jeudi 26 juin 2008

Chanel N°18, the drunken ambrette

When, for some reason, I don’t feel like wearing perfume but would feel naked without it, I reach for my heavy bottle of Chanel N°18. While it doesn’t have the hesperidic juiciness of a Cologne, it is just as refreshing, almost scouring: like resetting the olfactory meter to zero.

I ascribe this effect to the disconcerting qualities of ambrette, its main note: the extract of the hibiscus seed, used as a vegetal substitute of amber, develops musky, floral and fruity facets while remaining as limpid as a 100 proof alcohol. Chanel N°18 does remind me of pear brandy (what the French call “eau-de-vie”, water of life); I talked about resetting the meter to zero, but I could just as well have evoked the time-honoured French tradition of “le trou normand”, the Norman hole, even though it is a rather trivial comparison.

Chanel N°18 produces the same effect as the fruit brandies served in tiny ice-cold tumblers between courses of a rich meal.
Then, just as you’re quenching your thirst with this burning liqueur, the fragrances tilts on its axis and present another facet, just as limpid but slightly metallic and unmistakably carroty: the iris. And you wonder why you hadn’t immediately understood that N°18 was an iris scent… Until you smell the rose, but a rose undressed of all its opulence and romanticism, a terse and translucent rose…

N°18’s masterful blend is both complex and as simple as an obvious truth. And truth be told, I’d drink (to) it.

Image: Chan Marshall aka Cat Power, the new face of Chanel Jewellery. Chanel N°18 is named after the address of the Chanel Jewellery boutique on the place Vendôme in Paris.
Please note that the title is in no way or form a comment on Ms. Marshall: it refers to the booziness of the perfume blend!

8 commentaires:

  1. Well put !

    Poire Williams with a quirk or two.

  2. It's such an unusual composition, isn't it? I truly love its quirks.

  3. It is a masterpiece of ambrette seed, and your comparison to eaux de vies is apt. Polge developed it to match a creative brief that called for olfactive allusions to Chanel joaillerie -- limpid stones in platinum settings.

  4. N°18 is said to be Jacques Polge's favorite of the Exclusives. The jewellery brief is oddly adequate: there is a limpidity in the composition that makes you think of alcohol or clear stones, isn't there? That burning/freezing quality...

  5. It was immediately apparent to me that this was the most original creation in Les Exclusifs line, more so than 31 Rue Cambon even (despite the infamous new accord blah blah blah).
    It is a profound pity however that as much as I respect and trully appreciate it, it produced childish associations tinged with impending catastrophe in my limbic system: I wish I could tie it to eau de vie and the adult pleasures henceforth!

  6. Yes, I remember your writing about it at the time. And I can see how N°18 could be just at the edge of something unpleasant, with the wrong associations. Well, there are lots more scents to have fun with, thank God.

  7. You are a master! I am delighted with this review of my favorite perfume of late. I never recognized it as an eau de vie. I just love it for its transparency and uniqueness. It never becomes powdery but refracts reality through its gem facets. Lurve it.

  8. Cait, it's quite a palate-clearer, isn't it? I agree, there's nothing like it on the market. One of my favorites too.