Le Lion de Chanel lands today – and it’s anything but tame …
Let’s be honest – some brands have a premium perfume range that is simply a way of charging more for the same thing. But Chanel’s Les Exclusifs are special. This stellar line-up features scents created by legendary perfumers such as Jacques Polge (the third head perfumer at Chanel, following Ernest Beaux, creator of No5, and Henri Robert, who created No19), some dating back as far as 1922. Discovering them is like meeting Chanel No.5’s sophisticated older siblings.
The Exclusifs perfumes were brought together, in their taller elegant bottles, from 2007. And once you have discovered them, it is hard to turn back. The word “obsessed” is overused in beauty (and in general) now – but if you have a favourite Exclusif, it will not be something you wear lightly. You’ll either save it for special occasions, like a vintage champagne or a velvet dress – or else you’ll never be able to wear anything else. Because it just won’t smell quite as good. There’s a certain reverence to wearing one of these, somehow. One perfume lover I know is reserving Les Beiges purely to wear on her wedding day; I know that on the days I decide to spray Sycomore, it feels like treating myself.
Somehow, the Exclusifs are as much about atmosphere as being beautiful smells. My favourites include Coromandel, inspired by the elegant wooden Chinese screens that cover the walls of an entire room in Chanel’s Paris apartment – few other perfumes come close. I also remember stepping in to the hallway beside the Chanel boutique on Rue Cambon, after visiting Chanel’s apartment, preserved as it was when she lived there (though she slept across the street at the Ritz). The hallway was filled with a magical scent which turned out to be the Eau de Cologne – the simplest idea in scent made sensational. Other standouts include 31 Rue Cambon (an exquisite chypre), the 1924 leather beauty Cuir de Russie, and Sycomore, that spicy, luxurious trail of smoke.
Gabrielle Chanel pictured at her Rue Cambon apartment
The thing with Les Exclusifs is that there are no holds barred on either raw materials or concepts. And Chanel has access to the finest. As the current Chanel perfumer Olivier Polge explains: “Ernest Beaux, the first Chanel perfumer, said that to create a new fragrance, you need new ingredients. As such, Chanel has always focused on crafting exclusive essences capable of creating unique olfactory impressions. Through a special selection of supply sources and using specific extraction and refinement methods, we obtain custom ingredients that express the signature of the House.”
All the scents have a definite connection back to Gabrielle Chanel herself – Polge’s previous Exclusifs include Boy and Misia, inspired by her great love and her best friend respectively. And Olivier Polge’s Le Lion de Chanel is no exception. The designer was very superstitious, and as a Leo she chose the lion as her spirit animal, her daemon, representing not only her star sign, but also her beloved Venice. It was a talisman of power and nobility that endlessly inspired her, and you spot many references to the lion around her apartment. As Polge puts it: “These multiple visions of the lion are what interested me, and the common denominator is a certain notion of power that is always conveyed with elegance.”
So what does the newest addition smell like? First impressions are surprising – Le Lion is extremely rich and deep, luxuriating in the softest leather. Though Polge focused more on an “emblematic” lion, and did not use animal notes as such, this perfume does have an animalic feel somehow. Polge puts this down to the patchouli, which he describes as “untamed”; it lends this scent a deep earthiness. And for me this makes it exactly right for now, because it’s both grounding but uplifting, with a brightness – Polge’s scents tend to have a “solar” quality, a golden elegance (here, it’s down to the bright lemon and bergamot notes).
The official term for this category of scent that is spicy, woody and warm is “oriental”, though “glowing amber” could cover it. The key essence of this perfume is cistus labdanum, a resin from a Mediterranean flowering plant; Polge focused on this “to concentrate its effects and intensify its velvety and leather facets. And I used an infusion of vanilla from Madagascar, made inhouse with exceptional beans. These two ingredients contribute to the sophistication of the fragrance and are what render it inimitable.”
Les Exclusifs are perfumes that are long-lasting enough to linger on your skin – you’ll catch traces of it even after a shower. These are perfumes that leave a lasting impression on your clothes, an imprint of you. Distinctive and memorable, they will always remind you of a moment in time. Since this of all Januarys could definitely do with some uplifting glamour, this rich, deep, bright blend enables us to dress up while we’re at home.
A new range of Rouge Allure Velvet Le Lion lipsticks is launching to accompany the perfume, a limited-edition collection with lion-embossed lids in face-brightening luminous matte shades (€38, limited edition). These click-up lipsticks are much copied, never bettered. I’m getting much joy from Rouge Impulsif – at a time when we are not able to be impulsive or spontaneous in life, we’re finding that spirit instead with this bright coral-red. No mask will stop us cheering our faces up with lip colour! And it will be the perfect joyful shade in which to celebrate spring.
Les Exclusifs de Chanel: Le Lion de Chanel, from €175, at Chanel Boutiques
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