Since I was treated to my first sniff of Chanel’s 31 rue Cambon fragrance a few years ago by its creator, Jacques Polge, in Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment at that address, I have been a big fan of Les Exclusifs, the collection from which it comes. Each of the Exclusifs perfumes was inspired by and evokes a particular aspect of Coco Chanel’s colourful life or her wide-ranging influences and passions.
This spring, the company has added a new fragrance to the collection; the first Exclusif by perfumer Olivier Polge, Jacques’ son. Named Misia, the new addition fits beautifully into the 15-strong family of fragrances – yet it more than holds its own. It is named for its inspiration, the enigmatic Misia Sert, an intime of Coco Chanel from the late 1910s, a period when the fledgling couturiere was honing her tastes and finding her style. Sert opened Chanel’s eyes to styles, such as baroque, and opened doors for her into the thriving Parisian arts scene.
It was through Sert – a Polish-born pianist and muse to such important artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Valloton and Renoir (whose portrait is shown below) – that the young Gabrielle Chanel met such key figures as Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, and began her association with the Ballets Russes.
And it’s the olfactory world of the Ballets Russes which particularly informs this new fragrance which is dominated by the powdery scent of violet, swathed in Grasse rose. It evokes the smell of the make-up which the dancers would have been wearing, and recalls the Parma Violet scent of vintage face powders and blushers. At the same time, however, there is a freshness and warmth which goes hand in hand with its timelessness.
As Olivier Polge says: “My inspiration wasn’t Misia herself as a person but her role as a turning point in the life of Gabrielle Chanel. With this fragrance, I wanted to convey the atmosphere of the Ballets Russes and the smell of make-up from that time.” What more could a Chanel devotee want than a perfume which can catapult her back in time to the moment when 20th century fashion was born?
* Prices for Les Exclusifs de Chanel Misia start at £115 for 75ml eau de toilette. Les Exclusifs are available at Chanel boutiques, Chanel Covent Garden, Chanel at Burlington Arcade, Frasers in Glasgow, House of Fraser Bluewater, Fenwicks in Newcastle, and Selfridges at Manchester Exchange, Birmingham and London.