To Smell Like Chanel


When I was a wee lass I counted various iterations of Chanel’s Chance to be my signature fragrance.  I don’t know that I ever wore the original Chanel Chance, but I’m pretty sure I wore a bottle of the Eau Fraiche before switching to Eau Tendre when it was released and sticking with it for another bottle or two.
And by wee lass I mean middle school me: me pre-perfume obsession.  At some point, I don’t remember exactly how it happened, I lost interest in the Chances, which felt too easy, too impersonal a choice, and just not reflective of who I was any longer.  And so one by one I started bringing other perfumes into my life, ones that resonated more deeply with me and that I appreciated almost artistically. And some of those were also made by Chanel. 🙂

Fast forward a couple of years: Today I decided I wanted to wear Chanel’s 31 Rue Cambon, so I fished out my little sample vial (I consider myself to ‘own’ a lot of scents I only have samples of, simply because when you reach a certain number of fragrances you don’t need a large volume of any one to keep you satisfied.)  Anyway. Imagine my dismay when I pulled it out and saw that it was very much on the edge of empty.  Well, another perfume to go on my small sample/decant wish list.  But for now I’m wearing Guerlain’s Shalimar, which isn’t at all similar but has a nice anti-rain warm and toasty vibration.  Like I have a cozy vanilla-civet aura that evaporates the cold drizzle.


But I want to talk about my favorite fragrances from the Chanel line- now that I’m thinking about them and the notes, rather than sniffing an ad that smells as much of magazine paper and scent sample. 😉

31 Rue Cambon: 31RC is this gorgeous peppery iris with a citrus bite, grounded by a bit of polished patchouli (the patchouli isn’t super evident, for all of you misguided patchouli haters out there).

Bois des Iles: Ahhh, I love Bois des Iles.  It’s an aldehydic sandalwood with classical floral underpinnings.  The sandalwood-aldehyde combination has a lovely gingery snap to it that reminds me a tad of gingerbread, without being food-y at all.  The sandalwood warms it up while the aldehydes keep it cool, it’s a great contrast. I’ve a little decant of it.

No. 22: It’s a fizzing hummingbird of a fragrance, mostly aldehydes backed up by the classic Chanel florals and an incense accord.  It’s somehow carbonated, vibrating at a very high frequency. I have a little spray sample and I do very much enjoy wearing it. I remember testing it senior year of high school on a day I was home sick. I stayed on a comfy chair all day reading The Phantom of the Opera.

Coromandel:  The realization just gave me pause, because it’s kind of surprising to me, but I think Coromandel is my most worn Chanel fragrance, although Misia may be gunning to claim its spot (it’s weird to think of these very refined and elegant fragrances ‘gunning’ to do anything).  Coromandel is a mannerly patchouli, cleaned up and powdered with white chocolate.  Because of the combination it manages not to be edible, so much as nuzzly. I have a small decant and find it lovely year round, but particularly superb in autumn.

Cuir de Russie: I have a little glass vial of Cuir de Russie that I don’t wear quite enough, but that I am very grateful to have, since it’s such a lovely scent.  It’s a birch tar derived leather treading this exciting line between feral and ladylike.  It’s not a campfire smoke, cowboy and beef jerky leather (they definitely do exist, and in unwashed droves), but neither is it a delicately perfumed suede glove.  Maybe in the spectrum of leather goods, one would call it an english riding saddle- dignified, practical, and elegant.  The leather accord is softened up by gentle, barely there florals.

Misia: Misia is a relatively new release from Chanel, their entry into the somewhat crowded ‘scents that smell like high end cosmetics’ niche.  And it’s remarkably good- my favorite of the cosmetics-inspired scents that I’ve tried.  Like the others, it’s a powdery and vanillin rose-violet combination.  Where the Chanel differs, for me, is in the perfect level of village (not so big as to feel bombastic, not too light as to feel ‘weakly feminine’).  It also splits well between syrupy and powdery types of sweetness, while still not succumbing to being too sweet or cloying.  Well done.

All of those entries are from Chanel’s Les Exclusifs line, which is a bit more expensive (not such a big deal when one is living 2-3 mL at a time) but also tackles more interesting artistic concepts.  There are some other Chanel fragrances that I can happily recommend, even though I don’t wear them myself- I don’t think there’s any big miss in the Exclusifs line, although some do suffer from being a bit faint (La Pausa and 1932, for instance).  And No. 19, Cristalle (especially if you can find vintage iterations, the oakmoss is important to the original conception), and No. 5 Eau Premiere would be my choice from the mainstream line, even though I don’t wear them.  In fact, with all of the changes  No. 5 has been subject to, I would suggest Eau Premiere, a recent flanker, is preferable.

Chanel is a reliably good fragrance line, and one of my favorites (though I have many- I’m not fickle, but I am polyamorous (when it comes to perfume!)). I admire it especially for its loyalty to its own brand aesthetic. The Les Exclusifs line is extremely cohesive, always very elegant and tasteful.  They’re great ‘proper’ scents when you need to be a boss (a measured, good boss) and get things done.  It’s an attitude that very much appeals to me, the part of me that wants to be well turned out and effortlessly on point.

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