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.