Wander Luxe
Harper's Bazaar Malaysia|June 2018

Three new summer fragrances capture the stories of Chanel, with freshness, romance, and originality. Natasha Kraal speaks with perfume creator Olivier Polge on his new collection.

Natasha Kraal
Paris is always a good idea, even on this freezing February morning as I cut through grey slush at the famous crossroads of Faubourg-Saint- Honoré, wet snow and wild wind in my face, towards Chanel’s exquisite fine jewellery boutique at Place Vendôme. I had been waiting for this interview with Olivier Polge since he joined Chanel as its perfume creator in 2013 so a few icy skids in heeled boots were a minor detail. The city was in fashion limbo, catching its breath after the dreamy extravagance of haute couture in January and frenetic Paris Fashion Week in March; that effervescent air now hung heavy with winter melancholia, and back to looking monochromatic without the vibrant fashion set ’gramming the streets. Heavy glass doors and layers of winter clothes later, I was ushered three floors up into a signature Chanelstyle room—black lacquered table, beige carpeting, fresh lilies, bronze sculptures, and Coromandel screen, one from Gabrielle Chanel’s impressive collection of 32—for this exclusive embargoed preview, but not before signing a non-disclosure agreement. Seriously classified: how privileged to be privy to this secret project, even rarer to be told “no social media, photographs forbidden” at customarily hashtag-heavy press events.

Three unadorned bottles lay on the table, in their minimalist flacon designs and modernist Chanel labelling: Paris-Deauville, Paris-Biarritz, Paris-Venise. These summer scents from Chanel’s new Les Eaux de Chanel collection of haute colognes made for a powerful study in contrasts against the swirling snow, visible from the floor-to-ceiling windows-coincidentally, you could look directly across Place Vendôme to Gabrielle Chanel’s private suite at the Paris Ritz, where she lived until her death in 1971. I imagined the very scenes and emotions these exquisite scents evoked, inspired by Gabrielle Chanel’s personal relationships with these special places, and through the words written about them:

Paris-Deauville: “An urban dream of a weekend away in the country ... of crinkled leaves and bitter greens”. Paris-Biarritz: “The power of the ocean ... of open air and aquatic sensations”. Paris- Venise: “That gateway to the Orient ... an evocation of the baroque.”

Pure discovery in this quiet space, each scent brought their own concept of lightness, exoticism, history, and, for Olivier Polge, an olfactory adventure. “They all start from the idea of haute cologne,” said the perfume creator, who met me in the adjoining room for this private interview. “My work was to anchor that in different scents that translate into an idea of those cities. Travel can be imaginary, and these work in the same way as fragrances that make you travel.”

There’s the classic theme and, importantly, the twist. “It’s subjective,” he explained. “They are not only the names of these places, but the prefix ‘Paris’ gives them that point of view, of course linked to the history and interests of Coco Chanel.”

Deauville marks the first chapter in the history of Chanel, at the seaside resort off the coast of Normandy where Gabrielle Chanel opened her first shop on rue Gontaut-Biron in 1913. With her modernist black typeset “GABRIELLE CHANEL” on the white façade of the store, she introduced a radical sense of style: jersey fabric and dandy trousers inspired by menswear; nautical stripes and bateau tunics borrowed from sailors. No page in Chanel’s history ever goes unturned, and a century later, these styles still take symbolic values on the runway and in the creation of products— the Deauville tote is on every must-have of iconic Chanel bags. And yet, Polge eschews symbolic references. “I don’t think about Deauville of the time of Gabrielle Chanel,” he clarified. “Really, the idea was to pick an ambience, the feeling of the place, and bring it somewhere else.”

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