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

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Review: Annick Goutal La Violette — 4.0 points

Nothing spells quaint like a good old violet scent. It was a defining note of perfumery during the early twentieth century when most, if not all, down puffs, toiletries, and fragrances were perfumed with violet notes. Therefore, anything that boasts violets certainly has a vintage vibe.

But for La Violette (Annick Goutal, 2001), it is not just about reminiscing that vintage powder puffs, violet corsages, and candies of era past. There is also a natural quality and an interesting accent to it that make La Violette a special soliflore.

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Perfumer Isabelle Doyen must have revisited this seemingly old-fashioned and outworn note with such a focus. One is greeted with the veiled sweetness of rose and fruity raspberry. These come on strongly at first and settle into a palpable element throughout. Along with these is the characteristic powdery note of violets. Here, La Violette contains as much as 48% of isomethyl-α-ionone and 19% β-ionone, mirroring nature’s very own proportion of 35.7% α-ionone and 21.1% β-ionone. And, with a green violet leaf touch, the composition is convincingly photorealistic.

But these overdosed ionones are just part of the violet story, for there is a special peppery, woody touch to La Violette. It becomes more prominent as time passes and lasts until the musky dry down. I find that this adds an interesting dusky contrast to the sweetness of the ionones.

It is by no means a complex or ornate composition, but the simplicity is key. The nuances that make violets charming are captured here along with the subtle but assertive peppery, woody contrast. Simply put, La Violette keeps it short and sweet, which is why it is a memorable delight.

Sources: annickgoutal.com; M Cautschi, JA Bajgrowicz, P Kraft, Chimia 2001, 55, 379; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

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

Review: Chanel N°5 L’Eau — 4.0 points

A flanker of Chanel N°5 (1921) aiming at the modern crowd must not only possess the glamour and history of its forbear, but also appeal to modern taste. Perfumer Jacques Polge bore that in mind: the structure must be kept, but some old-fashioned notes reduced or replaced. The result was Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008) — made more transparent to highlight certain notes, but still faithful to the original. Effortless sophistication.

That responsibility has fallen to his son and successor Olivier Polge who took the rein early in 2015 as in-house perfumer. And, in creating the latest flanker for an even younger crowd, namely women in their twenties, he accorded the same respect. Chanel N°5 L’Eau (2016) thus exudes the vivacity of a young mademoiselle, but at the same time, possesses the bearing of its predecessor.leau

The aldehydic shards, for which the opening of Chanel N°5 is infamous, are reduced to just a dash in L’Eau. The exuberance of citrus and neroli sets the bright tone. It is transparent, fresh, sparkling as I imagine the perfect eau de cologne version of Chanel N°5 should be.

Its iconic floral bouquet is sheer and well-blended, but all the flowers are still vying for attention. I can make out the components now and then. Sunny heady ylang ylang dominates; jasmine petals are scattered here and there; and the spicy and green nuance of rose imbues the composition with a strong rosy accent.

L’Eau is also heavy on musks and sweet vanilla, but it feels tender. If the rich, balsamic, animalic dry down of Chanel N°5 were velvet, then the cottony radiant musk of L’Eau would be layers of shimmering organza. But those anosmic to certain musks may find L’Eau even more reticent than is the case.

L’Eau is an example of how a good flanker should be. The spirit of the great grand dame – the hesperedic top, the floral bouquet, and the musky woods — is kept alive in a different light. The vivacity of citrus is emphasised and the musky dry down is radiant. The aldehydic and powdery aspects are also reduced. This lighter take on the original icon resembles Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008), but is even more light-hearted and jovial even. Its ingredients smell of quality. And, I am sure those other than its target audience will be pleased.

source: chanel.fr

Review: Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin — 5.0 points

The most memorable compositions are often times the simplest compositions. They focus on one dominant theme, but the execution of such compositions is far from simple. Their concise nature calls for strong contrasts, ideal proportions, and minimal embellishments. A salient example would be a rose theme, for rose essence can be a very good perfume by itself, so any rose compositions must exceed that expectation, let alone transcending its peers.

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Enter La Fille de Berlin (Serge Lutens, 2013), a composition by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. It is what I would imagine the perfect red rose to be. The plot is simple, but it is done with such mastery that its cogent essay on a crimson rose is most convincing. For the first ten minutes, all I can smell is a majestic rose: opulent, jammy, slightly fruity, and slightly green. It has a soft cloud of violet sweetness that lends a gilded quality. Also, an interesting accent is the metallic lustre and green of rose oxide. It infuses the accord with much vigour so that the rose of La Fille de Berlin never wilts. Smelling it, I have the sensation of gliding my fingers along the red velvet cushion of the opera house with all the anticipation for the second act.

And it does not disappoint. In the subsequent act, the green rose is juxtaposed with black pepper. Its spicy puffs lend contrasting clarity to the opulent floral notes. The result is an intense signature of metallic and peppery rose. The composition sustains this combination with passion and tenacity.

The clarity of its rose is also preserved towards the dry down. Sandalwood provides the soft cushion that rounds off the bright metallic and peppery accord. Indeed, its rose never fades like most florals do. But surprisingly, it is low key for such an opulent flower.

La Fille de Berlin is a rose, but its quality and personality distinguish it from other rosy brethren. The idea of a crimson rose is executed with such brilliance. I am in awe of how luxurious the rose in La Fille de Berlin feels and how its lustre remains through to the dry down. Even if you are not a rose fan, I highly recommend smelling it to see just how a short parable can be just as powerful and memorable a story.

Source: basenote.net

Review: Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of A Faun — 4.5 points

The Afternoon of A Faun (Etat Libre d’Orange, 2012) was born of a serendipitous encounter. Etienne de Swardt, founder of Etat Libre d’Orange, was approached by a cantankerous patron who criticised the marketing gimmicks of the brand’s perfumes. In an attempt to rid himself of the annoyance, he gave away a perfume, only to have the patron returned two days later. It turned out that the patron was the late Jacques Damase, the influential publisher-cum-editor of several twentieth-century artists including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, and Le Corbusier amongst others.

A fortuitous partnership was formed. Damase would eventually inspire de Swardt to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Ballets Russes with a perfume that honours its founder Sergei Diaghilev and one of the principal choreographers Vaslav Nijinsky. The resultant composition by perfumer Ralf Schwieger was named after the ballet choreographed and performed by Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes: L’Aprés-midi d’un faune.

The-Afternoon-of-a-Faun-570x708.jpgThe composition might have been christened with Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes in mind, but I tend to think of it in operatic terms. This is because of the glowing immortelle that cuts through the heft of myrrh. Immortelle is rich and dark, yet easily soars above the rest. It is a fittingly powerful companion to myrrh, whose strong notes of sweet balsam, amber, and smoky licorice also perfectly convey the notion of ancient rites. Paired together, the result smells as though an assoluta voice were slicing through the chorus.

As myrrh forms the bulk of the composition, the style is very much contemporary. But, the skilful use of accents gives it a vintage feel of the early twentieth century. These range from the bright spicy cinnamon and tart bergamot, the honeyed rose that mellows the sharp resinous note and lends an opulent curve, to the notes of incense, leather, and oakmoss that give a dramatic touch in the later stages. Such accents give a sense of grandeur and set tone of the composition. And, what better way to pay homage to Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes than setting a chypre tone to the perfume?

What I really like about The Afternoon of A Faun is the way its heavy notes linger there, but upon the slightest movement, its warmth rises to greet. This effect is noticeable in the dry down when the balsamic myrrh becomes dominant and is punctuated with incense, leather, and oakmoss. This and its beautiful sillage of resinous woods and warm immortelle will make it stand out in the crowd. But it is certainly elegant and never begs for attention. And, a few dabs suffice to perfume me throughout the day.

Source: etatlibredorange.com, interview with Etienne de Swardt on basenote.net

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