Her­Name Is Gabrielle

How does one bot­tle courage and au­dac­ity in a fla­con? Joyce Cheo jour­neys to Paris in this BAZAAR ex­clu­sive, to dis­cover the fra­grance cre­ated as an ode to Coco Chanel’s fear­less spirit

Harper's Bazaar (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

It’s 4pm and I’m sit­ting in a wait­ing room at Chanel’s SalonVendôme, ad­mir­ing the view of the PlaceVendôme.The room is decked out in the colours of the House: A plush beige couch, black lac­quer shelves and gold wall­pa­per. I am here to speak to Chanel Per­fumer, Olivier Polge, on his lat­est cre­ation—the brand’s first new fem­i­nine fra­grance in 15 years. A mile­stone for a House that’s syn­ony­mous with scent, you could say there’s a lot rid­ing on Polge’s lat­est per­fume, Gabrielle.

Barely 20 min­utes later and I’m ush­ered into an­other room to be warmly greeted by Polge. I catch a glimpse of a lu­mi­nous fla­con from the cor­ner of my eyes: The golden eau is glis­ten­ing against the af­ter­noon sun, its dis­tinc­tively-shaped bot­tle re­sem­bling a gem. From first im­pres­sions, it cer­tainly looks like Chanel with the clean, graphic edges of its square bot­tle re­call­ing the hall­marks of Chanel clas­sics such as No.5 and Coco. As I set­tle into my seat, Polge pro­ceeds to gen­er­ously spritz a fra­grance blot­ter be­fore hand­ing it to me.

A whiff later and I’m sur­prised at how it’s noth­ing like what I’d imag­ined, yet ev­ery­thing I’d ex­pected. I had en­vi­sioned an an­drog­y­nous fra­grance, since I had been told that it was de­signed to high­light Coco Chanel’s am­bi­tion and courage. But, as we all know too well, the House doesn’t do pre­dictable. As it turns out, thanks to Polge’s bold use of volup­tuous flo­rals, Gabrielle the scent is like its name­sake—fiercely fem­i­nine, un­apolo­getic, and com­pletely one of a kind.

Coco Chanel was never about con­form­ing. She lived her en­tire life as she pleased, and never played by so­ci­ety’s rules: From the mo­ment she de­cided to go by the name Coco; to her pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of jersey in an era of stiff corsets; to her com­plex No.5 fra­grance and her use of tweed in wom­enswear, she was re­lent­less in break­ing with con­ven­tion. And it wasn’t just in her pro­fes­sional life that she took r isks. She had scan­dalous love af­fairs (with mar­ried men, aris­to­crats and even a Ger­man sol­dier at the time of World War II), some of whom she de­pended on to fi­nance and ex­pand her busi­ness. It is un­de­ni­able: Coco Chanel was a woman with a strong vi­sion of what she wanted to achieve and she made it her mis­sion in life to at­tain it.

To cap­ture this re­bel­lious streak, Polge re­vis­ited the House’s ar­chives as part of his re­search. His take­away? “I no­ticed that even though the com­mon thread among Chanel fra­grances are flow­ers, there wasn’t yet a fully flo­ral fra­grance, one which ex­alts the flow­ers that Coco Chanel her­self loved in per­fumery,” Polge ex­plains. “That is how I thought about us­ing the same in­gre­di­ents in a dif­fer­ent way to craft a new fra­grance.”

“There wasn’t yet a fully flo­ral fra­grance that ex­alts the flow­ers that Coco Chanel her­self loved in per­fumery.” — Olivier Polge

He re­veals that jas­mine and ylang-ylang were cho­sen be­cause these are in­gre­di­ents im­por­tant to Chanel’s ol­fac­tory his­tory. From Ernest Beaux’s cre­ation of No. 5 back in 1921, to Jac­ques Polge’s (Olivier’s fa­ther and his pre­de­ces­sor at Chanel) con­coc­tion of Coco in 1984, these flow­ers have been in­stru­men­tal to Chanel’s world of per­fumery. Jas­mine is a com­plex note that adds depth to the scent: Full-bod­ied, smooth and creamy, its mere pres­ence brings a heady, al­most in­tox­i­cat­ing ef­fect. Un­like the tra­di­tional ylang-ylang ex­tract, the one used in Gabrielle has a dif­fer­ent scent pro­file that Polge likens to “un­der­tones of green pear”. He also added orange blos­som for a touch of fresh­ness and sparkling en­ergy. “This is very light, very fresh with al­most a green facet to it. I think it smells like the sun,” he ex­plains. Then, he hands me two fra­grance blot­ters, one dipped in con­ven­tional tuberose ex­tract and the other dipped in Chanel’s tuberose ex­tract, har­vested and ob­tained in Chanel’s fields in Grasse. “The reg­u­lar dis­til­la­tion of tuberose gives a greener, sharper facet, whereas the Grasse tuberose is bright, much creamier and richly flo­ral,” Polge points out as I sniff the scents.

Tech­ni­cal­i­ties aside, he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to cre­ate—a flo­ral bou­quet made up of sump­tu­ous white flow­ers. Sup­port­ing and con­trast­ing the flo­ral na­ture of the scent are hints of man­darin, grape­fruit and blackcurrant to en­hance the fresh­ness of orange blos­som; milky san­dal­wood to ac­cen­tu­ate the creami­ness of tuberose; and white musk to add vel­veti­ness to ylang-ylang. “But the fra­grance is very flo­ral, very fem­i­nine,” Polge re­it­er­ates.

Ul­ti­mately, what does Polge hope to con­vey with Gabrielle? Af­ter all, this is the woman who once fa­mously de­clared,“I have cho­sen the per­son I wanted to be and am.” It’s an em­pow­er­ing mes­sage that res­onates through­out ev­ery facet of the late designer’s life.And now, it’s sim­i­larly echoed in Gabrielle. In Polge’s own words, “These flo­rals are out­spo­ken, and not in­tro­verted. It gives peo­ple strength to fol­low their own path.” Strength, em­pow­er­ment and the abil­ity to con­trol one’s des­tiny... Now, who wouldn’t want all that with each spritz from the bot­tle?

From top: Jas­mine is the key in­gre­di­ent in Gabrielle. Gabrielle EDP. Per­fumer Olivier Polge. A pic­ture of Coco Chanel by Willy Rizzo. Em­broi­dery by Mai­son Lesage for Chanel haute couture fall/win­ter 2013-2014

Clockise from top left: Gabrielle EDP. Tweed cre­ated by Mai­son Lesage for Chanel haute couture. A feather neck­lace from Chanel Métiers d’Art 2008. The in­spi­ra­tions be­hind the design of the Gabrielle bot­tle. Coco Chanel shot by Boris Lip­nitzki. An­other in­spi­ra­tion: A face pal­ette from the 2014 Hol­i­day Makeup col­lec­tion. Orange blos­som adds fresh­ness to the scent. Each glass bot­tle is painstak­ingly hand­pol­ished by ar­ti­sans. A por­trait of Coco Chanel from 1909. The facets of the bot­tle make it re­sem­ble a gem

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