Friday, 9 May 2014

Persolaise Review: 1932, Beige & Jersey extraits from Chanel (Jacques Polge; 2014)

A 'parfum' by Chanel. How unutterably lovely. And no, I am not being sarcastic. Consider the sensuousness loaded behind that short phrase. First there's the 'parfum' part. The most ancient form of an ancient art. The purest expression of the perfumer's skills. The richest essences, arranged in a manner which accentuates their finest features, presented to the wearer in headily concentrated form. And then, of course, there's 'Chanel'. The double-C logo. The epitome of 20th-century elegance. The irresistible balance of assertiveness, carefree joie de vivre and unashamed femininity. Combine the two and the result is alchemy. No 5 parfum: one of the finest fragrances of all time, quite possibly the most irrefutable definition of European sophistication. Cuir De Russie parfum: an incomparable leather, bristling with oh-so-civil carnality. Bois Des Iles parfum: a divine union of rose and sandalwood, as plush and expansive as a silk rug.

If all of this sounds like hyperbole, well, there's a reason for that. I absolutely mean every word I've written above, but the very grandeur of the images I have to employ in order to describe Chanel's classics is designed to convey the fact that they are an extremely tough act to follow. Indeed, sequels in perfumery are probably just as fraught with difficulty as they are in the movie world. Consider Thierry Wasser and Shalimar. There was probably never going to be any way he was going to match the epic scope of Jacques Guerlain's 1925 masterpiece, and yet, the powers that be thought it fit to release his Shalimar Parfum Initial anyway. Aficionados recoiled in horror. 'Another nail in Guerlain's coffin,' they cried. But if Wasser's scent had been given a different name and allowed to carve an identity of its own, I dare say it would have received a warmer reception. It's the association with the past that raises unreasonable expectations.

All of which brings us to three new parfums from Jacques Polge, the current keeper of Gabrielle Chanel's scented scrolls. When their arrival was announced, considerable surprise was expressed at their identities. Of all the fragrances in the brand's Exclusifs range, Jersey, Beige and 1932 seemed like the least eligible candidates for conversion from eau de toilette to parfum. Several fans expressed disappointment that Polge hadn't opted to create a more opulent Coromandel, or perhaps an even smokier, more square-shouldered Sycomore. After a flash of bewilderment, I decided that the choice of the trio was quite promising, precisely because it wasn't obvious. I read it as a sign that we were to be wrong-footed and treated to three gems worthy of standing next to their august cousins in the 'extraits' section of Chanel's gleaming fragrance counters.

Sadly, I didn't turn out to be right. Mind you, all three of these new releases fall into the 'thumbs up' category. But there's no denying that they're in the same ultra-safe vein of all of the brand's recent output. Perhaps now that he's nearing the Exit sign and making room for his son, Olivier, to take over, Jacques Polge feels he needs to tick boxes and do nothing more. No 19 Poudré and Coco Noir were pretty and well-made, but forgettable. Even Bleu - heartless act of betrayal that it is - impressed many with its 'straight up and down' take on mono-dimensional, simply-defined masculinity. This same creative approach has been applied to the new extraits.

1932 is perhaps the most similar to its eau de toilette original. The jasmine and the iris take centre stage again, although the seams between them are less visible here, probably because the sweetness and the muskiness have been pumped up. In terms of texture, this incarnation is even more pleasing than the edt, but it still comes across as somewhat redundant. You walk past a pristine, white cashmere sweater hanging on a rack, you brush your fingers across it and you delight in the plush connection between fabric and skin... but moments later, you're moving on, and the experience is less than a memory.

Jersey in eau de toilette form is a scent towards which I find it very difficult to be charitable, but this parfum formulation is a markedly different affair. At heart, of course, it is still a caramelised, musky lavender - and it never quite shakes off the notion that it's a marriage of Caron's Pour Un Homme and Prada's Candy - but the sugary sickliness of the edt has been toned down immeasurably. The press info states that the lavender used here is a less floral variety called Carla. I'm not familiar with it, but in this context, it does display a sharp, outdoorsy, juniper-like facet (more prominent on paper than on skin) which lifts the whole away from the realms of a calorific soup. It's attractive, sedate and personable, the perfume equivalent of a lucid tune played on a flute: pleasant though it may be, it struggles to hold your attention for any great length of time.

The most intriguing of the three is Beige. Maybe this is because it comes from such dull beginnings: the eau de toilette iteration is - as its name suggests - a study in wan facelessness. This new parfum embraces the same concept of studied inconspicuousness, but it gives it a much-needed backstory. The exterior is largely unchanged: an uncomplicated woody-floral determined not to draw any attention to itself whatsoever (the perfect scent for a Chanel sales assistant?). But get closer and you detect moments of unexpected beauty, especially on the blotter. A jasmine... a rose... mimosa and ylang ylang... and then a green note (could it be the hawthorn mentioned in the press notes?) which brings the composition into the territory of Bel Respiro and its open-eyed lust for the outdoors. Suddenly, facelessness has become circumspect authority. Beige is content to let the other girls play princess, because she is the mother of the bride and she doesn't feel the need to prove anything.

[Review based on samples of extraits provided by Chanel in 2014. For more reviews of these scents, please visit Bois De Jasmin and Perfume Posse.]


PS At midday (UK time) today, an extra post is going to pop up here on about an event I'm hosting in London on 20th May. Please come back then to find out more, but for now, here's a preview link.


  1. What's the lasting power of these three like? For me, No 5 Parfum, while lovely, fleeting. Same with No 19. I understand that parfums are not very diffuse but it disappoints me when they fade after an hour.

    1. Annemarie, the lasting power of the new extraits is a subject that many others have raised.

      Firstly, you're absolutely right to make a distinction between radiance/diffusiveness/sillage and lasting power. These extraits don't 'pump out' their presence in quite the same way as an eau de parfum. However, I have to say that I found their longevity to be absolutely fine (certainly much longer than an hour). They do go fairly quiet, but they definitely last.

      I think maybe some people have been disappointed with their lasting power because their noses have stopped detecting the scent after a while... but that doesn't mean the scent is no longer there. Then again, it is perfectly possible that, on some people's skin, the scent fades quite quickly.

      I always recommend dabbing a little bit on fabric. And it's also worth experimenting with decanting some of the extrait into a spray container and applying it in that way. For some weird reason, a spray often produces quite a different result from a dab.

      If you do get a chance to try these extraits, let me know how you get on with them.

  2. I was lucky enough to be given a bottle of Chanel Parfum and got quite excited - til I found out it was Jersey - not my favourite - still thought a parfum would be more interesting but I found it dull and on my skin, very fleeting. To paraphrase your opening eloquence - one simply expects more from the house of Chanel.

    1. Bee, yes, you mentioned this on Facebook, didn't you? I guess different skins will 'hold' this particular scent in different ways. I can't say I thought the longevity was weak. Mind you, the sillage was relatively muted.

      As for expecting more from Chanel... yes, well... I don't think they're interested in rocking the creative boat at the moment.


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