Chanel‘s original Coromandel gradually turned into my all-time favourite modern designer scent, so today I thought I’d look at the recent extrait or pure parfum version and how it measures up. Spoiler alert: It’s a good successor to the EDT. That was not my opinion of the replacement 2016 eau de parfum, by the way.
If you’ll bear with me, a little background context is warranted. The original Coromandel was an eau de toilette (EDT) that was pulled and replaced in 2016 by a more concentrated eau de parfum (EDP) version with a slightly tweaked formula.
I was unimpressed. Even a little annoyed actually. I’ll explain the olfactory reasons why near the end of this review after I’ve described what the pure parfum or smells like so that you have a point of comparison.
When the pure parfum or extrait version launched in 2019, I was leery of trying it. As a general rule, I’m not keen on having my olfactory heart broken by fragrance replacements or reformulations, and I hadn’t liked what had been done to the original formula ratios (on my skin at least) in the EDP.
My feelings completely changed, however, when my Twitter friend, Jake, waxed rhapsodic about Coromandel extrait. It was his raves, not others, that made me sit up because he’d previously and repeatedly disagreed with me about the merits of the eau de parfum, although he conceded that he’d never tried the EDT and couldn’t have a point of comparison as a result. So when Jake raved that Coromandel parfum blew the (previously admired and loved) EDP out of the water, was significantly better in his eyes, and was a total comfort scent that he couldn’t stop wearing, then that meant something. (Jake, we’re cool on the averageness and flaws of the EDP now, right?)
For the first time in over 10 years, I was actually tempted to blind-buy something — and that’s saying a lot coming from me with my firmly held opinion that buying expensive full bottles of something that you’ve never tested or sampled is olfactory Russian Roulette 95% or 97% of the time. Then, to my amazement, a dear personal friend, the famous beauty blogger Temptalia, surprised me with a full bottle as a present. I was overjoyed but also slightly fearful that, yet again, I’d be disappointed.
Well, I wasn’t, exactly. While I still prefer the original EDT, the new(ish) Coromandel parfum is thoroughly enjoyable and good. Very good, in my opinion, and far better than the EDP whose mere memory still makes my lip curl. So let’s take an indepth look at what the parfum looks and smells like.
Chanel officially describes Coromandel parfum with the usual inanities about its Nazi she-devil founder and actual Nazi WW2 agent/spy or her tastes. I refuse to type any self-aggrandizing words about that wretched woman and I will not be a stenographer to the company’s obnoxious, gushing white-washing, so let’s move onto olfactory details.
The original Coromandel was issued as an eau de toilette in 2007 and was created by Christopher Sheldrake and Jacques Polge with some assistance from Olivier Polge who is now Chanel’s in-house perfumer.
The 2019 extrait’s basic scent formula is the same with some reported tweaking by Mr. Polge:
Composed by In-House Perfumer Creator Olivier Polge, this scent features a heightened musk note for added warmth and fullness, while swirls of frankincense and Andalusian labdanum convey a deep ambery note with smoky accents. [Emphasis added by me.]
Chanel does not provide a note list for Coromandel parfum. The EDT’s notes, according to a reviewer (“Zut”) on Basenotes and posted in my review of that formulation, were as follows:
Top: citruses, bitter orange, neroli
Heart: jasmine, rose, patchouli, orris
Base: incense [namely opoponax, in my opinion], olibanum [aka frankincense], benzoin, woodsy notes, musk, Tahitian vanilla [plus tonka, in my opinion and per the ingredient list on my EDT box].
Coromandel parfum must have the same notes since it is simply a more concentrated version of an existing theme. The differences seem to be the heightened (dark) musks and the specific mention of labdanum which Chanel never previously mentioned. As a side note, I don’t completely agree with the list because never once have I detected roses in any of my wearings of any of the Coromandel concentrations.
Coromandel parfum opens on my skin with a central quartet of notes. There is: crisp yet warm and aromatic bergamot; toffee’d and caramel-scented amber from labdanum and benzoin, respectively; loads of beautiful patchouli that smells spicy, chocolate-y, woody, resinous, chewy, and slightly boozy; and a tightly interwoven mix of nutty, spicy, rather resinous and occasionally cinnamon-flecked opoponax (sweet myrrh) incense smoke alongside smoke from church-like, silvery, clean frankincense.
Other things support the dominant quartet. On the sidelines, a sweeter, more orange-like citrus note dances next to syrupy and slightly indolic jasmine, but they are both lesser, secondary notes. In the background, a quiet, indeterminate but dark muskiness undulates. In the base, the sheer degree of resinous from the opoponax, labdanum, and patchouli indirectly creates a certain dark, impressionistic leatheriness.
I love all of it. It’s not solely because of the strong echoes to my beloved vintage Opium‘s central and/or base accords. It’s also because Coromandel is and always will be a patchouli-dominant, patchouli-heavy fragrance on my skin, in all versions, and I am an abject worshipper at the temple of that note.
Another reason, though, is that the rich, heavy, concentrated nature of the notes and of the parfum — both separately and cumulatively— create a luxurious opulence that feels timeless. It’s retro, it’s modern, it’s neither one in particular, and it’s also both. It’s crisp and bright; it’s dark and sultry. It’s spicy, sweet-dry, ambered, and perfectly balanced. It’s extremely chic and elegant, yet there is a warm sensuality underlying this particular combination of notes as well. It’s also damn cozy and inviting, particularly if you’re a Patch Head or someone who loves amber. It’s unisex, it’s gender fluid, it’s positively baroque at times (particularly later on). It really feels like something that my beloved Yves St. Laurent would have created or approved of — just as he would have to the original Coromandel EDT and, to be fair, probably to the EDP replacement as well.
Coromandel extrait does not change profoundly in its essence on my skin for hours. All that happens in between the opening 10 minutes and the middle of the eighth hour are fluctuations in the order, prominence, strength, and nuances of the individual notes or the driving focal point of the overall bouquet.
For example, 10 minutes in, a rich, creamy, slightly over-sugared vanilla note pops up on the sidelines, becoming one of the second-class of aromas (at this point in time) alongside the jasmine and orange. At the same time, the pulsating wave of musk grows stronger and begins to draw closer to the central, dominant bouquet in the foreground. 25 minutes in, powderiness temporarily rears its head in the base. but it’s a difficult aroma to define with certainty; it could be tonka, a byproduct of the frankincense, orris, or a combination thereof. 50 minutes in, a subtle iris-like floralcy joins the indolic, musky, syrupy jasmine.
Then, not long after, at the end of the 1st hour and start of the 2nd, the notes realign. Coromandel parfum is now driven, in order of prominence and strength, by: sweet vanilla; chocolate-y and woody patchouli; jasmine; benzoin caramel amber; plumes of alternatively nutty, resinous, smoky, and spicy opoponax/sweet myrrh incense; dark musks; iris floralcy and its powdered orris sweetness; toffee’d labdanum; and muffled wisps of crisp bergamot citrus. As the second hour proceeds, the notes begin to overlap and bleed into one another, though the individual clarity of the dominant notes remains for hours to come.
Further and new realignments occur at the end of the 2nd hour or about 1.50-minutes to 1.55-minutes in. The bronzed and golden, spicy, chocolate-y patchouli becomes the driving force, the sultry jasmine moves into second place, followed by the rich vanilla, with an increasingly benzoin-driven, caramel-scented amber bringing up the rear. The labdanum’s toffee is largely an ephemeral wisp in the background. Meanwhile, the frankincense completely disappears on my skin, though it returns much later in full force in several of my wearings or tests of Coromandel. The same holds true for the orris and for any leatheriness emanating as a byproduct of the more resinous materials. Finally, there is no overt, clear, concrete iris floralcy or orange on my skin from this point forth.
Late in the 4th hour or about 3.75-hours in, Coromandel parfum grows darker, more bronzed, and richer. The dominant focus is now amber, incense, and indolic, musky, jasmine, all woven together with dark, sensual musk. Running through everything as a secondary note is an indeterminate, abstract woodiness that goes beyond the sort of woodiness typically exuded by patchouli. It hints, from time to time, at being cedar mixed with other things, but it’s far too muddy, muffled, and minor of an accord for me to figure out. Actually, most of the notes — other than the dominant ones on center stage — are pretty blurry now, in addition to feeling thickened and heavy in character and in body.
The parfum is unquestionably growing more languid and molasses-like in the heft of its central notes but also, more importantly, in terms of its sum-total feel. This is something unique to the Coromandel extrait out of the concentrations that I’ve tried. Coromandel extrait is not only significantly richer in concentration, but it’s also richer, thicker, and heavier in overall bouquet and texture, more sultry in feel as a result, and slower in the fluidity and pace of its metamorphosis over time.
Other changes in nuance or prominence occur late in the 4th hour as well. For example, the patchouli retreats to the background. (For now at least.) Up close, when I smell my arm, pops of sunny, bright, crisp, and fruity citrus suddenly re-emerge for short periods of time before flitting away again. The same holds true for the silvered, clean, church-y aromas of frankincense/olibanum. As a side note, the latter does not smell like Omani frankincense on me, but it is unquestionably high-quality and smooth in aroma as are all the ingredients in Coromandel parfum. There is never anything grating, harsh, or cheap quality in character (unlike Chanel’s main commercial line).
Early in the 6th hour or roughly 5.25 hours in, Coromandel extrait makes a significant departure from what came before, though I suppose one could consider the bouquet as yet another realignment of notes. For once, the central focus becomes the frankincense layered with lesser degrees of dark musk. The vanilla has receded into the base; the patchouli remains a background note; the jasmine becomes abstract, muted, muffled, and largely a secondary or tertiary element; the caramel-scented benzoin amber does as well; there is little sign of the sweet myrrh or opoponax; and there is absolutely no hint of the citrus, orris, tonka, or labdanum on my skin.
As an aside, in two wearings, the frankincense was a clear, dominant note during the first 30-40 minutes but not subsequently or in the heart stage. I think one reason why is that I typically apply a vastly greater quantity of scent when wearing fragrance for myself than I do when wearing one for testing and review purposes. In the latter case, I always try to apply a roughly standardized dosage in order to create a level or equal playing field for the purposes of comparison, particularly when it comes to assessing how one fragrance’s sillage and longevity might compare to that of another.
Roughly 7.5 hours in or during the middle of the 8th hour, Coromandel parfum remains largely the same except for two things thing. First, the first whiffs of tonka powderiness now appear in the base. (The frankincense, too, feels a little powdery or grainy, to be honest.) Second, all floralcy has disappeared on me. To all intents and purposes, the jasmine is done. It’s not a primary, secondary, or even tertiary note on my skin, although it does pop up briefly on miniscule patches of my underarm skin from time to time.
Coromandel’s next major change begins in the middle of the 9th hour or about 8.5 hours in when the heart stage begins. Yes, I said 8.5 hours to get to the heart stage! Incredible longevity, even on my perfume-devouring skin, is one of the benefits of an oriental extrait. It is also a further example of what I mentioned earlier in terms of the extremely slow metamorphosis of Coromandel on my skin, particularly in terms of total shifts in overall focus as opposed to the mere order, prominence, and nuance of its components.
Now, the scent is a hazy, soft, yet still concentrated, bouquet of sweet ambered goldenness, dark smokiness, and copious amounts of slightly spicy, sweet-dry woodiness. The latter often solidifies into patchouli for short stretches of time before gradually dissolving again. Running through everything is rich vanilla, albeit at constantly fluctuating levels. Weaker but equally fluctuating, varying degrees of sweetened tonka/coumarin powder ripple through the base alongside a subdued, muffled muskiness.
On tiny pea-sized patches of skin — closer to my underarm than to the forearm which is my primary area of application — there are pops of crisp bergamot, sweet jasmine, or both from time to time. They are, however, ephemeral will o’ the wisps that never waft in any way that is noticeable from afar.
Coromandel parfum’s long drydown begins at the end of the 12th hour and start of the 13th. (No, I’m not kidding and, yes, isn’t that terrific?!) Basically, the bouquet now consists of blurry, overlapping amber, patchouli, vanilla, and a slightly hay-like coumarin/tonka sweetness, all woven together into a soft, gauzy silk. It’s sweet yet dry, bronzed in colour visuals in my head, warm, woody, inviting, comforting, and rather snuggalicious, in my opinion.
If you’ve read my reviews for any length of time, you’ll know that “Cozy Comfort” fragrances — a subjective classification or fragrance family that I’ve invented outside of the standard, official ones — are my absolute favourite style of perfumery. Even more so when the scent gives you a elegant, sophisticated start; an effortless, pitch-perfect balance of note; and masterful individual note interaction, ratios, and clarity.
As in the original EDT.
But not, in my opinion, as in the EDP when it comes to the last criteria. (I will explain properly towards the end. And we’re getting there, I promise!)
The drydown of Chanel’s Coromandel parfum lasts for an inordinate amount of time. And it’s mostly without change until the end of the 18th hour when the bouquet dissolves even further into an abstract haze of soft, sweet, woody, lightly spiced, ambered goldenness.
Coromandel parfum had exceptional longevity and initially powerful sillage that turned moderate to soft after a few hours. It wasn’t easy to come up with a standardized amount for testing that would be analogous to what I apply for most of my reviews because I was relying on a glass stopper with a tiny circumference as opposed to a sample vial or to a full bottle spray perfume. Parfum stoppers rarely yield a lot of liquid or juice. So I used 4 smears from the small wetted stopper which I hoped would replicate roughly 2 sprays from a perfume bottle or about 3 smears from a sample vial’s thin wand stick.
With that amount, Coromandel parfum opened on my skin with 6-7 inches of sillage that shot up to over a foot (12 inches) after 10 minutes and to about 1.5 feet, or a bit more, after 20-22 minutes. The numbers drop incrementally after that. At the end of the 1st hour and start of the 2nd, the scent trail drops back to 12 inches, then to roughly 6-8 inches at the 90-minute mark. Midway during the 4th hour or roughly 3.5 hours in, the sillage is about 4 inches. At the end of the 4th hour and start of the 5th, Coromandel projects 1.5 to 2 inches. Early in the 6th hour or about 5.25 hours in, the scent turns soft and quiet, projecting about 0.5 to 1 inch, at best, above my skin. In the middle of the 8th hour or roughly 7.5 hours in, the number is even less.
However, Coromandel does not turn into a skin scent on me until the end of the 11th hour and start of the 12th. Even then, it does not require effort or exertion to detect the fragrance up close if I put my nose lightly on my forearm. It requires more effort around the 16th hour. (God, I love these numbers!) In total, 4 smears of Coromandel’s small stopper across a roughly 2 to 2.5-inch swathe of skin resulted in a scent that lasted over 24 hours.
I had equally good longevity numbers with a smaller dose or when I tested Coromandel on the crazy, perfume-consuming, voracious skin of my wonky right arm. With 2-3 smears from the tiny stopper, Coromandel typically lasted 16-18 hours on my standard-testing right arm/forearm. With that same amount on the schizophrenic skin of my right arm, I got 14 hours on average, though much, much less when I applied Coromandel to my underarm skin and wrist (13.25 hours).
Bottom line, the longevity is fantastic without any obvious aromachemicals. Similarly, the initial sillage or cloud around you is extremely powerful, concentrated, and rich, even if its numbers always drop after 60 to 75 minutes. As most of you know, the extrait or parfum concentration typically has low to discreet sillage due to the concentrated, heightened nature of its fragrance oils, so the numbers that I experience here with Coromandel parfum are really excellent.
So why, despite my great appreciation or love for Coromandel parfum, do I still prefer the original EDT? There are several reasons. First, it has the longest lasting bergamot on my skin out of all the concentrations, providing that crisp, bright, fresh yet also sweet and aromatic bergamot hit for the greatest amount of time. I find it addictive. Second, the sillage is the greatest on me while still feeling extremely strong, rich, and powerful and having great overall performance. Third, the EDT bursts with opoponax or sweet myrrh — my favourite type of incense and one found in large, scent-dispositive amounts in vintage Opium, vintage Shalimar, original Coco, Dior‘s vintage Poison, Oriza L. Legrand‘s fantastic new 2022 Empire des Indes, and many other orientals.
Fourth, I find the note clarity or delineation of individual notes to be the greatest in the EDT. The parfum is very good in this regard, too, but not quite as good. Note clarity matters to me. I am not a fan of the lamentably popular, modern, Jean-Claude Ellena school of impressionistic olfactory abstractions almost right from the start. I don’t want mere swathes of scent that are barely detectable in personality or character, mere generic breathes of impersonal, anodyne “woodiness” or “florals” or “smokiness.” I want to smell actual patchouli or cedar, goddamnit, jasmine or rose, birch tar campfire smoke or specific resinous incense opoponax smoke. Sure, things don’t have to be this way forever — they can’t be forever, as a compositional matter — but I’d like to have aromas be clear for longer than 15 minutes or so. And I find that the EDT does that best — on me at least. The extrait, however, also manages it for far longer than I had anticipated.
Why do I think the replacement EDP formula falls short or is not as good? First and foremost, I found the EDP overly blurry and muddy in its notes, to the point that it felt as though an opaque filter covered the bouquet after just 15-20 minutes, acting like a fog through which one tried to perceive the notes. Second — and just as disappointing for me — there were noticeable differences on my skin in terms of its incense components and/or their ratios. Both the opopanax and the olibanum were weaker on me. (Well, to the extent that I could pull them out from the muddy blur.) Third, the bergamot was lighter and weaker, resulting in a fragrance that lacked the great, crisp brightness of the EDT and, to a lesser extent, those similar attributes in Coromandel parfum or extrait, too. Fourth, the EDP had more powderiness from the middle period straight through the end than there was with the EDT or the extrait on my skin.
Fifth (and this one isn’t trivial, either), I found the EDP to be much sweeter on my skin than either the EDT or the pure parfum. I think it’s because, on my skin and to my nose, the EDP’s formula seems tweaked to have less citrus as well as a weaker incense accord than the original EDT, while also having higher vanilla and caramel-scented benzoin ratios.
Coromandel extrait brings back a strong bergamot presence — probably as an olfactory and light-dark juxtaposition to Chanel’s officially acknowledged jump in dark musk — while simultaneously also clarifying or remedying the opoponax and frankincense notes. By virtue of Olivier Polge strengthening both the fresh, crisp citrus and the darker base accords in the extrait, creating more of a resinous dark undercurrent than in the EDP, and adding some dark, musky, toffee’d labdanum to support the benzoin (whose levels have also been tweaked, in my opinion), Coromandel parfum hits that sweet spot in the same way that the original EDT did.
The now-vintage EDT is now, unfortunately, almost impossible to find, even on eBay. A friend in Spain said it took him almost 6 or 8 months to find a full bottle. Maybe longer? (And he said its bouquet was actually as phenomenal as I had said it was, by the way, and completely worth the effort.)
If you’ve never tried or don’t own Coromandel EDT, I think it’s best to forget about it and to focus on the EDP vs Extrait situation instead. Which one should you go for if what I’ve described to you here appeals to you?
Well, I would strongly recommend that you test both. Go to a Chanel boutique (or one of its stand-alone stores in a handful of major luxury department stores), ask for them to decant samples of both the EDP and the Extrait, test them using roughly identical or equal scent quantities, see how they develop side-by-side, then decide which one you prefer. The notes, nuances, development, and performance on my skin and to my nose will probably not be the same as on your skin and to your nose. By the same token, the things which make one concentration a clear winner for me may be different for you and for your personal tastes.
Lastly, the differences in the EDP vs Extrait bottle sizes, corresponding prices thereof, and your personal application style are going to be significant and wholly subjective factors in your purchasing calculus in a way that they might not have been for me. Basically, I have a huge 6.8 oz bottle of the vintage EDT which is still almost 88% full and which thereby enables me to spray with abandonment should I seek a more lavish, over-the-top experience. If you, too, are an oversprayer but you are new to Coromandel or if you never got a bottle of the old EDT, then the EDP may suit your personal scent style better for the price and the bottle size. This precise issue is why one Twitter follower told me that he sold his extrait bottle and stuck just to his EDT and EDP ones. Sometimes, you want to spray willy-nilly without worrying about emptying your small 15 ml/0.5 oz extrait bottle (that cost you $280) when you could get roughly 75 mls or 5 times that quantity for $30 less.
Prices and bottle sizes apart, if you have more gourmand tendencies than I do (which most people do, let’s be honest) and if Coromandel eau de parfum performs on your skin the way that it does on mine, then maybe the EDP would suit your tastes even more.
There is no way to know unless you test both — not in the store sniffing things for the first 10 to 15 minutes but by asking Chanel to decant actual small samples from both concentrations so that you can test from beginning to end at home, focus on the both the overall developments and on the side-by-side differences, and not be distracted by working, shopping, or by walking around from sniffing yourself regularly to see what is highlighted on your particular skin and which version you prefer.
As a side note, in my experience, the haughty Chanel boutique sales assistants love to tell you that they can’t give you samples because they don’t have separate, individual vials into which they can decant the juice. They’ll sometimes give you manufacturers’ vials of the Exclusifs EDPs, sometimes, but they hold onto those extraits like they were the last bit of oxygen on Mars. So I actually bring empty sample vials WITH ME to preclude any excuse. You may want to keep that in mind when you go into the Chanel boutique near you. There are no manufactured, premade samples of the pure parfum the way that there are for the EDPs.
For more opinions of and experiences with Coromandel parfum (and only the parfum), you can turn to its specific Fragrantica page.