Perfume Review: Les Exclusifs de Chanel - No. 18
Guerlain has been busy lately, re-issuing old, forgotten scents, releasing all sorts of aquas and pink fleurchons for the mass market, and building their “exclusive” collection. Dior, while not making me happy in the least with their endless sequels to Poison, did experiment a little (and with great success, as far as I am concerned!) with boutique-style scents, in the form of Hedi Slimane’s men’s colognes. All the while Chanel was lying low, seemingly doing nothing to impress us, perfume maniacs, biding its time…and then - Ba-bumm! - in one go it launched not one, not two, but six new scents, and re-launched four classics. Unless the competitors hurry up and come up with something just as huge and impressive, 2007 will be the year of Chanel, and deservedly so. I will admit that the sheer number of the new Chanels bothered me a little; I was wondering whether the quantity would not negate quality. I shouldn’t have worried. Les Exclusifs are masterfully done, a couple of them seem to be truly unique; many of us should be able to find among them at least one scent to love.
The six new Chanels were “based on the complicated trajectory of the founder’s difficult and flamboyant life. They are also the scents she cherished, outdoors and at home” (Allure, Feb. 2007, page 178). No.18 is an homage to Chanel jewelry (and, to me, a jewel among the new releases). The first Fine Jewelry collection, Bijous de Diamant, which consisted of platinum and diamond pieces, was launched by Mlle Chanel in 1932. In 1997, a worldwide flagship fine jewelry boutique was opened by the company on 18 Place Vendôme in Paris. It was the boutique that inspired Jacques Polge to create No 18. Allegedly, the scent, built around the ambrette seed, is Maitre’s personal favorite (The Australian), and that does not surprise me in the least. Of the six, No 18 strikes me as the most unique, in a way that I find hard to describe. The fragrance defies my attempts at classification: is it fruity? is it floral? is it musky? What IS this cool, shimmering, indeed jewel-like creation?
No 18 starts surprisingly raw; for a minute or two, in the very beginning, it displays the earthy quality I adore in iris scents, the cold, rooty smell very vaguely reminiscent of - funny as it sounds- carrots. A hint of fruity-citrusy brightness appears and disappears, illuminating the composition in the same way in which light reflects on the facets of a diamond. The ambrette seed lends to the scent the elusive, intangible quality: it is floral, but does not smell of any one particular flower, it is fruity in the vaguest way possible, and it has a very distinct musky characteristic, which adds an unexpected, subtly-animalic undertone to No 18, making it evocative not just of jewels as such, but of jewels worn on a warm, clean, smooth, human skin. Another surprising aspect of No 18 is its slight boozy-ness. My H&R Guide to Fragrance Ingredients informs me that ambrette seed has a distinct Cognac note; what I smell, however, is not Cognac as much as sweet, thick, white wine of some sort, with a fruity aftertaste. The jewelry glistening on the beautiful, silky skin, the feeling of slight intoxication and exhilaration – this is No 18. The scent is seemingly simple, one has to truly pay attention to distinguish the nuances of its development, but the simplicity is deceptive in the way that the simplicity of precious jewels is deceptive. One moment they lay apparently one-dimensional and uni-colored, and then the light hits one of the facets and the gems start to shimmer and sparkle and come to life.
No 18 speaks to me about the opalescent surface of pearls, about the cold, dazzling transparency of diamonds. It is chic in the true Chanel style, which means that it is elegantly understated, without excessive ornamentations. As for the sillage and lasting power, the perfume is soft, stays fairly close to the skin, but the lasting power is very good. Six hours after the application, I can still smell the smooth musk and the slightly drunken fruitiness. I have yet to test and re-test the other Exclusifs, but so far No 18 is my favorite, and is definitely full bottle worthy for me.
No 18 is available in Chanel boutiques, $175.00 for 200ml.
The first image is mine. The photos of 18 Place Vendome, of Chanel exhibiting her first jewelry collection, and of a necklace from the 2005 Elements Celeste collection are from chanel.com.