Review: Chanel 1932 — 3.5 points

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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.

Source: chanel.fr

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History and Review: Chanel Eau de Cologne — 4.0 points

The refreshing blend of citrus and herbs that we classify as ‘eau de cologne’ today can be traced back to the fourteenth-century ‘Hungary water’, the first alcoholic perfume known in Europe. Reputedly formulated per the order of the Queen of Hungary, possibly Elisabeth of Poland (1305 – 29 December 1380), the concoction is said to have been based on the distilled essence of rosemary. Later formulae might also call for other aromatic essences. More closely associated to what we recognise as eaux de cologne, however, is the original 4711 Kölnisch Wasser created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709, containing essence of bergamot, orange, grapefruit, and petitgrain. Defunct though the original compositions may be, the freshness and radiance of their character have survived and come to define the hallmark of eaux de cologne.

Likewise, the sweltering heat of summer had inspired me to seek out such beloved traits in eaux de cologne, and I revisited a few modern compositions over the past weeks. I revelled in the avant-garde intensity of Pamplelune (Guerlain, 1999) and the wondrous contrast between green fig and wood of Ninfeo Mio (Annick Goutal, 2010), but I beheld the immaculate Eau de Cologne of Chanel (2007) by perfumer Jacques Polge, which seems to strike the ideal aesthetic between classical allure and minimalistic polish.

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Here, the beautiful backbone of vibrant citrus versus sensual musk in an eau de cologne is not only well preserved, but also polished. The creation of Eau de Cologne, it seems, necessitates only the essentials: bergamot, orange blossom, and musk. These are dosed generously, and the composition executed with such balance that each turn — from the bright clarity of bergamot and the green floral of petitgrain and neroli to the sweetness of orange blossom and musk — is seamless. It is simple yet brilliant, like a chip of white diamond.

This bright character is not unlike 4711 Kölnisch Wasser, an all-time classic and affordable eau de cologne, and one may well question the necessity of another pricey eau de cologne. However, the quality of materials and simplicity of Eau de Cologne are what sets it apart. The beloved freshness and radiance is brought to the fore, but kept understated. That is the quality of Eau de Cologne that I admire. So, even if I did not own one, I think it would be worth a trip to a Chanel counter just to smell it.

Smelling the result of beautiful materials and excellent balance is already pleasing, and such an uncluttered presentation of a classical idea is all the more reason to like this one. It perfectly distils the classical essence of an eau de cologne in a modern manner.

Sources: chanel.fr; Élisabeth de Feydeau, Les Parfums: Histoire, anthologie, dictionnaire, Robert Laffont, 2011, 1206 p.

Review: Chanel Jersey — 2.5 points

Chanel is one of the few fragrance houses whose quality and consistency I admire. From the aldehydic and floral cascade of Chanel N°5 (1921), the citrus chypre of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), to the verdancy and chilly iris amidst the chypre of Chanel N°19 (1970), and even the generic and not-so-original Bleu de Chanel (2010) and Chance (Chanel, 2003), one can smell quality in the juice. In fact, sniff Sauvage (Dior, 2015) and Bleu de Chanel side by side, and one easily sees the difference already in the opening. From such experience, it follows naturally that Jersey, both the eau de toilette (Chanel, 2011) and the extrait de parfum (Chanel, 2014), by perfumer Jacques Polge from the Les Exclusifs line does ‘smell of money’.

An exquisite lavender is at the centre of the composition. It takes the spotlight here, with compliments from a little rosemary in the top. Replete with aromatic facets and floral sweetness, the lavender in Jersey is a Provençal dream. This is especially so in the rich extrait de parfum.

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Its lavender is also shaped by vanilla and a nuance of caramel, showing yet another sign of promise. One often thinks of lavender as perfumes marketed to men or as a perennial favourite note of grandmothers, but Jersey revamps its lavender with sensuality and an almost edible quality. It is somewhat reminiscent of the lavender gourmand direction of Brin de Réglisse (Hermès, 2004).

It is all well and promising for good fifteen minutes when the lavender recedes and the first hints of musks appear, especially in the eau de toilette. They seem to play a role in softening the agrestic herb, which is fine. But the trouble is that I am reminded of toiletries and fabric softeners. The combination of lavender and soapy musk is quite the slippery slope. Such a pairing is popularly employed by consumer goods so much so that most of us have come to subconsciously associate lavender and musk with functional products. And, this is where Jersey falls short.

To be fair, it does employ quality materials and touches upon an interesting facet of lavender. The vanillic gourmand and cosy side of such a rustic material is a nice surprise. Moreover, Jersey also has the longevity of easily six hours on skin. I do like it for this, and smelling it from my clothes, it brings a sense of clean comfort.

Nevertheless, the olfactory implication of such a lavender-musk pair remains: it recalls fabric softeners. Jersey might offer a glimpse into a new side of lavender, but that is not enough to dispel the overwhelming association with functional products, especially when the lavender is paired with strong soapy musks. Without leaving the tried-and-tested accord, the fine material alone will not suffice to produce originality. There is a need for audacity and experimentation to ever challenge the way lavender is orchestrated.

In sum, Jersey is a first-rate lavender whose orchestration, sadly, does not quite flatter it.

Source: chanel.fr

Gardenia

The weather warms, so my gardenia buds open, seeking attention and permeating the night air with their perfume. As I made a study of the fragrance, I decided to write on this nature’s wonder. The common gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) has highly fragrant white flowers. In the evening, the opening buds smell slightly green and piquant because of the salicylate aspect. The flowers also smell creamy, recalling coconut and peach skin. There is an unmistakably heady indolic element of jasmine. In ripe blooms, they have a sharp green ‘mushroom’ overtones. Gardenias also share some aspects with lily, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, and a bit of rose.

In terms of composition, (E)-ocimene, linalool, methyl benzoate and a number of tiglates compose the gardenia flower headspace. However, there are likely olfactory variations amongst species. For example, the critically endangered native of Hawaii Gardenia brighamii, as demonstrated by headspace analysis of its gas-phase components, contains 41% methyl benzoate, 13% (3Z)-hex-3-enyl benzoate, 7% indole that recalls ‘white-flower smell’, 7% jasmine lactone that lends the jasminic and coconut touch, and 3.7% (3Z)-hex-3-enyl tiglate that gives the tang of soil fungi and mushrooms to the flower. It is possible to extract the desired fragrance from their flowers by enfleurage as the villagers of Fusagasugà in Colombia have continued to produce gardenia absolute since 1945. However, such enfleurage-derived absolutes are rarely ever produced in industrial scale due to the exorbitant costs involved. And, yet, I have stumbled upon a solvent-extracted absolute of the Tahitian gardenia or Tiaré (Gardenia tahitensis) which can be used in fine fragrances up to 1% of a composition to impart the exotic white-floral quality.

Gardenia in Perfumery

Like many flowers that do not yield the desired quality of their scents or do so at a prohibitive cost of extraction, the smell of gardenia is also the object of fascination in perfumery. Early reconstitutions of gardenia often revolve around a tuberose note and aldehyde C-18 and may eschew styrallyl acetate altogether. Still, most gardenia bases almost always call for it. Such bases rely on its powerful rhubarb-like green note in combination with jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, lilac, and a small amount of orange blossom to render gardenia odour characteristics. But styrallyl acetate is rather harsh, so salicylates may be used to soften it along with aldehyde C-14 and C-18 as modifiers. The top note of such bases may call for aldehyde C-8 to C-12 and citrus oils such as lemon, mandarin, orange, or bergamot. To fix the components, heliotropin, coumarin, musk, labdanum, myrrh, tolu balsam, cinnamic alcohol, and synthetic ambergris may be used.  Other aroma chemicals such as the mildly floral ‘gardenia oxide’ (isoamyl benzyl ether) and the citrusy fruity linalyl isovalearate are sometimes incorporated into gardenia compounds. Meanwhile, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, who professes his love of simplicity, draws a more-or-less complete gardenia note with just three ingredients: the fruity sweetness and coconut of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone), the fresh green of styrallyl acetate (Gardenol), and the Concord-grape sweetness of methyl anthranilate. Indeed, the reconstitution of gardenia is subject to the creative interpretation of the perfumer.

Gardenia in Perfumes

In fine fragrances, gardenia was initially a secondary floral. It formed part of the composition, but was itself not featured. For instance, gardenia found its way into the floral aldehydic L’Aimant (Coty, 1927) via the styrallyl acetate contained in infusions of jasmine, cassie, and tuberose used in the original formula. The green freshness of gardenia pairs well with chypre accords in perfumes such as Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), Ma Griffe (Carven, 1947), Miss Dior (1947), Cabochard (Grès, 1959), Coriandre (Jean Couturier, 1973), Michelle (Balenciaga, 1979), and the excellent fruity chypre La Panthère (Cartier, 2014).

Gardenia as main floral theme can be seen starting from soliflores like Gardénia (Chanel, 1925) and Jungle Gardenia (Tuvaché, 1933). If you like your gardenia creamy, Lou Lou (Cacharel, 1987) offers an interesting interpretation of the creamy Tahitian gardenia or Tiaré based on an oriental accord and tuberose. Another very creamy, coconut-like gardenia is Crystal Noir (Versace, 2004). But if you like the company of magnolia and jasmine, the bright gardenia of Un Matin d’Orage (Annick Goutal, 2009) may suit you better. A recent resurgence of the note seems to have produced a slew of gardenias for everyone, ranging from the sombre gardenia of Une Voix Noire (Serge Lutens, 2012), the fruity frangipani and gardenia of Gorgeous Gardenia (Gucci, Flora, 2012), to a full-fledged gardenia offered in the masculine context of Boutonnière No.7 (Arquiste, 2012). But for those who crave a more realistic impression, Gardénia (Robert Piguet, 2014) offers a no-frills flower with minimal contrasts.

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As for me, I cannot quite pick a favourite gardenia perfume at the moment. My pot of gardenia has had all the attention from me — perhaps, the only other rivals are the gardenias in my mother’s garden.

Sources: enfleurage.com, firmenich.com, P&F Vol.8 October/November 1983 by Danute Pajaujis Anonis, Perfumery: Practice and Principles; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, Scents of the Vanishing Flora

  1. Müller PM, Lamparsky D. Perfumes: Art, Science & Technology. Amsterdam, New York: Elsevier, 1991
  2. Tamogami S et al. Analysis of enantiomeric ratios of aroma components in several flowers using a Chiramix column. Flavour Fragr J 2004;19:1-5.

Review: Chanel Boy — 4.5 points

Much like how Gabrielle Chanel had played with the code of women’s fashion, perfumer Olivier Polge experimented with the fougère accord in creating Boy (Chanel, 2016). This perfumery accord was born when perfumer Paul Parquet created the eponymous Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882). The accord classically revolves around lavender, oakmoss, and sweet coumarin, but also contains a citrus top, geranium and spicy herbs in the heart, and woody or animalic notes in the base. It is traditionally associated with masculine fragrances. But Polge was determined to flout that rule and toy with the accord. The result is nothing short of brilliant.

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Already, the fresh top of Boy is a tell-tale sign. It is Chanel; it is aldehydic with penetrating citrusy and rosy notes. These come hand in hand with grapefruit and fresh lemon. The effect feels like an effervescent champagne with a rosy tinge. Accompanying that is lavender aplenty with its aromatic, herbal, and floral charm easily felt. This sublime lavender of Boy runs the show for the rest of its top-note freshness.

The composition, then, segues classically into a rosy geranium heart, but it takes a surprisingly soft turn here. A touch of orange blossom and jasminic brightness wraps around the sharp geranium. A rich sandalwood accord evinces an intimate caress towards the dry down.

It becomes enveloping, but also with a dusky accent. At first, the tonka bean note of coumarin provides a warm sweetness, like a gentle fondle. This develops into a full embrace with the powdery sweet vanilla and heliotrope. There is also a hint of hidden desire in hot patchouli and civet that feels like a nod to the classic Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). But contrasted classically by the mossy note of Evernyl, this sensual sweetness has suddenly acquired a rough-hewn signature. Around this mossy sweet powder forming the dry down is a rich musk cocktail that keeps Boy soft and intimate for all of its day-long duration — those who are anosmic to certain musks may thus find this part of Boy to be a whisper.

The fougère accord is manipulated in Boy to reveal an interestingly tender side. Whilst the classical trinity of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss as well as the animalic touch of civet are kept, the character of fougère is made softer, borrowing elements of feminine fragrances. The fresh introduction consists of aldehydic and rosy notes beside the traditionally hesperidic notes. The powdery sweet coumarin is enhanced with heliotrope, vanilla, and musks. In this way, the accord sways towards its rosy and enveloping side. With Boy, Polge has saliently demonstrated the flexibility of this perfumery accord.

I think the reinvention of the fougère has been in the making, and Boy is almost the tipping point. Looking back in 1921, there was Maja (Myrurgia, 1921) whose fougère elements of citrus, lavender, geranium, and woody vetiver are hidden beneath a dominant spicy oriental personality. Then, only a decade ago, perfumer Jacques Polge perhaps tested the water with the patchouli and amber of Coromandel (Chanel, 2007) that resembles the rose-patchouli fougère of Zino Davidoff (Davidoff, 1986), except for the fact that lavender — one of the defining elements of a fougère — is absent in Coromandel. And, though Brit Rhythm For Her (Burberry, 2014) marries lavender and rosy peony, it is still a fresh floral rather than a fougère. But with Boy, the classical fougère has entered a new ground. Boy re-orchestrates the classical fougère to interesting effects. It may well pave the way for a revolution, and the next descendant of Boy might surprise us.

But, for now, I am quite enamoured of its rosy freshness and mossy-yet-sweet powder with that restrained elegance of Chanel.

Source: chanel.fr

A Fragrant Discovery in the Basque Country: Perfumería Benegas

I love the Basque Country for its many characters. These lands of Northern Spain, thanks to the moisture borne by the Atlantic draught, can boast the verdant mountains in stark contrast to the vast arid plains of Central Iberia. The inhabitants speak the perplexing tongue known as euskara in Basque or el vasco in Spanish. There is also the gastronomic delight of each pintxo — a bite-size savoury dish served on a piece of bread spiked with a toothpick or a skewer. And precisely because each pintxo is bite-sized, the myriads of flavour combinations to try leave the epicurean visitors besotted by the time their appetite is sated. If these were not sufficient still, art aficionados would find much to revel in at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao designed by architect Frank Gehry or in the city of Gernika-Lumo whose tragic war time inspired the namesake painting ‘Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Add to that the city of San Sebastián or Donostia in Basque, where La Concha Bay, Art Nouveau buildings, and the iconic Kursaal Congress Centre by architect Rafael Moneo charm us all, and I cannot ask for more of this beloved region.

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Alderdi Eder Garden (left) overlooking La Concha Bay (right) in San Sebastián or Donostia

Nevertheless, it was also in San Sebastián that I made yet another discovery: Perfumería Benegas. Had it not been for the traffic that stopped me at the junction between Peñaflorida Kalea and Garibai Kalea, I could have easily walked past without giving much thought beyond beautiful and simple façade.

But the inside of Perfumería Benegas was a treasure trove. There was a zone dedicated to grooming products, but I was immediately caught by the sight of ‘bookshelves’ before me. My eyes quickly darted to them — one was even equipped with a ladder, reminding me of old libraries. They contained many leading and niche brands such as Annick Goutal, Jean Patou, Caron, Amouage, Diptyque, Ormonde Jayne, Keiko Mecheri, Montale, The Different Company, and Parfum de Nicolaï amongst others. What struck me as different, however, were the two counters of Guerlain and Chanel; they looked rather exclusive.

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The complete range of Chanel including the Les Exclusif at Perfumería Benegas

Indeed, Perfumería Benegas carry the Les Exclusifs from Chanel and the Les Collections Exclusives from Guerlain. The Chanel counter, in particular, was equipped with a table with ceramic testers and the upholstery that is characteristically Chanel. At the back was the shelf with factices of Chanel N°5, some flacons, and other related paraphernalia.

Just as I was quite awe-struck by the offerings and designs, a poised bespectacled lady approached me to offer her assistance. Little did I know that she was Doña Asuncíon Benegas, the co-owner along with her sister Doña Charo Benegas and nephew Don Luis Gimeno. When inquired, she jokingly said that she had not been born in 1908, but Perfumería Benegas had been in business since and she was the third-generation.

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Doña Asuncíon Benegas

Doña Asuncíon proceeded to introduce their own creations: Benegas Colonia and SSirimiri. Whereas Benegas Colonia is marked by a sunny disposition of citrus, SSirimiri seeks to capture the essence of San Sebastián with the freshness of bergamot and soft fluffy musks. A quick sniff assured that both were quality products. I was particularly enamoured of the story behind the latter. Doña Asuncíon explained that the composition had indeed been inspired by sirimirithe Basque term for the drizzle on grey days that blankets the city and turns the water of the Urumea River in viridian shades.

Alas, it was a pity that time was not on our side that day and I must bid farewell. Yet, I left with the knowledge that someday I would return. I had been in some dedicated perfumeries that sport niche and high-end range of products and services, but rarely had I ever felt comfortable in such establishments. The warm welcome by Doña Asuncíon, however, made the difference. The hospitality I received from the Basque had already been more than generous, but it was this particular encounter that took the experience to another level.

The only regret I have now is that I did not grab either SSirimiri or Benegas Colonia. Their eau de cologne styles might seem simple, but the quality and character therein more than suffice to leave me with nostalgia.

Sources: gipuzkoademoda.diariovasco.com, perfumeriabenegas.com

Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon — 5.0 points

There have been great chypre perfumes such as Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), Chanel N°19 (1970), and Cristalle (Chanel, 1974) amongst the arsenal of perfumes Chanel can boast. Pour Monsieur contrasts hesperidic citrus with mossy woods, giving an otherwise austere eau de cologne a dramatic twist. Similarly, Cristalle drapes a bright green floral veil on top of a mossy, musky base. More opulent, however, is Chanel N°19, which showcases the interplay between green galbanum and rooty orris on a grand chypre stage, redolent of floral elements, leather, oakmoss, and woods. And, the latest addition to the chypres of Chanel, 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel, 2007) by perfumer Jacques Polge, is just as great.

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The photograph above captures its mood well: 31 Rue Cambon is like a figure of cool elegance amidst the baroque warmth of the interior. The green carrot and steely chills of iris are set against a warm backdrop of patchouli, labdanum, and musks. The juxtaposition between cool iris and a warm chypre accord creates a dramatic tension that gives 31 Rue Cambon its character. But, despite the drama, it never loses the polished elegance. Floral shimmers sweeten and soften the chypre accord and a peppery bergamot provides a charming introduction.

Towards the dry down, the combination of iris, warm balsamic note, and creamy musk is truly elegant and sensual. Thanks to the creative strategy of Polge, the sublime chills of iris are not lost in the dramatic interplay. He simplifies instead of overdosing to achieve emphasis, and the chypre accord sans oakmoss thus allows iris to shine along with glow of its chypre warmth.

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As a chilly iris set in a warm chypre style, 31 Rue Cambon is a stunning update to the portfolio of great chypres. Its lasting glow will also keep you warm and mesmerising throughout the day.

Sources: chanel.com; elle.gr