Today´s post was supposed to be on the two new Lubin re-releases, Nuit de Longchamp and L de Lubin. But since one smells exactly like the top notes of my CVS nail polish remover and the other one fills my head with a deep, profound, Zen-like nothingness, I dug up and finished a post I wrote awhile ago and was too annoyed/embarrassed to publish.
It´s no great secret that perfume houses reformulate their fragrances without announcing that fact to the general public. They do so for various reasons: to save money; to bring a fragrance in compliance with some new tedious regulation; to save money; to compensate for scarce/banned/overharvested raw materials; to save money; to subtly tweak a fragrance in a more “modern” direction; and to save money.
Chanel has, I think, largely avoided the kind of shameful cheapening of its fragrance ingredients that some other houses have resorted to. Nonetheless, as I sniffed and resniffed their Coco eau de parfum in the department store over the last few months, I became … suspicious.
My friends, the current iteration of Chanel Coco is not half the man she used to be when I worked through a flacon in the late 1980s. They shaved her legs, did some manscaping, made her stub out her cigarette. She´s been powdered and plucked and waxed and fluffed to a glossy sheen, and … no thanks. Luca Turin described Coco in The Guide as “terribly dated,” and all I can say is — dude, I wish. Where’s that obnoxious, big-shouldered floriental I remember so fondly?
So there was nothing to do but buy a bottle on eBay, and lo – the exact same stoppered flacon I owned popped up for sale at a reasonable price. I won the auction, sent my money, got my bottle, and … nooooooooooo. It had clearly been diluted or adulterated with something. For which I can´t/don´t hold the seller responsible, by the way. It was one of those rummage sale deals, it was recognizably Coco, even if not very good, and what are you going to do? I owned a pretty bottle, and that was that.
Coco was my first Chanel, and it arrived in my life during a time of personal and professional setbacks. I´d tried and failed to get involved with several of the others (Cristalle, 5 and 22). At the time Coco was my attempt at “classiness” via aspirational branding, and I loved the crystal flacon it came in. But it was something more. It was the first fragrance that made me feel and smell like an adult woman. It was bitter and sweet, direct and complicated, fierce and yielding, hot and cold. Long before I swore the oath of a perfumista and learned the secret handshake, Coco spoke to me. It said, you may be broke, and scared, and wearing hand-me-down suits to your crummy job, and in a welter about all sorts of things, but you can still be beautiful. I put on Coco when I stepped out of bed in the early morning — before I dressed the babies and made the breakfast and the lunch and had them both to daycare before arriving at my desk at 8 a.m. Coco gave me the strength and a firm jab in the ribs and told me stand up tall, no sniveling. Coco said, fake it till you make it.
I used up that entire flacon. My favorite part was the last half inch, which at that point had become dark and viscous and smoky and strange. It was probably not really office appropriate, but I wore it until there was nothing left but memories.
Anyhow. I never posted this because I was embarrassed and annoyed by how weirdly upset I was about my bottle failure, completely out of proportion to the event. Weeks went by. Eventually I bid on two other bottles (sprays this time), won them both, and gave it another whirl.
The bottles are from two different sellers in different parts of the country, and … both are off on the top notes in the same way. Interesting. One bottle was boxed and one wasn´t, and who knows how they´ve been stored, but I find it noteworthy how the same part of the structure crumbled in both bottles, I wonder what the issue is. It´s not terrible, but whatever was constructed to greet me is now gone a little lopsided in the direction of varnish. That blows off pretty quickly, though. Then we are back to the glory that was Coco, with her unibrow and moustache restored to their proper places.
You can find various notes listed, but I´m going with the ones that sound most spicy floriental: frangipani, orange, mimosa, rose, jasmine, clove, coriander, labdanum, ambrette, opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood, tonka, and vanilla. In my “vintage” bottles dating from the late 80s/early 90s, the emphasis is on the oriental aspect. Coco is kissing cousins to Cinnabar and Youth Dew. It is dense, honeyed, rich, with the spice notes featured prominently in the drydown. In fact, my tiny vintage flacon of Youth Dew Bath Oil reminds me quite a bit of the last dregs of my first flacon, when it had boiled itself down to its essence.
In contrast, a spritz of new Coco EdP feels, well, newer. It´s considerably brighter and sweeter, with far more emphasis on the florals, particularly the mimosa and rose. It´s also considerably more powdery than my vintage versions (or my memory of it.) It´s not that it isn´t lovely – it is, actually, judged on its own merits or as close to that as my biased heart can get. To give Chanel credit, it isn´t thinner either. It doesn´t have that strange, depressing anorexia you get when fragrances have been reformulated on the cheap. And probably for many young women accustomed to fragrances with a more fruity or gourmand tone, Coco is about as far down the Sodom-and-Gomorrah path in the direction of Opium that they ever wish to go.
So. I´m happy with my Coco experiment, or as close to happy as I´m likely to get. I even found a use for my watered-down flacon: bedtime Coco. It´s like an eau de cologne, and so weak it´s like I put it on that morning and it’s lingering on my clothes. But it´s kind of nice that way. For those of you who want a taste of the bad old 80s Coco, seriously – new Coco layered on top of a drop of Estee Lauder Youth Dew Bath Oil ($31 at Nordstrom or $3 at your local thrift shop) will do it.