– a review of Les Exclusifs de Chanel 1932
Like all the grandest love affairs, everything began so beautifully. One June day in the early Eighties, a nineteen-year-old disillusioned punk walked into a department store, thirsting for beauty to wear. She had emphatically had it with ‘ethical’ scents and cheap patchouli oils, or far worse, the many manifestations of musk human and otherwise that passed for ‘scent’ in those days. She might have been a punk, her clothing in meticulously delineated degrees of disintegration only truly dedicated thrift store hunts could provide and her makeup of black, orange and electric violet an artistic statement all its own, but by golly, underneath all those tattered shades of black beat the heart of what was surely the world’s cleanest anarchist. Therefore, so she thought at the time, what better way to make a statement than with a perfume that exuded all the class and elegance the world had somehow denied her?
She walked out some hours later carrying a precious and costly bottle of Chanel no. 19 eau de toilette, and while the other punk girls in her circle chided her for her wanton extravagance (among other things), the boys, on the other hand, came closer, compelled by the contradiction of funereal rags, sooty eyes and a chilly, intellectual aura that was everything she had ever hoped for.
A cerebral class act in a bottle.
So began my love affair with Chanel perfume. Forget no. 5 – it never worked on my skin, never seemed to evolve beyond ashy soap and cinders, Allure, Chance – those were not for me. I loved Coco (as it was), Cristalle (ditto) and I loved no. 19 in every permutation, and there was the sum and gist of it until Eau Première came out and I found that maybe I could wear no. 5 – or at least this one?
Down through time, that trinity followed in my wake. No. 19 landed me jobs, boyfriends, dates, Cristalle fortified me through summer picnics and steamy days and fireworks, Coco led to other, dangerous PM temptations. Sometimes when I felt subversive, I’d hit up a Chanel counter and sneak a spray or five of Pour Homme or Egoïste, just to… recalibrate the scales a little.
Then came that fatal day when the hotly anticipated no. 19 Poudré was released in this perfume empty quarter, and I burned rubber overtime to try it. Would this be the Eau Seconde of my beloved no. 19? Would I faint in a transported swoon?
My first thought: ‘It’s been fileted! They’ve taken no. 19 off the bone, hammered it paperthin, and are now trying to sell us escalopes de parfum!’
My second thought: ‘Honey, let’s face it. You’re too old for this. This is meant for a wan, pale late teenager who’s terrified to offend and mortified to exist.’
With all my personal history of all things prestige, Parisian and Chanel, I felt personally betrayed. Where were those plush Persian carpeted roses and orris butter, where was that verdant vetiver drydown, that aura of feminine invincibility?
Gone in sixty minutes. As in…forgotten. Vanished. With not so much as a happy memory left behind. And this from the house of a woman who once famously said:
Perfume is not just an accessory, it’s the only accessory that matters
Alas, poor Coco. I knew her well…
Greige, whoops, Coco Noir came out, and was neither Noir, Coco, here nor there.
I gave up on Chanel.
So a perfume fairy relented and sent me a little vial of Les Exclusifs de Chanel 1932, and out on the far horizon, I eye a smidge of redemption in store for Jacques Polge. A smidge, mind you, as I still have an edge on my battleaxe for 28 La Pausa, which is gone in sixty seconds.
But 1932…I feel giddy just typing it. Named for the year Coco Chanel debuted her jewelry line, it is created as an olfactory tribute to that first collection, to diamonds to blind the eyes and mortgage several small countries, and if ever a perfume embodied diamonds, comets, shooting stars and all things razzle-dazzle, all that encompasses the fragrant heritage so many Chanel diehards loved and adored, this one does.
That first day I tried it, I was prepared to hate it on principle. It took not even ten seconds to fall in love.
1932 is as exuberant, as luxurious and as bright as a double-D flawless 10-karat diamond right from the start, with a burst of aldehydes all dressed up and prancing to go on a chartreuse-colored springtime romp of neroli and bergamot.
Oh, yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s party time! Let’s dance this dazzling starlit night away on champagne-colored moonbeams and effortless grace when those flowery showgirls arrive. Make a wish on a sweetly smiling jasmine if you can before her sisters rose, carnation and ylang ylang dance their spice and sass away under the stars and call that classy, haughty, chic iris forth to make you breathless with her beauty and your anticipation. Surely, the two of you have met before?
But of course you have, under many crescent moons and shooting stars and wishes that burned as fervent as any sparkling diamond dreams of all that meant life, and luxe and other four-letter words that can be whispered only under starry skies. You will have to wait for that midnight glow to see if she delivers on her promise, and she does. Iris fades like fireworks to a dark, sweet, ethereal vetiver, bopping off towards the horizon on a hop, a skip and a verdant laugh, until the next time, and trust me, there will be a next time when these times are this good, this happy, this bubbly.
It’s almost as if someone had taken the original versions of no. 19 and Cristalle, added a dash of no. 5 with those champagne bubble aldehydes, poured in a healthy shot of 28 La Pausa with its perfect iris and persuaded it to stay, added a flirty, light-hearted jasmine (nary an indole in sight) and a sparkling soupçon of emerald green Bel Respiro, and wrapped them up in grand intentions, a ten-karat diamond in all its refractive hues and tied a bow on all our wishes. It showcases the very best of all that made Chanel so grand, so classic and so great, and more than makes up for those two epic disappointments I won’t deign to mention.
Twinkle, twinkle, all you stars…how I marvel that you are!
Notes for Les Exclusifs de Chanel 1932: Aldehydes, neroli, bergamot, jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, carnation, vetiver, orris, opoponax, sandalwood, incense, musk, ambrette, vanilla, coumarin. Available as a (tenacious) eau de toilette in 75 and 200 ml everywhere Les Exclusifs are sold.
Image: From the Chanel 1932 jewelry collection, via fashioninquiry.com.
With grateful thanks to the perfume fairy who made this review (and not a few more!) possible!