Friday, February 23, 2007

Chanel Les Exclusifs 31 Rue Cambon

This week, I'm testing the new Chanel Les Exclusifs, a collection of six fragrances that just launched about a week and a half ago. I had to stop and write about this one called 31 Rue Cambon because it's basically blown my mind. I'm not sure how wearable it is in everyday life, but I think it's genius. Gotta give credit where credit's due, so if Mr. Jacques Polge ever reads this, I want to tell him that I, Sali, this one unknown, unimportant human being on earth thinks his 31 Rue Cambon is the greatest, most important perfume of our time. At first spray, it's a sour, vile scent. The same sour, mustard-like, dill pickle-like note is found in No.18 which I can't tolerate, but in 31 Rue Cambon, it's not as prominent and therefore easier to take in as part of the composition. Past the sourness awaits a Neo-Chypre which is an oakmossless Chypre (a Chypre with the absence of one of its traditional key ingredients), but I can smell the structure: the bergamot top on a bed of oakmoss and warm, woodsy, resinous basenotes. First I'm reminded of Caron En Avion, then briefly of Guerlain Mitsouko, and then...voila: 31 Rue Cambon smells to me very much like Lanvin Arpege.

31 Rue Cambon is teaching me a lesson about classicism in perfumery in a big way. You see, just recently, I had come across a post on a forum where a poster asked for a favorite Oriental-Chypre. Because most of us hadn't pondered this genre before (because it's not a genre we've heard of), many of us came up with the closest compositions we could think of to fit that mold, namely Aldehydic Florals such as Caron Nuit de Noel. It occured to me then that Nuit de Noel (1922) was modeled after Chanel No.5 (1921), and therefore, it wouldn't be far-fetched to see No.5 as an Oriental-Chypre with aldehydes to modernize the classical Greco-Roman composition in the 20th century. If my theory is right, then No.5 isn't so much a Floral but a traditional (neo-classical) woody-mossy scent with some vanilla to orientalize it, then finally married to science and technology (aldehydes) in the Modern Age. Lanvin Arpege (1927) which 31 Rue Cambon reminds me of, complete with its warm, pungent woody-mossiness and voluptuous floral heart (made abstract and unflowery being overpowered by the warm basenotes), smells absolutely similar to No.5 as well, because it, too, was modeled after it in the roaring twenties, an era I refer to in my own mind as the dawning of The Great Repression, or the Silent Generation.

On drydown, I smell something similar to No.22 (1922), but the pungent woodiness is definitely more that of No.5 and Arpege--a dry, nutty accord. Why nutty? Is there significance to a woman smelling nutty? Would it have any connection to The New Look and Caron Farnesiana, a nutty perfume which followed in 1947, described on one forum's perfume review as being a scent like looking through rose-colored glasses?

Furthermore, I can't help but think the overshadowing of florals in these Florals is a deliberate act of making feminine scents abstract, or fuzzy, or unclear: in other words, they're as feminine as feminine gets: with lack of any clarity, we are as soft as our heads in the clouds. It's amazing how far we've come when we can analyze the very softness of femininity through scent we're told to embrace, and connect all we believe with the beliefs of the time--a time in herstory when emotional hearts were quite naturally repressed. The beauty of such a scent of time, then, is in the disciplined life of a woman who could repress her own need for emotion, to live the life of one who finds joy in denial. It's the smell of the spirit of the French. Hail, the new No.5 for the New Silent Generation: 31 Rue Cambon.