On Thursday 23rd April, Chanel hosted The Perfume Society to a very special afternoon to introduce its members to the latest addition to the Les Exclusifs de Chanel fragrance collection, Misia.
Upon arrival, we were lead to the private, upstairs quarters of their flagship boutique on New Bond Street in London. The 12,600 square foot space, 18 months in the making, was designed by Peter Marino in an Art Deco style after Coco Chanel’s personal apartment on Rue Cambon in Paris. A larger-than-life pearl necklace installation designed by the French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel is suspended from the third floor of the space and descends to the ground floor of the central atrium of which the design of the boutique is based around.
I have to admit that one of the most brilliant aspects of being a member of The Perfume Society is all of the amazing places we are offered access to. The space where our event was held is generally reserved for Chanel’s private clientele and couture customers. The walls are covered in a textural, metallic gold tweed and there was literally couture pieces everywhere I looked. I could have quite happily spent the day trying on dresses, but let’s get down to the main event.
Aside from being the newest addition to the Les Exclusifs collection, Misia, is also the first fragrance Oliver Polge has constructed for the house as he gradually takes the reins from his father, Jacques Polge, as the Chanel in-house perfumer. He drew on Chanel’s best friend, Misia Sert, as the inspiration for the fragrance, which is a more violet-centric take on the popular retro-floral / cosmetics / backstage-at-the-burlesque show theme.
Joanna Norman, Professor of Perfume at Chanel, who is wonderfully knowledgeable, lead us through a sampling of some of the key notes and themes of Misia, as well as sharing with us a bit of history about Misia Sert herself, and why she was such an influence in the life of Gabrielle Chanel. However, for me, I feel that Misia, the perfume, lacked the spirit and depth that its namesake seemed so famous for.
Misia Sert and Chanel met in 1917 and became fast friends almost immediately. Misia was a constant source of support to Chanel following the death of her lover, Arthur “Boy” Capel, in a car accident in 1918, and, according to Joanna Norman, was responsible for introducing Gabrielle Chanel to Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, which she was heavily involved in.
However, prior to this, Misia had married three times, been an inspiration and benefactress to numerous artists and writers, Marcel Proust, Claude Debussy and Renoir, to name but a few. She reined over a set of cultural elites at the upper echelons of Parisian society and engaged in an opulent, bohemian lifestyle rife with emotional and sexual intrigues and drug abuse. Writer Paul Morand described her as, “a collector of geniuses, all of them in love with her”.
I feel that there were so much opportunity missed in Chanel’s interpretation of Misia. This could have been an addition to Les Exclusifs to really bring, in my opinion, much needed credibility to the collection. The irony is that I find nothing at all exclusive about Les Exclusifs. In fact, I find most of the perfumes egalitarian to the point of banality. I have tried really hard to like them. I want to; however, I can’t help but think of them as the Alternative Tryhards to Chanel’s main line of fragrant staples. Not only do most of them feel like empty shells of a perfume, but also their longevity on my skin leaves much to be desired. Perhaps it has to do with my particular chemistry, and as much as part of me is really into the idea of my skin making a light snack out of Chanel’s “luxury” perfume collection, it is not something that I want to pay in excess of £100 for.
I would love to see Chanel really going for it with the Les Exclusifs collection and produce some really extraordinary, even divisive fragrances. To stop trying to be so likable and start kicking some ass. I mean, this is Chanel! Chanel should be imitated; not doing the imitating.
Fans of the retro floral theme can find better variations in Frédéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums Lipstick Rose and 4160 Tuesdays’ Tart’s Knicker Drawer, both full-bodied, berry-stained beauties; while those looking for a more violet view on the genre should try Etat Libre d’Orange’s Putain des Palaces.