Chypre Siam is a whimsical, creative, and original take on the classical chypre genre. Manuel Cross, a former chef of 25 years, whisks up Thai cuisine with the zingy, zesty, bitter freshness of South East Asia’s Kaffir lime, aromatic green basil, the heat of fiery red chili peppers, and a touch of delightful lemongrass in lieu of the traditional French top notes. Then, he deftly swerves back to the classics with lush, indolic florals in the middle and verdant oakmoss in the base along with a load of skanky civet, amber, dark nitro musk (musk ketone), and dark, occasionally medicinal, smoky leather.
I really enjoy the fun, original opening of Chypre Siam and its vibrant character that demands attention and respect. Yet, I find myself somewhat ambivalent when I consider the fragrance as a whole from start to finish.
Chypre Siam is an eau de toilette that was released in 2017. In the “About Us” section on his website, Mr. Cross states that his fragrances “are IFRA compliant.” (Emphasis added by me.)
Despite Chypre Siam’s a whimsical South East Asian twist, the fragrance is intentionally meant to have a vintage-skewing aesthetic. Reportedly, Mr. Cross was inspired by Coty‘s famous, original, ground-breaking Chypre and worked five years on his composition. All artists must know and be skillful in the basics before they can break the mold. Think of Picasso, for example. Here, Mr. Cross’ use of nitro musks (probably musk ketone) reflects how deeply he’s studied the classics. Nitro musks were a major component in the original formula of many skanky chypres of the early to mid-20th century before their use in perfumery was severely limited by IFRA. They are still allowed, however, albeit in tiny amounts. (See e.g., IFRA Scientific Committee opinion, page 13 for the permissible levels in current eau de toilettes.)
On his website, Mr. Cross describes Chypre Siam and its notes as follows:
Floral, Resinous, Mossy, Green, Woody, Soft Leather
A still-life moment in the tropical eastern forest, captured in a traditional chypre structure.
Chypre-Siam is a vintage-style chypre fragrance, complete with nitro musks and oakmoss.
Notes include: Kaffir Lime, Basil, Spices, Jasmine, Ylang, Oakmoss, Sandalwood, Benzoin, Soft Leather, Civet.
Chypre Siam opens on my skin with a fresh, bright, verdant, and deliciously skanky bouquet. The first blast is lime, primarily the bitter, zingy, aromatic oils of its zested skin. A flurry of rich, warm spices follow suit, then an earthy patchouli-like woodiness, and pops of lemony, grassy lemongrass, all of which are swirled into a weightless but strong and deep blanket of oakmoss. Moments later, a perfectly pitched, balanced dose of skanky civet is strewn generously upon the green, brown, and earthy bouquet in the base.
5 minutes in, a few other elements join the party. Basil pops up on top while the slightly animalic sharpness of dark nitro musks stirs underneath next to a dark, smoky, slightly camphorous leather and a subtle undertone of dark, almost leathery, raw tobacco. Or perhaps the last two are one and the same. I strongly suspect that the leather accord in Chypre Siam is derived from something in the isobutyl quinoline family. If you’re interested, you can read about several of the raw materials, including isobutyl quinoline, that perfumers use to recreate the smell of leather in the opening part of my Oriza Peau d’Espagne review. It covers how isobutyl quinoline is frequently used in chypres and leathers because it emits aromas like oakmoss, vetiver, ambered resins, and tobacco as well as leather. All of these notes appear on my skin at some point or another when I apply my standard testing amount of a 2-spray equivalent.
As darkness, skank, nitro musk, and leatheriness slither in serpentine fashion through the earthy, green oakmoss base, a golden wave of sweet floralcy blows over the bouquet. I can’t say, though, that I experience the individual flowers in any clear, concrete, and well-delineated way. It’s as though the jasmine and ylang ylang are woven together so tightly that there isn’t space for them to breathe individually. What appears on my skin is an opaque, smushed-together fusion of: quietly indolic, syrupy floralcy that is vaguely jasmine-like or jasmine-adjacent; and a custard-like floralcy. The latter doesn’t smell clearly of ylang, one of my favourite flowers; it’s merely a sweet, warm, golden floral creaminess. The accord is lovely, though, particularly next to the bitterness of the zingy, crisp, Kaffir lime and the dark spices.
Speaking of spices, they grow increasingly fiery. 15 minutes in, Chypre Siam emits a chili pepper or pimento-like heat which is fantastic with the lime, lemongrass, florals, oakmoss, leather, caramel benzoin amber, and the patchouli-like note. Rest assured, though, none of it has a culinary bent when taken as a whole, so don’t worry that you’ll be wafting a curry or Tom Yum soup. The florals in addition to the increasingly pronounced civet, nitro musk, leather, and oakmoss preclude that from happening.
Roughly 25 minutes, Chypre Siam shifts in the order, prominence, and nuance of its notes. All the base note rise to the top, swirling together, overlapping, and deepening the body (and increasing the sillage) of the fragrance. The civet takes on a quietly urinous quality; the dark musks grow stronger and sharper; the basil and lemongrass dissolves into a muted, grassy, herbaceousness; the leather begins to emit tendrils of dark smoke and more of a medicinal, camphorous undertone; the benzoin amber awakens in the base to add a balanced, delicate touch of caramel sweetness; and the fiery, hot chili pepper doubles in strength, growing as pronounced as the lime and florals on my skin, maybe even more so.
I should note, however, that when I tested Chypre Siam with several small smears equal to only 1 spray from the bottle, not my standard 2-spray equivalent, the chili’s fieriness was – relative to my main, first test – quieter, rather abstract, and also limited in duration. On the skin of my wonky right arm, the chili pepper’s fire was similarly more muted with a 1-spray equivalent. It’s a question of degree, however.
The cumulative effect in all my tests is unlike any chypre I remember encountering. I attribute it primarily to the fiery red heat of the powerful pimento/chili note, since I have tried chypres that used lime in lieu of bergamot before. That said, the chili pepper with the Kaffir lime, basil, and the (muted) lemongrass is thoroughly unique for a chypre fragrance. Big props to Mr. Cross for his creativity, for his originality, and for thinking outside of the box. It’s an increasingly rare thing these days, in my opinion.
The second half of the first hour sees further changes to the balance of notes. In a nutshell, Chypre Siam begins its gradual transition from being a pure, animalic-laced chypre to being more of an animalic-based leather chypre. The leather, civet, musk, and chili pepper notes are, on my skin, becoming almost as profound as the oakmoss accord. The oakmoss, lime, and florals take a big step back.
By the start of the 2nd hour, or roughly 75 minutes in, Chypre Siam is, on my skin, unquestionably a spicy, animalic, musky floral leather with greenness rather than being a pure chypre. If I had to estimate the proportions of various accords or parts, I’d say that: roughly 48% of Chypre Siam consists of the smoky and slightly tarry leather, sharp dark musk, animalic civet, and chili pepper fiery spiciness; roughly 35% is comprised of sweet, creamy, buttery, indolic floralcy splattered with fresh, bitter, zingy lime; and the remaining 17% consists of everything else (oakmoss, benzoin, an earthy vetiver-like note, and the first signs of creamy sandalwood).
As Chypre Siam develops on my skin, certain notes begin to emit synthetic-smelling aromas and/or sharpness. The nitro musks take on an increasingly sharp edge that hovers just at the border of being abrasive to my nose. The civet isn’t harsh like the musks, but it has certain roughness to it, too, as compared to the real thing. Since synthetic civet is more animal-friendly, I don’t fault it here. Finally, the leather — which smells more like isobutyl quinoline on my skin than birch tar, styrax, or castoreum — is gradually developing a quiet, subtle chemical twinge to its smoky and rather medicinal, camphorous facets. (The fact that the opening undertone of dark, earthy tobacco in the base has now been replaced by a vetiver aroma strengthens my suspicions.)
Roughly 2.10 hours in, or early in the 3rd hour, Chypre Siam is an overlapping blur of: smoky, slightly medicinal leather; slightly urinous animalics; sharp dark musks; amorphous, creamy, sweet florals; an indeterminate greenness; an abstract golden warmth; vaguely sandalwood-ish woodiness; and now-muffled pops of tart citrus. The chili pepper note has faded almost completely away.
By the end of the 4th hour and start of the 5th, Chypre Siam is predominantly a sharp, smoky, musky, animalic, medicinal, and synthetic-smelling leather infused with a moderate to light amount of indolic, syrupy floralcy and lying atop a base of bitter lime, abstract greenness, amber, and creamy sandalwood. I’d estimate the various proportions now to be roughly as follows: 55% smoky, medicinal, black leather with razor-sharp musk ketone and an impressionistic civet-ish note; 25% indeterminate indolic flowers; 15% sweet benzoin amber and creamy sandalwood; 5% lime; and finally, 5% wispy, wan, amorphous greenness that has an occasional vetiver-ish-like undertone.
Roughly 5.10 minutes in, or at the start of the 6th hour, Chypre Siam changes again. The benzoin and sandalwood rise to the top, adding a lovely, moderately thick layer of warm, ambered creaminess to the musky, skanky, green-tinged, floral leather. The effect mellow out the leather quite considerably in addition to halving the sharpness of the synthetics, its animalics, and its medicinal undertones. The leather’s smokiness remains, though, as does the isobutyl quinoline’s vetiver-like aroma in the base. But everything feels better rounded now, gentler, and smoother as compared to the previous few hours.
I have to confess, however, that something — probably the nitro musks but maybe the leather as well — has given me quite a headache at this point. In addition, my throat feels so scratchy that I keep coughing. Since most of you don’t share my sensitivities to the darker, smokier, or stronger aromachemicals, though, let’s move on.
Chypre Siam shifts again in 7th hour. The leather begins to dissolve into suede, supplemented and coated by a thick layer of creaminess from the sandalwood. Soft ambered warmth hangs over it like a veil while fluctuating levels of floralcy quietly weave in and out of the sidelines. A quasi-vetiver-ish greenness lingers thinly in the base, though it’s close to dying.
This phase is essentially Chypre Siam’s transition into the drydown which begins roughly in the middle of the 8th hour or around the 7.20-hour mark. In essence, the bouquet is now merely a soft coating of warm, ambery, faintly creamy woodiness. Chypre Siam remains this way until its end some hours later.
Chypre Siam had initially strong sillage that took a while to grow soft and very good longevity when I applied my standard testing amount (around 2-3 generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from a bottle). The fragrance opened with about 6 inches of sillage that grew to about a foot after 15 minutes. Though the body of the scent felt weightless, the eau de toilette’s bouquet was stronger on my skin than a fair number of eau de parfums that I’ve tried using the same standard 2-spray amount. Roughly 1.75 hours in, the sillage drops to about 5-6 inches, then to 3-4 inches at the 2.25-hour mark (or early in the 3rd hour). By the middle of the 5th hour (or 4.5 hours in), Chypre Siam projects about an inch above my skin. There is no scent cloud around me unless I move my arm around my face. Chypre Siam became a skin scent when the drydown began or roughly during the middle of the 8th hour. In total, it lasted just under 12 hours, which is excellent for an eau de toilette on skin like mine that typically eats through that low scent concentration with rapidity.
I tested Chypre Siam using a lesser quantity as well as testing it on my wonky right arm. There was no major deviation from what I’ve described above; most of the changes were to the degree, prominence, or nuances or and on.
For example, with a 1-spray equivalent on my main testing arm (the same arm as used in the version above), the opening was darker with more of the raw tobacco-like undertone, a weaker Kaffir lime element, and no lemongrass. There was also an unexpected berry-like quality to the spice blend, almost like red peppercorns or possibly the all-spice berries that Mr. Cross used in Tuberose & Moss. The fiery chili pepper note lurks underneath in the opening but, when it does appear later on, it’s nowhere as fiery as in the 2-spray version. During its middle stages, Chypre Siam was virtually the same except there was no vetiver-like note in the base. As a whole, this version of Chypre Siam smelled and felt flatter, thinner, softer, and more subdued. In terms of performance, the sillage was significantly less and the fragrance lasted just shy of
On my wonky right arm, a 1-spray equivalent again yielded roughly the same result. However, the development of the stages was vastly accelerated. For example, the shift into a leather chypre then a floral leather happened much sooner. In terms of nuances, there was significantly less Kaffir lime and its duration was much shorter. The nitro musks continued to feel too sharp for me. In terms of differences, the bouquet took on a creamy feel and texture in the middle of the 2nd hour, something which didn’t happen on my main testing arm. Lastly, it finished as a benzoin amber, not as a woody scent.
I really liked and enjoyed Chypre Siam’s opening and first 2 or 2.5 hours. My feelings about the rest of the scent, however, are mixed. I cannot pinpoint why exactly I was not so captivated. It wasn’t only the sharpness of the nitro musks on my skin or the more medicinal quality of the leather. That’s only a small part of it. I think the amorphousness of the green accord, how it wasn’t really oakmossy on me after the first 2 hours in the way that I had anticipated, and the opacity of the floral accord were contributing factors. Also, the things that excited me about Chypre Siam, that made it stand out, that felt wholly original or grabbed my attention – they weren’t a major factor later on. The leather was, and that wasn’t as interesting.
Everything about the remainder of Chypre Siam was solid and fine, but it didn’t blow my socks off. Actually, it didn’t evoke much of anything in me, just a sort of “okay, this is what it is.” In, the years to come, if there is anything that I’ll remember about Chypre Siam is that it had a great opening two hours and either that the rest of it simply did not stand out and/or that its leather had overly sharp nitro musks. Nothing else about the the later stages is that memorable to me, to be honest.
I don’t know why I’m so underwhelmed. Maybe there was too much hype about this fragrance.
Regardless of my personal reactions, I definitely think Chypre Siam is worth trying and recommend doing so if you love the chypre or leather chypre genres. There’s a lot to commend about the fragrance.
If you want to read about other experiences with or thoughts on Chypre Siam, you can turn to Fragrantica.