mercredi 25 février 2015

Misia: Carnal Chanel


All of the Exclusives are named after some aspect of Coco Chanel’s story. Speaking about Jersey, Jacques Polge explained that the olfactory concept had come first: it was matched with a facet of the Chanel saga later[i]. Were things done in the same order for Misia? The PR team did say that for his first Chanel fragrance, Olivier Polge started by seeking out an accord that had never been explored by the brand. Once he had found it, the scent was christened after the woman who introduced Chanel to the artistic avant-gardes of her time.

As a muse, Misia Sert is almost too rich a source of inspiration: musing was her raison d’être. Known in her heyday as “The Queen of Paris”, she was trained as a pianist by the composer Gabriel Fauré, who considered her a prodigy, but after getting married she played only for her friends, admirers and protégés – i.e., most of the great writers, composers and painters from the Belle Époque to the Jazz Age. Renoir, Vuillard, Vallotton, Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec painted her; Marcel Proust based his Mme Verdurin on her. She inspired, nurtured or sponsored Mallarmé, Cocteau, Ravel, Stravinsky, Picasso, Satie…

But it is her patronage of the Ballets Russes, to which she introduced her friend Gabrielle Chanel, which justifies the use of her name for the fragrance. Olivier Polge states he had no intention of composing an olfactory portrait of the lady: the scent is meant to evoke the heady blend rising from both the dress circle and wings of the Palais Garnier on the opening night of a Ballets Russes production.



The scent Polge the Younger decided to work on is built around the classic violet/rose accord that came to be associated with lipstick in the early 20th century. Introduced in fine fragrance by Coty’s 1904 La Rose Jacqueminot, its contemporary version was coined for Yves Saint Laurent by Sophia Grojsman in Paris: at this stage, it had already acquired its retro connotation, and stood for the glamorous, old-school type of femininity YSL wanted to project (when you call your fragrance “Paris”, you’re setting yourself up as an institution). Frédéric Malle’s 2003 Lipstick Rose was the first to use the accord ironically, between quote marks. Since then, it has been featured as such in a number of scents such as Prada’s discontinued Rosetto or the more recent Guerlain French Kiss. When Nathalie Feisthauer developed Putain des Palaces for État Libre d’Orange[ii], it was the “lipstick accord” she picked to evoke the “luxury hotel hooker” in the Gainsbourg song that inspired the scent (given the brand and brief, the result is predictably raunchier and rougher-edged than Misia).

It’s interesting to note that when Olivier Polge came up with his own interpretation of the lipstick accord, Chanel named it after a woman: a first for the Exclusives. And what’s more, after a woman not Coco: a first for the house. In perfumery, the lipstick accord may well function as a metonymy of feminine artifice and seduction, those of the muse or courtesan Gabrielle Chanel might have become, but didn’t.

Judging from her pictures, Misia Sert’s ripe-peach beauty was better suited to Renoir than to her friend’s petite robe noire. Though her namesake fragrance is not meant as her portrait, it does reflect some of that lushness. Misia is all flushed cheeks and heated, powdered skin under swishing furs, with an undertow of leather. The more you wear the fragrance, the more you feel that the lipstick accord, bolstered by magisterial materials such as the rare Grasse rose grown exclusively for Chanel, somehow burst through its quote marks to turn into a stranger, richer blend. The violet, wine-dark. The rose, petals crushed with raspberries. The balsamic base (tonka, benzoin), a sable-trimmed velvet wrap. Misia may well be the most erotic of all Chanels, perhaps because it is a scent that bears the name of another woman. It is also a masterful reinterpretation of the lipstick accord, as reinvented by Sophia Grojsman (an IFF perfumer, Olivier Polge’s alma mater), that manages to be both keenly contemporary and almost archaic -- much like the Ballets Russes. In picking its new in-house perfumer, Chanel seems to have been right on the nose.

Misia will be commercially available as of February 28th. You can already find it at www.chanel.com.


[i] In this particular case: the scent focuses on lavender, which is historically an English fragrance note; hence, “jersey”, since the knit fabric Coco Chanel made fashionable comes from the Channel Islands.

[ii] The name comes from the lyrics of the Gainsbourg song “Ronsard 58”, based on the 16th-century poem “When you are old” by Pierre de Ronsard (for translations of both, click here)


mardi 24 février 2015

Misia, Chanel charnel



Si tous les Exclusifs tirent leur nom de la biographie de Chanel, ils n’en sont pas forcément l’illustration littérale. Dans certains cas, c’est plutôt la note qui dicte le nom, choisi parmi les facettes de la saga fondatrice. Ainsi, pour Jersey, Jacques Polge expliquait que c’est en partant de la lavande, typique de la parfumerie anglaise traditionnelle, qu’on en est venu au jersey issu de l’île anglo-normande éponyme… A-t-on procédé de même pour Misia ? Il semblerait qu’Olivier Polge, pour sa première signature chez Chanel, se soit d’abord attaché à trouver un registre olfactif inexploité par la maison. C’est en cours de développement, peut-on supposer, que sa composition a reçu son prénom.

Muse, modèle, mécène, Misia Sert, née Godebska mais mieux connue sous le nom de troisième et dernier mari, aurait été une source d’inspiration quasiment trop encombrante. D’autant que de muse, elle avait pratiquement fait un métier. Plutôt que de lui tirer le portrait olfactif – à la suite des Renoir, Vuillard, Vallotton, Bonnard et autres Toulouse-Lautrec --, de lui composer un poème comme Mallarmé, ou d’en faire son modèle comme Proust qui en tira sa Mme Verdurin, Olivier Polge a restreint le rôle de Misia à celui d’une passeuse. Ce fut elle qui, mécène des Ballets Russes, les fit connaître à son amie Gabrielle ; c’est donc un soir de première desdits Ballets Russes à l’Opéra Garnier, côté corbeilles et côté coulisses, que Misia doit évoquer.



Au cœur du parfum, l’accord rose/violette qu’on associe au rouge à lèvres depuis le début du XXème siècle, introduit en parfumerie fine par La Rose Jacqueminot de Coty en 1904. Dans le Paris de Sophia Grojsman, qui le réinvente génialement pour Yves Saint Laurent, cet accord « rouge à lèvres » fonctionne déjà comme un code, une citation: celle du glamour old school, exprimé par un parfum érigeant Saint Laurent en monument national... Mais Lipstick Rose, chez Frédéric Malle, est sans doute le premier parfum à le revendiquer en tant que tel, entre guillemets, dans un second degré à la limite du kitsch. 

Depuis, le rouge à lèvres est devenu un motif figuratif de la parfumerie au même titre qu’une fleur (Rossetto de Prada, French Kiss de Guerlain) ; dans les parfums « narratifs », il devient la métonymie olfactive d’un certain type de femme, de séductrice assumant l’artifice. Ainsi, lorsque Nathalie Feitshauer développe Putain des Palaces pour État Libre d’Orange (le nom, tiré du « Ronsard 58 » chanté par Gainsbourg, ayant en l’occurrence précédé la note), c’est autour de lui qu’elle construit son personnage – étant donné la marque et le brief, on ne s’étonnera guère que le résultat se tienne moins bien que Misia.

Cependant, ce n’est sans doute pas par hasard que cette nouvelle interprétation de l’accord lipstick ait reçu un prénom de femme : une première pour les Exclusifs. Et qui plus est, d’une femme qui n’est pas Coco : une première pour la maison. À en juger par ses portraits, la beauté de pêche mûre de Misia fut sans doute mieux servie par le pinceau de Renoir que par la petite robe noire de Chanel. Et bien que le parfum ne cherche pas à la représenter, il reflète quelque chose de cette chair généreuse…

Plus on porte Misia, plus on sent ledit accord « rouge à lèvres » déborder de ses guillemets. Joues enflammées sous les fards, peaux poudrées échauffées sous les fourrures… La violette tire sur le pourpre du vin. La rose, sur la framboise mûre. Les baumes (tonka, benjoin), sur le velours rouge opéra bordé de zibeline. Misia est sans doute le plus charnel des Chanel, peut-être précisément parce qu’il porte le nom d’une autre femme... C’est aussi, et surtout, la réinvention d’un accord pionnier, déjà (ré)inventé par Sophia Grojsman (parfumeur chez IFF comme l’était jusqu’ici Olivier Polge), à la fois radicalement moderne et quasiment archaïque. Comme les Ballets Russes, en somme. En choisissant son nouveau parfumeur-maison, Chanel a eu du nez.

Misia sera disponible à partir du 28 février. On peut le découvrir en avant-première sur www.chanel.com, à la boutique Chanel Beauté du 382 rue Saint-Honoré à Paris, au Bon Marché, aux Galeries Lafayette Haussmann et au Printemps Haussmann.
 




vendredi 13 février 2015

My Top 10 Winter Fragrances: A kiss, two teas and a bunch of flowers


As you can well imagine, the tragic events of early January took our minds off fragrance for quite a while here in Paris (the blog posts I published throughout that period were written earlier). I did find some solace in smelling lovely things, but hadn’t the heart to write about them. Then life and business reasserted themselves, with the usual onslaught of spring perfume launches, and more lovely things crowding my desk. Here are the ones I voted for with my skin over the past weeks…

Tellus, by Givaudan’s Nadège Le Garlantezec (who recently “restored” the lovely Courrèges in Blue), is part of a new trilogy dedicated to trees by Liquides Imaginaires. Inspired by loam, tree roots, mushrooms and burrowing animals, it is a gut-gripping, primal scent based on raw patchouli, fir balsam – Nadège’s favorite material – and costus. To me, it smells of earth emerging from snow and so, smells of hope.

Essence N°3 Ambre by Francis Kurkdjian, in Élie Saab’s “Les Esences” collection, is a contemporary take on the mythical De Laire base Ambre 83. Unlike many amber-themed compositions, which sit poorly on my liver, this smooth-as-crème-caramel amber feels breathable and luminous. If you’ve run out of Guerlain’s Attrape-coeur/ Guet-Apens/Vol de Nuit Évasion, also a tribute to Ambre 83, you might want to root this one out – it’s exclusively sold in Élie Saab boutiques.

Essence N°2 Gardénia, in the same collection, isn’t much of a gardenia to my nose (but then it’s not as though I spent my days with my nose stuck in gardenias). What it is, though, is a Hitchcockian blonde of a scent, the overripe fruit nuances and indolic trail of jasmine sambac restrained by the decorum of iris.

Good Girl Gone Bad by Jacques Cavallier and Alberto Morillas for By Kilian is the brand’s feminine best-seller. He calls it a floral jam. I’ve dubbed it “Great Balls of Flowers”: it’s got that big, non-linear Morillas fuzziness to it. The wife of a perfumer renowned for his spare aesthetics and aversion to sweet notes stopped walking downwind from me after I’d applied perhaps a tad too many spritzes – which I took as a compliment of sorts. This is a fruity floral for girls who’ve grown up in all the right places. It'll be coming in May in a limited-edition, fresher version tweaked by Alberto Morillas.

Jasmin de Nuit was composed by Céline Ellena for The Different Company, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary. Going through the brand’s box of minis reminded me of the time when each niche launch could be pored over and discussed at leisure. Jasmin de Nuit was my first acquisition in their line and one of my earliest reviews. A decade later, this spicy, almost oily jasmine still holds its own: there’s something simple, hardy and spontaneous about it that may come from the fact that at the time, Céline Ellena didn’t have to wonder about the twist she’d give to the umpteenth jasmine soliflore on the market. I’m delighted to have found my way back to it.

Teazzura, Guerlain’s new Aqua Allegoria by Thierry Wasser, won’t be out until the end of March. But I got a sneak preview sample and can’t resist mentioning it in this list. Unlike By Kilian’s Imperial Tea, which I love but lasts all of an hour on my skin, this radiant jasmine tea accord is satisfyingly long-lasting.

Kedu by Aliénor Massenet for Mémo’s “Graines Vagabondes” (“Wandering Seeds”) collection shifts the classic jasmine tea accord by associating neroli with maté. The contrast between the fluffiness of the former and the tannic quality of the latter rather reminds me of my beloved Hermès Eau de Narcisse Bleu. A roasted sesame seed extract gives the blend a mouthwatering, smoky nuttiness.

B. Balenciaga by Domitille Bertier is hardly what I’d call a winter scent – but there are always moments when all the heaters are on and you’re just aching for fresh, sap-spurting greenery outside the salad bowl. Though the press copy ticks the usual boxes (emotion, sensuality, mystery, femininity), to me B. is witty, perky and Tinkerbell-frisky with its green, edamame bean top note, sparkling ambrette and fairy-dusting of iris.

Misia, Olivier Polge’s first composition for Chanel, will be coming out in the Exclusives collection at the end of February. It is essentially a lipstick accord – violet and rose. But the rose is from Mul’s fields in Grasse. And the treatment of the note, with its heated undercurrent of skin and fur, makes it less of a lipstick and more of a kiss. The name, by the way, refers to Misia Sert, who befriended, inspired and/or sponsored most of the artistic geniuses of her time, from Renoir to Picasso, Ravel, Diaghilev, Proust, and of course Chanel (that's her up there, by Toulouse-Lautrec).

To make up the traditional ten, I’ll have to add another Polge composition – along with Jean-Christophe Hérault --, Thierry Mugler’s Oriental Express, which has been a mainstay of my fragrance wardrobe since September.

For more Top Tens of Winter, please visit Bois de Jasmin, Now Smell This, Perfume Posse and The Non-Blonde.