I was on the lookout recently for a sweet-sixteen fragrance for my niece. I had some general ideas – and thus far she’s liked what I’ve given her – but I wanted this to be a “classic” from a great house, something young and accessible enough to please a teen who’s maybe not up for anything too weird (yet.) I also gave a vague promise to her mom that I’d try to pick something that wouldn’t make her eyes water. I’m the cool perfume auntie; how great is that? My nephew is quite taken with CdG Blue Santal these days, a choice I approve of.
Anyhow, I settled on Chanel fairly quickly. It could have been one of the Chances – I like Tendre and Vive (not so much the original), and they’re highly popular among the younger set. I could live with that. I decided she’s not quite ready for Coco, which I adore; Coco Noir is fine and less challenging, but (call me old fashioned) I’m not getting that kid something “noir” for her sixteenth birthday. I figured I’d probably go with Coco Mademoiselle. It’s a pretty scent that manages to smell expensive and user-friendly at the same time. But first I figured I’d test-drive the newish Gabrielle. It could be a contender, right?
Here’s the blurbage from Fragrantica: Olivier Polge crafted this Eau de Parfum as an imaginary flower—a radiant and sparkling, purely feminine Chanel blossom based on a bouquet of four white flowers: a rich, enveloping heart of exotic jasmine shimmers with the fruity green notes of ylang-ylang, while fresh and sparkling orange blossom shines through, offering a glimpse of Grasse tuberose captured at its finest. Four points of light that recall the four corners of the bottle. Notes are mandarin, grapefruit, blackcurrant, tuberose, ylang, jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood and musk.
I admit I was pretty excited about this. It’s the first interesting non-Exclusif thing they’ve done in awhile, and it’s Olivier Polge! Having Kristen Stewart as the face of the scent made me think it’d skew younger, and the square flacon is even prettier in person. Really, what could go wrong?
Lord, this thing. I just don’t know. Don’t get me wrong; Olivier Polge on an off day is still capable of making a fragrance that’s better than so much else out there. But…. well, my bar’s a little higher than that for Chanel, and thoughts that ran through my head during my several attempts included: where’s the rest of it? Was this some leftover recipe they decided to market because it did well in a focus group? Why did they waste that name and that bottle on this scent?
Gabrielle isn’t going to offend (except maybe based on your expectations), and it’s certainly office-friendly. It’s bright, vaguely citrus-green, the florals are soft, and it sits on a base of sandalwood and musk. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I wondered if there was something wrong with my nose until I read the posts by Victoria and Angela, and then I felt better. They both compare Gabrielle to Coco Mademoiselle, and they aren’t thrilled. I admit that I happen to like Coco Mad – I don’t want to wear it, but for what it is, it’s lovely, and I understand why it’s so popular. Even Luca Turin (somewhat grudgingly) gives it four stars.
But I’m heading toward a different comparison. Coco Mademoiselle is way sweeter and more zaftig than Gabrielle; to me, Gabrielle reads (in its own wan way) much closer to No. 5. I admire No. 5, and I tried to wear it for awhile when I was younger, but I don’t really like it. Its aldehydic blast strikes me as both powdery and cold, and I get too much rose. Gabrielle, on the other hand, could almost be a flanker – a No. 5 Mademoiselle. There are similar notes. Gabrielle’s citrus/sandalwood in the drydown mimics No. 5’s aldehydes, without the fangs.
And for my niece? In the end I went with the Coco Mademoiselle – the oil formula, which I think is borderline spectacular where the EdP is merely very pretty. And again I thought I was making all that up in my head, but Vika apparently feels the same. It’s sold out/unavailable on the Chanel site but if you poke around at a decent Chanel counter, they may just have a bottle tucked away. I bought the last one at my Nordstrom.