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Chanel’s Boy: Feminine Fougere

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The Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection is known for its groundbreaking fragrances that are as elegant as they are alluring. From the captivating Sycomore to the avant-garde Cuir de Russe, the simple Eau de Cologne to the scrumptious Coromandel, the quality of Chanel’s exclusives is unimpeachable. That is, until Boy.

Before its floral mid and vanillic base, Boy opens with an uncomfortably synthetic explosion of notes. For me, the first minute or two is a sinus-searing mashup of what smells like chemical-laden citruses and fixatives. Present in the opening is nearly the same cringe-worthy grapefruit note that is present at the opening of Bleu de Chanel. Sadly, the first few minutes always smell a bit cheap to my nose, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it is the ingredient quality, the overall blend, or the perfumer’s particular style, but this fragrance does not belong in the exclusives range, smelling instead like a cross between a Chanel flanker and a Balenciaga fragrance. On that note, if this were a kind of modernized “fougere flanker” of Chanel No. 5, I doubt that anyone would be surprised. For what you get with Chanel Boy, many might agree that the significantly smaller price tag of the normal collection would more appropriate. Still, Boy is very pleasant, and I highly doubt that it will be a widely disliked fragrance. Performance is mediocre in all categories.

Anyway, the fougere vibe that makes this fragrance famous is produced by the texture of the opening and by the interplay between aromatic elements and a sweet vanilla that provides contrast. Aromatic lavender and geranium reference the more classical fougere structure, while the addition of vanilla brings to mind the oriental twists in fragrances like Caron’s Pour un Homme and Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur. Boy smells nothing like any previous fougere, as the lavender and geranium are drowned out by a slightly cacophonous medley of florals – rose, orange blossom, and heliotrope – that produce a sweet and sparkling floral bouquet that is reminiscent of Chanel’s No. 5. Incidentally, Chanel No. 5 is an odd comparison for an allegedly unisex fragrance, isn’t it?

In an interview on the release of Chanel’s Boy, the perfumer claimed that his intention was “not to try to create an in-between fragrance, but a very masculine fragrance.” It is true that perceptions of masculinity and femininity are extraordinarily subjective, however if this quote accurately captures what the artist was attempting to create, Boy has turned out to be a spectacular failure. Boy is much too floral, much too soft, and much too vanillic and sweet to be classified as a “masculine” fragrance. Given the description by the perfumer and a few initial impressions comparing this to a higher quality version of Platinum Egoiste, I was expecting a fragrance that was properly masculine, but with edges softened such that it would not be out of place on a woman. What I found instead was a feminine floral, with a few masculine notes sprinkled in the opening and a vaguely fougere-like feel throughout. Overall, I find descriptions of Boy to be accurate if and only if it is presented as a modern feminine fougere. Without this declaration, I fear that many men will pick up the bottle expecting to find a masculine addition to Les Exclusifs de Chanel, only to experience a scent that is nearly as feminine as heels and a little black dress.

The worst part for me is that while this is unmistakably a Chanel perfume, somehow the feel and aesthetics don’t seem to fit the brand, and especially seems out of place when compared with other fragrances from Les Exclusifs de Chanel. Boy is a thoroughly modern fragrance from top to bottom, and in my opinion it lacks the elegance, class, and quality that defines Chanel’s range of exclusives. Next to the magnificent Bois de Iles, a fragrance that is often thought to be similarly androgynous in structure, it will take only a moment to discover that Boy is clearly not in the same league. Perhaps this has something to do with the perfumer’s style.

Olivier Polge, son of Jacques Polge, the current Chanel house perfumer, is the artist behind Chanel Boy. Responsible also for Misia, Polge the Younger is making his mark on the Chanel brand and the fragrance world generally. What kind of a mark will it be?

After a glance at Olivier Polge’s long list of released fragrances, a hypothesis has formed in my mind. Most of the perfumer’s resume demonstrates an impressively successful history with one particular kind of fragrance: mass market designers. Brilliant designer scents such as Dolce & Gabbana’s The One for Men, Viktor and Rolf’s Spicebomb and Flowerbomb, and Midnight in Paris by Van Cleef & Arpels sit like trophies among his many creations. But while he has had a great deal of experience and success with mass market fragrances – with the exception of Misia, another fragrance from Les Exclusifs de Chanel – almost all of his work is on the designer end of the market. And for niche enthusiasts, particularly those who enjoy artistic masterworks such as those from Les Exclusifs de Chanel, many mass market fragrances hardly smell unique or luxurious.

Given the incredible success of many of the fragrances on his resume, it is obvious that Olivier Polge is a brilliant perfumer who has a knack for divining what will appeal to the masses and what will sell. It is much too soon to see if Boy will be among the bestsellers of the exclusive range, though I suspect that it will not be able to hold a candle to the success of the Chanel classics. It may also be too soon to decide whether or not Olivier Polge will be able to adapt completely to the luxurious and classical Chanel aesthetic. Only time will tell.

In the meanwhile, I must confess that Boy is not man enough for me to wear.


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