Whilst watching Joe Wright's over-egged version of Anna Karenina, I wondered if the impeccably groomed counts and countesses waltzing across the screen could possibly have worn François Demachy's new Grand Bal (the latest addition to Dior's Collection Privée). In the end, I decided that the answer was No, but I hasten to point out that this is by no means a criticism.
Granted, Demachy took his inspiration from lavish soirees held in France in the 40s - a setting rather different from Tolstoy's Russia - but even so, it's difficult to see the connection between ball gowns and the accord that lies at the heart of this perfume: a gorgeous, heady, translucent jasmine. Never mind. This is an occasion where an apparent misalignment of smell and name doesn't matter one bit. Dashing as far away as it possibly can from stately interiors, Demachy's scent takes us into lush tropical landscapes, where white flowers (the aforementioned jasmine, together with ylang ylang and orange blossom) are lifted by the faintest hints of fruity notes, diffused by sunlight reflecting off fresh green facets and grounded by subtle musks.
If all this sounds familiar, that's because most of it is: Grand Bal doesn't break new ground in any way whatsoever. But I suspect Demachy wasn't trying to be innovative here. Instead, he's shown that sometimes the best recipes are the old ones, as long as they're put together using high-quality materials and given a few modern embellishments. With elegant sensuality, Grand Bal takes its place next to À La Nuit, Beyond Paradise and Dior's own J'Adore L'Absolu as one of the most instantly charming modern jasmines on the market. If someone had sent Anna a bottle of this stuff, perhaps things between her and Karenin might have worked out differently...
In brief... Christopher Sheldrake and Jacque Polge's Coco Noir for Chanel doesn't re-invent the wheel either, but I'm afraid I can't award it quite the same praise as Demachy's effort. Contrary to its publicity material, it isn't byzantine, it isn't baroque and it isn't even especially noir. Indeed, housed inside its portentously opaque bottle is that most ubiquitous of current olfactory creations: a fruity, musky patchouli oriental. It cannot be denied that it is an extremely pleasant fruity, musky patchouli oriental - with occasional flashes of the original Coco's spices and Coco Mademoiselle's sweet tooth - but surely, for a high-profile follow-up to one of their most beloved scents, Chanel could have gone for any genre other than the one which causes critics to despair about the future of mainstream perfumery. Ah, but of course they're not making perfumes for critics. They're making them for the bottom line. And I suspect they'll have a hit on their hands by the time Christmas shopping reaches its peak. I won't complain too much, though. At least the scent isn't downright offensive, like Bleu. And its vanillic drydown is rather lovely. But Coco Noir sees Chanel locked in a holding pattern. If their next release doesn't move things along, I might not be quite so forgiving.
[Review of Grand Bal based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Christian Dior in 2012; review of Coco Noir based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Chanel in 2012.]