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.


At 6:35 p.m., Blogger Dusan said...

Firstly, if anyone is divine, it's you. I cannot remember getting a package where almost 90 per cent of the scents qualified for the status of Holy Grail. However, that also means having to save up for said scents to become part of my groovy, motley collection. :)
Secondly, your review of Egoiste is brilliant and absolutely spot-on. In fact, until you mentioned it, I was unable to pinpoint the top green-ish notes as savoury (fennel) and it made no sense putting this quality down to lavender. It was precisely these harsh, even medicinal notes that had been putting me off Egoiste in my earliest attempts to better understand what a dear Basenotes friend of mine, a staunch fan of Egoiste, was raving about. The rosey heart and vanillic sandalwood were the deal-clinchers, though. I don't wear it as much as I would like to because I often feel underdressed for the occasion. Egoiste Platinum I could never get to like either, not even if I dissociated it from its namesake, for the very same reasons as you. Speaking of reformulations, apparently Chanel has watered down Egoiste's formula by reducing the amount of vanilla/rose and upping the top notes strength for the perfume to be more in keeping with Chanel's essentially minimalist esthetics. Admittedly, I had an older sample of Egoiste which did smell distinctly more rosey and vanillic, as well as having the subtlest animalic touch.
You cracked me up with 'absolutely horrifying Made By Blog wonder Wet'. Can't wait to hear more about the others... Oh and I loved the 'scenterati', how cool!
Hugs to you, sweetie, and sorry for the long post! :)

At 7:21 a.m., Blogger Colombina (Marina) said...

All I can say is, Hear! Hear! And I am so stealing the phrase The Hosue That Coco Built :-)

At 9:45 a.m., Anonymous AngelaS said...

Sometimes I think I like the masculine Chanels better than the feminines (although I am pretty attached to No. 22 and Bois des Illes, and if I let myself I could latch on to 31 rue Cambon).

But hey! I actually like Baiser du Dragon!

At 10:29 a.m., Blogger Erin said...

Dusan: We encourage long posts around here! Glad to hear that you feel similarly about Egoiste, as perfume sampling and review are such subjective things that I sometimes feel like you are all out there going: "wtf? Fennel? Is she high?" It seemed anise-like to me, but I think there is quite possibly some lavender in there, too. I don't really get the *smell* of it, but there's the airiness of lavender there. (See? I must be high...) I understand why Chanel, a line with a very distinct esthetic in fashion, should want to create a unified fragrance line, but they shouldn't mess around with great scents. It denies the history of the brand, and no matter what they think, Coco wouldn't approve. She knew that a diverse, profusely detailed, baroque style worked when it was done well.

At 10:40 a.m., Blogger Erin said...

Marina: Thanks! I think it's kind of funny that the marketers are always invoking Coco, like she's an idol or an oracle or something. Let the poor woman rest in peace! At the same time, I understand it, because she was such a strong, monumental figure. I find her fascinating, and keep meaning to read the book you recommended on her.

At 10:44 a.m., Blogger Erin said...

Angela: Those are my faves, too. And it was your No. 22 review that cued my interest in that fragrance - so thanks!

Uh oh, I knew there was someone who liked BdD, and had sent me a sample. I couldn't remember if it was you or Ina. Perhaps I should retest it today. Two such perfumistas can't be wrong.

At 5:22 p.m., Blogger pitbull friend said...

Hey, Erin: I saw your post on delayed scent gratification at the Posse today. I've got a decant of Douce Amere & one of O.Y. going looking for homes -- I would send them to you if I could get your address. I looked for you on the PP Bulletin Board, but couldn't find you. Would you send me a message through that with your address? I don't want to put my email address here, seeing all the spamminess going on... --Ellen

At 9:23 a.m., Anonymous Leopoldo said...

Lovely post - you write so deftly. I had to learn to love Egoiste as it smelled of a semi-stalker I had as a younger man. Hell, at least he wasn't a stalker with a semi- (as far as I know... TMI?)

But now, I find it glorious, just as you describe. I pity you poor north americans having to cope with that platinum upstart...

At 2:59 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Ellen: Oh wow! I'll have to get in touch with you - joined the bulletin board today, but haven't gotten around to emailing you yet. (The new job is biz-ay.) We'll have to do a decant swap, and so a wardrobe list...

At 3:08 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Lee-oh: Thank you! You bring up an oft overlooked topic, the unpleasant fragrance association. At least you had a semi-stalker with good taste. (I had one who lived and breathed the movie "Braveheart".) Comparing our new Sephora store to the European ones has been most depressing. You guys get Jules, too. Sigh.

At 9:22 p.m., Blogger tmp00 said...

Egoiste was brilliant. Just brilliant (even if it didn't work on me).

Platinum? not so much...

At 2:22 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Tom: It seems like the sort that simply wouldn't work on everybody. The Basenotes reviews are all over the place - Egoiste is too strong, too pale, too feminine or sweet for men, too generic, etc. In trying to go in the opposite direction, however, they created the "accessible" Platinum flanker, which disappoints us. Sadly, it is probably more profitable to disappoint people like you and me...

At 2:07 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...


Firstly, congradulations on becoming a contributor for Now Smell This! I look forward to your list in the near future.

Just visited your blog for the first time and the content is SERIOUSLY INTERESTING. Keep up the great work!

I can probably tell you the reasons why Chanel discontinued CHANEL EGOISTE (sorry for capping the title but that's how I can get away from typing the accent...) in North America:

1. Chanel's PR once referred to EGOISTE as "a disappointment" when the head of PR was interviewed by Cathy Newman, a reporter for National Geographics. Chanel said the scent and the concept is too subtle for men to grasp.

2. To elborate on the first point, EGOISTE has a different connotation to the Europeans than to the North Americans. The word "EGOISTE", if my French can do the word justice, denotes a certain air of proudness, self-assurance. However, to many North Americans, the prefix EGO- is enough to drive he or she out of the door. I once talked to a SA in a department store in West Vancouver, British Columbia about this problem and she said she faced the same issue as well. Men did not want to try on the scent for fear of being labeled as a ego-maniac. While I know it sounds so strange, that's what happened...(a cologne by any other name should smell just as sweet, as Shakespeare might have said).

3. While the initial campaigne for EGOISTE is still touted as an artistic achievement, the campaign did supposedly go over-budget. Of course, I said supposedly because Chanel NEVER releases its full financial figures. (The beauty of being privately owned.) Still, Mr. Chandler Burr interviewed a few well-placed industry insiders and that's what these people have figured so far. (I can send you a link if you are interested in reading that article: it's on HERMES UN JARDIN SUR LE NIL if you haven't had a chance to read it...)

Still, just because Chanel discontinued it doesn't mean you can't get the real deal in Canada. The last time I checked, Shifeon still carries the fragrance in some of its stores. You just need to call the stores if you want a copy.

By the way, I know PLATINUM EGOISTE is quite calculated, but it does work well on the right men...I think it is really Polge's masculine take on Chanel No. 19 because the galbanum-chypre accord in PLATINUM EGOISTE is so similar to No. 19. I used to layer the scent with Cristalle, else the galbanum in PLATINUM EGOISTE would overwhelm me...

Hope this helps. Oh, I just added your blog to the link section of my new blog, I hope you don't mind.

At 6:20 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

A: Thanks for well wishes and kind words. Your comment is so full of fascinating info, it might take me a while to process it! (Your blog is great, too, and I appreciate the link. I'm particuarly enjoying your "cartoons" and will comment soon...) A few preliminary comments, though:
1) I think Chanel's head of PR seriously underestimates male fragrance buyers. It is true that men are sometimes resistant to change scent-wise, as are many women, but you have to give scents time and distribution, and stand behind your product. It's possible that Chanel mishandled the launch and promotion of the scent (see below), so this "Let's blame the consumer's lack of sophistiction" approach bothers me.
2)I have always wondered if the name damaged the North American reception, so thank you for confirming my feelings. If this is true, however, it seems even more baffling that they would continue to use the name for the unrelated flanker, doesn't it?
3)I've read that article, yes - but thanks for reminding me that I should look up the images associated with the launch. I'm not a very visual person, and sometimes forget about this side of the fragrance industry. (This is also why my blog looks so boring!)

I don't actually hate Egoiste Platinum and I think it fits in brilliantly with the rest of the mass market line. The Cristalle layering suggestion is much appreciated, as galbanum is a note I often have trouble with too.

At 3:41 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting my humble blog & your kind words (especially on the "cartoons")!

I just want to give you my take on some of the fine and valid points you've raised regarding CHANEL EGOISTE. As a person who have observed the industry from afar, I hope I let you understand why things happened the way it did. (In many ways, the "disappointment" of CHANEL EGOISTE paved the way to many of the "safer" Chanel fragraces we have observed within the last 10 years.)

Before I do so, I want to let you know that I'm here, first and foremost, to tell the truth to the best of my ability. I am not interested in blaming anyone, let alone slandering anybody's reputation. (The perfumery industry can be quite sensitive in this regard, so a little disclaimer is in order.)

To help me answer the points you've raised, allow me to cut & paste your comments so it's easier for me to stay on topic...

1. "but you have to give scents time and distribution, and stand behind your product."

There are two sides to the same coin: in a way Chanel did and in a way the company didn't.

Chanel did offer EGOISTE for more than a decade (discontinued it around 2004 if I'm not mistaken).

However, based on my observation, the internal mechanism of Chanel can be disorganized at times. So many resources are given that almost too many choices are available at times. As a result, people at Chanel think big -- too big at times. In a way, the launch for CHANEL EGOISTE was, albeit creative, wrong for this scent. The company shouldn't, at that time, have created a massive strike aiming at the majority of the population (68% of the people if you believe in marketing). Instead, they should have spend the time to attract the innovators first before talking to the early and the late adopters...

As a result, a modified version of the launch for Thierry Mugler Angel would almost had been better choice for EGOISTE. But then again, the last time Chanel launched a avant-garde fragrance (EGOISTE is, afterall, the masculine version of BOIS DES ILES) was back in the 20's. Ever since then Parfum Chanel had been busy maintaining the tradition of the house. As you probably have guessed by now, maintaining a house requires a different set of skills than launching a really daring avant-garde scent.

Therefore, in my opinion, with all things being considered, Chanel SA could only launch the scent the way it did, let it sell for more than a decade (a golden rule when determining the status of a classic) before retiring it in North America.

2. "I have always wondered if the name damaged the North American reception, so thank you for confirming my feelings. If this is true, however, it seems even more baffling that they would continue to use the name for the unrelated flanker, doesn't it?"

To answer your question, I must tell you about the culture of Chanel. Chanel SA, like Coco Chanel herself, doesn't like to show its weakness. In the name of establishing a very strong reputation and protecting the company, EGOISTE is considered a "disappointment". Using a harsher term to describe the product would have been a problem for the image of the company. (Why do you think the Wertheimer brothers refuse to release the figures?)

Therefore, the company needed to create an approachable flanker, to show the world that the scent is going strong that a new product is created in its honour! As a result, Platinum came across as being very calculated -- but that's exactly what the company needed.

Ironically, the approachable flanker complemented the massive marketing strike well, since now the 68% of the population would have enough exposure to the campaign. As for the name, have you noticed that it's "PLATINUM EGOISTE" on the packaging instead of the other way around? Marketing research shows that people tend to notice the beginning and the end of a thing more than what's in the middle. The EGO- prefix is now "buried" in the middle of the phrase, softening the association with egomania. Of course, "Platinum" would be a fine name by itself, but Chanel SA, given its culture, really needed a flanker in my humble opinion: else the new scent would have cannibalized CHANEL EGOISTE, given the time of the introductions were only two years apart...(it was the 90's you know...)

If my intuition is of any indication, I think Chanel SA learned a great deal from this and thus concerntrated their efforts on brining out approachable scents. Of course, doing so is risking its innovative image, so now most of the mass-market offering are touted as being very innovative.

Of course, such idea was fully used during the launch of Chanel Les Exclusifs...although how innovative the scents are is still a somewhat contested topic. Personally, I think they smell nice (there would be a problem otherwise) but time can only tell if the collection is an innovative one as a whole. It's influential, of course, given by some of the similar launches...

So this is my two cents -- hope this helps.

At 2:25 p.m., Anonymous maisqueperfume said...

My husband wears Egoïste Platinum which is heavenly.
Some fragrances just evaporate after 10 minutes on his skin, but Chanel - NEVER. I have the pleasure of smell this perfume on him one entire day!
I love Chanel fragrances and i loved your blog.
You can check mine too:

It has postings in Portuguese (I am from Brazil), and adapted texts to English.
I will add you to my blogroll.
Fragrant greetings, Simone.


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