Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So... - Donna Karan Chaos, Old And New

A brief history of Chaos Theory:
Once upon a time, before Donna Karan perfumes became an endless chain of Be Delicious flankers, each one with its own plastic fruit note, there were some original and interesting creations in unusually beautiful bottles. Chaos was a 1996 release, supposedly commissioned by Donna Karan's late husband, Stephan Weiss, who also designed the bottle. It was discontinued in the early 2000s, after Mr. Weiss' death. The reason was never publicly stated. Some said it was Karan who didn't want this painful reminder sold in stores, others pointed their fingers at the Lauder corporation, owner of Donna Karan Cosmetics.

Chaos, being a sophisticated spice and wood scent, was never a huge bestseller, but had a cult of fans that seemed to have grown exponentially after its removal from the shelves. Those who hoarded bottles made big profits on eBay. I saw bottles go for north of $600 and some etailers still have a few precious bottles in stock, so outrageously priced you just have to laugh: $1499.

Blogs and message boards all contributed to the myth. It became one of the poster items for coveted discontinued perfumes. It was often suggested that were Lauder willing to bring it back, they would see nice profits. It looks like someone had been listening, because Chaos, along with some of its other siblings, is back. The packaging has changed: all the perfumes now come in plain black bottles with a gold, black or silver label. But if you've been dreaming of the juice for the last six or seven years, you're just a visit (or a phone call) to Bergdorf Goodman away from holding your very own bottle.

The info on the BG website seems to be inaccurate: They list all the fragrances as eau de toilette, while in reality Chaos (and I'm pretty sure Black Cashmere as well) is an eau de parfum, as you can see clearly on my own bottle.

The big question, though, was about the juice itself: Is it the same as the original one?

When I first sprayed it yesterday it was immediately recognizable. I never tried any of the dupes, so I don't know how convincing they were, but this one was clearly chaos. Still, it had to be tested side by side with the old perfume. I've been hoarding a sample that March of Perfume Posse has sent me, and this was the perfect opportunity to revisit it.

I applied old Chaos on my right wrist and new Chaos to my left. Right away I could tell it wouldn't be easy to accurately compare. It starts with application method: dabbing and spraying lend different results, as was apparent at first try. I re-applied the new Chaos by dabbing, which gave it a similar feel to the original, though still not 100% identical. But this is where one needs to also consider the perfume's age as well as storage. While my sample was safely kept in a little drawstring bag insidemy dresser, it was still in a vial with a plastic cap that might have affected the juice. The age is probably the bigger factor here, since I have a feeling that something in the top notes might be missing.

The older sample shows more of the heart notes, the ones you can also find in the denser, darker Black Cashmere: mostly saffron and woods. For the life of me, I can't detect the promised chamomile and lighter spices that are all very prominent in the new Chaos, making it lighter and further removed from the gothness of Black Cashmere, the way Chaos was originally described. that's the main reason I suspect my sample has most likely aged a bit.

Chaos has an almost fizzy quality from the cinnamon, but the spices keep elegant and poised. Yet, it's sheer enough (much more so than anything I've ever gotten from the original) and easy enough to wear on a summer day. It's probably a tad lighter than what it used to be, if to go by my sample, I just can't guarantee by how much.

The sillage is decent without being overbearing and the lasting power is great. I can bask in it for a full day. And it's so very pretty.

So, is the new Chaos exactly the same? Probably not. But it's very very close.

Image: Statue of Eris, goddess of chaos, Autumn's Photostream

Chaos and the rest of the scents in the series are only available from Bergdorf Goodman, where I bought mine (and Harrods, if you're in the UK) and can also be ordered online or by phone. Rumour has it that Bergdorf is already out of Chaos, but it's not a limited edition, so more will be available soon. All bottles are 3.4 oz and priced at $85.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your impressions of new & old...am looking forward to an opportunity to sample "new" myself. (Entered the perfume world much too recently to have had an opportunity to experience the old...)

  2. That's exactly what I needed. Thank you so much for being so "scientific".

  3. I have a sample of the new on the way , I think, and can't wait to try it!

    I have smelled enough different vintages of Chaos to realize that at this point I'm not sure any of us could identify which is closest to the original 90's fragrance. My own particular bottle is IMO off on the top notes, as you detected. One of the things I really liked about the dupe, Anarchy, is it was a little friendlier than my bottle. I just bought some Anarchy on sale so I'm looking forward to my own comparison! I am pleased as punch that this is readily available (okay, relatively readily) the price point is fab, and I want to try Fuel too.

  4. Hooray! Just the report I've been waiting for. Thanks, much.

  5. Scentscelf- I'll be interested to hear your impression of Chaos and see if you think it's worth the hype.

  6. Silvia- Thanks! I tried to do my best.

  7. March- Let me know if you don't get a smaple soon. I'll send you some.
    I'm getting curious about Fuel. I never bothered with it when it was first around, probably because I was still a captive of feminine/masculine ideas and the husband wasn't interested back then (how things change!).

  8. Sweetlife- Thanks for stopping by. It's great to see all the Chaos fans so happy.

  9. Thanks for the review! I confess, I wasn't so excited about the re-launch of chaos until you described the sheer fizzy quality, and then I had to go to Bergdorffs to try it.

    You were completely right! I was expecting heavy incense and instead it's sheer, with those same notes that make Demeter gingerale so irresistible (ginger? it must be something else), and maybe some red frui up top creating the full spectrum of chaos? Very cool. Thank you for the tip.

  10. I'm glad you liked it! The top seems to have a lot of chamomile and some spices, including cinnamon, giving it an almost tea-like quality.
    I admit I was scared that finally having a bottle would be too anti-climactic, but I'm finding I really do love Chaos.

  11. Camomile! Thats what the delicious comforting scent is!

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. First, can I just say how overwhelmingly THRILLED i was to hear that Chaos is back? I have been holding onto a bottle I purchased from eBay that seems a bit "off" due to age but its the closest I can get to my beloved Chaos so I continue to wear it and mourn the fact that its half empty. So when I saw it in Decemeber's Real Simple magazine, I almost wept! But when I saw that the bottle had changed, my first thought/fear was that the fragrance had changed as well. Thank you for such a detailed description. You answered every question I had and because of you, Chaos will definitely be on my holiday wish list this year! Donna Karan should be cutting you a big check!

  14. This is one terrific event of a lifetime! The relaunch of Chaos is something that is like a relaunch of Clairol's original Herbal Essence Shampoo or Revlon Milk Plus Six shampoo - thought never to ever happen! That said, I have made a point to collect TONS of the original Chaos - and the aforementioned emerald shampoo. I do embrace the author's observation of the new and old Chaos; save to say the sillage (aka scent trail) of the original in the crystal bottle far outshines the relaunch. The notes of the relaunch are 'close enough' to call it Chaos - but as for me... I'll take the original every time! BTW, there is an oil named Frenzy by Scentsational of Huntington that is worth trying as it is lovely and is very "Chaosy".

  15. My sister and I have been huge fans - she worked in a DK outlet store and got us tons of it years ago. My whole family was obsessed. I just thought about the scent this morning for some reason - and found your blog. Thank you Donna, thank you Non-Blonde. YES! Not a surpise that its back by popular demand.

  16. I have been wearing Chaos since its release in 1996 and never wear anything else. I happened to have a stock of several bottles of the old one when the new one was released. I have compared them side by side and they are exactly the same, except for the fact that the older Chaos has a slightly weaker odor. I assume this is because it faded with time, but maybe the new one is more concentrated.... other than that, exactly the same.


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