Chanel Les Exclusifs — March’s Turn

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

  • Rebecca says:

    Please put my name in the drawing.
    LOVE your new art work!!!!
    Rebecca

  • Robin says:

    They are so much better than I expected, M, although after all the hype I kind of stopped expecting much…usually the hype is followed by massive disappointment. But these are pretty darned good. Inadvertently discovered over the weekend that several of them layer well: especially liked no. 18 over 31 Rue Cambon.

    • Judith says:

      Oh, I need to try that combination; I bet it’s great!

    • March says:

      R — I was doubly surprised — as I commented somewhere up there, I admit to admiring the Chanel fragrance line more than loving it. I guess we can chalk most of this up to the genius of Polge and Sheldrake?

      Hey, your blog looks great! Love your new spring look!

  • tmp00 says:

    Why on earth would your local Chanel be “snidely” insisting they don’t carry these? Doesn’t that sort of mean that they are, well not to put too fine a point on it, second-rate?

    • March says:

      Tom, I don’t understand various parts of high-end retail. I went a couple times with my nother-in-law; also to NM. The employees could be breathtakingly rude, and she was there to spend money. So I phoned and was immediately reminded about what what witches they were. I had a similar experience shopping with a friend at NM not that long ago. Do they *train* them to offend, or is that what happens to you in that environment?

  • Patty says:

    You’ll all be glad to know that I just got a fresh bottle of Cuir de Russie, and that one does not appear to be tweaked. If it has been, it’s only been in a good way (I have terrible sniffer memory).

    Someone could have told me how much I’d like No. 22, though! Wow.

    I’m not getting the AC in 31 Rue Cambon either. Maybe in the drydown there’s a resemblance, but that’s as much as I’m getting.

    • March says:

      I gave 22 a chance after Angela blogged on it — the opening I’m not so wild for, but the drydown is excellent. I guess I’d assumed you’d tried it like everything else!:d

  • sariah says:

    Hi March – that girl in the picture is adorable. I have so many samples waiting to try (like 80 or something! I’m a slow tester), so I am trying not to order samples of these or anything else until I get the stash weeded down a bit – but you and Patty and the other bloggers are making this really hard!!!

    • March says:

      I loved that photo! Although she had a very sad life, her son died in an accident at 14 and she killed herself less than a year later. I think she was very beautiful.

      Heh heh. Sample backlog. I remember a time when that idea seemed so … foreign to me. Glad someone else is feeling the pain.

    • Maria B. says:

      I’m in the same boat, Sariah, sample backlog. Then there are all the lovely scents I have full bottles of but am not getting to because there are ever more new samples. 🙂 So many scents and just one skin.:d

      • March says:

        Sssshhhh — I have packages I haven’t opened.:-$ Don’t tell. I have to say, I do get around to everything eventually … except wearing the actual bottles, as you note.

      • pitbull friend says:

        Maria, do you write for a living? You have such wonderful turns of phrase. I think you’ve coined the phrase we need if we ever make up Perfume Posse t-shirts: “So many scents and just one skin!”
        Ellen

  • Judith says:

    Well, even with a broken sniffer, I could not resist trying these when they came. My only quarrel with them is that they could be stronger and longer-lasting (on me, the only one with a lot of ooommph is Coromandel, which, unfortunately, is far from my favorite). I don’t understand the rationale behind huge bottles of colognes; I would much rather spend the same amount of money for small flacons of perfumes.

    That said–my first impressions:
    I really, really like 31 Rue Cambon. And DH (who is forced to smell so many things on my skin) sniffed this with pleased surprise and commented on how beautiful it was.

    I think I really like 18–but I need to give it more tries; there’s something here that smells very unusual on me. DH liked this one too, felt it was more “subtle” than 31 on me, actually picked out the musk here (or maybe it was dumb luck).

    Bel Respiro–I also like this very much, think it would be great in the summer. DH is not used to green scents, so found it “unusual” but conceded it might be nice in warm weather.

    28 La Pausa–very pretty. DH also found it pretty, but faint (he liked it better than BR).

    Coromandel–well, sorry, but this does smell like a better, smoother Prada on me. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, but it just doesn’t move me (with Marina here). DH found it “heavy” and didn’t care for it.

    Cologne–I haven’t tried this yet, but after reading your and Elle’s reports, I will do so posthaste.

    If I buy one, it will be 31, but I can’t figure out yet if I really want a huge bottle of it. I WANT it in parfum!!!!

    • March says:

      Okay, I guess I have to re-try Prada, don’t I? It seemed very bitter to me … I’m sorry your sniffer’s broken! It sounds like you had most of the same general feelings that I did. Weren’t you surprised that they are all so generally appealing? Although I totally agree about those absurd bottles. I don’t know what the idea was.

      I, uh, actually didn’t put the concentration in the review, because I couldn’t find a single reference written down, not even in the two articles I have about Les Exclusifs, which just refer to them as “scents,” etc. ARE they EDTs? (except the cologne?) I assumed they were at that price for size, but thought they might be EDPs…

      • Judith says:

        Well, not everyone gets Prada (although many do), so you may not. I do like it better than Prada–although my problem with Prada is that it is too SWEET on me–so ya never know!

        I WAS surprised (and maybe a wee bit disappointed) that the fragrances were so generally appealing! But I like them anyway! 🙂

        I don’t really know anything about the concentration. I just assumed from the size and the strength that these were EDT. Also, the original Rue Cambons came in either EdT or parfum (and these are NOT parfum):(

        Interestingly, I just read a post on MUA from Diane saying that Chanel claims that the original Rue Cambon scents were NOT tweaked, just put in different bottles. But if this is true, does it mean that they are not available in parfum anymore? I must smell them when I go to the boutique, but since I only have the parfums at home, I may not be able to tell anything.

        • March says:

          You’re right, so they’re EDT. Glad to hear they’re not tweaked. I do wonder, though, about the parfum — our local dept stores seem to have pulled all the existing 19, 22 and Gardenia, which makes me suspicious.

          Dontcha wish they were all available in parfum?

  • Rick says:

    March, thanks for the excellent reviews.

    Far as I know, the only one of the group that is specifically designated as unisex is the Eau de Cologne, but Bel Respiro works on me as a fresh green. The rest, I kind of doubt, though I’m on the fence about Coromandel, which is insistently flaunting its beauties at me from one of Chanel’s handsome scent cards (which comes with its own diminutive folder to hold it – now that’s class) six days later. . .Do you see Coromandel playing on man?

    • March says:

      Rick — you are probably asking the wrong gal, because I am one of those women who love women’s scents on men’s skin — and also, in my personal experiments on various male friends, men tend to bring out different notes — things just smell more “masculine” on them. The Cologne is probably the designated unisex, but really — all of these are so dry and sophisticated, I can’t see why a man couldn’t get away with them. Seriously. I’ll concede the Coromandel is the most “feminine,” but that would depend on how much vanilla you got on your skin, vs. the patch. I got pretty much all patch.

  • trinity says:

    31 reminds me SO much of Attrape Coeur. Anybody else get this?

    No 18 makes me think of a Serge Lutens scent, what with the off-putting initial slightly queasy smelling topnote that morphs into that beautiful rose-amber drydown. Sometimes with Serge you have to suffer a bit before you get the good stuff. Wonder if Chris Sheldrake had a hand in this one?

    • March says:

      Trinity — I *think* Sheldrake had a hand in all of these, and I know he’s a genius at SL, but wow — who knew his genius would be so portable? The Chanels are very different from SL in style. I agree with your comments about 18, though — although clearly some people aren’t getting the weird opening.

      31 and A/C? I dunno. A/C is much more powdery on me…

  • To be honest, I can appreciate them but none wowed me.

    • March says:

      Helene — I’m surprised. Granted, it’s a pretty cursory testing period for me. Given that I am, in a general sense, more of a fan of Chanel fragrances in theory rather than reality, I was surprised how much I liked some of these. I still don’t think anyone needs 200ml of anything and wish they sold a coffret of 10ml bottles.

  • Marina says:

    So, like Ina, you liked Coromandel the most? I am surprised for some reason. Well, the reason being that it is rather uninteresting on my stupid skin :(( , so I am having selfishly hard time imagining that it works wonders on others 🙂 No 18 is still my favorite, followed very closely by 31 and Respiro.

    • March says:

      Initially I definitely liked Coromandel the most, and I’d like 31RC if it would amp down the sandalwood. Bel Respiro was the sleeper; I am not the big galbanum fan, and I thought at best I’d tolerate it, but after a couple of hours it’s just gorgeous! I also really, really liked the drydown of 18, after we get past the pickle part which is very strong on me.

      In short, La Pausa was the only one that didn’t really do it for me, and even that one is gorgeous, just not “me.” It seems very “you,” though, along with Bel Respiro and Coromandel, so I’m surprised!

  • Elle says:

    Am definitely waiting to hear more verdicts on the tinkering. Trying to do a Clint Eastwood squint at Chanel right now. Do *not* want my beloved BdI, CdR or #22 messed w/. Let them save all their tinkering impulses for Gardenia, which I’m not soul attached to.
    I was shocked to find I really loved the EdC. No. 31 and Coromandel are my two other mad loves from the line. On my skin Coromandel drifts off in a distinctly Borneo like (which I love) direction, but I’m guessing it’s just my skin chemistry since everyone else seems to be getting Prada. No. 31 seems to have the most Chanel like vibe to my nose. It *needs* to be released in parfum form. Soon. Very.

    • March says:

      Well, carmen says BdI smells the same to her… why not stick the old stuff in the new bottle, anyway? They were already perfect.

      YEp, scent twin — 31 and Coromandel! Although I’m having an issue with the close-up of 31, the sandalwood is heavy. But the sillage is stunning. My blip is I *loathe* Borneo and dislike Prada, so I’m ignoring all references to either.[-(

  • Louise says:

    Welcome home, March! Didja have big fun??? Hope so.

    Great review!

    I admire your attempts at restraint in reviewing the Exclusifs…but it’s just too hard. Maybe it’s best to wallow now, and be done sooner. These scents are sure to be classics and quickly loved and abbreviated, as we’ll all know them soon, either through indulgence, or insightful reviews.

    Speaking of wallow, I did just that this weekend, too. I loved, as Patty predicted, Coromandel, and even more so on the 3rd try. BF and man-child even admired it. Rue 31 was also lovely, but very sweet close up on me, smelled more vanillic than sandalwood. Fantastic sillage. 18 is stunning, but goes right to mild skin scent on me…no sour, just beautiful. The rest either gotten eaten up right away (bel respiro), or are soooo not me (cologne, La Pausa).

    I remain concerned with the rumors of tinkering with the older Rue Cambons. Though, I am hopeful that they left BdI alone, and just added loads of leather to Cuir!

    • March says:

      Louise — that’s so interesting. I have the sweet-eating skin, didn’t get *any* vanilla in 31, although I know it’s supposed to be in there smell-wise (benzoin) and I guess it is! The sandalwood is just so heavy on me, I did (literally) get a headache. Coromandel is just astounding.

      Yeah, I could see your skin killing a few of these off quickly!:d

      Thought of you yesterday, while slogging around Montgomery with the kids. More fun with you!

      carmencanada up there says BdI smells the same to her…

    • Maria B. says:

      Louise, I’m so glad you posted about your experiences with the Exclusifs. Now I know how they’ll work on *my* skin. 🙂

      I had some remarkable fragrance experiences this weekend. Serge Lutens Chene bowled me over–and it lasts! (I have Lee to thank for recommending it to Patty on this blog.) The other was Andy Tauer Le Maroc pour Elle. On some people only the jasmine is prominent. On me it was a beautifully blended rose-jasmine dream. I’m grateful.

      • March says:

        man … I need to try that Chene.

        • Tigs says:

          March – you do, you do! If you haven’t tried it by the time I get back I will force some of my new bottle on you!

      • Louise says:

        Maria-

        We really must meet and shop sometime! I’ll be awaiting your exclusifs reviews to see how closely we match-and thanks for the Chene tip-I must find a sample!

        • Maria B. says:

          Louise, I have a confession to make. I didn’t order the Exclusifs! (I fear my perfumatrix card will be revoked.) I’m still trying to catch up with everybody else and so I thought I’d wait and order selectively, depending on what people wrote about them–especially what you wrote. :”>

          I’d love to shop with you someday. Alas March mentioned missing shopping with you in Montgomery County. That used to be my primary shopping ground! No more. If you’re ever in Northern or Central Coast California, let me know! And if I finally go back and visit my old stomping grounds, I’ll let you know!

          I predict Chene will smell out-of-this-world beautiful on you, since SL’s other woods work well.

    • March says:

      Lee — have you not tried these yet? 😮

      BTW please put me on your calendar for Saturday, May 19, my friend can’t come until Sunday, let’s go sniffing!

  • carmencanada says:

    Aw, I’m glad you succumbed, I’m a little obsessed myself with the Chanels right now! First off, I smelled Bois des Iles and it doesn’t seem to have been tweaked, though I didn’t have it on my skin… As I wrote on Patty’s thread, I’m very taken with these: the line is coherent both with itself and with Chanel, not one of the line seems out of place. Short formulas leave them feeling modern and uncluttered, evocations of classic perfumery rather than re-creations, with an emphasis on the beauty of the basic material rather than on an out-and-out bid to seduce by clobbering with yummy topnotes… I must add I find them all very joyful for some reason. The only thing that’s not joyful is the perspective of needing at least three of these (not even counting the reissues) shortly, and not being able to afford them! Agh!

    • March says:

      Carmen — excellent point about the short formulas — these are steamlined and uncluttered and I *think* Coco would approve. Glad to hear you don’t think Bois has been tinkered with.

      Which are your favorites?

      • carmencanada says:

        My favourites are Marina’s: N°18 — not getting sour pickle, nor Attrape-Coeur on this, just a very soft, beckoning blend that doesn’t smell too much of my rose-kryptonite foe ; 31 rue Cambon, where neither sandalwood nor vanilla come prominently to my nose… I get a very classic, iris-powdery drydown; Bel Respiro, which was desperately fleeting on my BF’s fair skin, but then, I’m a great fan of Vent Vert… I re-second Patty’s comment: the classics don’t seem to have budged. The SA adamantly swore they hadn’t: “Why would we touch them? They’re classics!” The 4 original rue Cambon are still available in extrait but only in 15 ml (they don’t carry the 30ml anymore). Actually, I’m still hankering over Cuir de Russie and Bois des Iles as a priority, but spring might change that: 18 sounds ideal for balmy days and Bel Respiro, just the thing when gardens bloom!

        • March says:

          Thanks for the update! I’m glad to hear they haven’t messed with the others, and the extraits are still available.