I confess my heart sank a little when I discovered that Misia, Olivier Polge's debut for Chanel (he's gradually taking over from his father Jacques as the brand's in-house perfumer) would make prominent use of iris. The material was at the foreground of the last release in the Exclusifs range, 1932. It makes its presence felt throughout several of the early members of the boutique-only collection. And it has long been associated with Polge himself: what is arguably his most famous creation - the masterful Dior Homme - reinvented the note and brought it into line with modern aesthetic codes. "So why stick to iris?" I wondered. Surely, it would have been more prudent to head into less familiar territory.
Having tried it I can confirm that yes, iris is an important component in Misia's structure, but I needn't have worried, because the ingredient certainly doesn't take centre stage. As it happens, the centre stage is taken by... the stage. Inspired by Misia Sert's role as a link between Gabrielle Chanel and the world of the Ballets Russes, Polge's composition focusses on the heavy make-up worn by the athletic dancers who gave life to the visions of Diaghilev. Therefore, in olfactory terms, it revolves around powdery notes as well as the combo which western noses almost instinctively associate with lipstick: violet + rose.
Mind you, Misia is no exercise in self-indulgent retro-gazing. Sure, its floral accord instantly calls to mind notions of early 20th century scents (not to mention cheekier, modern interpretations like Ralf Schwieger's Lipstick Rose for Malle) but it is well aware of the existence of the 21st century. In much the same way that he re-aligned the gender of iris in Dior Homme and updated its appeal, Polge confidently appropriates the lipstick accord and rescues it from the past by supporting it with a scaffold of unexpectedly dry woods.
If Dior Homme placed a question mark over facile notions of masculinity, I dare say Misia does the same for femininity: its core may be a veritable cliche of woman-hood, but around its edges, curious twists and surprises render a simple reading rather difficult. Sure, the scent's middle section is a rose-tinted cheek smothered by a powder puff, but its opening is curiously austere, almost standoffish. The quality of the rose comes through (Chanel's press material asserts that the formula contains some nectar from their much-trumpeted Grasse fields) but its opulence is undercut by the parched sensibility of cedar-like ingredients. And even though the drydown features what are normally quite lush materials - benzoin and tonka - its full-bloodedness is never permitted to bloat or become comical. In short, this is a woman (a sort of hybrid of Misia and Coco?) comfortable with both her edges and her curves.
It isn't as instantly lovable as, say, Coromandel or 31 Rue Cambon, but with its subtly intellectual modus operandi, Misia suggests that Olivier Polge's work for Chanel will be well worth tracking. He'll probably be obliged to maintain certain levels of decorum and elegance, but if his opening salvo is anything to go by, he'll also be interested in taking his father's legacy in new directions. I'll certainly be smelling with interest.
[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Chanel in 2015.]