Preliminary Review – Chanel Les Exclusifs 1932: Sparkling Jasmine

In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Chanel launched her first collection of haute jewelry. It consisted of diamonds set in platinum and was shown in an exhibit entitled “Bijoux de Diamants.” In 2012, on the 80th Anniversary of that exhibit, Chanel debuted a new fine jewelry collection and, in homage, called it The 1932 Collection.

Le-parfum-1932-de-ChanelSometime in early 2013, Chanel will release the perfume that goes along with that collection. It too is called, quite simply, 1932 and it is part of Chanel’s Les Exclusifs line of fragrances. The date for its release seems to be February 1, 2013, though I have read one report of March 1, 2013.

I have a large sample of 1932 already, but there is no official information on the perfume, no press release, no listing on Chanel’s website, and only a few unconfirmed details. So, I set out to discover more about the perfume prior to reviewing it. Two attempts to ascertain notes or details from Chanel were unsuccessful. The only thing that seemed certain beyond all doubt is that 1932 is a jasmine scent that comes in Eau de Toilette concentration. So, I played amateur detective, relying on a photo of a 1932 perfume box, its listed ingredients, and Google. You can read about my efforts in full detail here, but the bottom line is that the only definite notes in 1932 thus far seem to be:

jasmine, iris and musk.

Relying on the perfume box’s list of ingredients and all the sources available to me thusChanel 1932 far, I hazarded a vague guess that the notes may include some or all of the following:

Jasmine, rose or some possible rose enhancers (farnesol), bergamot (or lavender or coriander), cinnamon, cloves, violet or orris/iris, coumarin (hay), musk and possibly vetiver.

Again, you can read all the reasons why I came to that conclusion in the Sneak Peek post.

I am the very first to say that I am no perfume expert, and even less so when it comes to chemical terms and the technical aspect of perfume ingredients. I have tried to do the best that I can, with the limited information and resources available to me, but I’m sure my attempts to translate terms like “hexyl cinnamal,” “linalool,” or “farnesol” may have gone array somewhere.

Nonetheless, I think I have a mildly competent nose (I hope), so I can give you preliminary idea of what 1932 is like. Later, when Chanel releases press information, details of 1932’s notes, pricing and availability, I will do a proper review and include other people’s perceptions or reviews of the scent so that you can get a better, fuller idea as to what it is like.

For the meantime, however, I’m working totally blind on this — much like someone standing before a Mexican piñata while blind-folded, and attempting to hit something accurately. Let’s take a leap into the deep-end together.

1932 opens on me with a strong burst of bright lemon. It’s so fresh and zesty, I feel as though someone just cut into a lemon in front of me and squirted some drops of its juices on my skin. That immediate burst of freshness is followed almost seconds later by a massive dose of aldehydes. (You can read more about aldehydes in the Glossary.) Here, they smell soapy, waxy and candle-like. The lemon quickly melts into the aldehydes, creating the impression of soapy lemon wax. There is also the impression of something floral, akin to rose, but it is almost imperceptible under that thick veil of aldehydes. Along side, there is faintly powdery iris, but, again, the whole thing is subsumed under the sheer force of the aldehydes.

For full clarity, I should note that I tested out 1932 twice to ensure I had as accurate a sense about the perfume as possible. And, with one exception, 1932 was consistently the same throughout. The difference was a slight variation in the opening. The second time I tested 1932, there was a hefty dose of coumarin with its strong notes of sweet hay that appeared almost immediately after the lemon note. (In fact, if I sniff the vial to my decant, the predominant impression is of lemon followed by hay.) Unfortunately, the hay note is a bit of a ghost throughout this perfume. As you will read later, it pops up, vanishes, comes back, flits away, and so on. It is both maddening and quite enchanting, but then I love coumarin. With the exception of coumarin’s appearance in the opening the second time around, the rest of the perfume’s development continued on the same trajectory in both tests.

Two minutes in, the jasmine makes an appearance. It is timid, as if raising its bonneted head above the field of waxy soap and dappled lemon. The jasmine is sweet, light and demure, verging on the insubstantial. How could it possibly compete with those forceful aldehydes? This is probably the time to confess that I am not a particular fan of aldehydic fragrances and that this opening makes me sigh a little, though it is never as extreme or as unbearable as some perfumes. Even for someone like myself who dislikes the note, this is very manageable.

Fifteen minutes in, the jasmine becomes a much stronger player on 1932’s stage. It is heady, but there is a surprising sheerness and airiness to the scent. It is not an indolic or over-ripe scent — and jasmine can be one of the most indolic flowers around! (You can read more about Indoles and Indolic scents at the Glossary.) Indolic flowers can often have a rubbery element to the narcotic richness at their heart; over-blown ripeness that, sometimes, can verge almost on the side of decay. These indoles are the reason why some people get the impression of “rotting fruit,” sourness, urine, plastic, or Hawaiian flowers. Here, I don’t smell anything verging on over-ripe or full-blown; there is no rubberiness, no rotting fruit and, certainly, no decay. However, I do occasionally get faint whiffs of something slightly sour emanating from my arm. It’s extremely mild, never constant, and quite fleeting.

Thirty minutes in, 1932’s aldehydes have faded and jasmine takes full center stage. It is significantly stronger, though still airy, and is now accompanied by musk. There are also faint banana undertones to the scent. I have no idea if they are yet another manifestation of the aldehydes (which can take on a banana accord in addition to the lemon, waxy, soapy one) or if they are the result of something else. Such as, for example, ylang-ylang.

One person who has already tried 1932 says that there is ylang-ylang and sandalwood in the scent. On Perfume Shrine (a blog which first broke the story of 1932 over a year ago in early 2012), a poster by the name of Henrique/Rick wrote the following description this week on the site’s latest entry about the perfume:

Well, in the case of this fragrance, i’m pretty sure that it’s not hedione, since the jasmine used on it has a slightly fruity, yellow aspect on the aroma, while the hedione is more green to my nose. This is a lovely Chanel, very true to the classics. Altough the jasmine is highlighted, this is not a heavy jasmine fragrance. It starts with a exquisite blend of aldehydes, iris and ylang-ylang, then leaving space for the jasmine to shine, and at the base revisiting the jasmine and combining it with a gorgeous woody base of sandalwood supported by some musks. It’s really well done, there was a long time that i didn’t smell a Chanel that i wanted to glue my nose on my arm from the first moment until the last on skin.

Henrique/Rick’s comment is the sole description or impression of 1932 that I can find anywhere on the internet at this point. I agree with him on much of his description, especially the aldehydes. (How could one miss them?!) I also agree on the iris, but I’m not absolutely convinced on the ylang-ylang or the sandalwood. Yes, they could be there. But then again, the banana smell could easily come from the aldehydes; and jasmine by itself can be as heady, ripe and creamy as ylang-ylang.

Henrique/Rick is probably correct that “hedione” (a jasmine molecule first discovered in 1962) is not included here. For one thing, hedione is not listed on the box, though obviously that’s not dispositive. Perfume boxes don’t always list all the ingredients, after all! But the real thing is, one doesn’t have to use hedione to create a jasmine scent. According to a detailed explanation of how to create jasmine scents by Pierre Benard, a Grasse perfumer interviewed on Fragrantica, there are other ways to replicate the flower’s note. One way is to combine “Indol plus Benzyl Benzoate” with some eugenol for a green note. I see the eugenol and Benzyl Benzoate on 1932’s box, so maybe that is the route Chanel decided to take here. I certainly don’t smell the green note that Henrique/Rick attributes to hedione but, like him, a much more yellow, fruity aspect.

We part ways on the issue of sandalwood. If it’s included in 1932, it was almost nonexistent on my skin the first time round. The second time round, I could smell something vaguely approximating it, I suppose, but it was extremely faint. The impression may well have come from another ingredient entirely. I think back to Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s repeated comments in “Perfumes: the A-Z Guide” 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 1932 may have sandalwood in it (of any kind), I think it is completely overshadowed and overpowered by the musk.

In that first hour, there was an unexpected element to 1932 in my first test. For some inexplicable reason, there was a slight earthiness to the scent on one arm accompanied by definite notes of mildew. It was faint but, there is no doubt, I smelled mildew! It’s not musty, so much as faintly moldy and a bit damp, if that makes sense. I can only attribute it to iris note which I’m guessing is from orris root; distillations from the roots of a flower or plant can have a faintly earthy smell, and that is much more the case than when the flower above earth is used. But I’m still not quite sure what causes the mildew note unless it is the combination of the orris root with the musk. The second time around, I didn’t smell mildew precisely, but there was a similarly damp and slightly earthy note. This time, it was faintly musty. Nonetheless, it was extremely subtle and subsumed by the stronger musk note.

1932 remains a predominantly musky jasmine smell for about two hours and then two new players arrive on the stage. The first is bergamot. It isn’t overwhelming but neither is it so faint as to be imperceptible. It’s a bit of a surprise, to be honest, especially for it to show up at this point instead of in the opening. But I definitely smell traces of Earl Grey Tea! It adds a note of freshness and depth to a scent that was essentially quite simple thus far.

The second player is coumarin. As noted earlier, the coumarin note is almost like a playful ghost: it appears with such freshness and sweetness, then it suddenly vanishes entirely, only to reappear and pop back up 10 minutes later, before flitting away again. Its coy disappearing act continues throughout the development of 1932. Each time, however, the coumarin smells exactly like freshly mowed hay! It never has the vanilla undertones that the ingredient may sometimes have. It adds a bit of dryness and a subtle woodsy element to the sweet jasmine; it also tends to make 1932 a scent that some jasmine-loving men could wear as well.

The final hours of 1932 are very simple. It is really just jasmine and musk with an almost imperceptible touch of something woody. It’s soft, light, and silky on the skin like a fine negligée. And that’s about it.

At no time did I smell the cinnamon or cloves which I had guessed might be in the perfume due to the ingredient list on the perfume box. Nor did I perceive any obvious or strong vetiver notes, even though the French Marie-Claire site had stated vetiver was in the perfume. To the extent that vetiver roots can contribute to an earthy element in perfumes, then perhaps that was the cause of the faintly musty, earthy impression that I had at one point. But I highly doubt it; I really don’t smell vetiver! (And I just reviewed Chanel’s vetiver scent, Sycomore, yesterday, so I am familiar with both the note and how Chanel may handle it.) No,1932 is not a green or green-brown scent in any way; it is all yellow and white, with perhaps a little beige from the musk.

ChandelierI have the oddest perception of 1932 as a crystal chandelier. Not all of its prism drops have been properly cleaned, and some have a thin film on them, as if from the remnants of soap. Others prisms, in contrast, are clear and reflect the light, shooting off coloured rays of lemon, jasmine and musk when the sun catches them. It’s overall shimmer is so subtle as to be imperceptible at times. Sometimes, it’s a bit dull and dusty. Sometimes, bright and shiny. But whenever the light hits it, there is a sparkle in Chandelier reflectionsthe reflection, even if it only hits the walls around it. In those cases, the jasmine sparkles with a sort of evanescent glow.

That said, I wasn’t overwhelmed by 1932. It is most definitely not love at first sniff, or even third. It is a perfectly nice, even lovely, scent that oozes very discreet, very expensive, elegant trails behind it. It is simultaneously somewhat heady but, yet, also sheer and light. But it is far too demure, nondescript and soft for me. I don’t find it particularly complex, transformative, or unique. At the same time, however, I think it is undeniably well-blended with ingredients that are obviously of extremely high-quality. It is hugely approachable, and will undoubtedly be a massive hit with those who like soft florals, jasmine fragrances and/or unobtrusive feminine scents.

All in all, it really and truly embodies the classique Chanel woman — though not a very modern one. To me, it calls to mind one of those 1950s aristocratic, wealthy leaders of high-society, or one of Alfred Hitchcock’s icy blondes. Impeccably dressed with pearls and gloves, hair frozen in a perfect coif, and extremely feminine, but also controlled, reserved, haughty, aloof and not-so-faintly superior. It is a fragrance that I can imagine a lot of women wearing every day. It is discreet, while being highly feminine, lady-like, and expensive-smelling. On the other hand, one might argue, it is also simple, boring, predictable, and faintly generic. There is nothing particularly electrifying or charismatic about it.

But you know what? I highly doubt it’s meant to be! This is a scent for the woman (or jasmine-loving man) who does not want to stand out in an ostensible manner. This is not for Maria Callas, Grace Kelly, or any famous person for that matter. This is for the quiet movers-and-shakers behind the scene who abhor the spotlight and who clutch their pearls (or cufflinks) at anything as remotely vulgar as obviousness. Quelle horreur! I think this is absolutely and intentionally meant to be a scent for the aristocratically discreet who want something safe and timeless that screams high-class, restraint and quiet wealth.

1932 accomplishes all that superbly.

Sillage & Longevity: The sillage and longevity of 1932 is adequate, in line with some others in the Exclusifs line which are said to be thin, sheer, and of short duration. (For example, 31 Rue Cambon or 28 La Pausa.) On me, 1932 had good projection for the first one and a half hours, thereafter becoming close to the skin. As for longevity, it was below-average even for my perfume-consuming skin. It only lasted a little bit above 4 hours, all in all. But, as always, remember that my body consumes perfume. Perhaps others will have more luck. At this time, it’s hard to know for certain what it would be like for the average, normal person.
Cost & Availability: There are limited details on either of these points. Thus far, I know that 1932 comes in Eau de Toilette concentration, but I don’t know if Chanel will release a parfum version as it has for three of its Exclusifs line (Bois des Iles, Gardénia & Cuir de Russie). As for cost, it will undoubtedly be the same as all the other Exclusifs eau de toilette fragrances which currently retail for $130 for a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle or $230 for a 6.8 oz/200 ml bottle. In general, the Exclusifs line is only available in Chanel boutiques or on their website. At this time, however, I have no information as to when 1932 will be available outside of Chanel’s Paris store, or when it will be available on its website (either the U.S. one or the French one). As noted earlier, I will do a full, proper review with all the necessary information once the perfume officially launches and Chanel releases further details.