Monday, April 25, 2016

Super Scent - The Very Best Of Chanel


Well, we couldn't put it off much longer. After having grappled with the sizeable portfolios of Dior and Lauder, Grant Osborne, the Candy Perfume Boy and I decided that there was no escape: we had to get to grips with Chanel. As you can imagine, this wasn't exactly what you'd call an easy task. The brand which, by most accounts, pioneered the concept of linking couture with fragrance has been at the forefront of mainstream scent creation for almost a century and its current line-up boasts some undisputed classics of olafctory art. So yes, we had our work cut out for us.

As ever, a few treasured gems couldn't make it onto the top 5. I agonised for hours over whether to include Cristalle (still such a wonderfully verdant chypre) or Bel Respiro (which never fails to transport me to an endless Mediterranean vista) or Bois De Iles (that sandalwood! that rose! that elegance!) or No. 22 (the scent of the clouds against which angels brush their wings). And Madame Persolaise will probably never forgive me for not finding a space for one of her personal, all-time favourites, Coco. But rules are rules, and sacrifices had to be made.

Although, like all other companies, Chanel has no choice but to pay heed to commercial concerns, it has had more than its fair share of times when beauty and popularity have come together. On those occasions, it has managed to combine its couture ethos - the artistry, the forward-thinking, the attention to detail - with the skills of some inspired scent creators (always in-house!) to create a coherent, consistent olfactory vision, which, over the years, has come to represent the essence of 'Frenchness' in perfumery. And that, dear readers, is no mean feat. 

Don't forget to visit the Candy Perfume Boy and Basenotes for their Best Of Chanel lists. And, as per usual, please let me know what you think of my selection. Have I made any scandalous omissions?

Enjoy the list.

We tend not to associate Chanel with plush, gourmand sensibilities, but when they decide to do sweetness, they do it with heart-stopping, couture-like precision. Cue: Coromandel. Vivid, mouth-watering white chocolate. Sprinkles of snow-like, sugary benzoin. And a jump-into-bed-right-now dose of one of the most elegant patchoulis committed to a bottle. Prepare to be seduced.

At this point in time, almost two decades into the 21st century, the assertive, predatory growl of birch tar continues to be invaluable to perfumers wishing to create leather scents. But one of the first attempts to showcase the ingredient remains one of the best: Beaux's masterful Cuir De Russie, as form-fitting, intimate and irreplaceable as a pair of tailor-made gloves. 


3. No. 19 (Henri Robert; 1971)
It says a great deal about Chanel's commitment to their fragrance portfolio that even though they don't sell many bottles of No. 19 any more, they continue to produce it and to ensure that its quality doesn't deteriorate. An arresting statement on crisp formality, it is still one of the finest green scents we have, mixing the unmistakable grass-and-bell-pepper convexity of galbanum with iris, musks and leather. A true original.


2. Antaeus (Jacques Polge; 1981)
Without any question one of the greatest men's scents of the last 50 years - if not of all time - Antaeus deserves praise because it features pec-pumping, masculine staples - patchouli, woods, leather - but it presents them with a softness and a sweetness in keeping with the guy-dentity changes which took place from the 80s onwards. What's even more remarkable is that, despite shifting tastes and fashions, it has managed to remain bold, distinctive and wholly wearable.


1. No. 5 (Ernest Beaux; 1921)
As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to say anything new about Le Monstre. Lizzie Ostrom cast a commendably fresh light on this most famous of creations in her Century Of Scents, but generally, the prose devoted to Chanel's flagship fragrance focuses on the aldehydes, the bottle, the name, the adverts, Marilyn etc etc. However, whilst preparing this list, I was struck by how many people told me that they don't like No. 5. Personally, I still cannot stop my knees from turning to jelly each time I smell it - even after all these years - but so many discerning scentusiasts have told me that it gives them a headache or they find it too powdery or they think it's terribly cliched. So maybe, one of the reasons No. 5 has retained its classic, must-try status for almost a hundred years - apart from the fact that many of us consider it to be olfactory perfection - is that, like so many uber-successful perfumes, it is actually quite polarising. I happen to adore everything about it - the velvety sparkle, the well-cut sophistication, the ability to drown out the distractions of the world - and I suspect that, for me, it will always remain the absolute essence of the very best of Chanel.

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Note: As per our Super Scent rules, the above list was chosen from Chanel's current line-up and current formulations; discontinued scents weren't considered; it was left to each other author to decide about making distinctions between eau de toilette, eau de parfum, extrait etc. Here's the current portfolio, according to our reckoning: 1932; 28 La Pausa; 31 Rue Cambon; Allure; Allure Homme; Allure Homme Edition Blanche; Allure Homme Sport; Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme; Allure Sensuelle; Antaeus; Beige; Bel Respiro; Bleu; Bois Des Iles; Chance; Chance Eau Fraiche; Chance Eau Tendre; Chance Eau Vive; Coco; Coco Mademoiselle; Coco Noir; Coromandel; Cristalle; Cristalle Eau Verte; Cuir De Russie; Eau De Cologne; Egoiste; Gardenia; Jersey; Misia; No. 18; No. 19; No. 19 Poudré; No. 22; No. 5; No. 5 Eau Premiere; Platinum Egoiste; Pour Monsieur; Sycomore. At the time of writing, the new Boy has not been released in the UK.

Persolaise

12 comments:

  1. I love Anteaus and wear it occasionally but my love is really for No. 19. I've worn it for years and find it so addictive. I reapply it throughout the day and never tire of it. I never observe fragrance gender and I find it more masculine than feminine. There isn't anything quite like it for me.

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    Replies
    1. Green Mike, yes, No. 19 is an absolute masterpiece. I wish more people wore it. Then again, maybe I don't ;-)

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  2. Interesting list, Dariush, especially as we have less cross over on this one than I think any of the others.

    Antaeus almost nearly made my list (I really should get a bottle) but I needed room for Coco. Eek. These are difficult!

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    1. Yup, they are really, really tough. But I do enjoy the challenge and I think it's important to keep the numbers small. It makes everything more special.

      Coco is a funny one. I know it intimately because it's one of Madame P's scents... but I just never find it especially interesting or distinctive. To me, it seems like an echo of lots of other scents.

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  3. The SO: Sycomore! Great read. Skipping off to land on The Candy Perfume Boy to see how the pinnacle of kuskus fares there.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by :-)

      I did wonder if anyone would home in on Sycomore. I have a tricky relationship with it. I absolutely ADORE how it starts: the smoke + sandalwood + vetivert combo is just so sensuous, it needs to be arrested! But then I find that the vetivert always grows more metallic and stewed and stinky-sweaty. I guess some people like that.

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  4. I went through 2 bottles of Sycomore and now I find it kinda boring and flat. I would pick Guerlain Vetiver over it every time. My mum wears Rue Cambon and I wear it occasionally too :)

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    1. Greek Mike, a comparison of Sycomore and Guerlain Vetiver is actually an interesting thought. They're both quite different from each other. The Guerlain tries to lighten vetivert, whereas Sycomore tries to make it much darker and heavier than it already is.

      Oh, and I like Cambon too. Very sophisticated!

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  5. I'm happy to hear that you almost included Bel Respiro. It's my favourite Chanel for some time now. Earlier I liked No 19 and Cristalle and I haven't tried any of them after 1990. I'm just afraid to do so...

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    1. Neva, it sounds as though you prefer the greener ones.

      I'd say you ought to check out Cristalle one of these days. It's still pretty good.

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  6. I don't know why you gave Dior the benefit of seven scents and only gave Chanel five. Overall, you consider Dior's selection (in its present form) to be better than Chanel's?

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    1. Anon, the main reason is that Dior have considerably more perfumes in their current portfolio than Chanel have. We felt we had to stretch to 7 in order to reflect the size of their range.

      Delete

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