Chanelophobia2 It’s been an age since I had my first bottle of perfume, and in the long interim that has followed, with lord knows how many bottles passing through, only one of them has ever been a Chanel.

Isn’t that peculiar, isn’t that abnormal, for a perfume enthusiast? I’ve worn just about everything else, but for some obscure reason, hardly ever a Chanel.  The closest I came was a bottle of Coco, and a bottle of No 19 bath mousant given me for Christmas once.  Used up both, did not replace either, that must say something about Chanel, personal aesthetics and moi, probably in that order, namely that they have a style, it is pronounced, and I don’t get it.

This may be a familial glitch, because my sister doesn’t get it either.  Neither one of us have worn Chanel for long, and both of us are slightly leery of the customary Chanel aldehyde blends.  The result seems to be that my sister simply dislikes Chanel, and to me, the perfumes are impressive, but my admiration is expressed from a safe distance.

What makes this odder still, is that they all smell lovely to me on other people, but don’t attract me personally.  Well, ok, last year Bois des Isles made a trip down the shore with me, and we staggered out of the car at our point of destination, Bois and I, the one thoroughly disheveled on my skin, a hodge-podge of soggy sandalwood and curdled aldehydes that smelled like buttermilk going off, and the other quite green with nausea from smelling it. Everyone else wearing Bois des Isles smells good, but for me, Sonoma Scent Studios Champagne de Bois is much better.  The result is that I never take Chanels on car trips, or indeed any other trips.

Now the quality of Chanels is not at issue here because they make excellent  fragrances, among the very best on the market, but you have to be a Chanel sort of person to wear them.  They remind me of an Indian friend I had in high school, who would, once a month or so, show up to classes in a sari.  She immediately acquired a stately step and when I asked about the change in gait, the slow-down from, say, jeans, she replied, ”My mother says you have to be a lady in a sari.”

You may not have to be a lady exactly to wear Chanels , but you do have to have a high inner chic quotient.  Everything from Coco Mademoiselle to the latest bottle of Coromandel, requires either femininity, or else elegance to pull off.

The golden incense of No 22?  Femininity.  The jasmine/aldehydes of No 5?  Elegance.  The Iris/wood/citrus of 31 Rue Cambon, elegance.  Bois des Isles sandalwood, and champagne aldehydes, definitely elegance.  Even things like Gardenia and Beige want you to be all woman or else all soigne all the time.  Put a gun to my head, and I’ll hot foot it out of the Chanel Boutique clutching a bottle of the Cologne, which is not very much like a Chanel in the first place, you must admit, but will steer clear of everything else, even Pour Monsieur.

Will this ever change? Probably not, because to wear Chanel, like Valentino clothes, you must be either a lady or otherwise dandified. You cannot yap and bounce like a terrier let off the leash, which – and I regret to say this – is about as dignified as it ever gets for me.

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14 thoughts on “Chanelophobia

  1. Yes, you have to be a certain person to pull off Chanel fragrances… More towards an “Alpha” girl, which is something that does not coincide with my Mediterranean origin (Greek). It is this “aloofness” that Chanel perfumes evoke for me, an attitude of logic and appropriateness over feelings that I cannot connect to. The mastery and complexity is there, in full bloom, but I need this imperfection that will give my perfume a twist, and make it real, mortal, and less clean-cut. Apparently, judging from the makeupalley reviews lots of girls happen to be Chanelesque. I am not…
    Btw, great blog!

    • Amen, sister! And wasn’t Chanel herself an alpha girl among alpha girls? The French, or, to be precise French teachers, have a freezing way of encapsulating this aloofness you describe…”se maitriser” that even I with my bad french have heard (probably in connection with sitting still in French class) “to control oneself”! This is of course easier said than done, but the Chanels can help or help you to pretend. If you cannot do this constitutionally – and though I’m not Greek, I take your point – then maybe you have to have the twist in the bottle. Perfect classicism will not be your thing, but then you’re Greek so you have the classicism genetically.

      What is the etymology of Chanel anyway, does it come from the Greek for “BCBG“?

  2. The last paragraph – priceless! I so enjoy your style [of writing].

    For many years I thought I didn’t like Chanel. Don’t ask me – I have no idea what perfumes I actually tried when I thought Chanel wasn’t for me. I can’t wear No 5 still. But I found many perfumes to love – No19, Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles, Beige, Coco. I’m definitely not as elegant or feminine as I’d like to be and all Exclusiffs in the World will not compensate for that but wearing Chanel feels very natural for me.

    • And certainly do yap and bounce, though sometimes I wish I were dignified, so only telling the truth there.

      Coco was lovely and so was No 19 but both seemed “too grand” for me. Have no idea why this should have been so. Maybe certain houses make “your” perfumes while others don’t. Of all the ones you mention the one I wish I could wear is Cuir de Russie! Maybe I could get the hub to try it?

      Anyway, glad that you do feel right in Chanels. Did you like the 1932? It smelled very floral musky to me.

      • The first time I tried 1932 I thought it was too boring. But then I tried it again – and suddenly liked it. Luckily for me one of my perfumista friends still thought it was boring… so now I have her 5 ml decant to decide if I really like it :-)

  3. I simply cannot imagine you as a terrier bouncing off the leash. Your writing is too thoughtful and elegant for that silliness. No way!

    I wear much more Chanel than Guerlain, but it may be aspirational for me. Chanel helps me feel more composed and more ladylike. I reach for it in troubled times and in awkward social situations. It is pretty armor, and strangely uplifting as well. But then, I’m a no count girl, who’s acquired a bit of polish over the rough edges. If I’m feeling rebellious, I may turn up for tea wearing Bal a Versailles under my silly pastel dress :D Be well.

    • Thank you for you kind words but- truth to tell-I do yap, also laugh a great deal, and cannot sit still. So perhaps my prose is sober-sided when self is not, at all.

      It’s interesting what you write about your Chanel wearing habits, because it strikes me that Chanel herself was the prototypical working woman. No19 was composed for Mademoiselle in old age, which you probably know, and it’s something I remember when everyone calls it an ice queen. They do not have to re-conquor the catty world of Parisian fashion over the age of seventy. Chanel knew there are times when to leave your guard down is to get your head chopped off, like fashion week in Paris! This ancestral memory remains in her fragrances, particularly the ones made while she was alive, and I think women respond to them instinctively when they too- need armor.

  4. I have no elegance to speak of. For that matter, I have no femininity to speak of. I don’t wear makeup. I’ve never purchased a designer garment. I can’t actually disagree with you that this seems to make me incompatible with wearing Chanel. But I still own and intermittently wear five different Chanel perfumes.

    I’m not sure why. Is my point of view that I consume the perfumes, rather than wear them? For example, caviar seems too elegant for me, too, but since it’s a food, that doesn’t bother me, while carrying a Chanel purse would bother me a lot.

    But that doesn’t quite work, because when I wear No. 19, I do feel that I’m surrounded and protected by it, so surely I’m wearing it? Or maybe it’s wearing me? Maybe it’s the vehicle and I’m the passenger?

    But that’s not true of Cuir de Russie. There, I feel that I’m a…


    I’m roleplaying. That’s it. I used to play roleplaying games–for example, playing a monster-hunting antiquarian in Call of Cthulhu. And before that, I made up stories in my head with me playing one of the lead characters; I’ve done that all my life.

    The perfume isn’t a garment, it’s a role. A costume. A mask. Not a mask that I’m hiding behind, but one that I’m wearing for fun, being someone else for a day. Now it all makes sense. To me, anyway. :)

    • Role playing in perfume makes perfect sense, and not a small number of people do just that. You may not be all the things the perfume says, well, suggests that you are, but the perfume is a prop. This reminds me of a scene in a Fellini film where the great director decided to help out an inexperienced young actor who had to play a journalist interviewing a famously sexy actress. The journalist character was supposed to feel unsure of himself, and here Fellini helped out by getting the make-up people at Cinecitta to paint a boil next to the actor’s nose. “It’s an aid,” explained Fellini. “For you, the actor.”

      I don’t know about you, but I’d far rather use perfume as a prop than a grease-paint boil.

  5. I have neither the body type nor the style to carry off Chanel clothing, or even the sort of clothing that correlates to the smell of Chanel perfumes… but the perfumes themselves feel, in general, very comfortable to me. I do love No. 19, but I think of it as Invisible Armor – I smell wonderful, and I love smelling it on me when I’m wearing it, but I also enjoy giving the impression, from time to time, of being unapproachable and unassailable.

    There are Chanels I absolutely cannot do, of course. Coco, for its clear lineage back to Opium and Youth Dew, and Coromandel, for its chocolate-patchouli bent. Bleargh on both of them.

    But you may be right – my taste, among other perfumophiles, seems skewed way over to the girly side. It’s rare that I feel comfortable in even so-called unisex fragrances, preferring to a much greater degree the feminines. “All woman,” always always. And perhaps that’s the real reason I’m generally comfortable in Chanel, there may be something to that.

    I really do enjoy 1932, for what that’s worth. Wish it lasted more than an hour and a half, but it’s absolutely delightful. Now I’m thinking that having missed Beige when it was new was a mistake – must rectify that.

  6. You can do the lady thing very well though. I know, it’s like being called “nice”. My sister always wails about this epithet, “I’ m NOT nice!”. She is though, and if you are a lady, it’s sort of hard to escape your fate of ladylike-ness.
    Then too, you do like the womanly fumes. In this I sort of envy you because I can only do a few, and then only in late Spring or summer.
    1932 I smelled and it reminds me faintly of some of the new Guerlains. Everyone is doing the slightly musky floral this season. Pretty though.

    • Did not notice your comment before, please excuse me!

      Yapping and bouncing are things that perhaps more of us should do while wearing Chanels- then we would have much more fun.

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