Let’s Play Questions… Vol. 7: Small Pleasures

Source: Amazing Landscapes, Nature, Animals and Places Facebook page.

Source: Amazing Landscapes, Nature, Animals and Places Facebook page.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the small pleasures in life, and the new things that have caught my attention or made me happy. This summer was an extremely difficult time for me for a variety of reasons, and August was quite exhausting. These days, I am constantly behind schedule on all that I have to do, I’m frequently mentally wiped out, I will never get through my “To Do” list, and there doesn’t seem to be much joyous news in the world in general. Wherever I go, whether on social media sites or simply overhearing people talk in the post office queue, there seems to be a definite sense of grimness in the air. More than usual, I think. The headlines have been filled with an abundance of tragedies or conflicts, to the point where I’ve often had to look away from my Facebook feed, or seek mental or emotional refuge in simpler, happier things. Although one can’t live life as an ostrich sticking one’s head in the sand, there’s much to be said for trying to focus on the small joys in life.

In short, I thought it was time to bring back the Questions game, centered on the things that have brought all of you joy lately. A more leisurely post, en effet, a time to chat, as I work through my daily testing. Right now, I’m finally getting around to an Italian series which I had initially scheduled for some months ago. I will be focusing on different houses, especially some of the smaller, less widely explored ones, and will be making only a few occasional day-trips to other countries. I am working slower than usual these days, undoubtedly due to the aforementioned mental exhaustion, but I wanted to take a small break first to share some of the things that have brought me pleasure in the last few months, and then turn the floor over to hear from all of you.

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Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Café Rose (The Jardin Noir Collection)

Subversive. Forbidden. IntoxicatingBewitching. Darkness that is so thrillingly beautiful it “could almost ruin you.”

That was Tom Ford’s goal for his 2012 Jardin Noir collection, a subset of his prestige “Private Blend” line of fragrances. His twist on traditionally innocent flowers encompassed roses, narcissus, hyacinths, and lilies with Café Rose, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth and Lys Fume. I have three of fragrances and have already reviewed Ombre de Hyacinth.

This review is focused solely on Café Rose, a scent that triggered a wide array of emotions, but which ultimately left me feeling cold. To be honest, it was quite overwhelming at times. By the end, I felt simply tired out and beaten over the head. I am admittedly not a huge worshipper of rose fragrances, but there is something almost bullying, cloying, and deeply exhausting about Café Rose.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. According to Tom Ford’s full press release description for the Jardin Noir collection on Bergdorf Goodman’s site, his vision for the Jardin Noir collection is as follows:

Jardin Noir explores the forbidden sides of four of perfumery’s most treasured blooms: narcissus, hyancinth [sic], rose, and lily.

Convention is abandoned and unexpected ingredients converge with bewitching and intoxicating results. Iconic flowers fall open, dropping their innocent facades to reveal the subversive beauty and fierce elegance they normally keep hidden.

The specific description of Café Rose is quite beautiful:

Enticing. Exotic. Seductive. Cafe Rose descends into a hidden labyrinth, where roses’ fine breeding gives way to darker pleasures.

Café Rose was created by Antoine Liu and, according to Fragrantica, the notes are:

Top notes are saffron, black pepper and may rose; middle notes are turkish rose, bulgarian rose and coffee; base notes are incense, amber, sandalwood and patchouli.

Tom Ford fragrances are the oddest thing on my skin because how they smell can vary substantially with how much you put on. Café Rose is no exception. I tried it on three times, each with slightly varying results for the opening stage. On each occasion, I put on less of the perfume with the third time having the very smallest amount. That time, the perfume opened with a faintly soapy musk note that was sweet with an almost vanilla-like undertone to the roses. It was definitely a plethora of white musk, which I am not particularly keen on, I must say.

With that outcome being a slight exception, my overall first impression of Café Rose has always been fruited roses — with only the concentration or degree of the note varying. There is an explosively sweet impression of roses — blood-red and tea-rose pink — with jammy notes that definitely evoke fruit. There is a dark grape, almost like Welch’s, as well as something that smells surprisingly a little like canned peaches.

I suspect the patchouli is responsible for that very “purple patchouli” fruited note; those who dislike it may want to want to steer clear of Café Rose because there really is no escaping it. It’s there almost from start to finish. It also adds a very thick, almost gooey and unctuous feel to the roses which, at times, can feel spectacularly sweet. That sweetness almost verges on “tea rose” territory, and those of you who were around for the infamous ’80s Tea Rose fragrance from Perfumer’s Workshop may shudder in response.

Despite the headiness and painful sweetness of Café Rose, the perfume is never oppressively heavy. Ten minutes after applying it in even a concentrated dose (2 good sprays), it becomes a much lighter, sheerer scent. The sillage drops as well, though this is one very persistent perfume. I don’t detect any saffron in its own right but there is a vague sense of creamy sandalwood underneath all that jammy fruit.

Two hours in, Café Rose turns darker with the presence of black pepper and coffee. The black pepper adds a slightly fiery, peppery bite to the sweetness of the floral note, though at times it feels more like pink peppercorns in a combination that is all too familiar these days. The coffee note is far more interesting. If you’re expecting the aroma of Starbucks or roasted coffee beans, you will be disappointed. Here, it’s more like the wet, black coffee grounds that you empty out of your filter after you’ve brewed a cup. It adds a faintly bitter, nutty, earthy note to that heavily jammy, very fruited rose note.

The fiery pepper and the bitter coffee make a valiant (though not wholly successful) effort at diluting the jamminess of the roses. Thank God for small favours, because, by the two-hour benchmark, my nose was quite oppressed by just how sweet this perfume is. Plus, to be quite frank, there is almost an artificial, synthetic aspect to things where it doesn’t smell wholly natural but, rather, just…. painful. It’s hard to explain, but there is something in this perfume that — no matter how much or how little you put on — simply feels cloying. And, really, there seems to be no escape from it.

That overwhelmed feeling probably explains why I couldn’t detect a plethora of notes in Café Rose. Over the course of its development, the degree of the black pepper and black coffee grinds rose and waned in differing degrees, but the oppressive presence of that very purple patchouli note dulled everything else to a large degree. There was some creamy sandalwood and, I suppose, faint smoke from the incense, but did I mention purple patchouli?

It did fade away, eventually, leaving me gasping like a stranded seal on a beach. At that point, about seven hours later, all that remained was the rose note, accompanied simply by vanilla and powder. Then, in the eighth and final hour, there was merely some vague, amorphous sense of a powdery soapy musk.

Oddly, on the third test, when I wore very little of the fragrance, the painful purpleness was much less. Instead, now, there was just that soapy white musk accord which I cannot stand. It felt clean and fresh, I suppose. If that’s damning with faint praise, it’s because it’s meant to be. 

Café Rose does have its fans, many of whom seem to find it a purely rose and coffee fragrance. However, a good number of people on Fragrantica find it to be a substantially poorer cousin to Tom Ford‘s Noir de Noir. I agree with that assessment. I liked a good portion of Noir de Noir (which I reviewed here) and, though I didn’t like its powdered violet finish, I think it’s a much better, more complex treatment of roses.

On Fragrantica, a number of others keep talking about Café Rose having an oud note — which frankly leaves me utterly bewildered. If I didn’t have a manufacturer’s sample with the card and labeling on the vial, I’d wonder if I tried the wrong perfume. There is absolutely no agarwood in this cloying sweet, peppered aberration.

I’m sure there is more to say on Café Rose — more talk of sillage and longevity, or some positive reviews I could link to, as well as other negative ones. To be honest, I simply lack the energy for that. After living with this bloody thing for two days, and making every effort possible to be fair, I find myself just wanting to be rid of it. I’m tired of Café Rose — on every possible level. I want it gone from my life forever. In fact, since I cannot bear another moment thinking of, discussing, or even wearing this blasted thing, I’m ending this here and now.

For some odd reason, none of the Jardin Noir fragrances are listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website. They are, however, available at numerous high-end department stores where its price is just like that of other Tom Ford fragrances: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In UK pricing, they sell for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. In the US, you can find Café Rose at Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and many others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods and Selfridges.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, you can also find samples of Café Rose starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Ombre de Hyacinth (The Jardin Noir Collection)

Jardin Noir CollectionIn 2012, Tom Ford released his Jardin Noir collection for his Private Blend line of fragrances. The collection consisted of four supposedly dark, twisted, “bewitching” takes on traditionally sweet, innocent flowers: narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily. The fragrances are: Café Rose, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth and Lys Fume. I have three of the fragrances (Café Rose, Lys Fumé and Ombre de Hyacinth) and have tested two of them but, for reasons of length, this review is solely for Ombre de Hyacinth.

According to Now Smell This, Tom Ford had the following perspective and goal for the line:

When you showcase their darker and less innocent aspects, flowers can become so thrilling and beautiful, they could almost ruin you. That was the sensation I was after.

Bergdorf Goodman appears to have the full press release description for the Jardin Noir collection:

Jardin Noir explores the forbidden sides of four of perfumery’s most treasured blooms: narcissus, hyancinth [sic], rose, and lily.

Convention is abandoned and unexpected ingredients converge with bewitching and intoxicating results. Iconic flowers fall open, dropping their innocent facades to reveal the subversive beauty and fierce elegance they normally keep hidden.

OMBRE DE HYACINTHI had extremely high hopes for Ombre de Hyacinth as an ideal Spring fragrance with a slight edge. For one thing, I adore the scent of the flower which I always associate with March and certain cultural festivities in my family. For another, the description of the scent was beautiful:

Sophisticated. Voluptuous. Passionate. Ombre de Hyacinth creates bewitching tension as hyacinth cloaks its voluptuous beauty behind cool, aristocratic finery.

Ombre de Hyacinth was created by Calice Becker and, according to Fragrantica, the notes are:

Top notes are galbanum, violet leaf, magnolia petals and olibanum [frankincense]; middle notes are hyacinth, pink pepper and jasmine; base notes are galbanum, benzoin and musk.

The very first impression I had of Ombre de Hyacinth was soap. Light, airy, aldehydic, floral soap bubbles with an underlying note of powder. Mere seconds later, there was a strong note of zesty, fresh lemon and lime. The zesty lemon soap image was replaced after ten minutes by galbanum’s bitter greenness atop a woody element.

Galbanum is the bracingly bitter, distilled oil from a Persian shrub and it has a definite greenness; sometimes, it also has an earthy or slightly resinous undertone. Here, it was mostly just sharp, mossy,bitter, and fresh. On occasion, it faintly resembled the dark soil of a freshly tilled garden, but I had a much less earthy experience than some. There was also some sharp black pepper which added an even greater bite to the fragrance.

The peppered wood notes continued to increase in prominence, though the scent was still very green and dark. Thirty minutes in, there was a hint of musky jasmine. For those who struggle with jasmine, you might be relieved to know that it only lasted about twenty minutes on my skin before vanishing, and that it was always very sheer and light. All that was left was that impression of black pepper and wood with some amorphous “floral” notes, soap, and a hint of powder. There was the mere suggestion of hyacinth but, at this point, it was far from strong. It most certainly feels nothing like the actual flower to my nose and it’s a definite disappointment.

There was an odd aspect to the florals that I couldn’t pinpoint, so I looked up one of the ingredients that I was not familiar with — “Violet leaf” — on Fragrantica, and bingo! According to their description, violet leaf is a

metallic smelling, green and aqueous note that is common in modern masculine and unisex fragrances, providing a fresher and non-retro note compared to traditional sweet violet.

Yes, metallic, green and simultaneously aqueous was exactly what the florals smelled like. That mélange of notes, when combined with the bitter greenness of the galbanum and the soapy aspect of the aldehydes, was quite an odd twist on the typical fresh, Spring-like floral fragrance. And I can’t say I was crazy about it. 

Hyacinth from PicsToPin ComAfter about ninety minutes, the scent softened further becoming just some vaguely amorphous impression of freshness: lightly powdered, lightly soapy, lightly woody, lightly aquatic, fresh florals with a hint of greenness. Ombre de Hyacinth remains that way until shortly before the fifth hour when — finally — the hyacinth arrives on the scene. On par with the rest of the perfume, it is extremely light, airy, tinged by soap (again), endlessly fresh, and very redolent of Spring. I feel as though I’m repeating myself ad nauseam, but I can’t help it. This is not a complicated scent. And it’s about as “dark” and twisted as a poodle.

Personally, I would have much preferred a more concentrated essence of hyacinth instead of something that is really akin to a generic, fresh floral which just merely happens to have some quiet hyacinth touches. I would also have preferred something far less soapy and aquatic. However, for those who like fresh, clean florals that are sheer (bordering on translucent), Ombre de Hyacinth may be perfect.

This is not a strong floral or even a strong hyacinth fragrance. Everything about the scent is light — right down to its sillage. In the opening hour, the perfume’s projection is moderate and, thereafter, it drops to become very close to the skin. Its gauziness makes it extremely office-friendly. Yet, it has surprising tenacity for something so airy and translucent. All in all, Ombre de Hyacinth lasted just under ten hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

Nonetheless, I think it’s hugely overpriced for what it is. $205 at the low end of the scale seems very high for a light, fresh, soapy floral scent. It’s not exactly an uncommon category of fragrances, after all.

The Non-Blonde reached the exact same conclusion. She had a slightly similar experience to mine which she boiled down to four words: “nice French hyacinth soap.” But at least she was lucky enough to have a heavy hyacinth start at all! I quite envy her, especially as she initially felt as though she were in a Monet painting. (Lucky devil.)

After about fifteen minutes of walking around inside a Monet painting, the fantasy starts to fray at the hem and disintegrate. The abstract floral heart becomes very soapy and loses its best characteristics. There’s nothing narcotic or illicit in a rental vacation cottage out in the country, as clean and quaint as it might be. It smells good, but the composition flattens in front of my eyes (or nose) and loses any depth, shadows, and “decadence” that Ford aspired to have there. [¶] The dry-down remains bathroomy.

I experienced a lot more woody, peppery notes than she seems to have done — not to mention that disconcerting violet leaf metallic, aquatic accord — but, yes, it does really evoke a cottage out in the British countryside, especially once the more peppery notes subside. A less charitable person might just say it epitomizes expensive hotel soap. Or, as one poor sod on Fragrantica wrote, “This on me smells just like Carpet Fresh and Irish Spring soap – for hours”….

Nonetheless, I would be tempted to recommend it to those who like extremely fresh, clean, soapy scents. Except for one thing. To quote the Non-Blonde: “this Tom Ford fragrance is grossly overpriced for what it is.”

Cost & Availability: For some odd reason, none of the Jardin Noir fragrances are listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website. They are, however, available at numerous high-end department stores where its price is like that of other Tom Ford fragrances: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In UK pricing, they sell for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. In the US, you can find the fragrance at: Bergdorf GoodmanNeiman Marcus, NordstromSaks Fifth Avenue, and many others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods or Selfridges. Elsewhere, Tom Ford fragrances are carried in numerous different countries; hopefully, you can find one near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, you can also find samples of Ombre de Hyacinth starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.

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.”

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).