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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Perfume Review: Donna Karan Chaos

Chaos was created in 1996 as a scent that, contrary to its name, was meant to have a relaxing, restful effect on its wearers. I am not sure why in that case it was not called Peace or Chillout, but it doesn’t matter, Chaos is a great name, and the fact remains that, call it what you will, this is a gorgeous, rich scent that is further proof that everything good in life is either illegal, immoral, fattening, non-export or discontinued.

Chaos starts with a burst of herbs and spices; after that initial aromatic explosion, the scent calms down into a deep, sumptuous, woody blend. Chaos is by no means a linear scent, but, after the top notes subside, the changes it undergoes are subtle, almost imperceptible. The fragrance shifts from being mostly a sandalwood and cinnamon blend (a union made in olfactory heaven) to a more resinous, balsamic woody accord of agar wood (agarwood, aloeswood). The latter is the source of oud and is also used in Japanese Ko-doh ceremonies, meant to raise the human spirit to higher levels. The drydown of Chaos is rich and dark, almost leathery; the sweet and resinous woody note here is spiced up by the divine cinnamon I mentioned above, with an addition of the brighter accord of coriander.

After managing not to encounter this fragrance for almost ten years, I am almost sad that I finally got to know Chaos. It is painful to discover a scent that manages to be everything one likes in perfume (woody-oriental, spicy, dark and deep), to fall in love with it, only to realize that it is incredibly hard to find and very expensive. If I were a wizard, I would have put a hex on those responsible for discontinuing this masterpiece.

Chaos retails for $46.50 - $75.00 on (don’t rejoice yet, it is forever sold out there) or for staggering $450.00 - $1,100.00 (yes, you saw it right) on Relentlessly stalking eBay might help in procuring a bottle, but even there it is not a bargain. Oh woe is me!

*The first image is from, the second one from Images de Parfums.


Blogger lilybp said...

Great review of a wonderful fragrance! Despite what some people say, I don't think that Black Cashmere is really similar. The ClassyPerfumes price is hysterical (in all senses): I wonder if anyone has ever bought it there? Unopened bottles do show up regularly on Ebay, and they, too, differ significantly in price, so it's not worth grabbing something that seems ludicrous.

7:25 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

J, thank you, and and thank you for letting me try Chaos...I think...:-)
I don't smell any similarity with Black Cashmere either. I do smell a little Idole in the very late drydown of Chaos, but it is probably just my nose's wishful thinking LOL

10:03 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Christina, I cannot understand the reasons behind discontinuations. Obviosuly it means that the majority of customers do not "get" the scent. *shakes fist at majority* :-D

10:04 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

No, no, NO!!!! I am NOT going to try to get ahold of this perfect-sounding scent, so I can fall in love with yet another thing that's no longer made! I'm tired of chasing these gd things around on eBay (just lost out on two Coty Chypres) -- stop it, STOP IT!!! (tearing hair out) From now on you are ONLY allowed to review things I can get by the truckload, preferably on sale. F'rinstance, I was in Claire's yesterday with my kid and they have 9,000 bottles of Jessica Dessert on sale. Huh -- if they can't move that stuff for 50% off in the under-13 crowd, they're in trouble...

11:03 AM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

I have heard several stories regarding the discontinuation of Chaos. One (too romantic to be true) is that DK created it for her husband and discontinued it when he died. The more mundane (and probable) one is that another company (Estee Lauder, I think) bought DK out, and discontinued the line of which Chaos was part.

11:47 AM EST  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

M, never smelled it, sounds like I never will! Thanks for the lovely review.

12:22 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

V, I thought someone said that orginal Donna Karan New York was similar to Idole? It's all a mess in my head :-) In any case, it seems it is even harder to find that Donna Karan scent then Chaos. For example my search of ebay only revealed 2 bottles as opposed to numerous Chaos ones. Bah!

1:03 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I know what you mean, *believe* me. I am tired of falling in love with discontinued and /or non-export scents. I am tired of stalking things on ebay...on the other hand, my perverse nature is such that, as soon as something is more readily available (like Idole for example), I lose interest just ever so slightly. *sigh*

1:05 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

If the first story is true (which, as you say, it probably isn't), I can totally understant and forgive Karan. If the 2nd is true...Hex on you, Estee Lauder!!!

1:06 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Better not to. What if you like it? Oh the other hand, I think that, like with Idole, you might think that is well done, but ultimately not "you". I don't know, I may be very mistaken.

1:10 PM EST  
Blogger andy said...

Dear Colombina
Sandalwood and Cinnamon...hmmm..never tried that one but I can see how they fit and blend together. What a pity that you describe a perfume which is so hard to get. And in light of the fact that e-bay is very high on my "don't spend your money there"-list (in light of previous disasters, I just can't say no..) I fear this one will have to wait for a while. But at least I may try cinnamon and sandalwood! Thank you

4:38 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

EBay is a dangerous place indeed. It's an addiction, a desease :-)

I would love to hear about cinnamon and sandalwood blend, if you ever get to make one!

5:41 PM EST  
Blogger katiedid said...

This one has such a cult following now it seems. I think its a good example of how what caches the fancy of perfume enthusiasts is not always the same as what the regular consumer finds interesting. Witness the relative popularity of Karan's Be Delicious, which pleasant and perfectly innocuous, but nothing earth shattering.

I was halfway tempted to bid on a bottle of it when PerfumeMart was auctioning off various bottles to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief - but then the bids ran outstandingly high, I suppose in part due to the limited availability, and likey due to the fact that folks knew that 100% of their purchase price would end up going to the Red Cross.

7:03 PM EST  
Blogger katiedid said...

Gah. That was supposed to be "caTches" not "caches." I am such a pooor typist anyhow, but boy on the laptop it just goes from bad to worse.

7:04 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Katie, I agree re: perfume addicts vs general public.
I wonder how high those bids were, higher than the price on classyperfumes? :-)

7:30 PM EST  
Blogger katiedid said...

Heh, no, not quite that high. But still, if memory serves correct, it went for over a couple hundred though.

7:36 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you, K! I wonder how many people bought those $1100 bottles...if any...

7:45 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a fairly good reproduction of Chaos called Anarchy on a website called . I've never smelled the original but have a bottle of Anarchy and it wears very well. Hope this helps.

6:43 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you very much for the info! I will definitely give Anarchy a try. I love the name :-)

1:05 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought a bottle of Anarchy from LLP since it was supposed to smell like Chaos. I spritzed it and was sitting in a cloud of DK's Black Cashmere. It in no way smells like Chaos.

9:34 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you very much for the warning!!

9:55 PM EST  
Blogger GreatSheElephant said...

gotta disagree with anonymous there. I have Chaos, Anarchy and Black Cashmere and I find the first two virtually identical. There is maybe a 5% difference and that 5% is a slight nod to Black Cashmere. To be honest, I prefer anarchy to chaos.

2:38 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Just when I thought I didn't have to buy Anarchy...I guess I will have to buy it after all :-)

6:31 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can say, is when I found out Chaos was being pulled from the shelves, I ran from store to store and purchased as much as I could. Is the most wonderful perfume ever!!!!! If I had the 1500.00 to purchase this on Ebay -- I would... Love Chaos

1:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

How wonderful that you had a chance to stokc up on those bottles! I see it for $100-$200 on eBay these days.

7:33 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow me to offer another reason for discontinuing Chaos. Commercial perfumes with natural essential oils are extremely rare; not only because the naturals are more expensive to produce, but mainly because they are unpredictable and may differ from one batch to another.

Of all the ingredients in Chaos, all can be--and are--synthesized, except for one: agarwood. But in this one, both disadvantages of naturals are exaggerated to the extereme. Agarwood is one of the rarest and most expensive fragrances in the world (quality agarwood can fetch 6-7 digit prices per piece, in raw wood; some named pieces are stored in temples and museums). Agarwood is also the most unpredictable; there are no two pieces of wood that smell the same, period.

So, I'm not surprised at all at the current prices. Instead of calling Chaos "discontinued," consider calling it "no longer discounted."

4:05 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Btw, here's the reason why agarwood is so unpredictable. The tree doesn't produce the oil on its own, but only when infected by certain fungi. The oil is released by the tree's immune system to fight the infection. Different trees, different fungi, different stage of infection, different age, different level of oil saturation--all of this translates to different smell.

Commercial attempts to grow and artificially "wound" the trees have had a moderate success, but the oil quality is not as good and, even though cheaper, still too expensive. Btw, don't feel sorry for the wounded trees. They recover; unlike those that used to be cut by grove, in hope to discover a tiny bit of infected wood in one of the trunks. Nearly brought them to extinction.

4:18 PM EST  
Blogger Gail S said...

I have been feeling fondly reminiscent of Chaos lately, so I ordered a small bottle of Costes because so many people said it reminded them of Chaos. And it does smell really good and similar in the drydown (as I recall, I haven't actually smelled Chaos in probably 8 years or so). But where it misses is that "aromatic explosion" you spoke of. And that's what I loved the most. That first breath I drew in after spraying just made everything all better :)

After I read the comments on your review here, I remembered that I had that original Donna Karan perfume. I bought it when it first came out, probably because it was such a cool bottle but then I didn't like the smell much. So then I got to thinking and then dug around in the "old perfume" shelf and sure enough, there it still is, all dusty, but there. So I cleaned it off and sprayed it.....and I still don't really like it that much. It's not bad really, but not something I would choose to wear for several hours. It's a little like Chaos, but without that burst and with something almost nutty smelling in it. And the drydown is a little strange. It might be going off, it is kind of old :)

I'm gonna have to dig around some more, no telling what else I might have still hanging around!

2:30 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

The aromatic thing is my favorite thing in Chaos too, and that is exactly what numerous dupes and smell-alikes are missing. :-(

I wish I had some treasures stashed away too :-)

7:41 AM EST  
Blogger vaughagb said...

I have a brand new 1.7 oz bottle of Chaos in it's original box and never used if anyone is interested.

1:14 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:49 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Colombina,

Loved your review of Chaos, which incidentally is now available again.

I am a beauty journalist writing a piece for a British newspaper on people who are mad about scent and wondered if you had an email address that I could contact you on?

I am planning to mention your blog in my piece and was hoping to find some UK based perfumistas who might be able to talk to me about their fragrance collection and love of fragrance.

[my email address - not for publication - is

with best wishes

4:42 AM EDT  
Blogger sux said...

el otro dia senti un perfume de LOLITA, el que tiene el frasco celeste c incrustaciones doradas. es iguaaal (the same) to CHAOS DE DONNA KARAN!!
que buena noticia. lo extrañaba al chaos. ahora puedo volver . al perfume a la melodia que mas me gusto

12:11 PM EDT  

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