I had a different post prepared for today, because I was going to buck the trend, show some restraint, savor my samples of Les Exclusifs that arrived on Saturday, and write something thoughtful and measured about them in a few weeks.
To hell with that. If no less a personage than uber-critic Luca Turin can go a little nuts over these, so can I.
First off, they smell very Chanel-y – that strange admixture of lush restraint that Coco Chanel created along with her iconic knit suit, a beautifully cut garment that achieved both chic and comfort. These scents dazzle not just because they´re wonderful, but they´re appropriate for the house of Chanel and the existing fragrance line.
I´ve spent two days in hard sniffage, and these are my thoughts:
No. 18 – this is the ambrette seed star, and since ambrette seed is used as a base for non-animal-derived musk, I was expecting something, well, muskier. This is the most challenging of the set; it starts off with an odd, sour smell, like something pickled (sort of like that pickle note in Guerlain Sous Le Vent). Luca Turin describes it as “an iris-rose that sits next to the defunct Iris Gris in heaven,” which I´ll have to take his word on, having never smelled Iris Gris, but he´s the genius and there is definitely something floral lurking in there, even if it takes an hour or two to arrive on me. A full 16 (!) hours later I got the iris-rose he referenced, close to the skin.
Bel Respiro – with a wallop of grass and galbanum at the opening, this one conjures up associations with scents as varied as Vent Vert, Ma Griffe and Vol de Nuit, only Bel Respiro is less aggressive than any of those. I liked this one the least at the outset, but wait for the drydown! The green subsides, leaving a honeyed hay-like smell that grew lovelier by the hour.
Coromandel – a friend who is not into perfume took one whiff of me coming in the door and said, you smell beautiful. Which just about sums it up, although as I recall the name “Beautiful” is already taken. Frankincense, spices, benzoin and amber over an extremely elegant patchouli, which turns out not to be an oxymoron. I don´t even want to say “patchouli” – I want to use some made-up word that means patchouli-elegance. “Sublime” is already taken too. How bout Mon Dieu?
28, La Pausa – mostly iris, named after one of Chanel´s retreats which featured a lot of iris. Objectively, it´s lovely. To me it´s more woody and less powdery – closer to The Different Company´s Bois d’Iris than Malle´s Iris Poudre. It has the distinct metallic tang of orris, and I´d venture that fans of that note will be pleased. Any lack of enthusiasm you note is due to my failure to develop the same fanaticism for orris that I have for, say, leather or incense.
31, Rue Cambon – a blend of iris, jasmine, labdanum and sandalwood, it´s a chypre made without oakmoss – an ambitious achievement given that oakmoss is (depending on where I read) either banned outright or on a list of fragrance ingredients that are being phased out as potential allergens. A hot-button issue for me, given that some of my beloved Guerlains are (were?) made with oakmoss, and are allegedly being reformulated with less than stellar results. According to Luca Turin, Chanel “used a pepper-iris accord instead to achieve a classical (chypre) effect in a completely novel way.” The sandalwood feels harsh to me at the opening, a sensation that´s intensified by the pepper. However. The sillage (as opposed to sniffing my skin) is indeed a lovely chypre accord, so my hat´s off to Chanel. I need to keep my nose away from my wrist, though, or the sandalwood gives me a headache – and that´s worrisome enough that I´m not sure I want to try this sprayed in the usual places as opposed to a sample squidge at arm´s length.
Eau de Cologne – I admit it: I´m a cologne slut. What is not to love about the limoncello of the fragrance world, always ready to refresh? I love them all, from 4711 to the CdG Cologne series to Christian Dior Cologne Blanche. I´ll also admit that, unless I crammed for the test ahead of time, my nose probably isn´t discerning enough to tell them all apart. (Okay, 4711 I have worn so often, for so long, I should recognize it.) Chanel Eau de Cologne distinguishes itself by opening with an interesting, mild peppered-rose note that actually becomes more pronounced over time, rendering it more perfume-y and less cologne-y, with corresponding lasting power (i.e., longer than your standard eau de cologne.)
All of these are available from Bergdorf Goodman in NYC and the Chanel boutiques in ginormous 200ml bottles for, I think, $175 apiece. (Both my local boutiques snidely insist they´re not carrying Les Exclusifs, so my apologies.) If you want to sample them all, Miss Patty is selling decant sets of the six over there to the left on her Fragrant Fripperies website. They all have decent lasting power on me, some longer than others, but lasting power isn´t generally a problem for me, so I´m probably not the best judge. No. 18, Coromandel and Rue Cambon seemed to last the longest, but even the Cologne stuck around for the better part of the day. I´ve heard a rumor that some of the scents that already existed (Bois de Iles, No. 22, Cuir de Russie and Gardenia) may have been tweaked for their re-release as part of Les Exclusifs, but haven´t read any definitive opinions on the subject, so please comment if you´ve tried the new versions of those.
image: actress Romy Schneider at Coco Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment ca. 1960, www.verdeau.com