Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chanel Les Exclusifs N°18

No 18 was named for the address of the Chanel jewelry store in Place Vendôme. I'll admit I was one of the people who kvetched loudly about the pickle-like, cumin-like sour aspect of the medicinal opening notes, wondering why they bothered to combine it with the sweet, musky base, making it even sweeter with the addition of rose. It felt as if I was vibrating at a heavier frequency than normal...the notes felt stimulating, both musky and sharp, and I felt like I could almost taste the sour, spicy notes. However, I've come around 180 degrees on this perfume; it's now probably my favorite Chanel Les Exclusifs scent, followed by Eau de Cologne and 31 Rue Cambon. What got me desiring to test it again is 1. a fellow blogger friend of mine has decided she loves it enough to make this her holy grail scent, and 2. when I dabbed some on, Fred who was sitting near me commented that he smelled rose. Rose--right off the bat, that's what he got! I knew No.18 was a polarizing and challenging enigma, but it's really so well-composed, it's something of a puzzle to be solved over and over again. It might be minimalist but it's an intelligent design as one would expect from Chanel.

No.18 smells very unique; the only perfumes I would compare it to for different reasons would be Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet for its spicy, rosy, somewhat tart-sour aspect and also its minimalist Oriental feel, and Rochas Byzance for a similar musk base, sweet and vibrating strongly, ever-increasing in intensity. I could also compare it to Paco Rabanne Ultraviolet but only because it reminds me of Byzance only in a more aqueous form. I don't know how much of No.18 is aqueous (I can only suspect the iris might be if it's the same iris as in Bel Respiro) but for a scent that's famous for its cool, translucent aura, it does not smell aqueous in the least. The spacious midrange of this structure relies on a simple floral heart, but the rest is all about this musk ambrette (based on the seed), undulating its rhythm consistently like an ocean wave, except faster, like a soprano's vibrato. Like learning to ride on a boat, there are techniques to not get seasick. If you can ride it out, the rose in this perfume is the piece de resistance reward. It's often described as dry and nutty; to that, I'll say it's nutty in the sense that an olive smells nutty--a sort of concentrated, dense smell is definitely there, like an ode to classicism's roots. It smells a bit like 31 Rue Cambon in this respect.

Still, overall, No.18 is more spicy and musky to me than either nutty or cool. The spiciness is peppery to me and seems to jut forward in this blend in an angular fashion. It's interesting how the "sparkles" of this fragrance are those prickly spices, instead of high-pitched citrus as we might have expected from a jewelry-inspired scent. It dazzles not so much like a brilliant-cut diamond itself but like a chic piece of jewelry that says "I am the cutting edge". I'm not ready to commit myself to a bottle right now, but I will be reading more about it online, asking how people around me like it, and plan for a purchase down the line. If I decide on it, it would be the one in the Les Exclusifs line I would have chosen, as I don't own any yet. Regardless of how I'd felt about it initially, I think perfume lovers were right in saying No.18 is probably the sleeper hit of the collection. Not only is this a masterpiece, it makes sense that Jacques Polge, the co-creator of Yves Saint-Laurent Rive Gauche (with Michael Hy (Paco Rabanne Calandre)), would come up with yet another futuristic classic.

(Edited to add): I fell deeply in love with its musk (ambrette, I believe), and got a large decant to test drive it. I haven't felt the need to upgrade to a full bottle yet.