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

Review: Chanel N°5 Eau Première – 4.0

Few brands do justice to the re-working of their classic creations as does Chanel. This is why I enjoy re-tracing the incarnations of Chanel N°5 (1921) to see what each interpretation has to offer. Previously, I examined the verves and radiance of a young mademoiselle in Chanel N°5 L’Eau (2016). This time, I say we look back at the modern legacy of the grand dame in Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2007).

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Its cascade of notes makes for a luscious sensation, whilst its clarity lends itself to ease of wearing. One is first greeted with heady and sunny ylang ylang, and there is a dalliance with the aldehydic note, both of which are customary to Chanel N°5. This leads over to the iconic bouquet of rose and jasmine blended into a floral mélange, but with each note still lending their nuances to the mix.

As Eau Première develops, I notice the progression from a bright, crystalline layer to a warm, round and sensual one. Its powdery iris note, in particular, gives the luminous sheen and softness of silk. And in the dry down, the warmth of its vanillic, musky base is still accompanied by a lingering hint of floral bouquet. Eau Première lasts easily a whole day and continues to persist on fabric. Its radiant, indistinctly floral sillage is also recognisable.

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From top to base, the framework of Chanel N°5 is preserved: only the emphasis has been shifted. By trimming the top and base, the composition acquires greater clarity and the focus now falls to the beloved bouquet of Chanel N°5. Here, perfumer Jacques Polge seems to have struck the perfect middle ground between classical pomp and modern clarity. In other words, Eau Première is an excellent update to the original.

Sources: chanel.com

Review: Arquiste Aleksandr — 4.0 points

Inspired by the fatal duel of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the namesake Aleksandr (Arquiste, 2012) isll a story of Pushkin riding into the fir forest on the fateful day, wearing leather boots and a copious splash of an eau de cologne.

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But without reading the accompanying story, I tend to think of Aleksandr by perfumer Yann Vasnier as a leathery iris with a splash of eau de cologne-type freshness. This idea of iris for men is not entirely new, considering that it has already begun with the advent of Dior Homme (2005) that sets its iris in a cocoa and somewhat leathery theme. Nevertheless, there is always room for a good tweak.

The beginning of Aleksandr is a cool sparkle of neroli and citrus, and there is a lot of it because it veils the bulk of Aleksandr so well that I never would imagine that there is a dense theme at heart. Its bright freshness is a beautiful contrast to the dusky iris.

In a moment, the iris heart reveals itself. I first notice its green carrot vibes, followed by the sweetness of violets. Then, a leathery musky accent gives the impression of a soft suede – not exactly what Pushkin would have worn, but it has the modern appeal of soft leather that I like. The iris theme is also kept dusky by oakmoss and fir balsam, noticeably prominent in the dry down. It is gentle and understated, but it has a good lasting power.

An iris for men has a familiar ring of Dior Homme, but it is the accents that give Aleksandr a different character of its own. Its violet and suede impart a charming note. Its mossy and balsamic note has a rough-hewn appeal. And, the copious neroli makes Pushkin radiant, I imagine. Aleksandr is surely an interesting update to the masculine iris.

Source: arquiste.com

Review: Guerlain Vol de Nuit — 5.0 points

During the golden age of aviation, the general sentiment was one of exploration, adventure, and fascination with the unexplored. This is because these could be made possible by the advent of aviation. Such sentiments pervaded the air of the time, and therefore, when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the novel Vol de Nuit or ‘Night Flight’ in 1931 based on his experience as an aviator, it became an international best-seller. Its tale of a courageous pilot braving the night storm and plunging himself into an unknown fate whilst his dear wife awaited the grave news moved many.

As perfumery caught on this l’air du temp, perfumer Jacques Guerlain — himself a friend of Saint-Exupéry — composed Vol de Nuit (Guerlain, 1933) in honour of the pioneering aviator. The resplendent composition of green, floral, woody, and animalic elements was most avant-garde, and did not lend itself to any immediately recognisable category.

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The extrait de parfum that I acquired in 2015 opens with a snap of bitter-green galbanum and wonderfully tart bergamot. The latter recalls the fine tartness of Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) in the top.  More importantly, I like the way the galbanum is intertwined with bergamot, creating a temperamental green character that is, at once, fierce and gentle. From then on, Vol de Nuit begins its descent into the bottomless pit.

The dark green ripples of jonquille absolute bridge the green top with their deep mellow touch. Then, I smell what is effectively a Guerlinade accord. It is a soft oriental powder revolving around jasmine, orange blossom, orris, vanilla, and tonka bean. Throughout, the powerful leathery and animalic note of castoreum is present and becomes more evident as the composition develops. Its animalic allure maintain the gravity of the composition. The dry down is a combination of resins, amber, and a light touch of oakmoss. Much later, it smells of resinous woods.

My impression of Vol de Nuit in the extrait de parfum is that it is a dense and most beautiful atramentum. I must admit, though, that I had a hard time at first because of the castoreum funk and the fierce and dark green notes of galbanum and jonquille. But a few times of wearing it changed my mind. This is because a composition like Vol de Nuit demands patience. It takes time to play out the sublime depth of the notes.

Vol de Nuit is all about the depth of night, but neither is the familiar contrast of cool and warm notes missing. There is plenty in the fresh green top versus the animalic warm base. Jacques Guerlain brought disparate elements together, despite their strong and seemingly irreconcilable differences. There are the greens of galbanum and jonquille, the floral-oriental and the feral impertience of castoreum and resinous notes. The heterogeneity of Vol de Nuit is what gives the anticipation and the excitement of charting an unknown territory. That is why I admire and covet Vol de Nuit. It feels like raw instinct as one plunges into the abyss.

More than eight decades later and stripped of some of its animalic tinctures and oakmoss, it is still daring, bold, and certainly one of a kind.

Source: guerlain.fr

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

Review: Guerlain Jicky — 4.5 points

Legend has it that Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) was named either for the English lass, of whom perfumer Aimé Guerlain was enamoured, or for the nickname of his dear nephew, Jacques Guerlain. But, for certain, Jicky claims the title of ‘the oldest perfume in continuous production’.

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What makes it special is the creativity of Aimé Guerlain. He made use of what he knew and had at the time. He exploited the popularity of the fougère accord, which had been successfully pioneered by Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882), and experimented with the increasingly affordable synthetic compounds. The result was that Jicky was not only an imminently attractive fougère, but also one with a memorable signature that began to take shape and would later set the framework for later oriental icons of Guerlain like Shalimar (1925) and Habit Rouge (1965).

Jicky, as a classical fougère, features lavender, a material that possesses herbal, floral, and warm gourmand facet. Aimé Guerlain dressed it up with a lot of sparkling citrus, a sprinkle of herbs, and a warm vanillic base.

The aromatic freshness of lavender is expanded by citrus and herbs in the top. Bergamot and lemon lend their hesperidic sparkles. The original formula of Jicky likely contains as much as 32% bergamot oil and 2% lemon oil, with a boost from linalool obtained from distilled rosewood. Rosemary and thyme add an agrestic accent, giving it a rustic Provençal charm.

In contrast, the warm base that emerges later accentuates the sweet gourmand aspect of lavender. It is a powdery mélange of iris, vanilla, tonka bean, and sandalwood – a rudimentary Guerlinade, if you will. The use of aroma chemicals such as coumarin and vanillin gives Jicky a special sweet vanilla character. The animalic overtone of civet is also there, like a creamy ganache. Jicky settles into this warm animalic powder with an aromatic backdrop of lavender and herbs for most of its duration.

Jicky might have a familiar ring to its predecessor Fougère Royale because of its fougère structure, but its juxtaposition between raw citrus and vanillic base lends a different character. This memorable contrast would not be possible without the use of aroma materials that give a strong signature to Jicky. For such a creative twist on a familiar accord and a memorable character, Jicky is very special.

A note on the concentrations: I find the extrait de parfum indubitably richer than the eau de toilette. Already in the beginning, the bergamot is plump with tart-sweet and floral nuances, not so much as diffusive as that of the eau de toilette. Lemon oil is more pronounced as well. The lavender is rich with floral and herbal facets, and it lasts longer. Of note is the civet that feels like a ganache smoothing over the bucolic herbs. Its oriental vanilla and tonka bean accord is present in full glory. The emphasis of the extrait de parfum is on the aromatic and warm oriental character.

The eau de toilette of Jicky, however, starts on a more diffusive note of linalool-laden bergamot. Its lavender is more herbal. Civet puffs seem to come and go. The familiar oriental accord requires a nose pressed hard to the skin to detect. Overall, the eau de toilette feels like a hesperidic eau de cologne with herbal and oriental accents. Its lasting power is mediocre.

I have not tried the eau de parfum, so I cannot comment on that. But between the extrait de parfum and the eau de toilette, the former is classically rich and infused with a Guerlain DNA, but the latter is like a creative twist of a classic eau de cologne. Though not a die-hard Guerlain fan, I am partial to Guerlinade and would pick the extrait de parfum. Perhaps, spraying the eau de toilette on top to add the hesperidic brightness would be perfect — alas, the price may not permit such a double purchase.

Sources: guerlain.fr, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

  1. Esposito, Lawrence J.; K. Formanek; G. Kientz; F. Mauger; V. Maureaux; G. Robert; F. Truchet (1997). “Vanillin”. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 4th edition 24. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 812–825
  2. Reimer, Karl Ludwig (1876). “Über eine neue Bildungsweise aromatischer Aldehyde”. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 9 (1): 423–424

Review: Dior Homme — 5.0 points

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I say Dior Homme (2005) deserves its place on a pedestal of classics. Rarely do mainstream launches proceed without deliberation on market tests, but Dior Homme did. And its composition does not conform either: at the centre of it is iris, a material that does not have a firm ground on the masculine territory like, say, lavender or geranium. Yet perfumer Olivier Polge did an astounding job, thereby firmly establishing its place amongst masculine fragrances.

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Iris, which has the connotation of powder puff and lipstick, is not exactly a fresh note. However, in Dior Homme, its carrot facet is cleverly extrapolated with green herbs to give a fresh top note. A combination of bergamot, lavandin, geranium, and carrot seed renders the impression of aromatic green herbs. Cardamom and coriander provide a spicy contrast. Such cool herbs introduce freshness to the dense note.

The lively iris theme at heart revolves around 0.25% of orris absolute with its rich powder, carrot-like green, and chills. A peachy glow, the fruity touch of δ-damascone at 0.11%, and violet-like ionones warm and sweeten the composition. A radiant floral touch keeps the heart limpid. The glow and shimmer impart such clarity and polish, rendering an otherwise austere and sometimes dull note of iris vibrant.

Towards the base, the composition is warm and inviting. Here, vetiver is sweetened by vanilla, coumarin, and musk with a crisp ambery note of Ambrox. The resultant gourmand sweetness is brilliantly offset by the combination of myrrh and frankincense oil each at 0.5%. Patchouli conjures a surprising touch of bitter cocoa when paired with powdery iris. The character of vanillic woods strongly contrasts with that of iris, and pairing them together creates a gripping tension between warm and cool notes. It is riveting.

Offering iris as a masculine fragrance untested is a bold and risky move, but in doing so Dior and Polge have created a milestone with a memorable character and a lasting influence. The iris is rendered surprisingly fresh and spicy, and its rooty chills polished by radiant florals and glow of fruits. Then, pitted against vanillic woods and incense, it makes Dior Homme unforgettable. It is tenacious and its suave sillage of grand cru cocoa and supple leather will impress. Its boldness has certainly left a mark in perfumery.

A note on the concentrations: Since its launch, Dior Homme has been a success, spawning various incarnations. The versions which are clearly related to the original character are Dior Homme Intense (2011), which is an eau de parfum, and Dior Homme Parfum (2014) by perfumer François Demachy. The eau de parfum is like a creamy, sweet leather-cocoa as the levels of vanillin and coumarin are increased. For the parfum, its richness is overall increased, creating a dark supple leather; and the emphasis shifts to the fond with fumes of frankincense and myrrh — the blotter has been oozing these dark swirls even after three weeks from the first spray. The longevity of both is, likewise, sterling. Their presence also lingers long after one has disappeared.

Sources: fragrantica.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors