Monday, July 09, 2007

Chanel Egoïste

In some ways, Chanel has done the most of any major fragrance house to protect its brand name: insane quality control and investment in raw materials, continued production of classic scents, relatively few disappointing reformulations, almost no embarrassing blunders of the Le Baiser du Dragon variety and the recent careful yet creative design of a brave new line of scents. But, as if schizophrenic, The House That Coco Built also seems to go out of its way to damage itself. I'm not sure if it was ever more than rumoured that Chanel participated in the booting of decanters from eBay, but the ill will the scenterati directed at them in the wake of the disaster is indicative of how successful Chanel has been in alienating what should be their most appreciative audience. Why are the enduring Beaux classics and the new Exclusifs so impossible to find, while Chanel launches such wan, safely recycled scents to the mainstream market? Why do they keep farting around with their last full-blooded commercial earner, Coco? And why, oh why, did they discontinue Egoïste in North America*, and replace it with the almost freakishly calculated Egoïste Platinum?

Originally launched in the US in 1987 as a limited edition called Bois Noir, Egoïste was created by house nose Jacques Polge. It contains tangerine, rosewood, coriander, damask rose, sandalwood, vanilla and ambrette seed. It is therefore an Oriental, properly viewed as the little brother of Bois des Iles, not as the older sibling of the Platinum flanker (which combines an expensive-smelling heart of heavy club smoke in shampooed hair with a sadly generic marine base.)
Where Bois des Iles is a shaft of warm, golden light, Egoïste is a cool and silvered grey, soft as a cloud, ripe with fruit and yet somehow lacking the slightly decadent edge of its feminine counterpart. The opening's pastel sweetness is tempered with dry and savory notes: the smokey rosewood, a pimento-like tickle, a dusting of ambrette, a light yet liquored note that seems to be fennel. In the early heart, there are some rocky moments for me, as the rose dominates - a peppery, dusty-lampshade rose, like a bowl of dried rose petals or the heart of Parfum Sacré. The base, however, is beautiful: a rich, yet still muted floral vanilla blended with a very familiar buttery sandalwood. There is a touch of Christmas pudding about the whole thing, but this does not convey the sheer weight of the fragrance. Egoïste is first and foremost a fragrance of discretion. The sillage is subtle but distinctive; if it should take at least ten minutes for someone to notice you are impeccably dressed, then perhaps it should take at least as long for them to notice how how smoothly smart you smell.

* The original is apparently still widely available in Europe. I got my decant from the divine Dusan, who has a package preparation style that I love: the "throw it against the wall, and see if it sticks" method. He sent me everything from ubiquitous commerical favourites like Lacoste Pour Homme, through discontinued lovelies like M7, to the absolutely horrifying Made By Blog wonder Wet.