Over the last year or so I have been fortunate to be given a bit of a crash course in new perfume ingredients. The chemist in me is fascinated with the structure of the molecules and the difference in effect moving bonds and atoms around has on a scent profile. Equally as fascinating is the way natural materials are extracted and then further separated via different physical techniques.
It is fun to meet a perfumer who is using a new raw material as they build a new perfume. There is a palpable enthusiasm at using something different. I wonder if the same kind of enthusiasm was present when new pigments expanded the options for the painters. I suspect any artist when given something new to consider they immediately begin to think of the places this could fit into their current imaginings.
I’ve also begun thinking about this because of the new wave of transparent minimal fragrances being released to appeal to the younger generation of perfume buyers. Since there is seemingly a market for minimalist constructions it provides an outlet for the different isolates of the cornerstones of perfumery to provide a different perspective.
What has been trending particularly this year is to use a particular isolate which is missing a characteristic part of the full-spectrum ingredient. For instance, the sandalwood used by perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu in Comme des Garcons Concrete is missing some of the austere woody character. The white flowers at the heart of Chanel Gabrielle can be dialed to a desired indole level by perfumer Olivier Polge. Daniela Andrier uses a specific less rooty version of iris in Tiffany & Co.
What is interesting is each perfumer adds in what is missing with a different ingredient providing an opaque abstraction of the keynote. M. Beaulieu uses rose oxide and its metallic nature to replace the desiccated wood. M. Polge uses a set of white musks to set off the small amount of indoles present. Mme Andrier lets patchouli provide a different earthiness.
This is what will drive this current generational shift in perfume styles. By having more options, the perfumers can more precisely find a desired effect. It is the definition of modern perfumery to take nature and interpret it through our sense of smell. With the cornucopia of new options, the expansion of the perfumer’s palette promises a creativity that fragrance has not seen before.
For any brand to remain relevant it must adapt to the changes within its consumer base. It is one of the reasons I am so fascinated with the current consumer landscape. With two large generations for brands to court they will obviously tilt towards the younger one. Over the last 18-24 months this has played out in the fragrance area. The older the brand the more they will have had to figure out the changes and try to stay ahead of them. When it comes to perfume I can make the case that Chanel as a fragrance brand has not only signaled the changes they have called the tune for others to dance to. Because of that the new releases from Chanel have larger significance than just a new fragrance from one of the founders of modern perfumery.
Last year No. 5 L’Eau was the first look at where Chanel might be heading. In-house perfumer Olivier Polge is given the opportunity with this change to claim the next era of Chanel fragrance as his own. No. 5 L’Eau was M. Polge’s attempt to find a middle ground between the past and the present. I thought it was a fantastic perfume brilliantly executed. M. Polge’s next fragrance is meant to be a new pillar for the house it is called Gabrielle.
M. Polge describes Gabrielle as an “abstract floral”. I am coming to realize when a fragrance brand uses “abstract” that is PR speak for a transparent style of perfume. The more correct description of Gabrielle is as a transparent floral. What is fascinating here is M. Polge is doing what he did with No. 5 L’Eau. He is taking some of the heavier perfume ingredients; finding a way to make them more expansive. Gabrielle succeeds with this task as M. Polge finds that same middle ground that he did with No. 5 L’Eau.
Gabrielle opens with a transitory citrus top accord using grapefruit as the focal point. The flowers begin to arrive straightaway. Neroli and ylang-ylang come first as they pick up on the sunny quality of the citrus transforming it to a floral version. There is a faux-aldehydic sparkle to this. The heart is all white flowers, orange blossom, tuberose, and jasmine. M. Polge doesn’t remove the indoles completely. They are dialed down but they are there and that choice makes the heart a more relevant accord than if M. Polge played it safe using non-indolic versions of the notes. What is here is an effusive version of this white floral bouquet without being insipid. The base is sandalwood and a few white musks which provides a linen-like closing accord.
Gabrielle has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Coco nee Gabrielle Chanel
The name of this perfume is Ms. Chanel’s name that she was born with before she became Coco. While wearing this and bearing that in mind it made me think Gabrielle the perfume represents Gabrielle the aspiring fashion icon. Still searching for exactly what she stands for while knowing there are some things which are going to be part of Gabrielle or Coco. This is also going to be how many perfume lovers approach this. If you have come to Chanel through Coco; Gabrielle might seem to be a trifle. If you are someone who has stayed away from Chanel because it is “too strong” or “too old” I believe Gabrielle might bring you to Chanel for maybe the first time. I do think Chanel is trying to send the message that you don’t have to go as far towards the transparent as many other brands seem to believe. Chanel seems to be saying that things change but the underlying style is ever present.
Disclosure: this review was based on a preview bottle I purchased.