Perfume Review – Chanel Bois des Iles (Les Exclusifs): Out of Africa

Out of Africa. Smoldering sensuality that purrs like a languid cheetah resting on a sandalwood branch. Sophisticated luxury under the most polite and elegant of veneers. The Chanel signature taken to exotic lands.

African sunset. Source: Tumblr

African sunset. Source: Tumblr

That is essence of Bois des Iles, a spectacular Chanel fragrance with a very feline heart that makes me just close my eyes in the deepest of admiration. I’m not generally a Chanel enthusiast; the typical floral-aldehyde signature leaves me rather cold, and I find that restrained aloofness to be far from my style. Whether green and powdery, floral and soapy, or just plain unobtrusive, Chanel rarely tempts me. But Bois des Iles…. my God, is it good! And I’m just talking about the current eau de toilette version from the Exclusifs line. One can only imagine the smoldering richness of the pure Parfum. And the vintage version would probably bring me to my knees in tears of joy.

Ernst Beaux.

Ernst Beaux.

Bois des Iles (which translates to “Wood of the Isles”) has a long, rich history. Ostensibly the very first “woody” fragrance for women, it was released in 1926 and was the result of collaboration between Coco Chanel and her cohort in olfactory adventures, the great, legendary Ernst Beaux. He was a Russian émigré who created some of the greatest perfumes in history, and an extremely intellectual man who supposedly used both Tchaikovsky and the great Russian poet and novelist, Aleksandr Pushkin, as his inspiration for Bois des Iles. In specific, Beaux is said to have created the perfume while entranced by Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades (“La Dame de Pique”), which was based on Pushkin’s story of love, obsession and madness.

Chanel, however, gives a very different backstory for the perfume on its website, describing instead the Paris of the 1920s, gripped by the fever of Africa and exotic lands:

Josephine Baker who danced at Le Bal Negré and who helped trigger the fascination with Africa in 1920s Paris.

Josephine Baker who danced at Le Bal Negré and who helped trigger the fascination with Africa in 1920s Paris.

The year was 1926. People were discovering the explorer within themselves. They danced at the Bal Nègre. Africa became the inspiration for fabrics, jewelry and earthenware. Mademoiselle Chanel and Ernest Beaux took their turn at evoking distant lands with BOIS DES ILES. It’s all there: the precious woods, the opiate scents and magnificent, languid flowers. The fragrance is a mysterious, faraway continent in itself.

I never even knew Africa was mentioned when I was testing the perfume and, yet, oddly, my notes for Bois des Iles were filled with comments about languid cheetahs, the sizzle of the Serengeti, and opiate woods. There is something about the sandalwood heart of the perfume that purrs not like a pussy cat but, rather, like a large, sleek, jungle cat.

Chanel Bois des IlesIt’s very surprising given the current situation worldwide for real Indian sandalwood. The current Bois des Iles is not the exact same formula used in the perfume created back in 1926. This one was released in 2007 as part of Chanel’s prestige, quasi-niche line, Les Exclusifs, and was created by the line’s in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge, who tried to stick as closely as he could to the original version. Unfortunately, he was hampered by the fact that Mysore sandalwood — the essence of the first Bois des Iles — is now in danger of extinction. So, he constructed an ode to sandalwood that doesn’t use the actual ingredient — and what a spectacular job he did!

According to Fragrantica, the notes in Bois des Iles include:

aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, peach; jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, iris, ylang-ylang; vetiver, sandalwood, benzoin, musk.

The perfume’s start on my skin is not exactly joyous. Chanel’s signature floral-aldehyde combination is twisted from its usual sparkling, frothy, soapy nature into something sharp, bitter, pungent and darkly green. It’s still soapy, but it’s also acrid and, yet, simultaneously, tinged with a somewhat odd sweetness. It is unpleasant, but sheer enough to be easily ignored. 

In less than ten minutes, however, the perfume starts to change. The bitterness and green sharpness start to fade away, as the floral notes start to grow stronger. At first, they are initially just abstract; an amorphous and vague sense of general “flowers,” if you will, with no individual components. Soon, however, they start to take shape with a strong rose note, backed by jasmine, then light touches of orange blossom, lily of the valley, and bergamot. The latter doesn’t resemble Earl Grey’s bergamot but, rather, a lemon-nuanced orange. Florals dominate these opening moments of Bois des Iles; the sandalwood cheetah is still sleeping. Instead, rose, orange blossom and citruses dance under the veil of softly soapy aldehydes.

Source: Wallpapers Online.

Source: Wallpapers Online.

Fifteen minutes in, the sandalwood starts to slowly rise to the surface. It’s so creamy, it almost verges on a coconut note. As it starts to infuse the florals, the aldehydes drop; their soapiness is tamer, softer, milder, adding just a subtle touch to the woodsy notes. At the same time, the resins begin to appear, creating a slow amber purr in the background as if some golden, black-spotted cheetah were sunning himself on the sandalwood branches of a great plain. Chanel’s resins are rarely the sort of molten, viscous, heavy, opaque ambers that you find in other houses or perfumes. Yet, here, there is something deep, rich, almost smoking in the combination of the sandalwood and resin. It’s rich and luxurious — all while feeling very lightweight in feel. It’s a combination that really seems to start at a low burn (or purr, if you will), smoldering quietly in the background until it takes over completely by the end in a blaze of smoky, spiced sandalwood glory.

Source: Coverslike.com

Source: Coverslike.com

But, in these opening hours, the cheetah is just awaking, opening his eyes upon a plain of flowers and woods. The bitterness of that green opening vanished long ago, replaced by vetiver that creates a vision of green and brown: its earthy rootiness is combined with the soft, loamy black earth, and just the quietest hint of musk. The bouquet of florals blooms, sometimes abstract, sometimes with more easily detected individual notes like jasmine or ylang-ylang. And, throughout it all, the sandalwood trees smoke little trails of what almost feels like a light incense. Less than 90 minutes in, the sandalwood has an orange-spice feel that is simply beautiful. It mixed with the much more prominent jasmine which is simultaneously sweet, heady, sheer and light, in a beautiful balance. The jasmine is far from indolic, and never feels over-ripe, sour, plastic-y, or verging on the narcotic. Underneath that beautiful jasmine-sandalwood canopy, there are flickers of citrus, orange blossom, amber and vetiver.

For my personal tastes, I would love it if the combination were richer, spicier, and deeper (clearly, I need to get the eau de parfum!), but Bois des Iles is not meant to be unctuous. It’s intended to be a lighter version that is airy and soft. Even the sillage is moderate, wafting out just a foot (or less) in the opening two hours, before dropping further. Bois des Iles is not gauzy or translucent, but it’s definitely not heavy and thick. It is like a cashmere cardigan on your skin, keeping you warm despite its lightness.

Source: 360doc.com

Source: 360doc.com

By the start of the second hour, Bois des Iles is all creamily spiced, rich sandalwood with lightly smoked resins. It’s as smooth as the gait of the waking cheetah, stalking the spiced woods and its golden fiefdom. That image isn’t wholly figurative; there is almost an animalic, leathery quality to the resinous combination — though it is light and just a subtle undertone. The perfume remains that way for hours and hours, until finally, it turns into a slightly powdery amber-and-smoke combination. People are always talking about how Chanel’s orientals have a “gingerbread” accord in the final drydown, and it’s almost like that here, if you really push your imagination. But, on me, the final touches of Bois des Iles are really just spiced amber with some extremely light hints of powder and musk.

Bois des Iles lasted an incredibly long time on my skin. Ten hours later, I could still detect faint traces of it on my arm. But there were times when the perfume replicated my experience with Chanel’s extremely lovely 31 Rue Cambon by taking on ghostly qualities: it seemed to disappear completely from a certain part of my arm, only to pop back up thirty minutes later. The scent in some parts seemed to wax and wane in strength, sometimes seeming to fade, only to end up even stronger than before. It’s a puzzling thing about some of Chanel’s Exclusifs, and I’m hardly the first one to experience it. I sometimes wonder if that ghostly act — which is particularly bad in the case of 31 Rue Cambon — is the reason why a few people (not all or many, but simply a few) think that the perfume has faded away completely in a brief portion of time. I certainly thought so for Rue Cambon and, after all, how many people spend their day constantly smelling their arm (or having someone sniff their neck)?

Nonetheless, longevity seems to be a problem with Bois des Iles. For once, I was incredibly lucky with how long a perfume lasted on me. In contrast, some people on Fragrantica reported Bois des Iles dying after an hour! The numbers are all over the place: one person gave 12 hours in duration, another 7-8 hours, and one saying 30 minutes with “generous spritzing.” Oh dear.

I don’t think that possible longevity issues should stop you from at least trying this beautiful perfume. It all depends on your personal chemistry, and you may have no problems at all. Plus, you need to see what the fuss is about because, for once, it is truly warranted. Even if you ignore the rave reviews littering the blogosphere, consider the perspective of the perfume critics, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez who awarded it the full 5 stars in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. There, Ms. Sanchez writes:

What Ernst Beaux’s plush Cuir de Russie did for leather, his cozy Bois des Iles did for sandalwood. Though I’ve never worn a sable stole, I insist it must feel like Bois des Iles: a dark, close, velvety warmth, sleepy and collapsingly soft. For once, the marketing material has it right. Chanel says it smells like gingerbread in the drydown, and so it does, sweet with vanillic balsams and spice. But that description doesn’t begin to communicate the depth of the fragrance: there are aldehydes sifting a powdery brightness over all, so that the fragrance feels sometimes like the brunette sibling of No. 5. There is the delicious top note of citrus and rose, with the fruity brightness of cola. It is basically perfect and, though over eighty years old, seems as ageless as everything Chanel did in those inventive years. If you think of all the best Chanel fragrances as varieties of the little black dress — sleek, dependable, perfectly proportioned — Bois des Iles is the one in cashmere.

My experience with the perfume was not really the same as Ms. Sanchez. For one thing, she doesn’t talk about that difficult opening 10 minutes; read any number of comments on Fragrantica or elsewhere, and the subject does come up. For another, on me, the aldehydes didn’t last for long (thank God). I also think the term “fruity brightness” may create a very misleading impression since this isn’t a fruity perfume by any means. Lastly, I don’t think her review conveys — at all — the true feeling of Bois des Iles with its smoldering sandalwood that is stunningly spiced, smoky, creamy, dark and ambered. The elements she describes are brief, fleeting flickers that never seriously impact the feline heart of this perfume. In fact, all the talk of aldehydes and roses almost detract from the basic fact that Bois des Iles is primarily a very sultry, amber oriental.

Where I absolutely agree with Ms. Sanchez is that Bois des Iles is a sandalwood stunner that is incredibly elegant in feel and simply oozes “money” (or “a sable stole”). It is restrained in that classic Chanel way, but you can almost sense that the woman wearing that perfect, elegant dress is sporting the sexiest of skimpy lingerie underneath it — if she’s wearing any at all….

Comparisons are repeatedly drawn between Bois des Iles and other Chanel perfumes. Three names, in particular, come up: Egoiste, No. 5, and No. 22. It’s been a while since I tried all three that I wouldn’t be able to make acute, detailed comparisons, but my memory syncs up with those of general commentators on Fragrantica. Bois des Iles is more refined than Egoiste, as well as softer, less intense, less complex, and creamier. It’s also less spiced than Egoiste which has a strong cinnamon undertone. (My comments only apply to vintage Egoiste, which I adore, and not to the current, reformulated version.) Bois des Iles also differs from Chanel No. 5 which is sweeter, richer, heavier, more powdery and (to me) soapier, though some seem to disagree on that last part. It is, also, more animalic at its heart, and its primary nature is floral. Bois des Iles’ nature is primarily woody, with the florals being mere accentuating touches. As for No. 22, my memory of that one is the weakest, but I recall it as being much yellower, much sweeter, far soapier with the aldehydes, and with significant powder (which Bois des Iles does not have). All in all, I’d say Bois des Iles was like the lovechild of Egoiste and No. 5, combining the best parts of both.

Bois des Iles is both unisex and incredibly versatile. Its moderate sillage makes it perfect for the office, but it is also a perfume that works well on a night out with friends, on a date, or just to curl up and feel sultry at home. It has immediately become one of my favorite Chanel fragrances, tying with (vintage) Coco and the beautiful oriental, Coromandel, Chanel’s ode to incense and labdanum. But something about Bois des Iles feels much more feline to me than those other two perfumes. Try it, and dine with the cheetah….

"Dining with a cheetah" photo by Leombrumo-Bodi, Vogue 1960. Condé Nast via Tumblr.

“Dining with a cheetah” photo by Leombrumo-Bodi, Vogue 1960. Condé Nast via Tumblr.

Details
Cost & Availability: This review applies only to the Eau de Toilette version of Bois des Iles. It comes in two different sizes: $130 for a 2.5/75 ml oz bottle or $230 for a massive 6.8 oz/200 ml. You can find it exclusively at Chanel boutiques or on the Chanel website. (The more concentrated, richer Parfum is $175 for 0.5 fl. oz.) You won’t find Bois des Iles at Nordstrom, Barney’s, or the like, though readers tell me that it is available at select Saks Fifth Avenue Stores (like the NYC flag-ship and the one in Washington, D.C.). It is also apparently available in-store at NYC’s Bergdorf Goodman and the Seattle Nordstrom (which will ship out to you wherever you are). However, Bois des Iles is not listed on any of those stores’ websites, so your best bet if you’re not near one of them is to go through Chanel itself. You can also use Chanel’s Store Locator guide on their website to try to find Chanel boutiques near you. As a side note, bottles are frequently sold for a bit less than retail on eBay. As for samples, you can find them at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for the smallest vial (1 full ml) of the Eau de Toilette. If you want to try the pure Parfum version, it’s $5.99 for a tiny 1/4 ml, $11.98 for a 1/2 ml, $23.96 for a 1 ml vial, and up.
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Perfume Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon (Les Exclusifs)

Chanel headquarters

31 Rue Cambon is named after Coco Chanel’s apartment above Chanel’s long-time headquarters at the same address, and was introduced to the world in 2007 as part of Chanel’s six-line prestige collection called “Les Exclusifs.”

Chanel's apartment at 31 Rue Cambon. Source: GirlsGuidetoParis.com

Chanel’s apartment at 31 Rue Cambon. Source: GirlsGuidetoParis.com

The fragrance was created by Chanel’s house perfumer, Jacques Polge, and is supposed to reflect Chanel’s personal taste for the classically simple but, also, the baroque. According to Chanel’s own description, 31 Rue Cambon was

[t]he epicenter of the world of Gabrielle Chanel, a place that harmoniously combined her need for simplicity with her taste for the baroque. It took the complex form of a beautiful Chypre fragrance to capture these contrasting passions, also present in Haute Couture, in a scent. This exceptional fragrance combines the mysteries of both sensuality and elegance.

The categorization of the perfume as a “chypre” raised a lot of debate and discussion when this perfume was first released back in 2007. A chypre is almost invariably something that has oakmoss as its core foundational element; and there is absolutely none here. In fact, the century-plus era of the famous “chypre” family of perfumes being one of the most significant and influential is now over, thanks to the EU and IFRA. (I will spare you one of my rants on that subject but, if you want to read more about what a chypre is supposed to be, feel free to use the Glossary linked at the very top of the page.)

Though Chanel’s description references chypres, Now Smell This states that Jacques Polge himself describes the perfume as an “oakmoss-free chypre.” Whatever the oakmoss issue, in an interesting turn of events, Chanel itself does not classify the scent as a “chypre” at all. Instead, on its page listing all the Exclusifs, it categorizes 31 Rue Cambon as a “Smooth Woody Floral.” That’s just as well, because the description sums up 31 Rue Cambon perfectly, in my opinion.

31-rue-cambonChanel offers no notes for the fragrance on its website but, Now Smell This says that the notes are said to include “bergamot, iris, jasmine, patchouli and labdanum.” Personally, I am tempted to agree with  the commentator, cylob“, on Fragrantica, who believes that the full list of notes are as follows:

pepper, bergamot, orris, narcissus, jasmine, patchouli, ambrette, vetiver, labdanum.

31 Rue Cambon opens on my skin with bergamot and aldehydes. The bergamot reads here as a citrusy lemon and not like Earl Grey tea (as it sometimes does). The aldehydes, to my huge relief, are not waxy and extremely soapy but, rather, light and incredibly fizzy. Moments later, there is the subtle breath of jasmine, light and airy, never indolic, heady or narcotic. When combined with the aldehydes, they really fizz in a way that reminds me, with a smile, of YSL‘s Champane/Yvresse. Here, there is a definite feeling of sparkling champagne, only it’s lemon and jasmine in an effervescent accord. There is a subtly powdery note of iris from the orris and, then, vetiver.

The vetiver is very interesting in this opening stage. It’s fresh, green and more akin to lemon grass than to anything dark, earthy or rooty. Its freshness undercuts any chance that the jasmine could be indolic and adds to that overall impression of bright, green Spring colours, flecked with dollops of bright yellow and white.

Field of NarcissusThe colour image of yellow is enhanced by a sense of narcissus hiding behind the other notes, combined with something that very much feels like the bright cheeriness of daffodil (which is often another name for daffodils). The whole thing is very light and sheer, a gauzy veil of floral notes dominated primarily by lemon and fizzy aldehydes, but the feeling of both the yellow colour and of narcissus is there.

Chandelier reflectionsThirty minutes in, the perfume has subtly changed, almost like light shining on a different part of a crystal chandelier and reflecting different facets. The aldehydes and lemony bergamot are joined by a much stronger note of iris, a touch of a pepper, and a suddenly earthier, woodier vetiver whose rootier characteristic has started to emerge. The iris adds some soft powder, but it’s light and far from the sort of powder you find in Guerlain’s signature Guerlainade. Any fear of powderiness is undercut by the dryness of the quiet pepper note. Like the iris, the jasmine is also much stronger now, though still light in texture and still far from indolic. Also emerging for the first time is the ambrette; it’s a flowering shrub that is sometimes called Musk Mallow and whose parts are often used to replicate the scent of (animal) musk. Here, like the rest of the perfume, its musky touch is light, soft and gauzy.

An hour in, the oddest thing happens. The perfume seems to vanish entirely. I was in disbelief, sniffing my arm like a hyena attacking the first food he’s seen in days. Nothing. Gone. 31 Rue Cambon is often bemoaned for its longevity issues, and it’s certainly not the most enduring in the line, but this seemed to be taking things a step too far. Then, suddenly, there was a hint of fragrance: musky, faintly woody floral notes that were too soft and mild to be more than just a vague hint of something. Then, it vanished again.

At the second hour mark, lo’ and behold, like a Jack in the Box, it popped back up! And not only did it suddenly re-appear but it seemed stronger than it had been before. Strong jasmine and sweetness, accompanied by light powder, green notes and vetiver. I can’t account for it. There are ghostly notes, but an entirely ghostly perfume?! It was the strangest thing, but there is no denying that 31 Rue Cambon decided to leave, return, leave and then reappear to stay quite a few times during the time I tested it. I have to wonder if its mercurial nature is why so many people think the perfume has incredibly short longevity. Maybe they’re not sniffing their arm at the right time when it decides to join the party, so they missed its prima donna return?

Whatever the reason, I have to say that I liked 31 Rue Cambon a lot more than I had expected to. All the oft-told stories about how it barely shows up, the low sillage, and the extremely brief longevity issues — not to mention the whole muddy mess involving chypres/non-chypres/modern-take-on-chypres — had left me frowning a little and anticipating a scent that would be problematic. To my surprise, 31 Rue Cambon was very good. And I attribute most of that to the dry-down because it’s absolutely lovely.

In its middle to final stages, the perfume becomes a soft veil of sweetness and green notes. At first, about four hours in, it is soft patchouli, musk, earthy (but light) vetiver, and an amorphous, generalized “floral” accord. The patchouli note is far from the 1970s dark, dirty, hippie patchouli (which I actually quite adore); it’s just a faint whisper that adds a touch of sweetness to the vetiver. The latter is also just the merest breath of depth and earthiness. Actually, sometimes, the perfume just evokes some sort of “green” note without even seeming like vetiver.

Later, about eight hours in, the perfume simply becomes light amber with just a dab of labdanum. It’s a sweet, almost honeyed scent that is not opaque, thick or resinous. I adore labdanum and the depth it adds to ambery elements. Here, it’s too light to have serious body of its own, but it adds a perfect amount of depth to the amber to stop it from being totally translucent and faint. The whole thing feels a little like being in candlelight or in the soft warmth of afternoon sunlight.

Those final hours are quite a sharp juxtaposition to the fizzy, bright opening notes filled with citrus, aldehydes, iris and jasmine. I wouldn’t say the perfume has turned “baroque” — to use one of the descriptive adjectives applied by Chanel to 31 Rue Cambon — because it’s far too gauzy in texture. No, I think 31 Rue Cambon is best described as a mercurial woman who is lightheartedly playful and teasing in the sharp brightness of the morning, and slightly more weighty, sensuous and serious in the warmer, golden light of the late afternoon.

31 Rue Cambon is not to my personal taste and style, and I would never wear it, but it surprised me. In a good way. I think that, if people go into it without any expectation of a “chypre” and just approach it with an open mind, they too may be surprised. It’s a very Chanel scent and oozes that house’s classique, elegant signature. It’s neither revolutionary nor earth-shatteringly unique — but it wasn’t trying to be. That’s simply not Chanel. But it’s very, very good. 

The only significant problem with 31 Rue Cambon seems to be its longevity issues. On average, it seems to last most people around four hours. Some have said significantly less, with one commentator on Fragrantica saying it lasted a mere 30 minutes! If I hadn’t persisted and kept on smelling my arm, I would have given it an hour. Yet, to my disbelief, I could smell lingering traces of the labdanum at the 9 hour mark! And you know how my body consumes perfume! So, I have to wonder if a miniscule fraction of those people simply didn’t realise that the perfume was still on them, except it was like a teasing ghost that completely vanishes only to flit back on the scene, then to repeat  that annoying act a few more times? Not all, but perhaps for a handful?

Either way, longevity is a definite issue, even if you’re not continually sniffing your arm to detect all of 31 Rue Cambon. The problem might be solved if the fragrance came in the stronger eau de parfum concentration; alas, it is available only in the significantly lighter eau de toilette formulation.

Nonetheless, it’s still a scent worth trying. At the very least, it will let you know what all the swooning is about, because this is one very hyped, much adored fragrance. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by the perfume critics, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, Ms. Sanchez writes a veritable ode to 31 Rue Cambon, awarding it 5 stars and raving orgasmically that “I cannot remember the last time, if ever, a perfume gave me such an instantaneous impression of ravishing beauty at first sniff.” In fact, she states, point-blank, that it is “one of the ten greats of all time, and precious proof that perfumery is not dead.”

I think all that goes too, too far. 31 Rue Cambon is good, but it’s not that good! It’s a beautiful scent which floral, aldehydes lovers will love in the opening, and which Orientalists will love in the closing, but it’s really not a particularly breath-taking perfume of ravishing beauty. It’s just a very typical Chanel that exudes elegance.

By the same token, I also don’t agree with Robin at Now Smell This who thinks this is “the best” of the Exclusifs. Out of those that I’ve smelled thus far, I would grant that title to Coromandel. (My review for that is here.) Perhaps that’s because I’m more of an Orientalist than she seems to be. If I weren’t, then maybe I would prefer 31 Rue Cambon.

Since I’m being contrary, I’ll go to the opposite side of things and add that I absolutely disagree with those few Fragrantica commentators who think that 31 Rue Cambon is a scent suited only to a very old, rich woman. To quote one assessment, written by “shabbus”:

This smells of wealth, but also of age. If you were sitting in the lobby of the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and a wealthy dowager entered and sat down next to you while her driver checked her in and made sure her bags were handled by the bellman, her Hermes scarf would smell of 31 Rue Cambon. And so would the Pomeranian on her lap.

No. Absolutely not, in my opinion. For some reason, the 31 Rue Cambon woman reminds me of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Insouciant, breezy, mercurial, unreliable, fizzy, ditzy, but always elegant and feminine, and with the capacity to be slightly more warm, stable and serious at the end. Or perhaps it would be more like this playful side of a retro-looking Jennifer Garner in Chanel in a photo shoot taken in 2009:

Photo: W Magazine, 2009. Via The Daily Mail.

If I were to agree with anyone, it would be with the assessment at I Smell Therefore I Am whose review really encapsulated the overall feel and visuals of the scent:

For me, 31 Rue Cambon sits somewhere between the floral vanilla of Allure and the deep golden hues of Mitsouko.  It’s a bright fragrance, so shimmering at first, and really for a while, that it was hard for me to classify in any useful way.  Where Mitsouko is somewhat like sunshine through a pane of amber glass, 31 Rue Cambon is like sunlight hitting the beige upholstery of a sublimely cosy couch.  It’s well blended, and more than anything it simply smells like “Chanel” to me.

I think 31 Rue Cambon is the perfect scent for a woman wanting an elegant, discreet, soft woody floral with a slightly opulent edge of sensuality. Its soft elegance makes it never out-of-place — whether you’re at the office or on a date. In fact, its low sillage also makes it an ideal perfume for the office.

In a way, the development of 31 Rue Cambon actually feels a bit like a day at the office. Its restrained elegance and fizzy, bright opening evoke the feel of a bright Spring morning, as you go to work wearing a feminine but perfectly tailored and structured Chanel suit with a crisp white shirt underneath. Its surprising ambered warmth and softly seductive edge during its lovely final period is really akin to what happens, hours later, when a woman prepares to leave the office to join friends for drinks by letting down her hair and opening a few buttons of her shirt to reveal just the faintest suggestion of cleavage.

It’s very elegant, it’s very discreet, it’s very Chanel and, for some women, it may be “ravishing beauty at first sniff.”

Details
Cost & Availability: 31 Rue Cambon comes in two different sizes: $130 for a 2.5/75 ml oz bottle or $230 for a massive 6.8 oz/200 ml. You can find it exclusively at Chanel boutiques or on the Chanel website. You won’t find it at Nordstrom, Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue or the like, though I believe it used to be available in-store at Bergdorf Goodman. However, t’s not listed on their site, so your best bet is to go through Chanel itself. As for samples, you can find them at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for the smallest vial (1 full ml).

Perfume Review – Chanel Les Exclusifs Sycomore: Mighty Vetiver

Close your eyes and imagine you are in the heart of a forest at Yosemite National Park.

Source: Deby Dixon Photography

Source: Deby Dixon Photography

Cypress trees and evergreens intermingle and stretch far before you. The dark, dry earth is sprinkled with pine needles, and a wild boar is rooting at the tall grasses at the base of a tree, his endeavors lifting the smell of the earthy, chocolate-y roots into the air. Icicles hang from the branches where, nestled deep within, are purple juniper berries. In the heart of the forest, campfires burn thick logs of pine and cypress, and there is a smell of peppery smoke intermingling with the burning woods. Someone is cooking caramel, and burning it. You huddle deeper into your coat as the hint of frost brings a chill, but you can’t help but take a deeper breath of the vetiver surrounding you.

SycomoreGreen and brown, smoky and earthy, with a heart of cypress and wood — that is Chanel‘s Sycomore. It is an incredibly elegant smell, luxurious and leaving a smooth, trail of pure class oozing in its green-brown trail. It is richly masculine, with not a hint of florals, but this is silken masculinity in the most sophisticated, elegant of packages.

Sycomore was first introduced to the world in 1930, the creation of Chanel’s very famous, original perfumer, Ernst Beaux. From what I’ve read, it was all violet and tobacco with some support from soft aldehydes and balsamic wood. The original Sycomore vanished in the perfume mists, but it was re-envisioned and re-introduced in 2008 as an eau de toilette and as part of Chanel’s prestige collection called “Les Exclusifs.” It lesExclusifswas created by Chanel’s house perfumer, Jacques Polge, along with an equally famous “nose” in the industry, Christopher Sheldrake.

On its website, Chanel describes the new Sycomore as follows:

A rich-wood fragrance with a noble character — like the Sycomore tree that inspired it — created by CHANEL Master Perfumer Jacques Polge in 2008. At the heart of the scent: Vetiver, with an elegant Sandalwood note and dashes of Cypress, Juniper and Pink Pepper, for an earthy, warm and enveloping, yet subtle presence.

I think Chanel’s description nails it, unlike the Fragrantica‘s entry for Sycomore which seems completely incorrect in my opinion. Fragrantica puts Sycomore in the “Woody Floral Musk” category, and lists its notes as “vetiver, sandalwood, aldehydes, tobacco and violet.” I suspect both the categorization and the notes apply only to the 1930s version of Sycomore.

No, Chanel’s notes for Sycomore are the ones to follow and they are clearly listed by the Perfume Shrine as follows:

Vetiver, cypress, juniper, pink pepper, smoke, burning woods.

To get a true understanding of Sycomore, I think it’s important to elaborate a bit on the notes. For example, vetiver which not everyone is familiar with as an ingredient or as a smell, and which is the main part of Sycomore.  Chandler Burr, the former New York Times perfume critic, gave this extremely useful explanation to GQ:

vetiver-roots

Vetiver Roots.
Source: Herbariasoap.com

In the most basic sense, [vetiver is] a grass native to India that grows in bushes up to 4’x4′. It’s also related to lemon grass, as you can tell when you smell it. The stuff—it’s the grass’s long, thin roots that they distill—is infinitely more interesting though: deep, shadowed, astringent, earthy like newly tilled soil, and balsam-woody. It can be warm like tobacco leaves, it can have a crushed-green leaves freshness, or it can be cool like lemon verbena.

Haiti produces about 80% of the vetiver oil in the world, although sometimes you’ll be putting a bit of Indonesia or Brazil on your arm as well (Haiti’s is more floral, Java’s is smokier). There are folks producing it responsibly, too. When you buy a bottle of Terre d’Hermès, which is loaded with the stuff, you’re supporting around 2,000 Haitian farmers and distillers. […]

Like wine, the scent of vetiver oil improves as it ages: the best of it is made with roots that have been aged somewhere between 18-24 months; the oil costs around $200/kg when it hits the market. American scent maker IFF makes it three ways: with steam (resulting in vetiver essence, which is dryer and lighter), solvent (which produces an absolute and is darker, with the scent of rich dirt), and a new technology called “Molecular Distillation” that uses carbon dioxide to yield a scent that’s extraordinary—strongly grapefruit, fresher, zestier.

The Perfume Shrine says that the vetiver in Sycomore is said to be of the Haitian variety so, under Mr. Burr’s explanation, the more floral kind. I’m not an expert on any of the varieties, so I will take their word for it. All I know is that this vetiver smells exactly as Mr. Burr described: “deep, shadowed, astringent, earthy like newly tilled soil, and balsam-woody.”

Do you know how perfume can sometimes take on a colour aura before your eyes? WeaveSycomore opens on me all brown and green. Not khaki but some interwoven panel of dark green and green-brown. It calls to mind green roots and brown earth. Sycomore starts exactly like that, alongside pink peppercorns and an unexpected but definite note of chocolate. It’s almost like chocolate patchouli with vetiver. It’s so confusing that I go over the notes again and, still, I’m at a loss. So, I look up cypress wood which I’m not very familiar with, and that must be the explanation.

From my reading, it seems that cypress wood has a pungent, woody, spicy aroma that can also be sometimes resinous, coniferous, or cedar-like. Here, the combination of the cypress wood with the earthiness of the vetiver seems to have transformed the sum total into chocolate patchouli. You can smell each individual note, but you also have that strong overall impression.

It’s so striking that I looked to see if others had felt the same way. On Basenotes, one commentator also thought there was patchouli in Sycomore, though she concludes the cause was the combination of juniper and cypress. The Scent Critic blog and some on MakeupAlley also picked up on the chocolate edge. And finally, Victoria from Bois de Jasmin summed it up in her usual elegant succinctness: “The chocolate richness of the root is accented by the peppery and smoky notes. The composition possesses an alluring dark character, which in sensation alternates between the tannic dryness of red wine and the softly worn polish of aged woods.”

The chocolate and patchouli impression in Sycomore is so strong for the first hour that it evokes Serge LutensBorneo 1834 in its opening stages. So much so that I’m utterly bewildered by why people compare Chanel’s Coromandel (also from Les Exclusifs) with Borneo 1834, instead of Sycomore. Adding to the similarities between Borneo 1834 and Sycomore is the latter’s strong opening notes of tobacco and smoke. The tobacco note here is faintly bitter, and it is accompanied by a peppery, biting smoky note that is definitely woody.

I wonder about the “burning woods” note listed on many perfume reviews as an element (though not on Chanel’s website), and I keep thinking of guaiac wood. You can read the Glossary for more details but, in a nutshell, guaiac wood has an aroma that is earthy, smoky, tarry, peppery and similar to burning leaves. Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute is also said to have guaiac wood in it, though its official notes are equally vague and merely reference “rich woods” instead of “burning woods.” Both perfumes share a similarly woody, peppery, smoke note, so I have to wonder.

I do smell some sandalwood in Sycomore but, on me, it’s not strong at any point in the perfume’s development. Others have found it, but it’s just a whisper on me. I have to say, I doubt it is real Mysore sandalwood anyway. Anyone who has read Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s book, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, will be struck by their repeated, insistent comments on just how few sandalwood fragrances actually have sandalwood in them at all these days. According to them, true sandalwood from Mysore, India is so scarce and so prohibitively expensive that most perfumers use Australian sandalwood which is an entirely different species of plant and with an entirely different scent. To the extent that Sycomore has sandalwood in it (of any kind), I think it is completely overshadowed and overpowered in the initial stages by the patchouli impression from the cypress and vetiver.

As Sycomore continues to unfurl, there is an impression of burnt caramel, black cocoa powder, incense and dry earth. This is like the black version of Coromandel, without the latter’s vanilla, benzoin and powder heart. The increasingly peppery and smoky nature of the perfume makes me wonder again if they used guaiac wood to fortify any “smoke” accord, not to mention the weak sandalwood. There are also flickering hints of evergreen from the juniper which add a coolness or chill that counters the smoky earthiness. It’s an incredibly sexy, darkly mysterious perfume.

There is a dryness to the rich, earthy smell that really calls to mind dirt — not rich, dank or loamy, but sweetly dry. I realise that non-perfumistas will recoil at the thought of smelling faintly like dirt, but there is really no other way to truly describe the undertones to the very smoked, rich, woody notes. The comparison to dirt also explains Luca Turin’s comments in his five-star review of Sycomore in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. There, he wrote:

The dream team at Chanel seem to delight in applying superior skills to existing ideas they deem worthy of perfecting: Coromandel was a reorchestration of Lutens’s Borneo 1834…. Sycomore is, in my view, a magisterial gloss on Bertrand Duchaufour’s Timbuktu [for L’Artisan Parfumeur]. The later introduced an Altoids-like idea to perfumery, consisting of a minty-licorice coolness combined with a radiant crackling-wood-fire note. […] Vetiver has both an anisic aspect and a smoky one. Cleverly flank it with Timbuktu’s two companions, add a big slug of sandalwood, and vetiver finds itself in worthy company at last. […] Sycomore [is] … the freshest, most salubrious, yet most satisfyingly rich masculine in years. If putting it on does not make you shiver with pleasure, see a doctor.

I’m surprised that Mr. Turin deems Sycomore one of the few sandalwood fragrance reviews not to warrant his usual comments about how perfumes don’t have real sandalwood in them any more, and I certainly don’t find the same “big slug” as he does, but I agree with the rest of his review. (Minus, his choice of which Chanel perfume to compare to Borneo 1834). I particularly understand his reference to Timbuktu which has often been described as having a dry dirt foundation. Sycomore has both the dirt aspects of Timbuktu and that slightly chilled licorice note underlying the earthiness of the dark patchouli…. er.. vetiver and cypress.

Mogambo 2

Mogambo

Perhaps it’s all that dry dirt and rich green which make me constantly imagine those old movies that explored the heart of an African forest — everything is slightly dark and smoky, mysterious and Tshadowy, all amidst lush greenness and dry red-brown dirt. I keep thinking of Clark Gable with Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner in Mogambo, or Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in African Queen. I could see either man wearing Sycomore, and Katherine Hepburn too (though never ever Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner).

As time passes, there is even greater depth to the impressions of burnt umber, burnt caramel, resins, saltiness, and earthiness — all under the forest’s canopy of green-brown vetiver and wood. The patchouli impression ceased being dominant a while ago; now it is the turn of the juniper. In general, juniper has an aroma that is fresh, sweet, and like pine trees, with a slightly balsam-like, resinous undertone. Here, they make I feel as though I’m walking through an icy forest at wintertime, my feet crunching on evergreen needles, the chilled smoke of winter in the air, as I walk towards campfires of burning pine logs where someone is cooking with dark chocolate and another person is accidentally burning the caramel. There is still the chocolate note, you see, though it is overshadowed by a more resinous, caramel element. There is also an undertone of anise and licorice.

In its drydown and final hours, all those things vanish, leaving mostly sweet, faintly lemony, grass. It is vaguely reminiscent of the lemongrass that Chandler Burr referenced. The sweetness of the grass may be one reason why a number of people smell marijuana or cannabis a few hours into Sycomore. I do not, but the occasional “ganja” comment is something worth noting if you’re tempted to try Sycomore. What I do smell, in addition to the sweet grass, is a sort of creaminess that I think comes from the sandalwood. As always, however, it is faint; even more of a shadow now than before.

There are two things which confused me about Sycomore. One, which I’ve already mentioned, is that it is Coromandel which is compared to Borneo 1834, when I think it should be this Polge and Sheldrake collaboration instead. (At least, for the opening hour. I don’t think Coromandel is remotely like Borneo 1834.) The second is a far more important issue: Chanel’s gender classification for this scent. Chanel has labeled Sycomore as a woman’s perfume and, to me, that is akin to saying M&Ms are only for women. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

Not only is Sycomore unisex, not only is it the furthest thing possible from “girly,” and not only do men adore this, but it is — I would argue — actually a masculine scent first and foremost. It may be a somewhat feminine masculine fragrance, but it is a masculine fragrance at its heart. In fact, women who have not explored niche scents and who are used to the more traditional, conventional or mass-market feminine fragrances — whether of the floral, “girly,” clean, sugary or gourmand variety — may find Sycomore to be overwhelmingly masculine and an utter shock if purchased blind. This is no Marc Jacob Lola, Guerlain Shalimar or Dior J’adore.

No, Sycomore has consistently been compared to men’s colognes. In fact, commentators on both Basenotes and Fragrantica find it to be an exact duplicate of Lalique‘s L’Encre Noire for Men (2006). A few people even bring up Hermès‘ men’s cologne, Terre d’Hermès — though most people on Basenotes find that much more citrus based and without anything close to the same degree of vetiver in it (no matter what Chandler Burr may think). I agree with that. I’ve got Terre d’Hermès and like it. But, like many on Basenotes, I find them to be very different perfumes and don’t think Terre d’Hermès is a predominantly vetiver scent. As a point of interest, in a Basenotes thread asking for people’s preference as between Sycomore and Terre d’Hermes, a monumental majority chose Sycomore as the better, more elegant, and truer vetiver fragrance.

All in all, Sycomore is an incredibly lovely fragrance and as smooth as silk. It is magnificently blended, such that everything folds into one rich layer upon another. There is a paradoxical coolness to its warmth, but it is never a chilly or aloof scent. It has too much earthiness in its beating heart, radiating its fire with every thump, thump, thump. It is never cloying, and there is not a single, synthetic, cheap note anywhere to be seen. It is truly as masterful and brilliant as so many thing. It is also a very approachable fragrance; it is not one of those edgy, discordant scents that can be worn only infrequently and are to be admired mostly on an intellectual basis as works of olfactory art. I can see men wearing this almost daily and some women frequently.

And, yet, it is not a fragrance for me. For the longest time, I could not pinpoint why. I like vetiver, I wear men’s cologne, and I like smoke and resinous scents. I find it an extremely elegant perfume and, really, it should push all my buttons. In fact, its opening led me to say “Wow” and I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrists for the first ten minutes. But, at the end of the day, it was simply too much vetiver and its dryness could well be described as bone-dry. Sahara dry. For my personal tastes, Sycomore simply veers too much into the masculine without any real sweetness to accompany it.

Nonetheless, if you are a fan of vetiver, woody and/or dry scents, I highly encourage you to test out Sycomore. If you’re not a fan of either of those three categories, then you may like the sweeter, softer Coromandel. (It is my favorite of the 3 Exclusifs that I’ve tried thus far). But if you’re not a fan of patchouli, benzoin or frankincense, then I fear you should skip that one too.

Have you tried Sycomore? If so, was it love at first sniff or simply not your cup of tea?

Details:
Sillage & Longevity: The sillage and longevity of Sycomore is impressive, particularly given that most of the Exclusifs line (with the exception of Coromandel) are said to be thin, sheer, and of short duration. On me, Sycomore had good projection for the first 3 hours, and only became close to the skin after 5 hours. As for longevity, it was above-average for my perfume-consuming skin. I could still smell faint traces of it after 9 hours. On others, I’ve read reports of it lasting almost an entire day.
Cost & Availability: Sycomore only comes in Eau de Toilette concentration and costs $130 for a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle or $230 for a 6.8 oz/200 ml bottle.  The Exclusifs line is available only in Chanel stores or on their website. I have read numerous comments from people who have tried it at Selfridges in the UK, but did I not see a single Les Exclusifs fragrance on the Selfridges website. Nor have I found it on any U.S. department store websites. It’s not on Lucky Scent either. It is, however, available on Surrender to Chance which is where I obtained my sample. Prices for the smallest vial (1 ml) start at $3.

Perfume Review: Chanel Coromandel – Frankincense & Opium Dens

Were the Three Wise Men or Magi visiting Bethlehem today, Chanel’s Coromandel is a gift that they might have enjoyed wearing (even if it isn’t a suitable gift for a child in a manger).

Photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.

Photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.

So, too, would those “Chasing the Dragon” in Imperial China’s opium dens, their limbs sinuous and contorted by their dark obsessions. It is, without question, a perfume of the mysterious, ancient East.

Coromandel is said to be an homage to Coco Chanel’s beloved lacquered, wooden Chinese folding screens and was introduced to the world in 2007 as part of Chanel’s six-line collection called “Les Exclusifs.” It was created by Chanel’s house perfumer, Jacques Polge, along with an equally famous “nose” in the industry, Christopher Sheldrake. According to Chanel’s own description on their website, “the elaborate scent unfolds in undulating detail, starting with an amber vibrato, followed by dry notes of Frankincense and Benzoin, then, soulful woody notes that add elegance and depth to the sensuous accord’s striking trail.”

The notes, according to a reviewer (“Zut”) on Basenotes, are as follows:

Top: citruses, bitter orange, neroli
Heart: jasmine, rose, patchouli, orris
Base: incense, olibanum [also known as Frankincense], benzoin, woodsy notes, musk, Tahitian vanilla

Coromandel is a perfume that reminds me that life would be much easier if I had significantly less expensive tastes. It’s not a perfume I adore with a searing passion, but it is a perfume that I definitely like a lot. A LOT. (Far too much for my wallet’s good health, actually. I suspect I will try to buy a full bottle of this.)

Coromandel opens with a burst of zesty citrus, powder and vanilla. Unlike one reviewer on Basenotes, I don’t smell bitter orange, only basic citrus. Two to four minutes in, the citrus is gone completely, leaving only vanilla musk, patchouli and a hint of almond. Exactly 10 minutes from the time I put in on, the vanilla musk turns darkly and intensely peppery. It is a sharp and dramatic change in such a brief period of time. As the frankincense and/or patchouli rise to the forefront, the perfume changes again. There are wisps of a milk chocolate smell that start to emerge.

I must be honest, and I need to say this from the onset, I truly cannot tell if it is the patchouli or frankincense that is more at play with Coromandel. Everyone talks about how this is such a patchouli monster, and it most definitely has patchouli at its heart. But I truly think that this is more of a frankincense monster than a patchouli one. While there are all kinds of dirty, dark patchouli out there, they all generally seem to have (on me) a warmer, softer edge than what I am picking up in Coromandel. Coromandel’s patchouli (if that is what I’m smelling for the most part) is different than the dirty patchouli that is in Hermès’ Elixir de Merveilles, to mention a patchouli perfume that I just recently reviewed. On me, Coromandel has a much more smoky, piercing, sharp, almost screeching (but in a good way), burning incense note, one that I associate with frankincense far more than with patchouli.

Regardless of whether it’s the frankincense or the patchouli that truly dominates here, the overall whole in the early stages is that of a very milky oriental. I have definite flashbacks to a milky Chai, with a touch of cinnamon, a good dollop of white cocoa, sugar, amber and lots of powdered vanilla. It’s an inescapable image for the first 40 minutes of the perfume’s development on my arm. It’s also a very comforting scent that brings to mind curling up under a thick, beige cashmere blanket, next to a roaring fire, as you sip that aforementioned Chai tea.

It is around this time that Coromandel’s milky vanilla spice has been joined by rose, violet and a faint hint of jasmine. It’s not the full-blown, blowsy, overly-sweet rose of YSL’s Paris, but a softer rose that is moderated by the violet note. The rose-violet-vanilla scent reminds me strongly of the old-fashioned, expensive lipsticks I used to buy in Paris, and of Chanel’s lipsticks themselves. The cause is the orris root mentioned amongst the ingredients. Orris root is the root of the iris flower ,and is often used in perfume or makeup as a fixative or base. It has a richly floral, heavy scent, often evocative of violets. And I can definitely smell it here.

There is supposed to be a strong thread of amber floating throughout Coromandel, but I find it overwhelmed by the frankincense. It’s amazingly strong, and I’m glad for it. I absolutely adore it, more than the increasingly common amber accord that is found in so many fragrances today.

Strangely enough, the perfume is getting more intense on my arm. Two and a half hours in, I wrote in my notes: “how is this just getting stronger???!?!?!!” It’s quite a feat, but it has put me in Coromandel’s thrall. As the peppery smoke increases along with the incense, I get flickering images of an old, quiet, dark Russian Orthodox church where black-robed, black-bearded priests walk through the hushed aisles, swinging those gleaming silver canisters back and forth as the smoke drifts all around them.

Photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.

Photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.

With every passing moment, however, the image which grows strongest in my mind is that of a lush, rich, red-silk lined opium den in Imperial China. (Or Johnny Depp “chasing the dragon” in a London opium den in the film, “From Hell.”) Coromandel is one of the very few things I’ve smelled that strongly calls to mind YSL’s Opium, in its true, vintage, 1970s, un-reformulated parfum glory. That almost sexually decadent smokiness is redolent of dark rooms reeking of vice and sinuous bodies, their limbs twisted and contorted in the pursuit of their madness.

True, unvarnished, untainted Opium is my absolute favorite perfume in the world. (We shall not speak of the travesty that it is in its current incarnation. We cannot. It is simply too painful.) True Opium was an ode to licentious abandon and unbridled passion.

Photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.

Photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.

It was pure, oozing sex, writhing under a full moon, baying in passion as your darkest side emerged and you lost all control. Opium captured my soul in the 1970s as a young child and it never let go. For true Opium, I would go to hell and back.

Coromandel is not Opium. It is too powdery, especially in its dry-down. It lacks Opium’s rawness, its power and its dark, unctuous slither. But it tries to be Opium’s soft, refined, sweet, baby sister in some ways. The incense and smoke that almost burns your nose is very evocative of Opium’s dark side. But it is incense and smoke wrapped up in powder, pearls, lace and cashmere, not in red-silk tuxedo held half-open and revealingly with one, long, taloned red-laquered finger nail.

No, that is not Coromandel. In its middle and final stages, Coromandel may be better suited to Tolstoy’s tragic heroine, Anna Karenina, in the novel by the same name. Try to imagine Kiera Knightley’s “Anna Karenina” in an old, dark Russian Orthodox Church and you may get closer to the image that Coromandel evokes when I wear it. AK

A few final things: this is not necessarily a perfume that only a woman can wear. I think its smokiness and incense-y character makes it very accessible to men, as do the “woody” notes that so many seem to smell so strongly (but not me). I have read some female Anna-Karenina_05commentators say that it’s actually “too masculine.” I find that simply baffling. This is a scent everyone can wear if they should so choose. In fact, one of my closest male friends is bewitched by it. He is a man who adores YSL’s controversial, roaring, polarising, definitely masculine M7, too, so it’s not as though he leans towards “feminine” scents. If you’re a man and you’re intrigued by Coromandel, I think you should give it a shot. anna-karenina-posterEven if you’re someone who normally fears powdery or powdery vanilla scents, the degree of smokiness and spice may be enough to offset any “old lady” concerns that you might have.

If you simply can’t get passed the thought of powdered vanilla, then you may want to try Serge Lutens’ Borneo 1834, also created by Christopher Sheldrake. I’ve never tried it but, from reviews like the one I’ve linked to there, it seems that there are a number of similarities. Both share what appears to be Sheldrake’s signature: a bold, sweet, spicy oriental that almost seems like a gourmand perfume at times but which is built around a solid base of patchouli. Borneo, however, is said to have a greater darkness with more bitter dark chocolate (in lieu of the white cocoa) and much earthier, heavier patchouli. (By the way, there isn’t any chocolate actually in either perfume. They simply evoke the scent on occasion.) If Coromandel is not for you, then perhaps Borneo 1834 will be. I hope you will let me know what you think if you try either one.

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Details
Cost: $110 for a 2.5 oz bottle. It only comes in Eau de Toilette
Sillage: Strong for the first 3 hours, close to the skin after 4 hours. But, again, my body consumes perfume.
Longevity: 5-6 hours. On me. On others, it’s supposed to last a long, long time and the most out of all the six perfumes in the “Les Exclusifs” collection.