lundi 6 août 2012

Chanel Coco Noir: Black is the new Bleu

Word has it the people at Chanel were not amused when Guerlain launched La Petite Robe Noire as a limited edition in 2009. Tough luck: Guerlain neener-neered that Chanel had never copyrighted the name of its most iconic garment.  To add insult to injury, when it went mainstream this year, La Petite Robe Noire became a hit. Given the time it takes to orchestrate a major launch, Chanel may not have conceived Coco Noir as a counter-attack. But it sure smells that way.

No one knows how to exploit brand DNA better than Chanel and this time, it is on Coco's affinities for Venice and its Byzantine aesthetics that the house lays claim. Clearly, someone sourced a berry patch by the Rialto, because just like La Petite Robe Noire, Coco Noir veers more on blackberry than actual black. Both are intensely sweet fruitchoulis, hot on the heels of Lady Million, touted by Puig (which handles the Paco Rabanne license) as the most successful global feminine fragrance launch in 2010, with a 37.2% growth in sales in 2011.

In other words, Coco Noir aims to achieve for women what the blockbuster Blue did for men, since, like Blue, it’s a safe play on mainstream codes (which Chanel itself contributed to establish with Coco Mademoiselle).  Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake seem to have decided to show us how fruitchouli is done when it’s done just right. 

As a result, Coco Noir is undeniably pleasant and rich, more fine-tuned than La Petite Robe Noire in which I find the same slightly distressing, plastic-y woody base as in Shalimar Parfum Initial (which I didn’t get from the original LPRN). The berry effect (not claimed in the official notes list) is more refined, the floral heart richer, the patchouli gives off that tiny whiff of moldy leaves that’s usually scrubbed off nowadays.  The musk base is more powerful as well. In that register, it’s probably the best on the market, and will no doubt find many loving homes.

Nevertheless, though much more up-market than the cheerfully trashy Lady Million and less overtly girly than La Petite Robe Noire, Little Black Lady Coco is still a fruitchouli aiming for the sweet tooth.  And judging from the other big mainstream fall launch, Lancôme’s pink-tinted La Vie est Belle (basically an offspring of Angel and Dior Homme), it seems the industry will still be splashing around for quite some time in the jam vat. 
At least, this one is couture jam.

Illustration: Jeff Koon's Balloon Dog at the Fondation Pinault in Venice.

21 commentaires:

  1. Such a perfect image for your post and description of Coco Noir - a trashy looking pink poodle in Venice! I was dismayed to read Victoria's review last week when she mentioned this was closer to Mademoiselle than Coco let alone Noir. That bottle deserves better.

  2. Nicola, if I were forced at gunpoint to wear a fruity floral patchouli I'd pick Coco Noir any day. Still, compared to the first, glorious Exclusives (not even mentioning the classics) it seems to come from an alternate Chanel universe. Mind you, so does Karl.

  3. When I saw that beautiful bottle and heard Noir in the name, I was hoping for something other than a well done fruit/patchouli blend. I cannot wait until the industry moves beyond the current jam/berry/fruit fest, as it just does not interest me.

  4. Denyse,

    It seems that one of the reasons that Guerlain made a new formulation of LPRN after launching it on mainstream was to avoid angering the clients who purchased it previously on the exclusive version. Maybe this plasticity you mention is due to the type of patchouli used or the synthetic playing a patchouli role? Because i do get patchouli in both fragrances you mentioned. But i guess i prefer LPRN over Shalimar Parfum Initial, i found SPI base to be very faceless.
    Interesting to know that Chanel was that pissed with the launch of LPRN. I would say that you may be absolutely right about saying that Coco Noir is the response to LPRN, since LPRN was launched in 2009 and three years would make a reasonable time to a Chanel launchment to be prepared.
    Lately Chanel bores me, they seem to be dangerously approaching themselves of a kind of massmarket luxury, polishing ideas already intensively explored. I wonder myself if this cannot damage their luxury aura at the longterm, but i suspect that they may have a planning to shift it when necessary. If they don't have, they should!

  5. Tatiana, I'm with you... But the success of Lady Million and La Petite Robe Noire means we're in for a couple more years of it at least, though white florals also seem to be trending...

  6. Henrique, I think another reason would be to make LPRN less expensive... also, the formula originally came from Drom so when they shifted to a larger production they probably had to tweak it somewhat. Finally, the first LPRN was exuberantly gourmand and for a mainstream launch I should imagine that over-the-top aspect was reduced after it was panel-tested.

    What I say about Chanel is what I heard, I wouldn't testify to it in court! But it seems rather likely. Though I doubt they'd have "counter-attacked" over a limited eidtion. I think they're just following the trend, and of course, in that respect your point about massmarket luxury is relevant. But hey, they're making a fortune with Bleu, so...

  7. I wouldn't say counter-attacked, but maybe they saw that there was an opportunity on something that they weren't exploring yet.
    I didn't knew that LPRN was produced by Drom, i thought that Guerlain made it internally. Do you think that the original is exuberantly gourmand? On me is so soft! It's what i like on it, the cherry tartelette smell is sophisticated, not sickening. My exuberantly gourmand idea is something on the veins of Gourmand Coquin, which i like but find it rather difficult to wear.
    I wished that Bleu didn't sell well so we would see Chanel doing more consistent creative efforts. But then i would be very surprised if this happened. What i notice is that the overall idea of a more refined and luxe aroma is just a mainstream, almost functional smell, just made with better technical performance and slightly better materials. I say this due to the high appraise i see for brands like Atelier Cologne, Bond No 9 and Creed, for instance. I suspect that massmarket luxury sells and sells well because every brand has one or two that you could fit into this category in their exclusive lines.

  8. Henrique, the first LPRN was composed by Delphine Jelk of Drom with Sylvaine Delacourte: before Thierry Wasser became in-house perfumer, Guerlain worked with different suppliers. I agree it was not sickening (in fact the first time I smelled it I rushed to Ladurée across the street!). But it probably had too strong a character to be deemed acceptable for a mainstream launch.
    I agree many niche perfumes now are just mainstream with better materials. You're right, in the current context few big brands are ready to stray from well-accepted codes (Hermès, Mugler and Cartier being exceptions).

  9. Maybe i'm the only a little bit tired of Hermés chic sameness, but i saw this polished massmarket impression in their sur le toit and on in their santal massoia. I don't know, i'm a little bit not ansious anymore about Ellena creations, they seem to lack the wow factor lately =/
    Cartier line is quite sophisticated and takes some risks. But if you see, there are 2 fragrances on it that fit exactly that more massmarket idea from a polished luxury view: L'Heure Folle and Diaphane, the weakest two so far in their line.
    Very well noticed abour Mugler's line, their Mirroir series is quite distinct and true to Mugler's aura.
    I'd say that Prada parfum line was another one without that approach, but then i remembered of their latest Cuir Styrax fragrance, which is chic but nothing really exceptional in fact.
    Now i can understand what you mean about LPRN, the original version was too distinct to a mainstream launch. Maybe they'll make it richer in the parfum concentration. I'm waiting ansiously for that one! (and also for coco noir parfum concentration, since chanel does their parfums richly even on the blandest feminine launches).

  10. Henrique, about Hermès, that's the issue with having an in-house perfumer with a very distinctive style: after a while, for connoisseurs, the element of surprise no longer comes into play. As for Cartier, compared to the other mainstream launches I've been smelling, I'm thinking Baiser Volé was a strong statement. Exclusives lines have an in-built weakness: they need to touch on every genre to capture their clientele. But I think L'Heure Folle was an excellent interpretation of the berry-musk register, one of the few I could embrace.
    I forgot to mention Prada, you're absolutely right. While I'm not crazy about all the Infusions, it's definitely a brand with a distinctive identity and I thought Infusion d'Iris was a classic before Mr. Burr said so!

  11. And speaking of Infusion d'Iris, have you already tried the Absolu version which was recently launched? It's to me the best Infusion version so far, so rich, warm, cozy!
    Have you already tried their Parfum line which is only sold at their stores? If not, i'd gladly send you samples of the ones i own :)
    Baiser Volé was not only a strong statement, it seems it was also the commertial success they were needing in their feminine line (which i imagine it was seelling poorly due to all the discontinuations last year). I was surprised with Baiser Vole, it seems silly at first but it's very sensual, specially with time. It leaves a delicious smell on clothes. I loved the parfum concentration (i'm a parfum ho, i guess lol), it's on my endless wishlist.

  12. Henrique, I love Infusion d'Iris Absolu, it was on my Spring Top 10 list if memory serves... And to me, Baiser Volé in extrait is the best version, the closest to the original idea: lily. I was quite disappointed it won no awards this year at the French Fifis, I find it quite a lot better than Elie Saab.

  13. As an owner of the first (exclusive) release of LPRN I disagree with Henrique’s assessment of why it was reformulated. In spite of it’s “exclusive” status, the price point of Model 1 and the current LPRN are almost the same, so this isn’t a case like Mon Precieux Nectar. LPRN 1 was always a bit of an orphan fragrance, inadvisably offered in an exclusive box alongside reissued Vol de Nuit, Derby, and Attrape Coeur and dressed in a resurfaced Mitsouko bottle to boot! Can’t imagine other purchasers of LPRN would be anything but understandable when it finally found a home of its own along with design elements and packaging that look intended rather than accidental.

    The reformulation, in addition to allowing M. Wasser to take some credit for the composition, is as I understand it a less unique and opinionated fragrance, instead more smoothed out. Take out some of that licorice, add some more clean musk, make it rosier and less violet perhaps? Make it more ready for the big time by being less unapologetically girly and more grown-up. I understand from reviews that the changes have been regarded as positive. Henrique I agree the base of ShalInitial is faceless!

    So funny that LPRN was panned by many for not being more classy, given it’s name. For being pink instead of noir. I haven’t smelled it but given Denyse's review, Coco Noir would more properly have worn the “LPRN” designation.

    By the way, who would want an up-market LPRN? And I already think of (original) LPRN as an up-market Lolita Lempicka.


  14. Oh, I should have read all of the comment thread before I commented! So interesting about the production conditions of LPRN. These are so important and they keep them so hidden. Henrique I bet LPRN smells good on a man. On me I get a lot of violet, anise, and cherry sweetness with good sillage; I like this one b/c, although it has little development over time, the individual notes are all discernable and it seems very well-balanced and well-blended.


  15. Lys, Coco Noir isn't quite "noir" either, at least to my nose. I was one of the grumblers about LPRN when it came out, but then I really got to wondering why it had that exclusive status when it could so clearly become a crowd-pleaser. But Guerlain have all sorts of new capsule collections popping up constantly, don't they? I know the original LPRN wasn't conceived as a marketing project originally, which is in a way why I'm kind of pleased about its current success.

  16. Lys, my gripe about these "noir" fragrances is not how they smell: they're lovely. It's the fact that, as you point out in your first comment, they've been done before (Lolita Lempicka) and that the perfume industry seems stuck in a rut. Mind you, these are tough times, so whatever works to keep Mitsouko or N°22 in production is all right by me.

  17. Tragic waste of a historic bottle! I was tempted to ask what Coco Chanel would think, but, as you've reminded us, times are tough, and history is clear that she'd do whatever it takes to survive and prosper! ~~nozknoz

  18. Nozknoz, I haven't kept up on the gazillion Chanel bios that came out in recent years, and I'm sure the company is not threatened, but it seems to be playing it extremely safe these days on the perfume front.

  19. Hi Lys!
    What i commented about LPRN was based on a conversation i had with a friend that works with Guerlain products in his shop. He tolds me that, but i think that what Denyse mentioned is also important to explain why they tweaked it before putting it into mainstream market. Too bad that they discontinued LPRN 2. I was surprised by the cozy aspect of the 2, the discreet flower edible aura that stays all day on skin.
    I had already forgotten about the floral aspect on the LPRN reformulated, you're absolutely right about it.
    I don't know if LPRN is good on every man, but i can say that it's on this one LOL :)

  20. Denyse, and it happened that i received a sample of this one yesterday. You are absolutely right, this one is what is Bleu is to the masculine Chanel market. They should have named it Coco Mademoiselle Noir, but i guess that it'd bring a name quite big and not so chic as Coco Noir. Which is not so noir in fact. Do you smell peaches on this one? I smell sweet peaches with patchouli.
    I was thinking on your review and it happened to me that there is a fagrance on this genre that for me is almost noire and it's what i would expect Noire to be: Caron Accord Code 119.
    What do you think of this one?

  21. Henrique, I ended up not smelling the Caron because the day I went, I found the boutique manager too unpleasant to ask for help... and then I never thought about it again!