Tag Archives: Chanel

‘La femme idéale’ : CRISTALLE by CHANEL (1974)




















As its name suggests, Cristalle is diamond-cut and delicate: a crisp, pretty, and very Parisian floral chypre of slightly cold-hearted mien that lends the perfume a distancing, enigmatic quality – at once a citrus-galbanum, sherbety hycanthine jasmine freshness (all the joys of spring), and yet a darker, more pensive tension lying beneath this crystalline veneer in the vetiver oakmoss base that lines the high heeled assertions with a more gossamer vein of depressive melancholy.




An eau de parfum, a clever retweaking by Jacques Polge to update and bring the (at the time) somewhat obscure Chanel scent more attention, was introduced in 1993 that overlayed the essential character of classical Cristalle with a fuller, revitalized, fruitier beginning (a more pronounced peach, ylang and mandarin note in particular), but this robust, sharper remake was also rather gorgeous, if a little shrill in comparison to the more demure and refined reach of the eau de toilette. Whichever you feel more affinity with, Cristalle always creates a pleasing impression whenever its pointed, yet ethereal, chic gravitates about a woman in a room.




I have always loved Cristalle. To me it is a very beautiful perfume that speaks , almost too self-seriously, in some ways, of rather received ideas on understatement and elegance, of femininity, and of taste – its sillage trailing behind you like a bright new morning of endless possibility (if you were born to the right class, that is): a cool, light-grey silk scarf from Galeries Lafayette, removed from its paper box: tied effortlessly, irreproachably.




Filed under Flowers





















Some perfumes seem to have been created with the explicit intention of making the wearer rise above, of making him or her feel unarguably superior. And iris, that olfactory epitome of flowered, powdered elegance, would seem to be the obvious choice for the person wanting to distance themselves, with an immaculately selected scent, from the addled, oversugared, crowd.




La Pausa (named after the iris-filled gardens at the summer estate at Roquebrune Cap Martin on the French Riviera, where Coco Chanel, that unstoppable engine of taste, talent and desperate, angry desire to put her shameful lower class origins behind her, entertained the who’s who of society) embodies this ideal perfectly. If any perfume smells supercilious, of a person ready to assume glassy, entitled airs of betterment, it is surely this.




28 La Pausa, in many ways, is very beautiful. When I open my miniature bottle, bestowed upon me beneficently by a cold-eyed assistant at the Chanel boutique on Rue Cambon, Paris, I smell immediately that the opening notes are flawless :  a grassy, green, vegetally cool iris that transports you instantly away from the mundane, the everyday, to some verdant grove of the privileged; a place where plebeians and their grindstone problems are left definitively behind, and grace, and the cool allure of money, work their undeniable charms. The iris accord in this Chanel perfume simply breathes high class, which is, obviously, the entire point of its existence. The base notes, an hour or two later into its development, are also some of the most delicately done I have ever smelled: bend slowly down towards this lady’s neck, will you – smell her: she has become, now, the very essence of sleek, feminine, papery refinement: leaf-touched; rarified; beautiful.


All that is two hours or so from now, however. Unfortunately, from top to middle  –  and this stage lasts quite a while in 28 La Pausa –  there is something rather pickled – an overly piquant, sour, thin and unpleasant note, like a chip-on-the-shoulder of resentment, that seems to somehow perfectly embody the snobbish look-down-the-nose the perfume seeks to emulate. A grimace of superiority; a mutual wrinkling of noses.




Who the hell do you think you are?




In short, despite flashes of artistry, beauty and a deftful handling of an obviously expensive and exquisite iris natural extract by Chanel in-house perfumer Jacques Polge, and the fact that as green, fresh, iris perfumes go you will be hard-pressed to find anything better in some regards, I must admit that personally, this is an iris scent that I hate.



If I had to make a choice between Chanel’s 28 La Pausa or Atelier Cologne’s Silver Iris to wear on my own skin, therefore, there is no doubt that I would choose the latter. Silver Iris is a pleasant and easy smell, like a sweet, thicker, ‘unisex’ version of Prada’s Infusion d’Iris, but with less of that perfume’s balance and perfection: a more generic and rounded irisian sweetness that would probably suit virtually anyone who happened to wear it. While the Prada can irritate a little sometimes with its unchanging persistence, at the same time, its indefatigable, powdery luminescence, its shimmering dove-like opalescence, still make it quite beautiful, and the Prada is definitely a perfume I would recommend to the right person looking for something current and pleasant that can hold up to close scrutiny. 


Atelier Cologne is another bastion of tastefulness where one cannot ever put a damn foot wrong in any of its taut, brisk, and carefully calibrated scents, and Silver Iris, essentially centred around a lightweight, but overly clingy and somewhat sucrose accord of ‘white musk’, ‘amber’ and ‘patchouli’, is a typically wearable scent that begins with a nice dose of iris, mimosa and violet leaf that for a very few seconds, very nearly, makes you go ooh. This affectation quickly dissipates, however, modulating wordlessly into a gentle, inoffensive nothing; a nicely done skin scent that will follow you around all day and announce your well-judged presence to all that gravitate towards your orbit, confident in the knowledge that you are giving off all the right messages. Yes, I do believe my dear that you are quite safe.




Could I wear Silver Iris? Probably. If there was absolutely nothing else lying round and I just really needed to be scented, just to be smelling of something.  If I did wear it though, I think I would feel a kind of nagging irritation all day along; feel a bit neutered; battered politely by conformity and ready made restrictions.




Roped in and box-ticked.










Bored to death. 













Filed under Flowers




I often hate Wednesdays, and yesterday was no exception. The day started off well; I slept like a log and woke up invigorated;  the sky was blue, if sultry and humid, and I felt kind of in the mood to face my twelve hour day (Wednesdays and Fridays are my killers….)

Walking along in my own world, still half daydreaming, out of the blue…BAM! a woman in her fifties on a motorbike crashed head on into another on a bicycle, ramming into her and throwing her from her bicycle and onto the road, as a car came down the hill. Startled into action by the sudden shock of violence I rushed over to see if they were ok – fortunately the only injury was a cut leg, but both were shaken up and she seemed to be in some pain. Looking at the time I worried I might be late for work, but decided to stay awhile. Perhaps I should have walked her home….

I left the scene adrenalized and disquieted, but what had upset me much more, sent me livid, was the total indifference and inaction of passersby, who did nothing to help, not even a ‘daijobu desuka?‘ –  ‘are you alright?’

Stiff businessmen, just walking by with their briefcases on their way to work, deciding that that it wasn’t worth getting involved with, not worth dipping into, and even the man whose house the accident happened outside of just came out for a moment, disturbed by the noise, took a look, mumbled something, and went back into his house without so much as a word.

I helped the woman with her bicycle, and stayed a while to make sure they were both definitely alright (I left them altercating about whose fault it was, something about shadows or a mirror (‘kage’? ‘kagami’?) , then headed off to the station, fuming wildly at the coldheartness of these middle-aged ‘salarimen’ showing no human feeling, not even expressing anything on their furrowed, ‘dignified’ visages, and then found myself ranting and raving in my teacher training classes like a madman, refusing to talk about anything else until I could at least start to get to the bottom of this callousness (sometimes I am like a volcano, and the magma rises up and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop myself; I even don’t want it to stop, unafraid of the consequences).*

Lunchtime came, and I had an hour to kill, so I went to the local book store that carries all the lowest denominator US and UK gossip magazines: Kim Kashardian (‘is Kanye West really gay?’) and other celebrity slobs I don’t really give a toss about, but sometimes feel a need to connect with anyway (perhaps in moments of deep cultural alienation like yesterday we need to plug into even the most meaningless of baloney if it somehow reminds us of home, not that I really know where home is any more):  lardy dardy, is Katie Holmes just ‘skin and bones’, is Brad Pitt supporting Angelina’s brave decision, let’s move on now to a fashion magazine, ok James Franco, good, and this one has fragrance strips in it as well which I can naughtily rip open (a shifty trick all perfumistas must know – we cannot resist), even though they are all men’s, so guaranteed to be dull doppelgängers that will foul up my mood even more, and yes of course they did, all the same; always the same pattern that I can’t be bothered to even describe because you know that pattern as you have smelled these blends a thousand times yourself. Bleu De Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani something or other, dull as dish water, but then I suddenly remembered two weeks ago in Tokyo, when we went to a Eurovision Song Contest party which began at 4am  with a bunch of fun people, and I remember one, an Adam, smelling, yes a bit typical I suppose, but good; attractive; a bit strong, but fully aromatic, with integrity and definite character. I was sat next to him on the sofa for the entirety of the contest as we scored each number, and thus that rounded, warm smell (after all, it was created by Jacques Polge), permeated my memories of that evening completely, most of us conking out on the floor before the awards were even given; and smelling the strip again with that usual sherbety woody ‘sport freshness’ in the top notes, I could still catch some of those memories still, now in my brain fluid, there right down in the base.

I am not sure what the point of all this is, really (has my blog suddenly turned into a banal series of diary entries?). Perhaps I just want to say that even though I am as much of a decrier of boring men’s fragrances as the next art-yearning perfumist, at the same time, I realized that as with almost anything in this life, there is often more than meets the eye; that surface realities most definitely do not always tell us everything.



* In a very strange moment of synchronicity, after I had just written all this down on a piece of paper at the school I was working at, I reached into my bag and happened to take out this small ‘Etiquette guide To Japan’ book that Duncan had picked up cheaply at some book store, not the kind of thing you think you would need after fifteen years in the country, but it was written by Boye De Mente, an ‘acknowledged authority’ on Japan, whose experiences often chime with my own, but written with the sharp eye of the unemotional, objectivity-driven, anthropologist. A complete Japanophile (like me to a very large extent: this place has made me; I love it; it goes deep; it is mysterious, beautiful, maddening, intoxicating, dream-like), but like me, he is also nevertheless crystal clear in his analysis of its negative points, at least from the typical western perspective.  And in some peculiar moment of Jungian non-coincidence I happened to just open the book on a page which explained exactly, or at least began to, what had happened to me in the morning.

Before I quote him directly, I just want to preface it by saying that I hope it goes without saying that am uncomfortable with any kind of racial or cultural stereotyping, especially when I know so many excellent Japanese people and you reading this may not know what I do about the country and thus get overly negative impressions ( I am very protective of Japan in many ways); and yet, the culture of ‘being Japanese’ is SO PERMEATING in this homogenous, sealed-off-for-centuries land (there are even countless, self-serving and to my view, almost racist, books on ‘nihonjinron’ – or theories on why Japanese are so unique – which are apparently eagerly consumed by a lot of people here): the country is utterly obsessed with itself, with the fact of being Japanese, that there undoubtedly are common national traits that Mr De Mente is very adept at describing:

“One of the many puzzling contradictons of the Orient is that the Japanese, internationally renowned for their refined, stylized manners and unfailing courtesy, are also infamous for being rude in public, uncaring about strangers, and heedless of the environment. While Japanese public rudeness and callous attitude towards strangers, which has been exaggerated to some extent, has significantly lessened in recent decades, the concepts of public awareness and concern for outsiders remain relatively undeveloped.

Once again, historical factors explain why the Japanese tend to reject any responsibility for the environment or for strangers. For centuries the focus of responsibility in Japan was extremely narrow and limited to the family, the work group, the village, and the local authority. Each unit of this vertical grouping was exclusive and in competition with every other unit. ….

As Japanese sociologists and management gurus point out, the Japanese work exceptionally well within their own groups, but have little or no affinity for working with other groups or taking individual responsibility for things outside of their immediate work area. Translated into public behaviour, this means most Japanese are inclined to ignore everything and everybody not somehow related to them or their group.”

I gave this passage to a Japanese colleague to read to see if he agreed with this conclusion before writing anything here, and he agreed with it entirely. Also, on the way to the school, an extraordinarily rude woman had pushed me, barging me aside to get off the train with out so much as an excuse me (this is perfectly common, and I won’t repeat what I shouted out after her), but even another Japanese friend told me the other day that she had been on an immensely crowded train (you don’t want to experience a rush hour densha here I tell you:




there are NO manners, it is all herd, look out for yourself, fuck everybody else – thank god I don’t have to get trains at these times working the hours I do). There was a poor girl who was practically suffocating, and as the doors opened, and the blind work zombies surged forth, she collapsed onto the platform, pale and obviously in trouble, and in a weak voice was saying ” kyukyusha, kyukyusha, get me an ambulance”, but to my friend’s horror and disgust, people just rushed pasther, leaving her lying on the platform. Only Yukari actually stopped what she was doing and went to get the station master.






Filed under Flowers

THE UNUSUAL AND UNEXPECTED INFLUENCE OF THE UNFAIRLY MALIGNED CHANEL GARDENIA + eight more examples of this exquisite, luscious flower






























The original Chanel Gardénia, available now only very intermittently from vintage, rare perfume web sites, was by all accounts a masterful, creamy floral aldehydic typical of its creator, the genius Ernst Beaux: it was a perfume of its time, now gone forever.


The reformulation and relaunch of the perfume in the late I980’s, exciting as it must have been for those in the know,  was apparently an affront to lovers of the original, however. Where Bois Des Isles, Nº 22 and Cuir De Russie by all accounts retained the essential character and formulae of their original incarnations, the rebooted Gardenia was by far the least faithful to the original formulas of the first four ‘secret’ Chanels, and Luca Turin famously hates it (but really; who gives a damn..)



Knowing only the later version of this perfume myself, though, I have nothing to compare it to, and in any case fell straight in love the moment I smelled it, chiefly because it reminded me very strongly and vividly of my first love: at primary school, the friend who sat next to me every day in class had a wonderful smelling cedar-wood pencil case that fused completely in my mind with her, and to me, this sharp, woody smell, unmistakably  is Rebecca.



I can picture the yellowish interior of that pencil case perfectly; can smell that intense, almost sour scent again and can conjure it up my mind upon demand, as I would sit there in lessons when bored, inhaling it deeply and rapturously and dreaming. I was infatuated; weirdly so for a boy of six. I could hardly sleep at night I was so besotted.






We had little romances at six, at nine, and at fourteen, and are still friends (she now lives in the south of France and has no recollection of this pencil box at all….)




But back to the perfume that jolts this memory. Compared to the soft beauty of those other Chanel extraits, Gardénia is quite an artificial creation, really I suppose, but it is very original in the way it steers away from the standard creamy mushroom. Here, a fresh, piquant gardenia flower is fused with other florals – tuberose, a sharp orange blossom, and jasmine; a very chic, a classic white floral that might be too heady a scent were it not chastened and freshened with a sharp, spiced note of clove, sage and pimiento, on a subtle, wooded base of cedar and sandalwood. To me, the cedar and pimiento are key, resulting in a perfume that is lovely: crystal sharp, like freshly cut flowers placed on a box of brand new pencils in September.

















The Chanel gardenia, though much maligned (why?!have you smelled it in ‘vintage’ extrait?) is perhaps much more influential than we realize, because this beauty by Il Profumo, a company that make very vivid, colourful fragrances, strikes me as smelling very much like the Chanel but transported, illustriously, to the jungle; that same, piquant scent, but denser, greener, more lush. It is a gorgeous and potent blend indeed, with notes of tuberose, jasmine and peony over a rich powdered base that according to the creators, ‘renders a woman sure of her fascination.’





What I like about the Santa Maria Novella exotic florals (Tuberosa, Gardenia, and the frankly bizarre Frangipane) is the sense that the flowers have simply picked at the height of their erotic power, been forcibly submerged by the Florentines in some scent-releasing liquid, and, the liquid saturated, presented to the public as perfumes. Santa Maria Novella’s gardenia fully captures the strange, medicinal, green and fungal side of gardenia and the milky allure of its flowers on a humid, summer night. Tactile, oleaginous, green-brushed and ‘thick’, it is rounded, cool, wide-eyed and fleshy, and in some ways a quite splendid perfume, if a little torpid. Wear it and wilt.






While in theory I relished a more potent version of the first Marc Jacobs gardenia (which saw me through two summers as my work scent), in reality the potent headiness of this gardenia, in its custard-yellow, beautifully designed bottle, did not appeal in the same way, reminding me more of overdone, toilet-freshener gardenias like the one by Crabtree and Evelyn. However, some like to have both Jacobs gardenias (and the bottles are gorgeous); to use this gardenia perfume as a night scent; its voluptuousness certainly working for summer garden parties with its willful, strengthened presence.


















Drunk at a giant mansion looking frantically for the powder room (marbled,  orchid-fringed; elaborate) this gardenia is the obviously self- proclaimed leader of the pack, a gorgeous, sluttish gardenia with shampoo sheen, plush, blooming: unaware that her shoulder strap has fallen down.


A revived classic from the 1920’s (though the formula smells more 1980’s big-haired to me), Isabey’s gardenia is sweet, curvaceous and is unique in supposedly  containing actual gardenia essential oil, one of perfumery’s rarest essences.





Ellenisia is yet another reinterpretation of the Chanel gardenia, but done the English way (ie. utterly unthreatening). I


t is a bright vaseful of perfumed white florals, modern, pretty and very wearable, with a taut shine that shows no thigh. A safe bet.
















Le Galion is an old French company whose old-fashioned perfumes I occasionally get to smell when they wash up in Japanese antique stores and fleamarkets. Their jasmine was truly excellent, and I wish I could find another bottle. Gardenia, an extrait, is very much of the old school; the dark, tweed-suited gardenia of Miss Dior with a fearfully potent surge of fur and scent-soaked anthers – an exciting, if difficult, delving into the perfume past (when women presumably smelled like purring, powdery moths). When this initial flower-smog clears, the perfume steadily attains a very interesting beachy note like rock flowers bathed in midday sun and the hot-sand smell of the air.



In summertime as little kids, my brother and I used to crawl into the canopies of broom on the sand dunes of Bournemouth (for a child, like exploring Borneo), and this curious gardenia brought those exciting times flooding back to me beautifully with a vengeance .






An intriguing scent that is not what you might imagine from this semi-venerable institution, this gardenia perfume is more like one of the power florals of the 80’s than the white and trembling French white floral I was expecting; a beautifully made, adult, and very sexy perfume redolent of the fearless Giorgio Beverly Hills. An interesting option if you want something rich, dusky but not overly sweetened; a glamorous gardenia to get dressed up for, douse yourself in, and marry the night.











All clothes by Coco Chanel.







Filed under Flowers, Gardenia, Perfume Reviews

BEAUTIFUL POISONS: FOUR PERFUMES FROM THE EARLY 90’s : Allure, Cabotine, Dolce & Gabbana Pour Femme + Tendre Poison







The perfumes of the nineties do not have the ‘loud’ reputation of many eighties blockbusters, though this was still a period when the big houses – Dior, Lancôme and so on, still invested a great deal of time and money on development before launching an ‘event’ perfume, and the results were usually equally characterful (which is why all four of the perfumes below are still worn today: will today’s mainstream releases (La Vie Est Belle, anyone?) have similar longevity?




I have never liked this perfume personally, while admitting that it is a perfect execution of its obvious ideal – to turn a pale-skinned girl into a flesh and blood (ginger) lily.

It is beautifully done; a host of fresh white florals with green overtures; in essence a ‘soliflore’ ginger lily achieved with other notes, but there is, to me, a false modesty here: this innocence just doesn’t compute (that might be just my distaste for the sandalwood/neroli/green accord, though, which I personally find gratingly ‘coquette’.)

This sly perfume achieved a lot of success, especially in Japan where almost every woman wants to be as girlish as she humanly can, and on whom this perfume did smell rather erotic when I arrived here in 1996.


A touch dated now, but if it works, it works.







I have always felt that Tendre Poison, though attractively poised, is a somewhat presumptuous perfume, making steamy claims on your attention that you may not be willing to give.

Unruffled, this sharp-eyed vamp just comes on loud and sticks her claws in anyway – venomous, stalk-green galbanum over orange blossom and sandalwood; the embittered older sister perhaps of Cabotine ( more demure), Red Door (lower IQ), and Fleur de Rocaille (pseudo-chic).


It is very slinky, and sexy, to be sure, and recommended, but absolutely not tender, as its name erroneously suggests.












A big hit for Chanel worldwide and still going strong –  a ‘multifaceted’, warm, floral-sheened scent with vanillic undertones that doesn’t obey the usual structure of perfume in that what you see is what you get: no top notes, dry down, no secrets (surely the key to true allure?), no real development. Department store perfume workers apparently often recommend this as a solution to those who have no clue about perfume, or those who are just dilly-dallying, as many consumers seem to acquiesce quickly to its simple lack of pretence and apparent modernity:






I loathe this fragrance, while fully seeing its easy appeal. It is a true ‘all-rounder’: ‘sultry’ yet mild mannered: womanly, smooth-edged; clean, suitable for ‘office wear’ and ‘special occasions’ one and the same. It is well blended, and can smell acceptable on the odd lucky person, but for me is simply extraordinarily vulgar and crass. Whoever thought such a thing could be written about Chanel?


I woke up one summer morning at my parents’ house, and on opening the bedroom door was shocked to see that the feeling in the house had mercurially transformed; thick with banality: some throat-coating, oyster-pink air sludge.


And it wasn’t until my mum cheerily called out ‘I’m just trying Allure today’ that I realized what had happened.


A woman who smells so beautiful in her chosen favourites (First, Joy, Jardins de Bagatelle) had been rendered into a marketing-led dotard.







When they came out, I overdosed on both the Dolces, and ‘Pour Homme’ is the only scent that I’ve ever had strongly derogatory comments on ( I was so into the novel tarragon top note I didn’t realize how harsh I was smelling to the world).  I could never wear it again.


The signature scent for women, in that red velvet box ( in its original incarnation – I haven’t smelled the tamed down reformulation which was launched recently), is similarly problematic. That top note, that rich, gorgeous mandarin and basil petitgrain melting powderfully into those piquant divine florals – it’s all extremely addictive, and I was quite frankly obsessed with it for while. But with the potent, skin-clinging vanilla-musk-santal finale, as things start to get very messy with Basil, it is as though an Italian opera singer were having a nervous breakdown live on stage; foundation and mascara merging in a sweaty, oily mass of face powder under the breakers.  It can all get a bit much; a big smudge of olfactory OTT.



So, one for special occasions only, and in moderation. Dolce & Gabbana is certainly a gorgeous perfume, but it is overwhelming. I personally prefer it on older women.





Filed under Basil, Flowers, Lily, Orange Blossom, Perfume Reviews, Powder