In ancient times the Greeks and Romans imported vast quantities of spicy resinous incense-based perfumes from this aromatic isle. All the trade routes of the known world converged on the island of love. It was on Cyprus a thousand years later that our Crusader King, Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre - the English Queen who never saw England. Because of this perennial association with exotic perfumery oils, when Francois Coty created his innovative eponymous fragrance in 1917 he named it simply 'Chypre'.
So what is a chypre? Perhaps it is more easily described as a mood rather than a structure of formalised accords and ingredients. The classic formula calls for glittering citrus top notes; a heart arranged around that sweet fragrant gum, cistus labdanum; and an animalic base heavy with oak moss. Floral or fruity accords may also feature; added to which there should be a sense of crisp freshness developing into a ripe richness.
But what does this actually mean to most people? Let's look at the temperament, the feeling, the effect. A chypre is the most enigmatic, complex and elusive of perfume families; to many connoisseurs it is the kind of scent that defines fragrance in the abstract.
Chypre is an urban scent. Totally collected and always on its toes. Colossally sophisticated - even formidable - it is the ultimate parfum-de-film noir: a scent of fashionable night clubs, limousine showrooms, art galleries, penthouses, theatres. It wears well with luxurious natural fabrics and fibres: suede gloves, hand-built suits and hand-made shoes, twilled silks and tweed; fur and feather and patent leather.
Deeply seductive, mesmerising and fascinating, chypre is ambisexual and assertive; unlike some oriental fragrances it is never flamboyant or wantonly brazen. It eschews the blowsy quality of certain florals. It has instead a cerebral sensuality, a refined sexiness, a unique chic and exquisite epicurean style.