Chanels are challenging perfumes for me. Not many people share my prejudice, Chanel is one of the top selling brands in the world, but if I had to choose a Chanel I would take their cologne and Bois des Iles. It’s not as though a whole lot of thought would have to go into this selection. You are either one of those people who love No5 or you aren’t, you have to be a lady to wear No19, by which I mean a woman who knows how to say no gracefully. (If you can never say no I suspect No19 will not suit you)
Bois des Iles is far more easy going though. Being one of those people who in Henry James’ phrase try to take things easy rather than hard, I appreciate this quality.
Bois des Iles has a densely upholstered warmth to it that is difficult to resist. This is a perfume to sink into gratefully after a long hard day. However Bois has endured since 1926 partially because it contains a paradox. Although it’s listed these days as a woody oriental by such perfume sites as Fragrantica, in the past Bois was classified as a floral aldehyde along with its sisters No5 and No22.
Supposedly inspired by Ernest Beaux watching The Queen of Spades at the Opera, the more likely inspiration was Caron’s 1922 hit Nuit de Noel, which like Bois, is largely based on Indian sandalwood. Bois is more floral with a heart that packs orris and iris, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and lilac into a generous arrangement. The dry down which is this fragrance’s glory is filled with vetiver, opoponax, benzoin, musk and amber and that sandalwood. Older sources mention fewer and more natural notes than modern ones do.
I’ve smelled some changes over the years. During the 90’s the base was almost dominated by vetiver, and in the mid aughts when white sandalwood was nearly unobtainable, Chanel switched species and I smelled the substitution and was saddened by it. I’m happy to report though that as of last week when I smelled old Bois again, the right sandalwood was back, though not as high a grade as they once used. The slightly sweaty quality of the wood was evident, and that is not in the very best quality sandalwood.
The wonderful beginning of the fragrance which pops like champagne, full of spice and citrus, coriander and aldehydes was still there and the impression of gingerbread, though not too literal a gingerbread, was there as well.
As compared to Nuit de Noel, Bois smells much more natural to me. Nuit is a very odd perfume that fails to enchant many people, though it has charmed millions. I suppose I realized hopelessly late in the day, that Bois is a perfume about being warm and indoors on a cold night, while Nuit de Noel is about being outdoors and cold and watching the snowflakes come down silently around you. It’s this contrast, coziness against cold, that demarcates the one creation from the other. You could easily love both or either and I do love both, although perhaps I am an open air person in the end. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes want to come in from the cold, especially on a cold Christmas night.