Friday, September 19, 2008

Chanel Les Exclusifs Beige: fragrance review

Beige evokes different things for different people: from the suave to the anodyne all the way to lackluster, it is a neutral nuanced enough to escape the unambiguous reactions to black or white. Although the adjective has degenerated into invoking a blah response in the current vernacular, beige can be approached with the silent admiration that a honey-blonde with golden skin clad in a basic trenchcoat and heels can provoke in those of us with an eye for such things. Beige is thus baptised the new fragrance by Chanel to join the upscale line Les Exclusifs, modern compositions that interpret the olfactory heritage of Chanel to varying degrees. In house perfumers Jacques Polge and Chris Sheldrake envisioned a litany of shades for a completely new interpretation of an old rarity: Beige by Chanel was one of the rare vintage fragrances that hark back to the days of Gabrielle Chanel herself and formed a holy triad: Rouge, Bleue, Beige, inspired by her collection of dresses in red/blue/beige in jersey but also echoing the triptych of the French flag colours.

Coco turned beige into a symbol of elegance: "I take refuge in beige because it's natural". I distinctly recall that over a decade ago, this was used in the advertising surrounding the release of Allure Eau de Toilette (a different composition than the monodimensional vanillic indulgence of the Eau de Parfum). Contrary to usual packaging practices at Chanel, the box was not in the traditional white of the numerotical fragrances No.5, No. 22, No.19 or of Cristalle. Nor was it the arresting black of baroque oriental Coco: it was beige! At the time the press release insisted that the choice had been made exactly to pay hommage to one of Coco Chanel's favorite colors.
Perhaps the most successful and discreetly seductive use of beige has been in Chanel's trademark two-toned shoes, originally conceived as slingbacks in 1957, which she called souliers. Raymond Massaro, the shoemaker attached to the house, along with his father, was responsible for production at that time. Beige provided optical lengthening of the calf, while the black, slightly sqaure toe shortened the foot, making feet look dainty. Their discreetly fetishistic sensuality is ladylike, alluding to nude smooth skin without any trace of vulgarity. It makes me think of images of Jean Shrimpton in Melbourne, ladylike prim in her minidress and two-toned Chanel flats, and the tactile curves of suave luxury cars. Exactly what Beige by Chanel is all about!

Hawthorn or aubépine, the leitmotif in Beige, is rendered synthetically in perfumes for several decades. Produced via anisic aldehyde* (p-methoxy benzaldehyde) it has been sublimely woven into the gauzy cloth of Après L’Ondée by Guerlain (where it sings along with heliotropin), which Beige indirectly references. The fluffy, almondy "note" is also used in many contemporary fragrances, from the top note allied to violets of Paris by Yves Saint Laurent to niche offerings L'eau d'Hiver by F.Malle and Daim Blond by Serge Lutens. This shady, dusty smell that borders on a wistful gourmand resembles the tender caress of a godmother fulfilling much anticipated wishes. Much like the latter fragrances Beige resolutely eschews retro allusions to enter the territory of modern compositions. Sketched around this core the sparkling, fresh, lathery ambience of a note that resembles lily of the valley synthetic approximations and the discreet garland of tropical blooms frangipani and ylang-ylang -alluding to No.5 Sensual Elixir- reveal a creamy sensuality gaining momentum slowly.

But the most surprising effect of Beige (and I am astonished I am the first to notice it) comes when you have waited for it for a couple of hours to dry on skin or blotter: the final accord is very much that of Infusion d'Iris by Prada! The woody powdery effect resembles Ambré 83, a sweet base produced by Laboiratoires De Laire that focuses on benzoin, vanilla and honey, diluted five-fold. De Laire, founded in 1878, is famous for producing among other things the bases Prunol, Bouvardia and the infamous Mousse de Saxe for parfums Caron. Ambré 83 is the perfect bridge for perfumes with rich floral parts, such as L'eau de Circé by Parfumerie Generale and sometimes contributes to the linear effect of fragrances. Beige sustains the powdery woody effect for a long time, although it might benefit in terms of initial emotional response if made into a denser concentration, such as extrait de parfum.

If Chanel aimed at providing an instantly approachable, modern and restrained fragrance, they have undoubtedly succeeded. Much like Infusion d'Iris, with its feminine flounces coupled with masculine sparsness, Beige will appeal to women and men alike, floral-lovers as well as floral-haters and will prove to be a best-seller. Personally I would have liked if it included the black toe of the Chanel shoes that provides the arresting counterpoint. But for that I can revert to the more individual smokiness of Sycomore.

Official Notes for Chanel Beige: hawthorn, freesia, frangipani, honey.

Beige bu Chanel comes in the austere bottles of Les Exclusifs, in 200ml of Eau de Toilette. It's currently a Saks exclusive but later will be featured in all the usual places where Les Exclusifs are exclusively available.

*Anisic Aldehyde results upon oxidation of anethol which is contained in anise oil, star anise oil and fennel oil. It's also present in the extract of Tahiti vanilla and in Roman and French cassie blossom oils.

Photo "Beige Swede against beige wall", courtesy of Trudy/flickr. Pic of Beige bottle via press release. Pic of Chanel two-tone Mary Janes through Ebay.


  1. I'm not sure I'd wear a fragrance called 'beige.' I can only wear certain shades; the rest drab me out. I'd have to smell it first.

    Isn't that silly!

  2. Anonymous15:05

    Lovely always. I have been looking forward to experiencing BEIGE and now your writing is prompting me to immediately order a sample. Thank you Helg.

  3. It sounds beautiful and up my alley, but at the same time I can't help but wish Chanel would pay some attention to their more readily available fragrance line. They seem to be putting their originality into the Les Exclusive line and in the non-exclusive line just flankers.

  4. Anonymous20:12

    Great review - as always Helg.

    I thought when Chanel introduced the Les Exclusifs, they were only going to be sold in Chanel boutiques (like the Hermessences, Prada exclusives, etc)? Did they chaneg their mind? I was shocked when you posted that Saks stocked this.

  5. K,

    Isn't it funny how a name skews perceptions? However this is the nice side of beige, the pleasing, rich lady with thin gold bangles and hair down part.

  6. P,

    thank you for your kindness :-)
    Sampling is highly recommended for everything: I find this one will be pleasing to many people.

  7. J,

    very good point, actually!! Yes, the exclusive line is getting more attention lately in lieu of the mainstream.
    I believe you will like Beige. If only they did them in smaller bottles. But I can see how they consider this an indulgence of abundance...

  8. M,

    I was shocked by the news as well and practically urged my "reporter" to get there and sniff this for real!! LOL!
    I think big American stores like Saks or BG get this kind of exclusive as a special exception (as would Harrods in other cases) because they stand for luxury themselves and they place a special section for the featured brands (like the exclusive corner/boutique for Guerlain exclsuives for instance). The US market is realistically the biggest on the planet and positioning in such a place creates desire even more. Every brand is thinking about this and acting accordingly.

    Even some of those mentioned are shrouded with rumours... ;-)

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  10. Knock me down with a feather: I didn't know that!!

    It might be more straightforward to contact me with some advertising proposal instead of this. :-)
    I will delete subsequent entries of similar intent.

  11. perfumeshrine, fantastic review as always! I was at Saks again yesterday so I tested it for the second time, I believe it 's Chanel 's best non classic Exclusif (maybe along with Cambon) but it didn 't grab me. I 'll stick with Chanel No. 5 extrait, Cuir de Russie and Bois de Iles.

  12. Anonymous13:02

    So informative and at the same time so wonderfully written, thank you so much! I haven't tried it yet, but I am now curious to do so as soon as I have the chance because it sounds like something up my alley.
    I trust your judgement and have made some very lucky unsniffed purchases that way.

  13. Anonymous19:04

    I like it because of the name alone, but then beige is also of the colour that I wear the best :) Hope it will be available at this side of the Atlantic in the not-so-far-away future!
    Nice pics you have chose. I love the beige of the Volvo, and the shoes is beyond words nice. I understand and agree in the way you characterize them!

  14. Anonymous19:10

    Hi E,

    Wonderful review and I love those shoes pictured in your post. :))

    I called Saks yesterday and they don't have the Beige. They told me it's exclusive to the Saks in NYC. bummer. Have to see if I can drum up a sample from someone.

    Happy Saturday.


  15. Emmanuella,

    you flatter me, thank you.
    I can't say that I am nuts about it either (as might be deduced by my ending) but it's very well done and it will surely find a wide audience. It's very pleasant, quite elegant. If it had an angular counterpoint in there someplace it would be masterful indeed.
    Something tells me Bois des Iles and Cuir de Russie (incidentally the best extraits in the line) are not easy feats to repeat...

  16. Sue,

    thank you sweetie and hope I prove your trust worthwhile. By all means, sample, sample, sample, because sometimes a slight difference in perception makes or breaks these things.
    I also think it would suit you :-)

  17. S,

    thank you honey for your kind words. Choosing pics for the posts is always a pleasure (and a thought-proces for me) and hope that translates to the reader.
    Beige has elegant connotations to me too, especially the shoes were the first thing that came into my mind, I have that design in heels. Even more seductive...
    I think Beige will be available at the European Chanel boutiques very soon. It might be worth calling your nearest store and asking!

  18. D,

    thanks for the compliment. I should have mentioned it's only the NYC store, sorry about that. This is where my reader saw it anyway and it follows logically.
    I am sure the boutiques will soon stock it. (Wish I had more so I could send you some).

    The shoes have been a success: lots of mails asking me about them! ;-)

  19. Anonymous14:46

    Amazing review, helg, it seems to give the feeling of the new fragrance without smelling it, I wonder if it will be something I like. I will have to test it myself I suppose, lol, but still I think I get a little idea of it's scent. How interesting that they don't do a 'difficult' thing for their private line, I would have expected it, you know.

  20. Thank you Aline for the compliment. I think you'd like it.
    Well, they do some scents more difficult than others in the Exclusive line, but this is not one of them. I find it easy to like.

  21. perfumeshrine, did you see that POLers find Beige to smell like urine now? Yeah Beige smells like catpee. I 'm afraid some of these delusional "perfumistas" have too much time of their hands...

  22. Yes, Emmanuella, I saw that and indeed I felt a little guilty because I might have spoiled their pleasure (surely not my intention).

    No cat pee though, human urine (a different smell), surely and to be honest, wish I perceived it more clearly myself on my skin: but then I like a little dare in perfumes. Beige is good, but it would be truly great if it had that black-toe counterpoint.


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