´re interested, leave a comment below saying you´d like to be included in the drawing.

Regarding Anderson Cooper: Look at that photo from Vanity Fair — my masculine eye-candy ideal. I´m sorry about cropping this into a headshot only because his hands are beautiful. I have to be careful on the treadmill at the gym, because when he comes on the TV I keep forgetting to move my feet. I love the color of his hair, although I harbor a sneaking suspicion he´s rinsing it with Roux Fanci-full, in a shade called something like “Silver Fox,” just like the gray-haired ladies at the beauty parlor my mom used to go to when I was little.

  • Edie says:


    I loved Chaos.

    It was the first perfume a lover bought for me as a gift. I long ago dumped the suitor, but the memories of Chaos are still there. I was devastated when it was discontinued. I kept my empty bottle of Chaos for years, hoping it might return. In dispair and to keep from torturing myself, I finally threw away the bottle. About two years ago I stumbled upon Black Cashmere and felt like I had come home again. With Chaos as only a memory, Black Cashmere seemed to be Chaos reborn. To avoid the pain and suffering of losing a favored fragrance again, I have 4 bottles of Black Cashmere stashed away. I don’t think I can live with the pain of separation again.

  • Lindsey says:

    Oh Chaos…I bought my one and only bottle in 1996 after smelling on my college roomate and loving it. It the the perfume I was wearing when I met my would-be husband for the first time. Every time I wear it (which is about once a year) he says…”you’re wearing the smell”…and he remembers the first time he saw he. I was looking through my perfume collection today and smelled my Chaos bottle and remember old time. I had no idea it was discontinued until today when I went online to try to find a replacement bottle for my now half empty original bottle. How sad I am….I want to cry. This scent is so beautiful and means so much to me and my husband that I even plan on naming my first daughter Chaos.

  • Helena says:

    Just a note for those interested in trying Anarchy, don’t waste your time. Smells like an air freshener version of Chaos.

  • Pat Duran says:

    Instead of paying ransom amounts for spoiled bottles of Chaos, why not try knock off scents such as “Anarchy?” (This perfume is inexpensive and received rave reviews…just google: “Anarchy original recipe perfume version of Chaos”).

  • Sonia Dabney says:

    Chaos is my all time favorite fragrance. I’m getting married next year and all I requested from my beau was to find me a bottle of chaos, so that I can wear it on my wedding day, September 2, 2007.


  • Helena says:

    I spent my formative years looking for a signature scent but never settled on one, due to an aversion to powders and florals. Had resigned myself to wearing a comination of patchouli and Egyptian musk oils when I discovered Chaos in 1997–free at last! Musky woodsy inscence-y perfection! Became my signature scent and elicited powerful reactions from those aroud me, including devastatingly perfect man I was in love w/at the time. Went to live in Brazil for a year, came back, and it was gone. As was Mr. Devastation. Perfume-obsessed sisters will understand when I say that the loss of one was no less heartbreaking than the loss of the other. Went online about 4 years ago and bought a bottle, at the time outrageously priced at $250, but was a disappointment. The fragrance had turned, and smelled slightly spoiled. Black Cashmere is nice but a poor shadow of a substitute, way too Perfume-Lady perfumey, like Samsara. Can we start a petition to DK to elicit her help in bringing Chaos back?
    BTW, may I suggest posting a picture of Benicio DelToro next time you’re discussing masculine perfection?

  • Michelle Roche says:

    My friend has a half a bottle left, and I love it. I would love to find a bottle for myself.

  • Jenn says:

    I found (after many years of searching)a perfume that is pretty close in smell to chaos.

  • sybil says:

    Trace…try Sonomascentstudio dot com…I\’ve heard her dupe is great, but can\’t say for sure…

  • Trace says:

    :”> I am down to my last 2 bottles. I did run across a sight that did an imitation of Chaos but now I can’t find it. Is there a way to have it made?

  • whataworld says:

    Aw, did I miss the bus. I love freebies.

  • Emotenote says:

    Hi March,

    Too bad about the Chaos, although I’ve been in a subtle mood lately so it’s probably for the best. I put on a spray of Ormonde woman and nearly passed out, (usuallly I swoon and flourish as my 6 year old says). The Black Cashmere has a very dark almost gothic smell to my DH. It must be the unusual woods in it. Mind you, that’s a goth with taste.

  • March says:

    Patty — hah hah hah! Which dirty bits? The loving description of Chaos or Anderson? Somehow he strikes me as not your type — too weenie.

    anyhow, anything to get you to try Chaos! Is it not THE BOMB?!?! I know you liked part of the DK stuff, but that BC just chafes you (that little extra buttcrack and misery…) I think BC smells gur-REAT on me, but maybe it’s self-delusion.

  • March says:

    Patch — You’re in!

    Cait — I know, I know. My family feels your family’s pain. They’re still contemplating an intervention, although (for sheer freak value) the endless decants sitting around over here amuse the friends of #1 Daughter. I’ve been told the computer area smells good…

  • March says:

    Cindy, Emote and Karen — you’re in!

    Emote — what about it does your husband not like? That’s the same comment from earlier … is it too masculine? Too strong? Yeesh. I think it’s such a great smell, but what do I know?

  • March says:

    Erika — Eh, I’ve had it too. Let’s nag Patty into reporting her results, shall we?

  • Patty says:

    This is dangerously close to perfume pr0n. 🙂 But it did prompt me to pull out the awesome sample you sent me.

    wow, it is that good, like the best of black cashmere and the essences combined, but without that nasty note that makes BC almost unwearable for me.

  • Cait says:

    I’ve never smelled Chaos. I liked Black Cashmere. It was released during the time I began to become perfume obsessed and go on MUA and my family thought I had lost my mind. Now they’re used to it.

  • patchamour says:

    Hi March,

    Black Cashmere is No. 1 on my list, so I would love to try Chaos. Please count me in for the drawing. Why in the world do great scents get discontinued?

  • Karen says:

    Anderson Cooper is nice — but my heart still belongs to Peter! (Peter Jennings)
    Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks.

  • Emotenote says:

    Black Cashmere is truly a scent for the right mood. Usually its my drive the DH away scent! I would love to try chaos

  • CindyN says:

    Great post, as usual. Please count me in on Chaos! I missed it the first time around…so maybe I’ll be fortunate to get a whiff this time.

  • BBliss says:

    Oh L’air is definitely not the same – it feels hollow now. The old was so much better – subtly persistent and just lovely.

    I’m in total agreement – AC is quite mesmerizing!

  • Erika says:

    Oh sorry. That wasn’t you that got the botox, it was Patty.

    Sheeeez, it takes me a while to catch on!

  • March says:

    BBliss — I can see how CM and L’Air would get you to the same place in terms of effect. I think L’Air doesn’t smell as good as it used to, actually (what does?)

    The nape of Anderson’s neck …. lordy, lordy…

  • March says:

    Erika — PS — Yeah, I’d heard he was playing for the other team. But even if he showed up on my doorstep tomorrow and said he read my blog every day and wanted to make my day (which will happen right before I’m killed by a meteor) I’d have to turn him down, b/c it would make my husband unhappy. So, since it’s all fantasy anyway, who cares where he sleeps? That’s probably why his hands are so nicely groomed. I bet his feet are pretty too. Sigh…

  • March says:

    Erika — welcome. We’re all about the perfume here at the Posse… when we aren’t getting our faces Botoxed, playing with makeup or fantasizing about hot, prematurely-gray news guys…

  • March says:

    Carolyn — wow, I feel so … vindicated about the CM. I find her new Gold a bit much, too.

  • March says:

    annE and Emily — you’re in! C’mon… try the d/c’d scents… it’s like a treasure hunt.

  • March says:

    Natalie — ah, another Black Cashmere fan:-? I guess more people like it than I’d thought. Thanks for your offer to share AC. I could borrow him and give him back.

  • March says:

    Haus — yeah, I’d sign up for that drawing.:”> I do think Cashmere Mist works well for other (more normal?) people…

  • March says:

    Twibbet — you’re in!

  • BBliss says:

    Oh yes – this one is also on my running “Must Smell” list. I just haven’t fallen across it yet. Please include me! Cashmere Mist is comforting – mostly on others – but I do like to smell it – reminds me of my mother, too. She wears it so well – CM actually reminds me of her other old favorite L’air du Temps (1970’s version). I need to see what the similarity is there – I think it’s the effect, though not exactly the smell.

    I always look at hands – and the back of the neck…

  • Erika says:

    I can’t believe I haven’t been by your site before this! What rock have I been under?!

    I too think AC is a little hottie (but ever since Perez Hilton told me he was gay, I have to admit I haven’t looked at Anderson the same…)

    I’m adding you to my favorites… And let us know how the botox is now that you’v had it for a few days!

  • Carolyn says:

    I feel the same way about Cashmere Mist that you do, March. It’s the green note(s) that kills it for me. I didn’t realize until reading your post that I’ve never tried Black Cashmere either. I’ll be sure to sample next time I see it. I’d love to be in the drawing for the Chaos sample, since I haven’t tried that one either and you make it sound so good!

  • Emily says:

    Please enter me in the drawing!

  • annE says:

    March, I loved reading about all three of these scents together. I’ve recently fallen for Black Cashmere, and although I’m with Kathy on trying NOT to sample d/c’d scents, I would love to try the Chaos, just for the sake of my perfume education. 🙂 So please enter me in the drawing, thanks!

  • Natalie says:

    Thank you for holding the drawing. Please submit my name. I love your description. Black Cashmere floats my boat considerably so I would love to try this. If I ever get Anderson, or even a piece of him, he belongs to you.

  • hausvonstone says:

    Hi, please enter me in the drawing for Anderson Cooper…I mean DK Chaos. Ah well, one can dream… Your description of it sounds wonderful. I was given a sample of Cashmere Mist by a friend and it really er…rubbed me the wrong way. Something harsh up top – a snag in the sweater. The Black Cashmere and Chaos sound worth trying. Into the woods!

  • Twibbet says:

    I like Black Cashmere, but it’s just ferocious on me – Chaos sounds very promising. Please enter me in the drawing!

  • March says:

    Robin — I know what you mean. NN was a disappointment for me too, although I wasn’t expecting to love it. Chaos for you? My guess is it would depend on your general fondness for Black Cashmere. They have enough in common that I’d think someone who liked/hated one would feel the same about the other. FWIW I’d give BC an 8.5 (and I love incense). Chaos is a 10.

  • March says:

    Jill and Rachael — you’re in! Thanks for commenting!

  • Robin says:

    Chaos has acquired for me something like the cachet of Nombre Noir…was very sorry I ever tried Nombre Noir as it was a great disappointment, so now not sure I want to try Chaos, LOL…

  • rachael says:

    I really shouldn’t even try a fragrance that I can’t afford to love, but I hear so much about Chaos, and I’d love to try it. Funny that it was discontinued, it seems so popular.

  • jill says:

    Black Cashmere is one of my all-time favorite discoveries, I could wear it every day! Please enter me in the drawing to sample a bit of Chaos, thanks!

  • March says:

    Sybil — those lips! Those eyes! Sigh… I bet he smells good, too. You’re in.

  • March says:

    Jo — you’re in! I’m wild for Black Cashmere, too.

  • March says:

    Marina — I have this fantasy that DK’s going to hear the hype at some point and reissue it… alternately, that I’ll find a stash in some dingy perfume shop. Given that BC was (I think) intended as its replacement, I’m not holding my breath, though… (weeping bitterly)

  • sybil says:

    Anderson Cooper…even in a cropped shot, is well worth it…and I’m trying to not fall in love w/ discontinued stuff. But, just like a truncated pic of AC is worth looking at, I’m guessing a tiny sample of Chaos is worth smelling. So, please, March, put me in the drawing!

  • Jo says:

    I would dearly love the Chaos sample. I’m wearing Black Cashmere today and think I smell gorgeous! So, I really need to see what I’ve missed all these years!

  • March says:

    Trinity — yeah. As miserable as the price seems now, my guess is that the $ won’t look so bad in five years.

  • March says:

    Elle —- auuuughhhh! What a great thing to stumble across in your closet!!

    Dang. I should have put in a photo of the bottle, too. It’s almost as gorgeous as Anderson;)

  • Marina says:

    *Becomes weepy and bitter*

    Why can’t they bring it back? I mean don’t they KNOW how many people love it? Idiots. :((

  • March says:

    Dinazad — you’re exactly right — negative genius. I’m glad you’re lucky enough to own some. Once the samples are gone, I’m going to have to grit my teeth and buy a bottle.

  • March says:

    Kathy — you’re in. Hope I’m not enabling an addiction…:-”

    I’ve read excerpts of his book. Also a very funny bit (not sure from the book) where he pokes fun at his horror while reading a draft of his mother’s racy memoir about all her relationships.

  • March says:

    Chaya — of COURSE I love his lips!!!! Is that not the mouth of a sensualist?!? His hands match… there’s the funniest photo (if you google) of him as a baby, taken by Diane Arbus. So of course he’s ugly; Gloria Vanderbilt didn’t like it, but what do you expect with Arbus? Anyway, the kicker is he’s got that same mouth. He grew into it nicely, mmmmmm?

  • March says:

    Steve — you’re in. Thanks for stopping by.

  • March says:

    Paschat and everyone else who requested — you’re in the drawing, and I’ll announce on Wednesday.

    Paschat — I love the labdanum. The wenge is also very much worth trying if you haven’t.

  • trinity says:

    I was fortunate enough to have my hubby present a bottle of Chaos to me for my birthday some years ago while it was still readily available. It is truely a unique, wonderful scent.
    I have always heard the story that Karan’s husband designed the scent for her, and she d/c it after his death. Who knows the real truth?
    Glad you got to try it. As the years pass, it will become harder and harder to sample. And of course, the price will continue to rise as well.

  • Elle says:

    I adore Chaos. I thought I’d finished my last bottle and had none left, but last year was digging through my closet where I keep most of my perfumes jammed into moving boxes and found a long forgotten bottle of Chaos. I almost keeled over from shock. I now live in fear of running through this bottle too quickly.
    Her husband was a sculptor and he designed the bottle. I’m not sure if she designed the scent for him or not, but I’m inclined to put the blame for that insane decision to discontinue it on LVMH. Grrrrr.
    Anderson really is swoonable…

  • dinazad says:

    It is indeed that beautiful. Chaos, I mean, not the pictured gent, whom I don’t know – knowledge of him hasn’t made it to Europe, so I live in blissful ignorance and have crushes on other people instead. But Chaos is/was a masterpiece, and its discontinuation a stroke of one-of-a-kind idiocy bordering on negative genius, rather like throwing away a Rembrandt because he doesn’t match the colour scheme of your living room….. I may be a bit hyperbolic here, but why shouldn’t I highlight the colours of my similes a bit? So few can compare after all, since the scent is discontinued. So, for all it is worth: yes, it was that good. No thank you for the drawing. I happen to be lucky enough to own some Chaos yet.

  • Kathy says:

    I’ve been studiously avoiding trying any discontinued fragrances, but your review makes me curious. Please enter me into the drawing. Love the picture of Anderson – I need to read his book.


  • chayaruchama says:

    Good mornin’ March-
    I’d love to jump on the bandwagon !

    What, you don’t love his lips?
    I do love hands, but oh, my…
    In my house, it’s all about the lips !
    Also, noses-
    I worked with a wonderful Lebanese young man, and I used to tell him that my one desire was to swim up his beautiful nostrils like a salmon, spawn there, and die happy !
    [You HAD to see his face…he loved me, in spite of it…]

    I very much enjoyed your impressions of the DK scents.

    Have a glorious day…

  • Steve H says:

    Please enter me as well into the drawing.

    I’d love to try a DK scentfor the 1st time.

  • Paschat says:

    Love Anderson and would love to try Chaos! Please put me in the drawing. The only DK love I have at this time is Labdnaum. 😮