Misia, the new bird in Chanel's flock of exclusive scents has pleasantly surprised me with its soft, down-like softness, warmth and retro sweetness. It immediately brings to mind candied violet petals, with its overdose of alpha ionones, which dominate the opening, giving it the characteristic cedar wood effect. This balances the sweetness of the composition, addinga woody, dry yet powdery and soft air to it. This is quickly taken over by juicy, fruity notes of a plush, dark-red rose. Raspberry and plum notes rule supreme with every stroke of this bold bluish-red lipstick. The iconic Lipstick Rose comes to mind, as well as the scent that pervades most of the current Guerlain cosmetics. But more on points of references later. While there is more than a gourmand hint to Misia, it does not in the least smell too obviously dessert-like, nor trashy. It does, however, give it a most addictive character. As the fruit and rose soften and become rounder, the sweet supporting base note begin to emerge, and they are the perfume-world equivalent of caramel: tonka bean, with its slightly bitter, powdery qualities of almond rocca; and benzoin, which is like liquified brown sugar, with a depth to its sweetness that stops it from being cloying. There is something about the dry down that is not how I'd expect this to end. It's thankfully not too powdery, nor too musky; and sweetness is played just right, balanced with an earthy nuttiness. If there is any leather in there I can't smell it, unfortunately.

If I didn't know the perfumer behind Misia is Olivier Pole (Jaqcues Polge's son and successor as Chanel's house perfumer) I would have guessed it's Sophia Grojsman (Lancome's Tresor and YSL's Paris smell like close relatives). But there is more violet than rose in Misia, which if I were to blind test this would make me think of it is a Guerlain. Not so much the old fashioned violet-laden Apres l'Ondee or l'Heure Bleue, but rather, Meteorites (a scent that was phased out and instead was used to scent their makeup line of the same name); or perhaps a more agreeable version of their recent violet-dominated La Petite Robe Noire (which although I like its idea, I find it to be more than a tad too brash to my taste). But again I will contradict that notion because Misia's character is a more nuanced and less invasive.

With all these references to existing non-Chanel fragrances, you can probably already guess that there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about it. However, in the context of it being part of the Chanel family, and comparing it to the rest of the collection, it is admittedly quite refreshing to be offered the choice of a perfume that it is not nearly as austere, angular or aloof as the temperament of this house tends to lean on. Misia seems even more "out of place" than Coromandel was at its time - a patchouli fragrance in a collection of iris and aldehydic florals. But even Coromandel has a coolness to it, a bit of a sharp edge that surrounds a very clean, albeit sweetened patchouli. Misha wants to crawl right next to my Bois des Iles bottle and cuddle, while still wearing its silk stockings and with a fully powdered and made-up face.

Top notes: Ionones alpha (Violet notes), Raspberry, Plum
Heart notes: Rose, Orris, Damascones
Base notes: Tonka bean, Benzoin

28 La Pausa

Behind the Curtain by judy stalus
Behind the Curtain, a photo by judy stalus on Flickr.
Revisiting 28 La Pausa, and the Les Exclusifs that came out in 2007. What's been around before (Bois des Îles, Cuir de Russie) has been watered down so much they remind me of a lukewarm instant coffee made by a pinchy in-law compared to a proper espresso. And the remainder seems like an elaborate, cerebral exercise in restrained variations on the Chanel originals: No. 19 and Bois des Îles being the primary sources of inspiration, with various iterations (Bel Respiro and La Pausa in reference to the first; No. 18 and the later-arrival Sycomore stemming from the latter). Both share recurring themes in varying proportions - primarily iris, indole, ambrette seed and greens to varying proportions. 28 La Pausa seems to have some leanings towards No. 18, with hints of ambrettolide, but non of the intriguing wine-like qualities of true ambrette.

28 La Pausa is very light, ethereal exercise in iris. Not the powdery, creamy orris butter that at the core of all the classic Geurlains; but rather a cool, airy rendition of this ethereal and obscure note, quite anemic if to be perfectly hones, and supported by ionone, irone and synthetic musks to extend its metallic presence without adding much longevity or blood. If the inspiration for it is the green-shuttered villa in southern France, then 28 La Pausa is the breeze blowing in the gauzy cotton curtains, bringing in the scent of a just-watered garden with iris and wet concrete pavement. There is a hint of indole in there, giving the ever so slightly warmth of jasmine petals. But it's not enough to bring in any of the relaxed, carefree Joie de Vivre spirit of southern France, nor its neighbouring Italian riviera the house is supposedly overlooking. If this is Chanel's mood on her vacations, then she's most likely sewing mosquito nets indoors, or else sketching patterns on a glass coffee table. She should be indulging in the fresh air, beaches and abundant Mediterranean scenery and loving sun. But she's not. She's cold inside her stone villa, letting only the cold sea breeze come in.

Although Gabrielle Chanel always followed her dreams and made them come true - always strikes me as a logical, down-to-earth person. She seemed quite restrained in her emotions, which in some way also comes across in her very put-together, tailored designs she's created; but that is not to say she had no emotions. Her passion was evident in the meticulous attention she's given to every stitch, in the bold audacity of her costume jewellery, and in her involvement in the artistic direction of the original perfumes. It is true that it took some time before No. 19 and
Bois des Îles grew on me - but when they did, I could sense the vulnerable, playful, passionate personality behind them - even if she hasn't created the perfumes herself, she stood behind them completely and took Even after all these years, coming back to Les Exclusifs, I can't help but notice my feelings are completely untouched by each and every composition. There is no soul to them. Only cerebral reminiscing of Chanel's style, luxury and good taste. It's all about flaunting the several expensive ingredients at the core of the composition (iris, ambrette, jasmine from Grasse) but there is really no story behind it except for a brief that resembles an interior-decorator's outline for a very wealthy client.

Notes: Iris,
Ionones, Jasmine, Indole, Ambrette, Musks.


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.

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


As you may remember, Les Exclusifs left my nose generally unimpressed and my wallet completely unaffected (except that, of course, I immediately bough the last parfum extrait of Bois des Îles upon learning this was the sacrifice for the new line). Even though all the 6 new scents were very well made from quality materials and nevertheless elegant – they left me cold and, well, disappointed. Mostly because most of the collection seemed to be elaborating on already-familiar-Chanel themes: the cool green iris scent (28 La Pausa, Bel Respiro – both reflecion of No. 19); the over-the-top oriental (Coromandel, a modern oriental with an obvious wink towards Coco from the 80’s); and finally - the sophisticated abstract woody: No. 18 and 31 Rue Cambon, both paying an homage to Bois des Îles but barely scrape the bottom of its feet in my opinion, but nevertheless are the only two that I found interesting so far. Until Sycomore came around.

Sycomore was love at first sniff. It encompasses everything that I wish was in a vetiver perfume but haven’t really smelled yet. I have to admit: for a moment I felt so comfortable I even thought I am smelling my own familiar and odd Vetiver Racinettes. . It is the first vetiver that I encounter that is nearly as complex and full bodied, dark and spicy, earthy and sweet as how I like this root to be. It has many of the lements I liked in Vetiver Tonka. It even has a nutty coffee note (which I really enoyed in Jo Malon’s Black Vetiver Café); and it has a lot of Haitian vetiver from what I can tell – which is my all-time favourite vetiver oil. I've been reaching for the Sycomore mini for a week now and enjoy it's versatility, easy-going nature and find that it is distinctive and perhaps even timeless. But perhaps more than anything else I'm surprised that is so unpretentious.

Sycomore is nutty, woody, earthy, sweet, clean, tart and complex like vetiver should be. It has whiffs of odd and familiar notes weaving in and out – mint, pepper, mastic, cypress, juniper and coffee. And the woodiness of vetiver is accentuated by other woody notes such as sandalwood. It truly captures the vastness of earth, nature, trees and woods.

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