Tag Archives: Les Exclusifs de Chanel

Chanel for Time-Travellers

Chanel Misia photoSince 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.

Misia Sert by Renoir, 1904And 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.

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A Story Goes With Them: Les Exclusifs de Chanel

Chanel Les Exclusifs extraitsOne of the biggest thrills of my career as a beauty journalist was being invited to Paris to meet Chanel’s fragrance creator, Jacques Polge, back in 2006. I met him twice that year – once at his lab in Neuilly where he introduced me to the latest Chanel fragrance, Allure Sensuelle, and then a few months later when the subject for discussion was a new collection of fragrances, Les Exclusifs de Chanel, which were a sort of olfactory evocation of Coco Chanel’s colourful life and inspiring tastes.

Not only was I granted a leisurely interview with Polge, who has created every new Chanel fragrance since 1978 and is the custodian of its fragrance heritage,  but we had our chat in the apartment which is essentially the epicentre of the Chanel universe – Coco Chanel’s private quarters above her original Paris boutique at 31 rue Cambon.

Chanel 1932 Jacques Polge with brooch

Jacques Polge, the creator of Chanel fragrances, in the fine jewellery boutique at 18 place Vendome

Sitting on Coco Chanel’s sand-coloured settee, surrounded by her personal possessions which have all been left as they were when the great couturiere died in 1971, I heard all about the about-to-be-launched Les Exclusifs collection; ten fragrances which drew inspiration from every aspect of the legendary designer’s life – including many items and motifs which were in evidence in front of me, in her apartment.

Four of the fragrances had made their debut in the early years of Chanel’s career, and had been revived by Polge for this collection, while the other six – among them my personal favourite, 31 rue Cambon, a complex, elegant yet sensual, chypre – had been specially  created, and were the result of Polge immersing himself in “Mademoiselle’s” personal effects and biography.

Les Exclusifs were launched in 2007. Since 2009, Polge has added a further three fragrances to the collection: Beige (2009), Jersey (2011) and 1932 (2012). The inspiration for Beige, a  warm, honey-floral equivalent of one of the couturiere’s signature colours, and Jersey, Polge’s reimagining (and rehabilitation) of lavender in tribute to the fabric which symbolises Chanel’s modernity and revolutionary spirit, is obvious to anyone who is familiar with the Chanel story and the history of fashion, but the background to 1932 is maybe not as self-evident.

Chanel 1932 necklace

“Comete” necklace from Chanel’s 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection, photographed by Robert Bresson

It was in 1932 that Coco Chanel presented her first collection of fine jewellery, and Polge took inspiration from the Comete necklace and brooch which she designed for that initial collection to create a sparkling white fragrance structured around the most star-studded flower in perfumery – jasmine.

Les Exclusifs – to which customers can be introduced by an expert at one of the handful of Chanel olfactive bars around the country – are only available in Chanel boutiques and Espaces Parfums, and were launched without any fanfare because, as Polge explained to me back in 2007, they were only going to be available to buy in places where they could be presented properly; where their stories could be told and where their presentation could be appreciated and admired. Their launch was a reaction against what he called “the banalisation” of fragrance, particularly the way perfumes were being routinely sold in supermarkets and often being chosen solely on the basis of their packaging and ad campaigns.

Now, in 2014, as Polge prepares to hand over the reins of the Chanel fragrance empire to his son (his retirement was announced last year, but no date given), he has introduced pure perfume variations of Beige, Jersey and 1932 to the collection – Les Exclusifs de Chanel Extraits – and these have slightly different accents to their parent scents; they are, in fact, new interpretations of them.

I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that Monsieur Polge produces an extrait of 31 rue Cambon before he starts drawing his perfumeur’s pension …

* Les Exclusifs de Chanel Extraits (£155 each) are available exclusively in Chanel at Covent Garden, Chanel Boutiques, Frasers in Glasgow, Fenwicks in Newcastle, Selfridges in Manchester and Selfridges W1. For further stockist information, call 0207-493 3836.

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