Black Chypre


Chanel Coco Noir – The Black Chypre of the Chanel Femmely

Ah, the mind of the perfumer.  Sometimes, these guys and gals are just too smart for their own good.  Case in point – the brilliant WTF which almost made me shout out for joy like an idiot in Saks Fifth Avenue:  Chanel’s new black hole flanker, Coco Noir.

Chypre?  Try black chypre.

I’m going to say it one more time, like the broken record that I always am.

But wait!  This time it’s different.  Seriously!

Here’s the broken record part.  We ask perfumers to get out of the box, but when they do, what do we do?  Oh, hell yes – you know my answer.  My Moses-on-the-mountaintop, throw-down-the-tablets, what-the-****-do-you-think-we’re-doin’ answer:


That’s right.  You know the drill.  The perfumers get out of the box, and we refuse to see them.  We say “Talk to the hand, ’cause we don’t understand.”  We let a certain corrupting desire become a terribly misleading premise – the idea that our own lower tastes in fragrance can and will spot higher art.

No.  Ain’t happening.  Not as long as your vanilla-lovin’ flagpole goes up when tonka’s fine boo-tay walks across fragrant love’s truck-stop parking lot, while neurotic incense and good-hearted jasmine write painful poems in the empty Starbucks down the road.

But wait.  It gets worse.

Here’s the new part.  I’m beginning to think that we can’t even see INTO the box when it’s all windows.  I think we may be dealing with – as one of the more perceptive veterans on Basenotes put it – the [olfactory] blind leading the [olfactory] blind.  And if there was ever a fragrance to symbolize the blackness of otherwise transparent fragrant art to our relativistically myopic eyes, Polge’s new noir thriller – which you’re not actually supposed to see easily – has to be it.

Allow Molecular Moses to explain, you cute little Golden Calfsters.

Allow him to plead the case for a higher abstraction that, admittedly, takes the fun out of a good flanker sacrifice.  The only validation of which, if you take the word of this burning-bush crazy, is the fact that it was independently discovered, after almost all of this post was written.  But let me assure you – when I found the words of THE POLGE himself, shattered and broken in flames on somebody’s olfactory altar, I knew that I had already heard his fragrant words in my mind, and understood them.  This, despite modern medicine’s best shot.  But rest assured that THE POLGE – in my readings between his lines – implored me to tone down the snark.  I hear, and I obey.

Now – where was I?  Ah, yes.  Noir.

There’s noir the obvious.  And even though it’s obvious, it can be indescribably well done.  Case in point – Tom Ford Black Orchid.  This is one juice that proves, above all else, that black is among the most beautiful ideas in fragrance.  But while it’s clear that black is a winner, it’s also clear that Ford has played out that opaque, oudy, chypre-mimetic, and darkly golden version of black for all it’s worth.  Classic?  Yes.  Fresh?  Not so much.

But if you’re even slicker, you can get hiply counterintuitive with noir, as Polge the Younger did in the case of Ferragamo’s F Pour Homme Black.  Yes, there’s something black about it, but the blinding white snowstorm of powder makes this one feel more like black and white and clear than “just plain black”.  And the bottle guys just drilled that one home.  Olivier Polge clearly knew that black is as much a creature of contrast, as it is a creature of absence.  Too bad he didn’t get more credit for that wonderful fragrance, but with increasing art, one expects a certain inversely proportion…..  Naaaah.  That’s another lesson.

So – what’s left?

Ah.  Now you’re listening.


Chanel Coco Noir. Black isn’t just beautiful. It’s cooler than /dev/null

What if I told you that – if you pay attention to Coco Noir, you can actually see her sexy, mysterious outline?  That Polge actually did something interesting with black, and that it has nothing to do with all the Gold and Fruitchouli Bosie stuff we’ve been talking about?

Hey!  Don’t tell me I’m nuts!  It’s not like Higher Powers didn’t already try to tell us this….

Yes.  Pay attention to the outline stuff.  Because that, and my little annular corona picture from a total eclipse of the sun, are all very similar to the image that jumped into my mind when I first sniffed Coco Noir.

What I saw was an image hammered in by a thousand-and-one “artist’s conceptions” – a black hole with some sort of fiery outline.  But in this case, the blackness is all due to the genius of Polge, and the fiery necklace is a very amazing spark of grapefruit at the periphery, added to illuminate the exotic shadow-caster at the origin of the scent.  When I smelled that, everything else was quite fuggedaboudit.  The black center and the orange/pink periphery at the opening are totally, totally compelling, and worthy of praise even in the absence of everything neat that comes after.

The blackness here is not some big, strong, obvious BS that anybody with too many components and not enough time could pull off.  This is almost – dare I say – transparent darkness.  It’s the cool darkness of nothing.  The darkness of a frigging black hole.  It’s totally, bloody, amazing.

I’ve smelled a void before.  But where Loc Dong’s fascinating Scent of Absence was a roaring void of inky blackness at 100 decibels – totally and beautifully unwearable even at my level of insanity – this void is soft, quiet, and oddly sexy.  There is a soft darkness that caresses like an invisible fabric – and smells just as good on a man as it does on a woman.

I had wanted this fragrance to be a strong, classic, opulent oriental.  At first, I was shocked by the restraint of Coco Noir.  How thin and transparent it was.  But The Polge is way, way smarter than we are.  Sure – you can knock a guy over with a rolled-up Persian rug.  But a silk stocking does a much better job – with a lot less fabric.  Ask yourself – WWCD?


Coco Chanel – still changing how we see “noir“.

And where this fragrance really kicks boo-tay is in the beginning, when sparks of color fly over the cool, silky blackness.    If a woman buys this for no other reason, it should be to pair with the little black dress, applied moments before Prince Harry Charming comes by to pick her up.  Yes, many people have been critical of the fact that this fragrance may steal your heart at the opening, but not keep it going for the whole 8 hours.  You know – I don’t think you’re gonna need it.  Yeah, there’s a little bit of olfactory fatigue going on here, but I’m pretty sure that when the heat goes up, or the clothes come off, grapefruit and friends are gonna be on the job again.  Just – my suspicion.

But there are plenty of other criticisms, and they tend to center around how insufficiently similar to Coco and/or Coco Mademoiselle this one is.  Indeed, they’re right.  This is sufficiently different from the Cocos, that it jumps straight to the top of a lot of guys’ wish lists. What’s up with that?

I think that half the problem is that everybody expects Chanel to keep hanging onto tradition, when that really seems to be the last thing on Polge’s mind.  And maybe we should just stop expecting it.  In a world of too-smart smartphones, Google cars that don’t need drivers, and SUV-sized transformers that are BASE-jumping onto other planets, nobody except people who can’t text are waiting around for Chanel to do anything other than come up with fascinating new stuff that people actually want.

Perhaps the real way to hang onto the Chanel tradition is to stay innovative.  To stay daring.  To hold onto certain core values – like stepping out elegantly into the subtly new and different – while letting go of yesterdays minor novelties, which people may even cling to lovingly as classics.  Leave behind, poignantly, the mirror ball of Antaeus.  Keep the never-to-be-made and never-to-be-forgotten metafragrance, {.*Noir.*}, that Coco herself couldn’t live without.

I know it’s possible to see all the similarities of Coco Noir to things that have gone before, or worse still, the trivialities of other people’s new.  But if you believe in a higher bit of perfumer love – just enough to look for it – you may find it.  Something that was – I am quite certain – made just for you art lovers.

Oh, well.  You can’t say that I didn’t try.  And one thing I am certain of is this.

There’s somebody for everybody.  Even Coco Noir.  And Coco, baby – this thing called the internet is gonna hook you up with somebody who gets you.


Because black is beautiful when you do the right thing with it.  Even when not everybody understands.

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