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.