There’s a new lightness in the world of LUXURY BEAUTY – get ready for a new aesthetic, says beauty editor SARAH HALLIWELL …
Luxury tends to tip the scales: we associate weighty with being reassuringly expensive, from a hefty leather handbag to make-up compacts that feel heavy in your hand. Weights are added to lipstick bullets to make them more substantial. But we’re seeing a new lightness take hold, for both aesthetic and environmental reasons.
Leading the charge in subverting this idea of weightiness is Chanel. Its first entirely new fragrance in 15 years, Gabrielle Chanel eau de parfum (which launches in September) celebrates the most essential, stripped-back and purest elements of perfume – and that includes the bottle, a delicate object created with the thinnest glass ever used for a perfume bottle.
At the launch in Paris, we met the bottle’s designer, Sylvie Legastelois, head of packaging and graphic design creation, who has worked for Chanel for 33 years. She is the company’s secret weapon – the creative powerhouse behind the endless procession of design innovations. Everything we’ve admired over the years, from the click-up Rouge Allure lipsticks, twist-up travel sprays and that exquisite black Coco Noir bottle – they’re all down to Legastelois and her team.
The designer’s insistence on the finest possible glass for the Gabrielle bottle helps explain why the project has taken several years to complete. “Simplicity is a new form of luxury – a beautiful object can be simple. I wanted something simple, to give prominence to the fragrance. But simple does not always mean easy. It’s challenging: you have to guarantee the robustness of the product and also make it luxurious, a precious object.”
The bottle looks deceptively effortless, with its square label and cap, and bevels that converge in the centre to catch the play of light. Yet no other perfume bottle looks like this: when a bottle is made, the marloquette – the curved part of the glass at the bottom – is an intrinsic part of the process. “With the glassmaker, we found a way to push the glass out, so that the marloquette is outside. It became my obsession, to have something flat.” This was followed by endless tests to check the robustness of the delicate bottle. Legastelois is a perfectionist: “It’s always a question of details … tiny details.”
Going light brings new challenges, and ignites new ideas. In every perfume box you’ve ever opened, the interior sleeve is entirely throwaway and functional, but for Chanel, it’s beautiful as well as protective: the Gabrielle bottle (and No 5 L’Eau) is encased in an embossed sleeve. “Gabrielle Chanel said that elegance is when the inside it as beautiful as the outside – and also that luxury is as much about what you don’t see,” notes Legastelois, who was inspired by a box in Chanel’s apartment, given to Gabrielle by the Duke of Westminster: it’s silver on the outside, gold on the inside. “This sleeve helps emphasise the preciousness of the bottle inside.”
Even the colour of the perfume was considered from a design perspective. “The perfume’s solar quality was my inspiration for the colour of the scent – I wanted something simple and luminous, not a flashy gold. I was also inspired by haute couture embroidery and jewellery. It’s neither gold nor silver. At Chanel there is a strong link between the content and the container – I work in close collaboration with Olivier [Polge, Chanel’s perfumer] and we feed off one another.”
For the scent itself, Polge focused on two key flowers, orange and jasmine, to create an “imaginary flower” full of sunlight and freshness. “The orange flower is very sparkling, along with mandarin, bergamot and a touch of blackcurrant,” the perfumer explains, as we smell each note separately, “and then you go into the feminine side which has more depth, to discover the body of the fragrance, the jasmine.” When you smell the jasmine on its own it has a dense creamy sweetness, while the background of the flowers is soft, with sandalwood and benzoin (a balsamic resin). “Everything that is around the flower is to enhance and hold the flowers; nothing is added as a contrast,” Polge explains. The result? Utterly pure and warmly feminine – a modern classic.
Even the classic bottles are regularly reinvented, tweaked and modernised, in such a subtle way you notice only subliminally. “We’re constantly updating,” she says. “We don’t stop. Mademoiselle Chanel was always ahead and so we always want to surprise, and come up with unexpected things. I always look to see something new, things that are not obvious at first. You have to be a little bit curious.”
Gabrielle Chanel eau du parfum, €97.
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