Les Exclusifs by Chanel: An Overview {Perfume Review & Musings} {Scented Thoughts}

The Total Chanel Look in the 1960s 

In the weeks leading to the release of Les Exclusifs by Chanel (please read our previous post for a description of the line) what we had to go with were the names of the perfumes, the descriptions of the notes, and the interviews of the perfumers who composed the new fragrances, namely Jacques Polge in association probably with Christopher Sheldrake although this last point is left rather vague.

One could identify two aesthetic orientations in the comments: the evocative-artistic one and the tradition-bound house-of-Chanel-inspired one. Names like Bel Respiro, 28, La Pausa, Coromandel were almost Baudelairean or Proustean in their appeal promising us an art of evocation, what perfumery is best at creating: immediate emotion, a sense of place. We would travel on the wings of La Pausa and alight in the villa haunted by Chanel's spirit while feeling the soft breeze caressing the palm trees and even hear the creaking noises of the furniture and smell the fresh velvets of the cushions or something like that. Coromandel would be, could only be terribly poetic and rare. Instead it seems that the tradition-bound Chanel-inspired current of thought has weighed in heavily in the creations of the perfumes......


Les Exclusifs will mostly offer you the guarantee of elegance. These are well-tailored perfumes. Some are even inventive like 31, rue Cambon which makes use of a substitutive accord of iris and pepper for oakmoss, as reported by Luca Turin. The perfumes smell good of course - that would be the last straw if it were not the case - but they feel more like luxury fashion accessories that will be used to complete an elegant look and a Chanel look at that most probably, than independent works of art. They feel branded, almost banal at times, sometimes being a bit reminiscent of Chanel no5 or Chanel no19 here and there even in the way the iris or galbanum are made use of. I can very well see good Chanel clients buying a few of these bottles as true toilet waters as they shop for other things.

There is also an air of homogeneity that runs through them that is a bit preoccupying to me as it seems to want to impose a manner rather then spring forth from deep conviction. When Jean-Claude Elléna uses a minimalist style he makes me feel that it his own way of thinking about and seeing the world, inspired by Edmond Roudnitska yes, but deeply made his own. This line of thought of his has gone quite far if you take a sniff at Paprika Brasil by Hermès which appears very minimal, almost naked, but which feels authentic. When you consider the minimalism that appears in Les Exclusifs, it makes you think at best of stylization and at worst of mannerism. I tend to lean towards the latter perception. It is possible also that more simply put Jacques Polge was influenced by the Hermessences line.

If you take 31, rue Cambon and Coromandel there seems to be a clash of visions rather than an interesting contrast between the manner which is pared down and rendered minimalist and the spirit of the perfumes. On the one hand, the perfumes pull you in the direction of thinking of classic bourgeois richness and comfort with their warm accords, on the other hand they do it in a style that cuts short that message. The effect is that of a balloon that grows rounder and suddenly gets pricked by a needle calling our attention to the interesting lines of its flattened self. In the end we get a certain sense of mannerism, of compromise between a fidelity to the bourgeois luxury image of the house of Chanel and a school of thought that would decree that minimalism in perfumery and couture is an appropriate fad for the culture of the elite.

It is also not altogether clear why Chanel decided to go with body splash size bottles and, indeed, true eau de toilette concentrations. Even when 31, rue Cambon starts developing a lovely chypre accord, the traditional pleasure of wearing a chypre which is about creating a sillage that separates readily from the body and moves into the space of a room is cut short by the real lack of tenacity of the perfume. I want to use the word "lame". There is a certain lameness about the line. There is a sense of forced ideas and concepts onto Les Exclusifs that makes the experience frustrating. Very rarely does one feel a soar in the perfume, a sense of following simply the beauty of an ingredient and letting that natural beauty unfold. At any rate, any trace of lyricism that appears is short-lived. The problem is that it started by suggesting it rather than replaced it with a more modern equivalent.

The fact that just one large 200ml size of eau de toilette is available and in just one concentration, seemingly made for people who like the idea that elegance is about understatement, reinforces the impression of a take-it-or-leave-it approach. If you think it is genius or love the Chanel brand, well buy it. If you think it is less than genius then think twice about it before purchasing it.

Les Exclusifs more than being about masterpieces of perfumery are about the promotion of an image of chic, elegance and "bon ton" à la Chanel with the added twist of a "niche-perfumery-feel" emanating from their perfumery section that seems a bit contrived, much more so than at Hermès. Perhaps this suddenly felt need of an incursion into modern niche perfumery aesthetics however superficial and codified here explains why Chanel was interested in hiring Christopher Sheldrake. The result is a bit odd and quizzical. Perhaps with time a better balance will be found, if only in the concentrations.


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9 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Well, I have to agree with you that these seem as a true toilette water meant to be doused liberally as I don't seem to get any real duration or sillage from these. I would think that to cure this, they could offer a parfum version, but their newer parfum versions also have little lasting power or sillage too.Bois des Iles parfum for example.I don't really understand this phenomon much, considering that there are many cheaper brand scents such as Keiko Mecheri that last all day. I'm perplexed and will just enjoy them as just nothing more than a nice toilette water. I have to begrudgingly confess, I was expecting old world quality and charm and was fairly let down.

    Christina H.
  2. Christina,

    I am puzzled by this line as well. The lasting sillage, you will agree with me, is not necessarily a sign of quality, but in this case I just don't understand why they seem for example to want to create a classic chypre architecture/sillage effect with 31 and then turn it into a diluted toilet water effect(?) I do not feel any consistent and strong artistic program, rather an assemblage of ideas. Very weird and disappointing where so many resources are available.

  3. Bonjour marie- Helene,
    You must have a talent for mindewading. I so agree with your summation of Chanel Les Exclusifs. Sillage is an imoprtant factor in selection of a fragrance - at least to me ! Why would Chanel create these 6 new exclusifs- with all that they imply: Elegance, and lasting power in overly large bottles stopping short- of greatness ?
    I have read all the many reviews - but your analysis . mirrors my sentments. Close - but no cigar -

    Madelyn E
  4. Madelyn,

    What overcame them I wonder? Perhaps the collaboration between Sheldrake and Polge is not symbiotic enough. In fact, I imagined that they would give much more leeway to Sheldrake and instead he seems to be presented as a kind of super assistant to Polge. Les Exclusifs despite all the hype on independent authorship really smell consensual to me. Many are derivative too. Why would I buy Bel Respiro instead of Chanel no 19? No strong reason really.

  5. Well my dear you articulated more eloquently than I ever could possibly express. What I tried to say in my reviews is more clearly stated here. I doubt I will be buying any of them. I like 31 but I think only in comparison, it is the best of the lot, but it can't stand up to the comparison of others I own. I am very disappointed in the lasting time and sillage.
    I love Bois des Iles & No 22, I'll stick with those.

    Victoria's Own
  6. Victoria,

    I imagine that producing 6 scents at about the same time following a general theme is perhaps not the most rewarding way to create perfumes. Marketing seems to take over then.

    If one thinks about it, one can ask the question why produce 6 perfumes at one time? There is already a plethora of perfumes on the market. Fight the competition with a collection rather than one great scent? Do they intend us to layer scents that cost $175 each?

    It will be interesting to see if the 12 Private Blends succeed in making us understand why it's an improvement to have access to 12 scents all at once and if quality suffers or not.

    The L'Etats have a whimsical quality about them and a price range together with a good product quality that makes it fun to play with them. But Chanel boutique exclusives being a cross between the Marc Jacobs body splashes, the Hermessences, the house legends, and a Salons Shiseido touch?

  7. Marie-Helene,
    I must say that whether or not I agree with you, your thoughts are eloquently expressed. I do find your position quite enthralling. No sillage, huge bottles and no less than six different scents. Why? I believe Chanel, like Hermes believes in the art of perfumery. I think that the current market played an all too important role here, though. A couple seem unfinished. I do love 31, though. Coromandel is lovely. Why no parfum? Perhaps they'll finish what they've begun. One can only hope. Lovely sentiments, though, Marie-Helene. I truly think you have a gift.

  8. Bryan,

    Thank you. It's wonderful that you have found a new perfume love. I will certainly try to find the time to review them individually and 31, Rue Cambon seems like a good place to start. I like aspects of 31, Coromandel, no 18, and 28, La Pausa but there were no wows! Honestly, if they were not in Chanel bottles and already marketed, I might have thought they were not fully finished. Something is missing. Either that or they're too intellectual for my taste:)

  9. Hola, soy una chica española y estoy interesada en comprar Les Exclusifs de Channel. Donde puedo comprarlos? Gracias


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