LE LION de CHANEL (2020)

There are very few Leos in my flesh and blood life.

While I may have worshipped at the altar of pop icons under the sign – Madonna; and Lionheart herself, Kate Bush – I have only half a handful of friends who are astrological lions. Powerful, expansive, fiercely intelligent, demanding, and with a need for attention and an addiction to exhilaration, sometimes, too many divas spoil the broth : it can get explosive.

It’s always exciting to review a Chanel, though. And I quite like this new release – the sense of optimism, a fuller flavour – even just the lettering on the bottle. Le Lion de Chanel – Gabrielle/ Coco’s own horoscope, of course – is the latest in the Exclusifs collection – Boy; Misia, etc, all based on the autobiographical elements of the couturier’s life and adventures, and it makes an enjoyable addendum.

As for the smell of the perfume itself, it is a fine, lucent, patchouli amber labdanum with a perceivable citrus note – nothing particularly out of the ordinary (the frequent comparisons to Mitzah, Coromandel and Shalimar by the fashion hordes foaming at the lion’s mouth on social media are entirely apt) – but of very fine quality – and I should hope so at this price. Undoubtedly destined for success – it is just out in the shops here in Japan, and piqued my interest yesterday when I saw it in the window of Lumine Department store in Yokohama – I also wouldn’t mind if it spurred a fashion for the immaculate, pedicured amber. Some warmth for all the misery.

Sometimes, the glint of an luxuriant patchoulambra, can be just the ticket to beat away the winter blues (and the consciousness of the plague outside your window). Le Lion has precisely such facets. It has that powdered and pressed, exquisitely controlled Polge behaviour : immediately familiar, but with a 4D tintillation of pristine, Chanel fashion newness, enamelled underneath. Thumbs up from me overall, even if I don’t think I would personally ever wear Le Lion on my own skin. I prefer something wilder.


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56 responses to “LE LION de CHANEL (2020)

  1. Le Lion is making its rounds! I haven’t gotten to smell it yet but have been trying to imagine it based on many sincere reviews. What are other examples of “immaculate, pedicured amber”?

    • A good question. Yesterday it immediately reminded me of things I knew very well but my addled brain couldn’t come up with them.

      As I said, quite nice, not bad etc , well done, even if with all Jacques – sorry, Olivier – Polge creations at the end of the day for me there is something slightly deadening in the mix. There is a woody/burnt note somewhere, admidst the faint animalia, that I personally don’t think I could get along with.

  2. Robin

    I’ve got a sample of Le Lion coming in the mail. You describe it succinctly and positively (although I can understand it when you say it’s not wild enough for you). A reviewer, Pallida, on fragrantica had some interesting things to say about it, too, and now I’m a bit confused:

    “Le Lion is an unexpected offering from Chanel that, in my opinion, never really comes together in a coherent way. The opening roars out of the bottle with brash citrus, smoky birch tar, and a lovely but synthetic-feeling iris note that simulates leather (I find it to be similar to the iris in Cuir Ottoman by Parfums d’Empire). Yes, the list of notes is similar to those in Coromandel and Shalimar, and there is a similar liturgical richness at play here, but the parts come together in a different elemental way in Le Lion. I associate Coromandel with transcendence – golden light filtered through stained-glass windows illuminating tendrils of smoke curling towards the cathedral rafters. Shalimar has the rounded, earthy richness of worn-in wooden pews, burnished chalices, and leather-bound hymnals. Le Lion is fire – the flickering of votives and the hiss of resin grains hitting the red-hot coals of the incense censer. Many reviews also mention Ambre Sultan, and I can see the similarity to some extent due to the presence of labdanum and myrrh, and also due to the niche feel of Le Lion, but Sultan is much more herbal and airy.

    Following its somewhat unrelenting opening, Le Lion takes the wearer through a roughly executed “liquid smoke” phase that is too heavy-handed for my liking. Labdanum, myrrh, and benjoin finally kick in (I don’t get any patchouli in this), and things start quieting down toward the drydown, the end result of which is identical to the smell of burning the Carta d’Armenia produced by Santa Maria Novella (the resemblance is striking – I couldn’t believe my nose!). The drydown is less oppressive than I was expecting based on the opening and middle – it sits fairly close to the skin and is quite pretty once the smokiness gives way to a more rounded and well-blended leather.

    My main complaint with Le Lion is the lack of refinement in its execution. With its linear progression, derivative composition, and somewhat monolithic feel, this seems less like a fully conceived artistic statement and more like a cynical attempt at a “beast-mode” entry in the stable. I love heavy fragrances and I burn Carta d’Armenia frequently, so it’s strange that I haven’t fallen for this – I think that it’s the lack of finesse in handling the birch tar that keeps me from falling for it. The end result is a very pretty fragrance, but it’s sadly too bumpy of a ride to make it worth the trip.”

    * * * * *
    My impression from Pallida’s description is so different than the smooth, rich refinement you mention, and I love how you describe it: “It has that powdered and pressed, exquisitely controlled Polge behaviour : immediately familiar, but with a 4D tintillation of that pristine, Chanel fashion newness, enamelled underneath.”

    Can you dig where Pallida is coming from, Neil? She writes very well, but she seems to be describing a very different fragrance. I love the Lion you write about and dislike hers! Any enlightenment?

    P.S. I am a Leo and share a birthday with Alfred Hitchcock, Fidel Castro and Annie Oakley. I like to think you wouldn’t find me too much of a good thing. I am a positively quiet, well-behaved and de-clawed feline.

    • Well. This morning was hell (a recent theme) in terms of writing this, and the version that came up on here was a lighter, friendlier one than the longer original – which refused to load. There IS definitely something smokey and woody, which puts me off. I agree with her that there is lack of beauty, ultimately. It’s just quite nice. Chanel goes Guerlain. And that’s all! I look forward to your review.

      • PS . Love Pallida’s writing and this review.

      • Robin

        Thanks, Neil. That all makes sense. A lighter, friendlier version of the original review.

        Hard notes. Lack of beauty. Chanel goes Guerlain. Ha! I’m getting the picture. I’ve noticed that Olivier has taken his dad’s more delicate, jazz-like compositions for Chanel and put them through the modern olfactory version of the graphic equalizer set to the same bass-heavy Rock and Roll levels, added some pricey high-performance synthetics, and then turned up the volume. 31 RC, Sycomore, BdI, CdR (I know those last two are Beaux originals but I’m sure Jacques tinkered with them for the 2007 launch of the Exclusifs): all suffered the same souped-up overhaul.

        The thing is, if Ric likes Le Lion, I will buy a bottle. He’s particular and unpredictable. Or maybe not so unpredictable. He loves vintage Bois des Iles on me and I thought I’d treat myself to the new edp, so splurged on a big bottle. Grrr. He cannot be near it. I have a feeling it will be the same for Le Lion.

        Sorry for your hellish morning/recent life theme.

      • Seriously – U

        I just don’t want to be in a corona environment and am too stressed by it all. When you can’t even use the computer as well the exasperation is just too much.

        I love that Ric is so particular…

        I think this has the harshness I couldn’t handle in Tonka Imperiale but I can imagine it really suiting some people. The original Bois Des Isles is so lovely : I can imagine it being a bit weird in reformulation. Like baby poo or something.

      • Robin

        I don’t want to totally bash Olivier Polge. I love his 1957 to distraction and Misia as well. The latter was a crazy violet rose shitstorm when it came out in edt, and his ability to refine it, pull it back from an uncharacteristically Chanel excess to the regal beauty it is in edp form (I’ve worn them side by side and I’ve been blown away), is genius. I also think he actually improved the original Coromandel and No 22 (I know!), and I’ve grown to appreciate his reworking of Beige, and even, grudgingly, 31 RC and Sycomore. Who knows what restrictions he had to work with in their rejigging?

        It’s exciting when a new Exclusif comes out and I was happy to see you do a quick exploration. Thank you, dear N.

      • I sprayed Sycomore on a card at the store and was horrified, to be honest. Have they literally all been redone again? There was way too much white musk in it. BOOOOOOO

      • Robin

        Compared with the original edt, the current Sycomore is closer to something like Encre Noire. Lost its beauty and originality. It used to be so fresh and dreamy, very distinctive. The only reason I give the edp grudging acceptance is because on Ric it smells semi-good and he will wear it — and there was no edt to be had. Why oh why didn’t I stock up on the originals??!!! (Because we had no idea of the travesty ahead.)

      • Pallida

        I figure that this is as good a time as any to come out of the shadows. I have been reading your blog without commenting for longer than I would like to admit, Neil, and your writing has expanded my own two-decades-long journey in perfume as well as my ideas about what writing about perfume can be. Thank you for sharing your world with us!

        I’m sorry if my review left you confused, Robin! I wish that I could offer to send you a decant of Le Lion, but I didn’t purchase a full bottle myself, just a small decant that I have almost drained. If it helps to clarify, I would say that Le Lion is a gorgeous ambered incense in the drydown, but the smoky notes that dominate the opening and middle are just too heavy-handed for my liking. If the smoke had been handled a bit more delicately, I probably would have loved the fragrance. If you enjoy Shalimar, Cuir de Russie, Ambre Fetiche, Taklamakan, or the SMN Carta d’Armenia incense, it’s highly likely that you will appreciate Le Lion. I hope my review didn’t dissuade you!

        I would add that I have become very sensitive in picking up certain synthetic notes in the past few years, so most of the EdP reformulations of Les Exclusifs have been a massive disappointment for me – they come apart almost instantly on my skin into a scratchy, amorphous blob due (I believe) to an amping up of the concentrations of synthetic woods and Iso-e super. This increased sensitivity has converged with a “been there, smelled that” attitude toward sampling perfume and a general cynicism at the commodification of what for me has been an intensely personal and escapist hobby/addiction. It unfortunately takes a lot to impress me at this point, so with the exception of a few contemporary fragrances (Khol de Bahrein, New Sibet, Opus 1144, Misia, and Chypre Siam come to mind), I have been happy to stick with my heavy-hitting old favorites (Vol de Nuit, Le Dix, Melograno, No. 5, Bois des Iles, Shalimar, Poison, Chamade, Ysatis, 24 Faubourg, No. 22, No. 19) preferably in vintage, extrait, or both.

        Anyway, all of that was a long-winded way of saying hello and being excited that someone somewhere got something out of my review. It’s a delight to be interacting with you here!


        We have absurdly similar tastes.

        I also cannot TAKE the vile harsh synthetics (and neither can Robin, actually, though I dare not speak for her): for me it is also a case of bored to tears within minutes (in truth: i sense it BEFOREHAND but there you go).

        wilkommen. And thanks for the compliment. I don’t know why it seems that a lot of people ‘lurk’ here and are afraid to just comment.

        Am I really that off-putting ?

        For some reason my heart is particularly melting over your inclusion of Chamade.

        My GOD. How good is that perfume in vintage?

      • Robin

        I echo Neil’s sentiments. Great to meet you, too. I was very impressed by, and related so deeply to, the things you were saying in your fragrantica review — so much so I also posted them on the MUA fragrance board when the discussion turned to Le Lion (with you as the author duly noted, of course).

        Your review was anything but confusing. It was the juxtaposition of your review and Neil’s that kind of got me caught in the middle, understanding and respecting both of your well-described viewpoints quite clearly, and not seeing too many points of commonality, or seeing enough differences to wonder what I would end up thinking of Le Lion when I tried it myself.

        I think I’m less confused now, and thank you — and Neil — for helping me. I’ve got a sample direct from a retailer’s Chanel counter coming to me in the mail so that will get me sorted.

        If you read that comment of mine describing my impression’s of Olivier’s work for Chanel, you’ll know that I concur with your opinions on modern synthetics. For example, I love vintage Cuir de Russie, and the original edt in the Exclusifs line, but the edp is quite disheartening. Those newer, louder, coarser notes obscure the natural-smelling, nuanced ones in it that I have loved for decades.

        Another Chypre-Siam fan? Yes! I love Manny’s commitment to working with damn-the-restrictions components. Like you (and Neil), I get my aesthetic and emotion satisfaction mostly from vintage, in parfum wherever possible. I love your list of some of your favourites. For us, I know it’s not a matter of slighting a fragrance because of the modern aromachemicals per se; it’s purely our noses’ response to them, and our deep knowledge of classic, profound fragrances through the decades as a basis for comparison.

        I’m so happy you said hello and I hope you will consider joining in the great discussions we have here. You’d be an enormous asset. I know I would love it.

      • Pallida

        It’s so lovely to meet you both! As far as not commenting goes, it’s just a matter of preferring to be minimally present on the internet. I started posting reviews on Fragrantica primarily as a bit of a writing exercise, and also out of curiosity at how certain images and ideas bubble up and then percolate and propagate through subsequent reviews with time. Fragrance reviews have somewhat crystallized into their own genre, so it’s interesting to play with those perceived constraints. I never really imaged anyone reading any of it, so it’s a lovely surprise, enough to bring me out of my usual shell.

        Ugh, I just want to be embalmed in Chamade, I want to drink it, I want to mainline it – I think it’s possibly the most beautiful perfume ever made. I can’t think of another scent that manages such a contrast between restraint and pure jubilation – it’s simultaneously utterly classical and prismatically psychedelic and I just adore it. Chypre Siam has a similar prismatic quality – it just changes the very air around you. Manny’s work is gorgeous and I hope that he keeps sticking his olfactory middle finger up at those IFRA goons.

        I b*tch way too much about synthetics, but it isn’t even a matter of being bored, it’s a matter of being OFFENDED. I feel like the fragrance houses see us as a bunch of sheep, completely lacking in critical capacity and willing to fawn over whatever anemic nonsense they are churning out as long as the branding/influencing are on point. It’s so cynical and calculating, and it’s been heartbreaking to watch the blood slowly drained out of something that I consider to be an art form – a medium for pure storytelling and unadulterated sensory enjoyment. I could go on forever about it, but I’ll stop – if you need me, I’ll be the one over there in the corner in the tin foil hat, clutching my bottles of vintage and ranting about the oakmoss apocalypse.

        Robin, I am so curious to hear your thoughts on Le Lion – please update us when your sample arrives!

  3. I enjoyed your post on Le Lion and the photos are amazing as usual. I agree on your opinion is the fragrance. It is a good solid scent in the typical Chanel manner. I am a Leo but I somehow missed out on the diva gene.

    • I was waiting for the Leos to arrive! (that’s why I said ‘flesh and blood’ – the ones I have met).

      Did you buy it? I would accept a freebie and give it a go, but not fork out for it. Too……planed down for the masses or something.

  4. As an introvert but true Leo myself, i am glad i got myself a backup old school Artisan L’eau D’Ambre Extreme by Ellena. The warmth never goes over the line to too much, and perfect for layering or alone. Luminous indoors or outside walking along a cold city street, day or night. Refined but not stuck up in any way, to my mind. Looking forward to trying Le Lion at some point, Chanel as a person from what I know of her is no inspiration or aspiration, but her myth unreal as it is keeps something worthwhile going producing a French elegance accessible outside those borders. I can wait a year and get a large decant, if it turns out I need it. Feeling cautiously optimistic about it and things in general now.

    • Yes – a more open toed, slightly more ‘let go’ kind of amber – the ones I like that fray softly at the edges and get all fuzzy.

      What is a ‘true’ Leo, by the way? I think my descriptions in this are more about me – a true Sagittarian! I know that Leos are loving and have huge hearts.

      • A true Leo i would say is open, warm, intense aka passionate, and live by a particular self-defined set of challenging ambitions. The famous ones have succeeded in fulfilling those ambitions. I’m not astrology minded but live among many who are and must say the personality types of each sign often strike a loud chord, in my experience.
        Luminous perfumes are Leo-ish imo.

  5. I have been excitedly waiting for this to become available so I could purchase it; yes, I am speaking of a “blind-buy”. After reading your review, I am not too sure this would be a good blind-buy for me. It seems to cover fragrance avenues I already have taken care of with other fragrances.
    It also sounds far too tame and polished for this little kitten here. If you think it would be a scent that would suit me, please let me know. If it wouldn’t, all those funds could be better used to acquiring more vintage scents.

    • I am wondering. Aren’t you just intrigued anyway to have a newer take on the Shalimar model? Might be nice to have a brand new scent for 2021. On the other hand, my reaction was definitely ‘Oh I see. That’. As in, you know it already.

      • I have to say I am intrigued by the scent, knowing it has a shared DNA with Shalimar, but on the other hand, if I have a healthy supply of vintage Shalimar, do I really need to have this; especially given the cost, it is not an inexpensive scent.
        There is that part of me that longs for a new scent for a new year, but at the same time, I am purchasing vintage scents I haven’t smelt since the early 80s, so it is almost like acquiring a new scent.
        What you said “Oh I see. That” is the reason I would hesitate. I do not want a fragrance that is traipsing through ground already well navigated by other scents, I would want something different, with a vintage vibe to it.
        I may just wait until I am able to smell Le Lion on myself, before I throw money at the Chanel boutique.

      • Definitely.

        Although I adore your smell brain and taste and am hungry for your opinion!

      • I will let you know once I acquire a sample.

  6. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    It feels very luxurious to read the The Black Narcissus, always a pleasure in itself, about a perfume I can’t afford. And such enticing pictures as well. I like the big cats, especially the cougar ?! But definitely in the wild and not domestic.
    My mother was a Leo! I am Gemini. And in my astronomic description of relationship, I quote:
    “Leo roars and thinks himself boss and Gemini plays along gezellig”. Gezellig is almost untranslatable, so very Dutch! Something between cosy and amiable, with a grin in the middle.
    I find myself very much at home with wild, vagabond and may I settle for courtisane? More diva-ish than slut-tish, however admirable and recommendable the latter is. Let it all hang out, bigger than life etc. Mar West comes to mind, by the way great friends with La Dietrich, diva incomparable.

  7. OnWingsofSaffron

    My, my: a new Chanel scent, bone dry, with the taste of the desert, something animalic lurking beneath and a wonderful vanillic dry-down. The response: blasé, sort of, well can one say, I guess it’s kind of – sort of – okay.
    Come on folks! This is a great scent, and I am quite unapologetic about it: I love it!

    • Oh good. I am delighted to hear this for some reason. My first review WAS basically positive!

      I want to go back and try it again to be sure (but there is no way I can do that on a work day, and I will definitely not be venturing into Yokohama otherwise):

      Give us the Saffronisch lowdown1

  8. Robin

    Just trying Le Lion. I think it is gorgeous.

    • Laughing as I read this.


    • How about a guest review on here ?

      I fancy a Chanel Le Lion Part II

    • ( I DID say ‘thumbs up from me !’ )

      • Robin


        Yes, you DID. You did say thumbs up. And I just went back and read your words again: Sometimes, the glint of an luxuriant patchoulambra, can be just the ticket to beat away the winter blues (and the consciousness of the plague outside your window). Le Lion has precisely such facets. It has that powdered and pressed, exquisitely controlled Polge behaviour : immediately familiar, but with a 4D tintillation of pristine, Chanel fashion newness, enamelled underneath.

        This is exactly what I got. No need for Part II.

        Just for fun, I wore other current (edp) O. Polge’s on other bits of skin: Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles and Coromandel. You know. Just to check on comparative volume, texture, balance, any odd synthetic bits sticking out. Altogether, although Le Lion is really concentrated, stronger than the others drop for drop, it seemed . . . tamer. Smoother. More burnished. Poreless. All this in a good way. It is very recognizably Chanel (circa 2021). It is a really, really fine kind of luxe amber. I think the thing that gives it much of its beauty (and it is beautiful to me, not at all like those ugly smoky industrial niche chem-bombs) is the citrus notes, sweet and ripe: edible. The bergamot especially. I wonder if it’s something new that the lab has cooked up. There’s something luscious and truly Earl-Grey-like about it.

        I don’t get heavy smoke. I don’t get leather. The patch is light. I recognize quite a hit of sandalwood, which I don’t think many reviews mention. It has that spicy, liqueur-like quality of good Mysore, though most probably at least some part of the accord originated in a test tube. Although it’s not listed, the light smoke I do smell is more like a burning incense: olibanum. Mostly, it’s amber, bell-clear shimmering amber, virtually a soliflore of amber. The wet-dog, hot-rubber of labdanum surrounded by vanilla and that citrus.

        I never thought “Shalimar,” not one single time. And I’ve known Shalimar for very close to 50 years. Le Lion is not Chanel Does Guerlain. To me.

        I hasten to add that I still love Pallida’s review and if my nose was more sensitive to modern components, as sensitive as hers (and I think hers is exquisitely tuned) I might have written a review echoing hers. I haven’t worn it with Ric around yet. I think he may dislike it for the same reasons she does, since there are few Exclusif edp versions he tolerates well.

        My own bottom line: because I don’t, when it comes right down to it, love amber as a dominant note (it always makes me just of the verge of queasy), I won’t spring for a bottle myself. (Unless Ric loves it. Then I will definitely, immediately.) But I admire it enormously and I think Polge Jr. nailed it.

    • Pallida

      So happy to hear that you love it! You have inspired me to take it back out for a reconsideration. These differences in perception are precisely what makes this hobby so satisfying. Enjoy, and wear it in good health!

      • Robin

        You are so right. And why your review and Neil’s got me all in a happy tizzy. I just love fragrance for that reason. Endlessly subjective, endlessly fascinating, so good to explore together and on our own.

        And who knows? Maybe tomorrow I’ll sniff Le Lion and find it just too much of the wrong thing. My nose has a mind of its own and can be fickle. 😉

  9. Robin

    It’s official. Ric loves Le Lion. “Soft,” he said. SOFT??!!! From a guy who despises cashmeran, ambroxan, et al. Literally chokes on most modern aromachemicals.

    Neil: I think that pretty much says it all, don’t you?

  10. JulienFromDijon

    I’m happy to add your review to the one I read. I haven’t tried it yet.
    It seems that “The lion” isn’t worth the expense, when one already has ambers, orientals, and a stack of shalimar of all kinds.

    But don’t trust my façade of rationalism, part of me is always thinking about a blind buy.
    It’s hard to weight between what a perfume really is, and what you wish it would be. It’s hard to face the true, and buy/not buy accordingly.
    For example, I think that the name and the bottle is stunning. This short name goes very well with the Chanel aesthetic and lettering.

    But great names, and great ideas for a bottle, can be wasted on underwhelming perfumes. It’s almost like a curse.
    For example, Cartier coined the great ideas with the name and bottle of L’envol and Carat, but the fragrances left me unfazed.
    Still I’m a big supporter of Mathilde Laurent’s work. Have you tried XII l’heure mystérieuse? With VI l’heure défendue, it’s one big oriental, so dense it’s almost worth the money, like an extract. XII is sambac jasmine, patchouli cade and frankincense. VI is the closest to pure black chocolate of the cocoa absolute perfumes.

    I disagree with you : it’s not always exciting to review a Chanel.
    To be more precise, you’re right, but it can be infuriating : “Bleu” was so dull, and “Gabrielle” has deceived me too.
    Beige reminded me of Après l’ondée but more bland. The 19.. something had very faint fragrances.
    I like Jersey but it can hardly compete with the price of second hand Pour un homme, or its extrait version.
    And any good l’exclusive is on the verge of a bad reformulation : no22 being the worst case, bois des îles because of the sandalwood,
    and some people whining about Coromandel and Sycomore, but I don’t see the damage.

    Still, I get what you meant. The rumor of a good exclusive Chanel was enough of a good news to lift our heart in these complicated times.

    P.S.: Great photos for your post, as always! Thanks

    • ‘Almost worth the money ‘: I love it.

      For the shallow such as myself, I could also buy Le Lion PURELY for the aesthetics. And why not, if you can afford it ? ( I actually can’t).

      If you did I am sure it would yield something.

  11. There is always the smaller 75 ml bottle to consider, although even $200.00 is a lot of money for the small bottle.

  12. I agree that I also get immense pleasure just looking at my bottles. It gives me a moment of thinking about nothing else but the sheer pleasure of fragrances.

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