The perfumer behind Chanel’s new Eaux collection invites you to take an olfactory adventure, says ROSALEEN McMEEL.
Choosing a favorite from the trio of fragrances that make up the new Les Eaux de Chanel is rather like choosing from the top three selling Chanel handbags: deliberations might last days, if not decades.
Created by Olivier Polge, Les Eaux de Chanel pay homage to destinations close to Gabrielle Chanel’s heart. Apart from offering a sensory escape, the collection marks a fresh departure for Polge and the French brand. Basing the collection on the concept of cologne, Polge has created three scents, which stand apart from the more voluptuous ones already on offer. The new collection shares the freshness of citrus, yet each fragrance provides its own interpretation. In terms of innovation, the house has invented its own citrus oils in special grades, which were used to glorious effect, making this a truly exciting launch.
“Gabrielle Chanel had a way of speaking about perfume and often talked about the sent bon, which literally translates as ‘smells good’, but it means a clean scent like a soap or a universal freshness, which I related to,” Polge tells me when we meet in Paris in February at an exclusive preview of the fragrance.
Much like music, perfume has a wondrous ability to transport the wearer to another time or place. It is this very essence that Polge aimed to harness in the creation of the newest additions to the luxury design house’s scent portfolio. An accomplished pianist in his spare time, Polge is well practiced in the art of making the most of the notes available to him, and his work as a perfumer is no different. “I was inspired by three destinations associated with Gabrielle Chanel – Paris-Deauville, Paris-Venise and Paris-Biarritz – and tried to anchor those fresh scents into the atmosphere. Even though I like to say that travel is suggestive because I think you can travel with fragrances only. More than the actual reality of the destination, I liked the idea urbanites make of it when they dream of a weekend away in the country. I wasn’t striving to capture the Normandy countryside as it stands today, but rather the promise of a stroll through the tall grasses.”
Gabrielle Chanel and her aunt Adrienne in front of the Chanel boutique in Deauville, 1913
Inspired by these three destinations associated with Chanel’s personal adventures, the fragrances are grounded in romance, history and the anticipation of adventure, not just the memory of it. Creating a fragrance that speaks to contemporary tastes, yet anchored in the rich heritage of Chanel can’t be easy, and I ask Polge if he is ever overwhelmed by the task. “I don’t see it as a weight, but as a source of inspiration. There is nothing worse than having no heritage. It gives you an opportunity to position yourself. It’s what makes you unique.”
Les Eaux de Chanel
Holiday destination of choice for Parisians, the seaside town of Deauville was where Gabrielle Chanel opened her first shop in 1913, with the help and financial assistance of Boy Capel. The immediate impression of Paris-Deauville is a bright, bitter orange rind, followed by aromatic basil leaf, which then reveals essence of rose and jasmine- like notes, further grounded by a woody patchouli. It’s a light, uplifting and carefree scent.
Two years after the launch of her shop in Deauville, Gabrielle Chanel headed to yet another glamorous holiday hotspot, Biarritz, where she opened another store, next to the casino and the beach. Inspired by the ocean, the Paris-Biarritz fragrance is “the most aquatic fragrance in the Les Eaux de Chanel collection,” says Polge. “I wanted to create a sensation on the skin as if each ingredient were soaked with water.” The top notes are energised with a burst of grapefruit and mandarin. Accompanied by an aqueous note, the citrus prepares the way for a lily-of- the-valley accord. The groundswell of the formula, vetiver, blends with white musk notes to heighten the bracing sensations, lending it a sporty edge.
Gabrielle Chanel at the beach on the Lido with Misia and José Maria Sert and Madame Philippe Berthelot, 1925
When Boy Capel tragically died in a car accident in December 1919, Gabrielle Chanel was inconsolable. To help take her mind off his death, she travelled to Venice with friends. Venice was where Mademoiselle Chanel came back to life. Her discovery of Venetian artists and the unforgettable parties thrown by cosmopolitan aristocrats who spent their days basking in the sun on the Lido beaches helped Gabrielle forge her inimitable style. She drank in the glimmering mosaics, the shining hammered gold and precious gems of St Mark’s Basilica, which inspired her first jewellery collection. As for Paris-Venise, Polge wanted people to “smell the gateway to the Orient, which at Chanel is also an evocation of the baroque.” While citrus still weaves its way through the fragrance, neroli remains subdued. A hint of red berry whispers to iris and Grasse geranium, tangy and floral. Then, a vibrant cedar and amber accord break through. You can detect the vanilla note and Oriental scents that warm the skin without overpowering. “This is where Gabrielle Chanel developed her taste for baroque and the byzantine, so this is why it’s a rounder, more voluptuous scent,” Polge reveals.
Les Eaux de Chanel, €112 for 125ml, is available at Arnotts and Brown Thomas.
This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of IMAGE, on shelves nationwide now.