One of my favorite moment moments in modern fragrance history is the great Spicy Oriental boom of the Eighties. These fragrances were awesome, in my opinion; Opium, Cinnabar, Shalimar, Poison, Coco—these ladies didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thought of them. They were huge, domineering, impossible to mistake for another, and were so powerful that they launched the biggest backlash ever—the ultimate domination of ‘quiet’, ‘linear’ fragrances like CK One and Bulgari’s Thé Vert. What nobody seemed to realize, or at least care about, at the time is that these fragrances were singing the swan song of the great operatic fragrance a la big perfume house. Since then, most new releases—even from the great houses of Chanel and Guerlain—have been nice at times, but never as complex, dense, and intriguingly impossible to completely understand as these powerful creatures of their time. Of course, niche perfumers still create grand fragrances with lots going on all the time, but the general public, while reveling in all other things ‘eighties’ right now, doesn’t look like it is ever going to shift back to the perfume-friendly aspect of that decade’s zeitgeist anytime soon, if ever.
Chanel’s Coco is, characteristically, one of the most refined of the bunch, and the one I believe wears the best today because of it. It doesn’t scream “I am an eighties oriental!!” which some would say is a good thing, although to me, it just means I need to evaluate the juice on slightly modified terms. It is powdery in a very delicate way, spicy, woody, and dense, but also supremely balsamic and dark. The spicy notes shimmer about and change continuously, and some florals peek through the dense silk brocade oriental curtains from time to time, but only as if to say: “we are still here,but pay no mind to us…” I love its elegance, its indefinable glamour, and its very womanly and mysterious heart. I wear it when I want to seem cool, collected, but also sensual and indefinably exotic—I guess like Coco herself . A treat for the senses indeed.
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Benjamin Constant’s Oriental fantasy “Favorite of the Emir” and the image of young Coco Chanel courtesy of Wikimedia commons
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