In 1932, Gabrielle Chanel debuted her fine jewellery with Bijoux de Diamants collection. The pieces contained motifs of her inspiration — constellations, comets, and her star sign, Leo — and were designed such that they seemingly embodied the sense of liberty inherent in her couture. They were free of clasps and fastenings, and could be worn in different styles, for example, like a necklace or a fringe tiara. In exhibiting the collection, moreover, she opted for life-like wax mannequins with ravishing eyes and real hair instead of the traditional trays. And, all this happened at a time when the economy was still recovering from the Great Depression. How could she be so audacious and tread so lightly with such hefty carats?
Eighty years later, 1932 was created by perfumer Jacques Polge and is intended to capture the sparkles of diamond constellations that made history for Chanel. It is a great concept, and indeed the aldehydic shimmer of 1932 (Chanel, 2012) is nothing if not sparkling. It is starchy, and has the metallic tang of a grapefruit rind. The opening of Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008) comes to mind. Some ten minutes into development, the chills of iris emerge and soon dominate.
The aldehydic notes and iris together may conjure the sharp brilliance of cut gemstones, but beneath that austere chills is a transparent white floral-jasmine layer that softens it. Over time, the aloof character of 1932 warms up to a creamy, inviting musky note in the dry down. The sweetness of its floral is also nicely offset by a subtle vetiver note.
The magic of the Bijoux de Diamants collection is that it remains timeless. I doubt that I can say the same of 1932. Its combination of aldehydic, floral, and woody notes is a familiar tune, and one could find far more striking orchestrations of iris, such as those of verdant Chanel N°19 (1970) or chypre-esque 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel, 2007).
Nevertheless, the elegance and quality of 1932 can hardly be considered disappointing. I revel in its refinement, from the rich aldehydic iris wrapped in diaphanous layers of jasmine to the plush creamy dry down. In terms of character and performance, it may pale in comparison to its more distinctive brethren, but the quality of its materials is beyond reproach. In fact, its demure nature may yet delight those who like their perfumes soft-spoken. So, never mind the history, a perfume must above all smell good, and 1932 does exactly just that for me.