If you want me to pay attention to a new perfume release, all you need to do is tell me that it is a revival of the chypres of the 1970’s. Ella, a 2016 release from Arquiste designed by Rodrigo Flores-Roux, stakes a forceful claim to this legacy: according to its creators, its sources of inspiration are said to be Armando’s Le Club, Acapulco, Mexico, in December 1978, on a “a sultry night of disco, plunging necklines and champagne-soaked skin.”
In 1978, I was a teenager slouching towards New York City in a Ramones t-shirt. As I danced to my favorite punk bands, any soaking that I experienced came from beer, not cuvée. I never visited the discos, but I did not believe, as did some of my peers, that “Disco Sucks!” Disco was fine with me because people danced to it and didn’t sit around smoking pot and being boring.
So although I don’t have a strong emotional connection with Ella’s glamorously Latin and beachy backstory, I still have many fond memories of the raucous and rebellious 1970’s and the green, sharp perfumes that defined the era: Givenchy III (1970), Chanel No. 19 (1971), Clinique Aromatic Elixir (1972), Estee Lauder Aliage (1972), Shiseido Inouï (1976), Paco Rabanne Metal (1979), and Scherrer by Jean-Louis Scherrer (1979). If you have worn–or still wear–any of those 1970’s chypres, Ella will immediately smell very familiar to you. Ella opens with a perfectly lovely, dewy rose damascone note. (It is worth observing that many of the sharp suited, tough 1970’s chypres are structured around a paradoxically delicate rose.) Initially tart and herbal, Ella gradually becomes sweeter and honeyed without bitterness.
But is Ella that rare thing–a perfume revival that measures up to its precedents? I regret to say that Ella falls just a bit short for me. In its first hour, Ella is entrancing, and I think a bottle of Ella could easily take its place next to my treasured vintage chypres, but I find that Ella’s radiant flowers, herbs, and fruit take on a slightly sharp, tinned quality rather quickly. Two hours after application, Ella wears pretty close to my perfume-absorptive skin. If I smash my nose to my wrist and warm my skin with my breath, I can just smell labdanum, ambroxan, and a very gentle, kittenish civet. Although I am grateful that the clever Flores-Roux did not go heavy on woody aromachemicals to pump up and extend Ella’s drydown, I feel that there is a distinct lack of “oomph” and potency in this composition. Perhaps I am just lamenting the absence of vintage oakmoss, which provides a smooth, earthy, and lingering finish to many of the vintage chypres. Given changing tastes in perfumery, Ella’s moderate to minimal longevity and sillage are probably correctly calibrated for a contemporary chypre, but my 1970’s chypres can still hold their own in the smoke and fumes of any dance club, unlike me.