Back when Chanel's Les Exclusifs came out, I wrote about Coromandel: "a modern oriental much in the vain of Prada and Allure Sensuelle, but one that I can stomach without gagging. If I happen to change my mind about it I will let you know. Promise".

Well, I haven't changed my mind. But since the patchouli series is still going, I thought I'll give it a more proper wearing and describe it in slightly more detail than before.

Coromandel has a funny name and is a thin, rather non inspiring oriental if there ever was one. Beginning with a floral-fruity mess that quickly leads to the patchouli premise everyone is hoping for, it does so with the assistance of agricultural-smelling molecules of upturned soil (geosmin?) that hints at less appetizing visions of sugar plums developing mold on the ground in late fall. Fruit and dirt might be a fertile combination, but not for the nose...

Once the chemicals quiet down, you can sense more of the patchouli, with what seems to have been its usual-accomplice (benzoin) and richer powdery vanillin that will pitch in only later.

I know Coromandel has its die-hard fans somewhere, but to me it was a very under-satisfying experience, even after the fruitsy notes left the stage. I would have expected something more polished, lacquered and poised with sophistication and depth - even if it has such a funny sounding name. In efforts to please the crowds, the result is less than pleasing and not quite befitting of the Chanel legacy. Pity, because I think it had a full potential of being one of those Chanel big-guns - Coco, for example; but instead tries to reach the younger audience of patchouli wannabes that can't tell musk from amber.

Allure Parfum

For Adrian... by pieceoflace
For Adrian..., a photo by pieceoflace on Flickr.

Angular, crisp and non-accommodating, allure eau de toilette never appealed to me. I tried to fall for it, but it didn’t happen. There was something just so harshly chemical at first, and than bland through and through – I kept waiting for a surprise to happen, and it never did.

While reviewing Dune, I realized how similar the two fragrances are, and how much Allure was influenced by Dune. So I’ve given Allure another chance, and tried it in the pure parfum (I have a mini that was sent to me by a fellow perfumista – to this day I can’t remember if it was a trade, a gift or one of those “thinning the herd” sales…). Either way, I’m glad I had (and still have) the opportunity to smell Allure in the parfum concentration. Traditionally, perfumers will design a new fragrance in parfum extrait first, which means this is their truest intention. Now you’ll sometimes see perfumes released first in other concentrations: Cristalle, for example, was first created as an eau de toilette, and was never offered in extrait.

Allure parfum is slightly a different animal: It opens with a similar crisp, angular tonality – but it is actually recognizable as bergamot, even though a very crystalline version of it. Than a slightly peachy note comes in, as well as the musky, oily-scalp type aldehyde C-11 (Perhaps a reference to No. 5?; overall, Allure brings to mind the soapy cleanliness of No. 22) as well as the full-fledged floral bouquet of rose with underlining green hints, and supported by white floral notes - jasmine and magnolia. Together with the aldehydes it gets quite a "perfumey" personality - very French and not nearly as modern (read: thin and one-dimensional) as the EDT.

It is a little smoother, sweeter and warmer than the eau de toilette, which is a good thing in my book and there is more depth to it. There are crystalline vanilla notes as well, nothing syrupy or pastry-like about it; sheer woods and musks, and an ever so quiet whisper of vetiver – which is probably the best part about Allure (although it's not really all that obvious, it creates an effect that really saves it from being too cloyingly floral and chemical), which gets stronger over time once the aldehydes and florals tone down a bit. It's a clean, bitter, gorgeous vetiver, and smells Haitian alright! At the very end, Allure dries into a pleasant powdery musk, though not nearly as generic as you’d expect (musk is so over used nowadays, in florals like any other genre).

Still, there is a certain acrid, harsh note lurking underneath Allure’s innocent and agreeable purr; and that is something that disturbed me in all other concentrations. It’s not nearly as apparent in the parfum, but it’s still there – making me wonder – what were they thinking including that thing?! And what IS it? It might be the waterlily accord – as it is a very chemical smell (and most “waterlily” scents heavily rely on watery synthetics. It could be this with the vetiver. I smelled a similar note in Dune, and I'm not sure if it's one raw materials or just the result of combining similar notes with some natural vetiver in the mix.

Allure’s olfactory structure is described as a “faceted” one, with illustrated by a hexagon, divided into 6 triangles:
1) Fresh : Citron note.
2) Fruity : Sicilian Mandarin.
3) Timeless Floral : May Rose, Oriental Jasmine.
4) Imaginary Floral : Magnolia accord, Honeysuckle accord, Water lily accord.
5) Woody : Haitian Vetiver.
6) Oriental : Vanilla from Réunion.

A quick glance at this makes one wonder. After all: citron and mandarin (Sicilian or otherwise) are both top notes. The florals in facets 3 and 4 are all heart notes; and lastly, vetiver and vanilla (facets 5 and 6) are both base notes. So it does not exactly convince me that it’s any different form a “pyramid”. The one thing I do get from this illustration of a 6-faceted is the angular quality of the perfume. It is softer than the EDT, and and softens more over time in the parfum version. But there is something sharp and angular, crips and faceted about its personality. I experience it mostly as a linear scent. There is none of the complex evolution that can be found in other Chanel perfumes (say, Bois des Îles) and it’s pretty much offers what its got right from the start, with very little surprises.

Favourite End Of Fall Fragrances


Fall is coming to a close any day now, and it's time to make a list!
While these are not necessarily what I'm wearing this particular fall, they are what I would consider my autumn staples and what I would recommend to invoke the season of fallen leaves, harvest and shortening days, when more than anything else I want to curl by the fireplace with a Noire book and a dense perfume that reminds me of the golden days of Hollywood in the 30's and 40's.

Looking at previous years' fall lists I've made, I'm noticing a pattern in my choices. There is always something Chypre, something woody, something smoky and something spicy in my fall perfume favourites. So here are a few suggestions:

Something Woody:
I've been wearing Hinoki more often than ever (and find it especially appropriate when trying my hand at practicing martial arts...).

Mitsouko - a chypre that defies categorization, but certainly has more woody qualities than most. The haunting of contrasts is probably what makes Mitsouko timeless and never boring. This zen-meets-baroque perfume is luxurious, yet as sparse as a monk's dorm; woody and dry yet cradles a tender sweetness therein, and I can continue on and on, but the main question remains - how can any fall list not include Mitsouko?!

Bois des Îles is another favourite fall of mine - and I'm also enjoying a similar perfume, that shares the woodsy creaminess of sandalwood paired with the understated sensuality and elegance of vintage-glam aldehydes that makes you think of pearls and beige nubok. I'm talking about Champagne de Bois by Sonoma Scent Studio.

Something Chypre:
Ma Griffe - after years of loyalty to Miss Dior, the epitome of animalic-floral chypres tinged with green, it was time to find another green chypre. I spotted a pre-IFRA regulated version (from days of yore, when there was no requirements of listing any allergens on the ingredients list). It's very vintage-y, and if comparing to Miss Dior - it has more of a white floral and musky nuances to it, which remind me a bit of Chant d'Aromes. It also has more of a citrusy burst and it's more aldehydic and powdery than Miss Dior. I should get around to write a full review of it next week.

1000 de Patou also seems to hit the spot on the shortening days, reminding me of icy, frost-spiked leaves with its intriguing osmanthus and eucalyptus notes. Melancholy, elegant and old-fashioned, it reminds me of scouring my grandmother's dresser and colourful strands of tropical seashells and Amazonian bead necklaces.

Something Smoky:
from burning leaves and Lapsang Suchong tea to leather bound books, smoky notes are one of those things that make fall so mysterious that even if you're not traveling you feel you're going on an adventure... This fall, my love for smoky, leathery notes is replaced by a craving for incense, which I burn at least once daily. And I've just received a package of Japanese Kyara incense sticks - there is nothing short of magical about burning them, the scent changes after a few centimeters of stick have turned into ashes. Also, I've been enjoying the depth of Sonoma Scent Studio's Incense Pure, with its depth and complexity of tobacco paired with powdery tonka, rustic immortelle and sweet amber.

Something Spicy:
I've been deeply immersed in the Clarimonde project and wearing the oriental-spicy violet perfume I've created for it more than anything else in the past month. Oriental perfumes truly did originate in the orient, where spices such as cloves, cassia and star anise were pulverized into a fine powder and blended with fragrant resins and woods such as camphor, sandalwood and agarwood to create fine perfumes for rituals of both religion and seduction. Body incense is still popular in Japan, where it originally was used to purify one's hands before entering a temple; but also powder perfumes were used to scent a Geisha's hair. Aftelier's Shiso is based on such a Geisha formula, and is a remarkably authentic in the ingredients it uses and the intense and immediate effect it has on my mood - transporting me instantly into dimly lantern-lit rooms separated with fusuma and lined with tatami mats. Shiso is intense, deep and camphoreous, tinged with eugenolic spice and aldehydic shiso herb.

And last but not least - combining sugar and spice, is the haunting Un Crime Exotique - a gourmand that walks the tightrope between French patisserie and an Asian soup broth.

What are you favourite end of fall fragrances?

CC and the SS

An article in the Times Online by Kate Muir reveals topics not often discussed about Chanel's life during World War II, her relationships with the Nazis (both sexually and politically), questionaning her moral integrity and explaining how she managed to live so comfortably at The Ritz Hotel in Nazi-occupied Paris while other artists struggled to survive both morally and physically.

"It seems to me that Chanel bent to the times, always intent on survival. The French call this Système D, or système débrouillard, which means getting round the rules somehow. As Charles-Roux notes, “playing refugee was not her style”, hence Chanel's move to the Nazi-infested Ritz (...) "

And to me it seems that Chanel sold out to the Nazis. Muir puts it ironically - "Who else could afford to buy her perfume?"
Among Chanel's compromises mentioned in the article were using the Nazi rules against Jewish businesses in order to take over her perfume factory from the Wertheimer family. How convenient.

“The occupation was merciless in exposing character” (Frederic Spotts, "The Shameful Peace"). How awfully true. But without being there it is so easy to judge others. I often wonder what I would have done if I lived in that era, both as a Jewish or a non-Jewish person.

31 Rue Cambon

Me at AE, originally uploaded by sallyTV.

For some reason, I can never get overly excited about furniture. And when trying to think what is the best visual way to portray 31 Rue Cambon, I cannot stop thinking of neutral coloured furniture. I can admire the architecture of the bottle (magnetic cap maintains the alignment of the mirrored "cc" logo at all times). I can intellectualize about the validity of oakmoss-free chypre and analyze the construction of the fragrance. But as of yet, I remain unaffected, no matter how comfortable or elegant this fragrance may be.

At this age of technology and the internet leaking inside information about perfumes well before anyone could sniff them, it’s hard to keep an open mind and untainted or opinionated approach when smelling perfume for the first time.

I’m trying to remember what was I expecting from 31, Rue de Cambon before getting directly acquainted with it. I wasn’t expecting a particular kind of scent or mood or notes. No, the emotions were a mix between high-hopes and advance disappointment, combined together to create an accord of mixed feelings and suspicion. Keep in mind that 2007 was marked by serial niche releases – i.e. launching a collection of even as many as 12 perfumes instead of focusing on just one. Tom Ford Private Blends and Le Coffret from Thiery Mugler (to coincide with the movie release of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) are just two prime examples of what is perhaps a new strategy to avoid bad reviews: overwhelm perfume bloggers and critiques with so much information that they simply don’t bother testing, thus avoiding possible negative criticism. The rationale, of course, is to get the consumer to such a heightened sense of confusion that will prompt him/her to purchase the entire collection instead of just one perfume.

So here I am, 2 years after 31 Rue Cambon saw the light of day, finally trying to pay more attention to it as a single fragrance. In the context of the entire collection released back in 2007, 31 Rue Cambon stood out right next to the quirky, nutty unpolished ambrette seeds of No. 18. Back than it reminded me of the understated woody and aldehydic-floral juxtaposition of Bois des Îles. Two years later, I’m still impressed with the first few moments of intrigue, where 31 Rue Cambon smells like how you’d expect a luxury good boutique to smell like (reference: Hermès Poivre Samarkand). For a few moments, the juxtaposition of orris, pepper and vetiver seems equally classy and fresh (in the sense of “new”). But is that really how “the best chypre of thirty years” that would “permanently change the landscape of perfumery” suppose to smell like?

31 Rue Cambon, originally uploaded by PallasAthena1081.

Or is it even a Chypre? Taking a closer sniff of it in recent weeks I’m even less convinced than I was ever before. Despite the fact that 31 Rue Cambon has the Chypric characteristic of creating a general homogenous impression at first, refusing to unveil what it’s made of right away, the threads that connect the elements are not as tightly woven as in a classic Chypre. And even though it does provide the sudden emergence of voluptuous flowers (jasmine and narcissus) it is not enough to get one’s heart racing as florals soar into the atmosphere – as one would experience in great Chypres such as Mitsouko, Femme or Miss Dior. And finally, lest me remind you that there is no oakmoss here so even when you get to the base of things I never got the satisfaction of dusting my feet in crushed dead autumn leaves or dampening my leather sandals in mossy forest floor. Instead, all I got was a thin layer of a vague woody-synthetic mixture of vetiver and patchouli that have been stripped down to their minimum representation – thus lacking any of the earthy foundation that makes a Chypre perfume so alluring and timeless. Chypre, after all, the epitome of urban chic born of the chaos of nature. It is complexity that made Chypres so near and dear to the perfumer and have in many ways, defined what was to become of modern perfumery.

I’ve been wearing 31 Rue Cambon for a few weeks now before bedtime and almost every single time I do I wake up 20 minutes later with an overwhelming olfactory sensation of heat and dryness. Testing it again yesterday morning, I was not surprised to find out that 20 minutes in this is the point where the synthetically-amplified patchouli kicks in. More than the lack of oakmoss, it’s the synthetic patchouli part that disturbs me in 31 Rue Cambon. Just as it does in Coromandel, Allure Sensuelle and earlier on – Coco Mademoiselle (and maybe also Chance, which I never was able to watch through the end because of its sharp edges and aggressive sillage). While the last two I’ve mentioned are far less hostile and have that sense of refinement – achieved by using the “precious woods” aspects of vetiver and patchouli.

And one last observation about the Les Exclusifs collection – I now realize that the six scents have more in common than I even thought before: An iris thread goes through the green and fresh Bel Respiro and 28 La Pausa (both contemporary reflections on No. 19), through the sparseness of No. 18 and on to the more complex 31 Rue Cambon* which in addition to iris also has the same patchouli theme as Coromandel. And the vetiver finally leads us Sycomore, the redeeming point in the collection.

Top notes: Pepper, Bergamot
Heart notes: Orris, Narcissus, Jasmine
Base notes: Patchouli, Ambrette, Vetiver, Labdanum

* Both No. 18 and 31 Rue Cambon being reflections of Bois des Iles

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