Monday, May 12, 2008

Chanel Rue Cambon: Gardénia, Bois des Îles, Cuir de Russie

The Rue Cambon collection by Chanel consists of these classic fragrances from the 1920s: Gardénia, Bois des Îles and Cuir de Russie. Coco Chanel had wanted a thoroughly artificial perfume when she was launching No.5, and for that reason, Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux composed the famous concoction involving an overdose of aldehydes to create an abstract scent not known in nature. The Rue Cambon series follow in No.5's sophisticated, high tech footsteps but take on characters of their own.

Let's begin with Bois des Îles, an Aldehydic Floral like No.5 and many others in its time such as Lanvin Arpege. Bois des Îles reminds me very much of No.5 in its aldehydic-powdery nature, except this is the drier, sharper scent, with more pronounced woodsiness, focused on sandalwood. The base-heavy woods combined with sweet vanilla and jasmine bring to mind the low-pitched, languid sweetness of Creed Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie. The dry woods and nutmeg give a spicy impression, adding edge to the powdery density. It is marketed to women but I think men can easily carry it off. If No.5 is the star of the show who shines in silver, gold, fuchsia and prima donna pink, Bois des Îles is the one who wears brown, olive, burgundy and navy, staying faithfully in the background, happy to be known for its down-to-earth, serious and grown-up character.

Cuir de Russie is a Russian Leather scent for women and of course it can be worn by men, especially those who favor leather scents such as 1776 by Elsha. While it brings to mind cowboys and the Wild West, old leather-bound books or a ladies' handbag smell (or, as Fred calls it, "men's belt"), the longer Cuir de Russie wears on skin (especially in extrait), the more facets come out, revealing a floralcy focused on jasmine and finishing on a dusty, musky, dry, smoky-balsamic and pungent, rosy, indolic-animalic dry down (a bit nasty but it could be an acquired taste). There is an urban legend that Mick Jagger likes to wear it on his behind. This urban legend is also interesting because I find Cuir de Russie has a musky, somewhat fruity Chypre (patchouli) scent like Jean Patou 1000 which is said to have been worn by Jerry Hall. The complex, subdued sweetness of it also brings to my mind a classic guerlinade base as found in Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit, Liu.

Gardenia is one of my favorite flowers, so I was ecstatic to discover this one. I would have loved to smell Gardénia back when it was first created, because the version out now, as stunning as it is, smells too aqueous and modern to have been the same scent in the twenties. It bears no resemblance to No.5 and the other two in the Rue Cambon series but it's still a very nice scent, a light and sweet white floral with very subtle spicy (clove, sage, pimiento) accents. This is a Floral, not really a spicy scent. It's an abstract gardenia in a way, smelling more like transparent jasmine than gardenia per se (but Jan Moran's notes still list gardenia in the top notes). I'd recommend it to lovers of Antonia's Flowers Floret, Marc Jacobs, L'Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons or Kate Spade EDP. It's very pretty in that fresh-cut-flowers-way and perfect for Spring.

(Image:, Chanel Russian Leather ad 1937)