Thursday, March 01, 2007

Les Exclusifs de Chanel

Chanel Logo, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

March 1st was a strange day. The city awoke to a thin veil of snow that gently melted in the sunrise. A few hours later, as I was walking to the Chanel boutique (this time before I went to the gym), the sky was sprinkling some indecisive flakes of snow that glittered in the vague sunlight.

The night before, I got invited to the boutique by Cathy Davis, the Beaute Analyste of the Chanel boutique in downtown Vancouver to come to the boutique and get a personal tour of Les Exclusifs before most Vancouverites (or perhaps tourists?) discover them.

While the rest of the world seemed to have been awaiting the arrival of Les Exclusifs with breathless anticipation, I maintained my cool. While most perfume bloggers managed to get samples or decants quite early and the so-called “olfactory grey market” of samples of decants was taking pre-orders months in advance, I found it quite easy to just wait till they fall in my lap. Was it the exaggerated buzz that turned me off? Perhaps that helped. But what really did the trick was the

A couple of weeks ago, I casually stopped at the Chanel boutique after one of my sessions at the YWCA gym (two blocks away on the same street), and asked when they are going to be in. They weren’t sure, so I left my card and forgot about it until I got the call last night. I asked Cathy if I could discreetly make modest samples of the fragrances when I arrive, so that I can properly review them on my blog, and she kindly agreed. And so the big day was today, and this time, to avoid feeling intimidated by the boutique’s formal and demanding atmosphere (a feeling that only a girl who grew up in a little village in the middle of nowhere can truly understand), I actually put a little more effort in my dress (which basically means that I covered my leggings and vintage-inspired tunic, which I was planning to use in the gym right after, with super-high leather boots, my usual-chic, all-purpose coat (you don't want to know where I got it...), and a matching handbag of contrasting black and white; Don’t you just love accessories? If it wasn’t for them I would be lost fashion wise...

While most of the cosmetics and fragrances are usually in the front of the boutique, right at the entrance, Les Exclusifs require you to go all the way in and be fully committed to the process. So I was glad I dressed up (a bit...). I remember a few years back, when I came in to inquire about Cuir de Russie, Gardenia and Bois des Isles that they were also stored in the back, almost as a piece that the shop was embarrassed to admit they carry, or perhaps something that requires some repair work before being presented to the public - in a dark storage cabinet. You had to know about them, ask for them and get helped in every step of the way of sampling and purchasing. Les Exclusifs now have a completely different presentation, the entire ten laid out as the Corinthian pillars in a Pantheon that will scare of the laymen, even the ones who shop Chanel - but delight and lure the perfumista at heart.

I tested all 10 scents (including the former Rue de Cambon ones int he Eaux de Toilette) on the little pre-named blotter cards (later to be inserted by Cathy into little matching envelopes), and received a miniature anthology of ad-copies for all the ten fragrances. The bottles, by the way, are all 200ml and are sold for the modest sum of $200.00 CAD (which is very close to the same amount in USD, because the Canadian dollar is mighty strong these days, yet imported products seem to disregard that obvious fact, and ask for a higher price here than in the United States). The bottles have an interesting magnet mechanism that makes the cap always close in a neat way, presenting the logo lined-up properly at all times, to avoid an untidy, sloppy impression no matter how clumsy the owner is. If it came with a Ginny who cleans your house for you and replaces you once the unavoidable request for a daily massage from the SO comes in - I wouldn't be surprised either...

This size is way to big for me for any fragrance really. 100ml is more than enough even for my most favourite scent in the world. When it comes to perfume, I like the philosophy of less is more. I adore the concept of flacons. In my opinion, these create a feeling of preciousness and appreciation for the juice, as if it is liquid gold or a rare piece of jewelry.

The following are my very preliminary impressions of the collection, and if you find my remarks to be too sarcastic or cynical, I will not be surprised, but I also hope that you won't be offended either. In another article my attitude to the subject matter will be explained and hopefully clarified. However, please keep in mind that my complaints are not necessarily directed at the house of Chanel or its house perfumers; it is really the current trend in perfumery that I am frustrated with. I can reassure you that I will expand and elaborate on this later, in a separate article.

No.18 was the one I was most curious to try. Like its premise, it is mostly ambrette seed, surprisingly very true to the real seed – not the absolute or the essential oil as we usually find them (which have a very subtle, musky-powdery skin-like odour), but rather, the un-crushed, unshelled seeds with an intense, penetrating musky aroma. This phase lasts only two hours, and than comes a very subtle skin-scent, slightly sweeter, almost berry-like actually, along the same lines as Mure et Musk and M7. This is the only scent that I am in the risk of spending money on in this collection. But sure enough, I’d rather spend the cash on buying two kilos of the seeds and tincture them myself, for the same price and I quite adore my own ambrette-seed infused perfumes, so I don’t anticipate the urge will be uncontrollable.

28 La Pausa, the orris scent, is quite lovely, but honestly – do we always have to have an iris scent in every exclusive/niche collection? Apparently, the answer is yes.

Eau de Cologne, a citrus cologne, obviously, which is said to be inspired by a discontinued Chanel cologne from 1929; As much as I like it, I think there are enough citrus colognes as there is, and for that price I could get a lifetime supply of 4711 which I admire but never wear anyways.

31 rue Cambon is suppose to be the revolutionary new chypre with no oakmoss. The result? A hybrid between Bois de Isles in the opening (sounds promising, right? wait and see!), but leading to a x3 the price but very similar scent variation on Opium Fleur de Shanghai. At least I found a substitute for that when I finish my 150ml remaning of this affordable gem, so if this scent (and me) will still be around by than, I might add it to my collection.

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.

Bel Respiro, a green floral in the same vein as No. 19 and Ivoire – only lighter. One may ask – why making something so similar to a scent already existing in the collection? My only guess: No. 19 is either going to be changed to the point we wont recognize it due to reformulation (it does have oakmoss, you know…), or it could be completely phased out. Another possibility is the simple lack of either confidence or imagination of the perfumers involved, making sure they have something similar to what they already have and is popular rather than taking risks.
Let me just remind you how No. 22 was available everywhere until the release of the somewhat similar Allure (white floral, anyone?). All of a sudden, you can only get No. 22 at the Chanel boutiques. I won't be surprised if No. 19 will receive a similar status of endangered species.

As if to make matter worse, I have to give you some bad news: Bois des Isles and Cuir de Russie will no longer be available in their Parfum Extrait (the 15ml that used to be available in the Chanel boutiques is now replaced by the gigantic eaux de toilettes dilutions of the re-launched bottles). Not in Canada anyways. Do you want to hear even worse news? The last bottle of Bois des Isles parfum is GONE. I snatched it before you would. Sorry...

These are very preliminary impressions – I have only skin-tested two of these today (No. 18 and 31 rue Cambon). The ones that deserve more attention in my opinion will be posted later as separate, stand-on-their-own reviews.

If you'd like to get a different angle on Les Exlusifs, I recommend you read the following reviews of the line in general (as opposed to specific, elaborate reviews you will find in some of the blogs). I took the liberty to divide them into "Yay" and "Nay" response (the "nayers" not necessarily thinking that they are awful, but expressing some kind of disappointment, criticism or under-impression from the line:

Perfume Posse (Patty's favourite three)
Perfume Posse (March's reviews)
Perfume Posse (part 2)
Luca Turin in NZZ Folio
Perfume Smellin' Things

Perfume Shrine
Victoria's Own
The Scented Salamander
Perfume Posse (Patty's not-so-favourite three)

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