Review: Chanel Coromandel — 5.0 points

Gabriel Chanel was an ardent collector of Coromandel folding screens. These decorative wood screens with elaborate inlays are so termed because they were shipped to Europe via the Coromandel coast of Southeast India. It was also here that dry patchouli leaves were often laid among clothing to repel moths. Hence, I find it apt that perfumer Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake would decide to explore this multi-faceted material in Coromandel (Chanel, 2007), a perfume inspired by the mademoiselle’s passion for the folding screens.

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With just a resinous piney start, it quickly descends into a rich patchouli. The camphoraceous and earthy facets of this raw material are curtailed, whilst the woody balsamic aspect is pushed and extrapolated. Fruity jasmine adds to the voluptuousness. Benzoin and vanilla play up the balsamic sweetness of the woody facet. And, to offset the heft, resinous incense is the perfect foil. The result is a patchouli so opulent that it tantalises with the richness of chocolate.

The dry down is just as decadent and smouldering, with sweet benzoin and incense lingering well into the night. Its resplendent sillage beguiles with enchanting sweetness of woods and resins. Its restrained gourmand exploration is mesmerising. Coromandel is a revelation about this otherwise earthy, woody raw material. It invites me to imagine the couturier lounging in her chair, feeling cocooned by the woody warmth of the decorative screens whilst beholding the gilded and mother-of-pearl inlays.

Source: Boris Lipnitzki’s portrait of Gabrielle Chanel in 1937

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 points

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

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

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: Chanel Égoïste — 5.0 points

Perfumer Jacques Polge had been working on ‘Black Wood’ when Chanel wanted to launch a complementary collection of menswear. However, the clothing line was ultimately cancelled, and only by a stroke of luck was ‘Black Wood’ kept in production. It was launched exclusively in Chanel boutiques as Bois Noir. As it grew more popular, Bois Noir was distributed widely and thereafter christened Égoïste as Chanel had bought the rights to the name from the photography magazine of Nicole Wisniak. The iconic television advertisement by Jean Paul Goude accompanied the launch and made it all the more infamous. But, Égoïste itself is already a strong statement of seduction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Égoïste is a shock.

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I still recall the horror from experiencing the spiciness of Égoïste for the first time. The top of Égoïste is infused with the spicy and hot-peppery note of coriander, the sweet heat of cinnamon, and the brightness of rosewood. But what follows quickly is a surprising turn of character.

The spicy debut morphs into a suave and plump rose. The signature rose of Égoïste is, in fact, an accord of tagete oil and 3% of geranium oil at play. The fruity raspberry note of tagete oil pops up from the rosy heart of geranium. This imbues the theme with such distinctiveness that feels like juicy chunks of fruit compote bursting with flavours. To top it off, rose oil provides a floral and green spicy touch.

Égoïste sustains the rose potpourri theme towards a soft oriental fond of creamy sandalwood, vanilla, and musky ambrette seed. Late in the dry down, there is also a slight balsamic touch. By this stage, Égoïste recalls the sandalwood and balsams of Bois des Îles (Chanel, 1926). Soft and ever so slightly rosy, Égoïste surprisingly boasts a magnificent sillage and sterling longevity.

Polge wanted to do something different for a market saturated by fougères. That and having been inspired by Ernest Beaux’s lavish use of sandalwood oil in Bois des Îles, he decided to experiment with it. The result was Égoïste, a rose for men that built upon the sensual facets of sandalwood. He picked a material that had otherwise been employed predominantly in feminine compositions and supported its character with the vegetal musk of ambrette seed and creamy vanilla to create a sensual signature in the fond. This quality is further explored in a suave rose theme brought about by an accord of sharp geranium and fruity tagete oil. Égoïste also contrasts the sensual themes with the brightness of rosewood and spices, creating a dramatic interplay. Such a full-fledged rose and sandalwood theme for men is certainly avant-garde, and I have never seen anything quite like Égoïste since.

Sources: interview with Jacques Polge by Stéphane Gaboué for Hint Fashion Magazine 2nd September 2010; chanel.fr; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors; IFRA 48th Amendment for Tagetes Oil and Absolute

Review: Chanel Sycomore — 4.5 points

I have few vetiver perfumes that I love and admire. These are Vétiver (Guerlain, 1959), which is an all-time classic, and Encre Noire (Lalique, 2006), which I have come to think of as a modern classic. But, they are not the vetiver that I mostly reach for. That honour goes to Sycomore (Chanel, 2007).

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Sycomore is likely named after Sycamore (Chanel, 1930), an aldehydic floral created by perfumer Ernest Beaux. However, Sycomore was composed by perfumers Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake, and it features vetiver as the main woody note.

But just as important are also the accents that shape the vetiver. The interpretation here toys with the green and sweet woody facet of vetiver. From the bright pine needles in the opening to the smoky and woody vetiver, Sycomore grows and expands on skin, much like its namesake the sycamore tree. I am rather fond of its sweet licorice and woody vetiver notes towards the dry down, which give it an addictive signature. In this respect, it is similar to Vétiver de Guerlain (1959) and naturally Vétiver Tonka (Hermès, 2004), but, whereas Vétiver de Guerlain is sweet in the sense of being almost oriental and Vétiver Tonka is praline-like, Sycomore is restrained. Its take on vetiver is sublime, at once sophisticated and austere.

Sycomore is subtly orchestrated. It is complex, yet nothing is overdone. Wearing it, I feel as though I dressed myself up but remain comfortable. For this reason, it acquires a special place even amongst my favourite vetivers and wins hands down when it comes to the frequency of use.

Source: chanel.fr

Review: Chanel N°19 Poudré — 4.5 points

The singular composition of Chanel N°19 (1970) has since its conception inspired many fragrances. Silences (Jacomo, 1978), for example, clearly derives its composition from Chanel N°19, but with the shrills of galbanum tempered by a green fruity cassis note. More remotely is Beautiful (Estée Lauder, 1985), which despite its lack of green and mossy notes, also possesses the similarity in terms of its floral and woody notes. Other fragrances that take some elements of Chanel N°19 include Amazone (Hermès, 1974), Ivoire de Balmain (Pierre Balmain, 1980), and So Pretty (Cartier, 1995). And, more recently, the interesting Italian Leather (Memo, 2013), with the addition of green tomato leaf and balsamic leather to orris concrete, easily hearkens to the galbanum-orris-chypre of Chanel N°19.

Yet, there had been no single flanker from its very own house. So, in 2011, perfumer Jacques Polge decided that it was high time the spotlight be given to this gem. Thus, a fitting modern tribute to Chanel N°19 was born.

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Forget the tempestuous interplay of fiercely verdant galbanum, rooty orris, and dusky woods: Chanel N°19 Poudré is placid. Instead of the bitter green galbanum, its green note is gentle, like a shade of chartreuse with bright accents of mandarin and neroli. Its fluffy iris that gives the main impression is taken towards the direction of compact powder: musky, powdery, but devoid of retro-violet notes. And, instead of the mossy woods, its dry down is a warm embrace of musk, vanilla, and tonka bean that sweetens and warms the iris. The composition is not difficult, and has just the same sophisticated bearing of its grand dame.

Chanel N°19 Poudré delights in harmony. It is serene and elegant. It may not be a legacy like other compositions before it, but its rich harmonious accord is so easy to wear and admire. It clings to skin much like the scent of compact powder, and its comforting warmth begs one to sniff it again and again. In a way, it is a beautiful ode to the original.

Source: chanel.fr

Review: Chanel Gardénia — 3.0 points

Gardénia (Chanel, 1925) was first conceived by perfumer Ernest Beaux as he revisited his earlier idea in Le Gardénia (Rallet, 1920). However, it has been re-orchestrated by perfumer Jacques Polge and re-launched as an eau de toilette that suits modern tastes.

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Despite the name, Gardénia in the current formulation is not so much a rendition of the gardenia. It is, perhaps, a conceptual theme of the ideal garden of white flowers for the Mademoiselle. It brings in groves of camellias, orange blossoms, tuberoses, and jasmines — pretty flowers in nondescript gardens. It is above all a pretty, modern, floral perfume.

The opening has, like many modern perfumes, the brightness of pink pepper oil at 0.8%. There is also a kind of green sharpness to suggest the foliage. Soon, the composition warms up with sweet floral notes and the lactonic creaminess. There are orange blossoms, jasmines, and tuberoses. The green nuance and creaminess of sweet tuberose set the tone for Gardénia. Its fluffy musk marries well with the white florals and forms the most of the dry down. It is sweet and likeable. It does not offend or inspire.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena likes the composition because it evokes happiness. I like Gardénia for being easy on the nose. I am treated to a pleasant floral perfume without an attitude. From the beginning, it does not try to make an impression with a hard strike at my nose. Nor does it plunge my olfactory bulb into deep thoughts, as the composition develops. It is simple, pretty, and balanced. It will not offend anyone, and is only guilty of not being interesting. It is nice enough, but never memorable.

Certainly, not Billie Holiday with gardenias tucked in her hair.

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Sources: chanel.fr, hipquotient.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors