There is a little bit of mystery surrounding Chanel No. 22 (which, of course, makes it all the more appealing). On the one hand, according to Chanel.com, the scent was named after the year in which it was created, 1922. On the other hand, it is also said that the fragrance “was presented in 1928 to a world yearning for lightness to dispel the gloom of difficult economic times”. According to the cute and amazingly uninformative little book that accompanies Les Exclusifs, No. 22 is “a light variation of the brilliant No. 5”, and it thus might be possible that No. 22 was one of the mods given to Chanel by Ernest Beaux, among which she has chosen the variation that became No. 5, and No. 22 was returned to a year later and became a “white floral” to match Chanel’s new White Look.
Has it been up to me back then to choose a favorite between “the mod No. 5” and “the mod no No. 22”, I would have undoubtedly chosen the latter, and Marilyn Monroe would have famously worn to bed a scent as elegantly aldehydic and abstract as No 5, but a little warmer, a little earthier. Who knows how that extra little bit of warmth might have changed her life…but I digress. I have to respectfully disagree with the people at Chanel about No. 22 being a “light variation” of No. 5. Firstly, the former seems to me to be as full-bodied a scent as the latter, albeit a little softer, a little smoother. Secondly, although following the same abstract trend and featuring the same hefty dose of aldehydes, No. 22 is otherwise an entirely original composition that should be judged on its own merit and not as a “variation” of another fragrance.
The beginning of No. 22 has a joyous, vibrant feel brought on by the aldehydes: the top notes are sparkling like precious stones and effervescent like the most expensive of champagnes. The bright effect is softened a little by the presence of orange blossom, which here smells creamy and powdery, somewhat along the lines of the orange blossom in Patou’s Divine Folie, only much less sweet. The note in No 22 has the same “retro cosmetics” undertone that makes me think of vintage face powders and lipsticks. And so there you are, having a wonderful time, sipping champagne, checking in the mirror your perfect makeup and your jewels, and not expecting any special surprises from a lovely Chanel scent you are wearing, when –Whoosh! – out of nowhere appears a humongous, incredibly luscious, heady bouquet of the buttery tuberose and the creamy ylang-ylang and the slightly peppery carnations…The flowers come accompanied by a very distinct and very unexpected incense note. Judging by what I read on various forums, the world is divided into two groups: those who get the incense in No 22 and those who don’t. Personally, from the beginning of the middle stage forward, I smell a lot of incense in No 22, to the extent that, if I were to describe the perfume in three words, I would have characterized it as Aldehydic-Floral-Incensey. Incense is like a black thread running though the whiteness of the composition, binding together the stems of the white flowers comprising its bouquet.
That incense note and the warm, woody, earthy base of vanilla, amber, sandalwood, musk and vetiver are the factors that make No 22 so special for me and so preferable to the cold, marble beauty of No 5. These surprisingly sweet, slightly balsamic, rather brooding notes breath life into a very elegant, very beautiful and very classical blend…Without the prominent incense, vetiver and amber, No 22 would have been a blushing bride getting married in a veil, with eyes cast modestly down…With addition of the darker notes, it is that same bride, in the same creamy-white trousseau, hiding under her veil and in her downcast eyes a dark little secret and a knowing smile.
The No 22 that I am describing comes from a pre-Exclusifs bottle. If you have smelled the new No 22, please share your impressions and comparisons.
Chanel No 22 is now part of Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection and is only sold in selected Chanel boutiques and Bergdorf Goodman, $175.00 for 200ml.