Niche Fragrance Magazine

Fireworks on snow: Chanel No.22

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For Party People, New Year’s Eve is the night to break out the bling, leopard print and high heels and souse yourself like a herring with the most delightful scents you own – and that’s just the gents. If you prefer to stay home and go into hygge-overload, which has a lot of merits too, I still think you should be fragranced to the hilt – what could be more cosy?


Recently I luxuriated in the utterly snuggly Dr Zhivago fur hat, vodka and tobacco of Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe, which has left a warm deliciousness on my coat collar I’m still smelling a week later. This transference and longevity makes it a sneakily clever party fragrance as well as a hygge hero, because everyone you hug hello will smell of you for the next week. I had a huge bearhug from my fragrant Uncle M over the holidays that left my scarf trailing Eau Sauvage for a few days, and every time I caught a whiff I thought of my lovely uncle, who I don’t see often enough.


It’s tempting to go for a full-throated oriental at this time of year. After all, with jewel-coloured decorations, rich patterns and sumptuous fabrics, gold and silver trimmings, isn’t it the perfect time for a decadent trip to the Orient? I sometimes wear my old signature scent – vintage YSL Opium – with its spices, resins and carnations, it’s a rich delight that is still opulent and irresistible. But then, I am also a fan of modern orientals, particularly Miller Harris’ L’Air de Rien, a bewitching blend that smells of humanity and love; babies heads and unmade beds, sweaters borrowed from handsome men, and that place in the dip of a neck where if you put your nose to the skin you smell the person not their perfume. If I have a current signature scent, this is it. I will say though that it is not a scent to buy without trying – people tend to either love it or hate it. It can be a little too human for some. Both this and the Ambre Russe are great for going out but also perfect for a hygge night in – they share a warmth of spirit that is on point for a night when you’re thinking about the people you love, remembering the past and planning the future.


If you are going to party, this is one night when you can go all-out for glittering glamour in the magical sense: creating a spell that makes all beholders believe you are irresistibly attractive. When you think about it, it takes a very particular kind of perfume to cope with this season, when you go out wrapped up warmly to cocktail-frock parties, or for bar-hopping with friends. Moving from cold to warm, your fragrance has to be noticeable when you are muffled up in coats and scarves, but not overpowering when you peel off your layers to stand close to other people, chatting and sipping.


So, a drum-roll please, because I believe I have identified the ultimate fragrance for this time of year… Chanel No. 22. My bottle pre-dates the release of the Exclusifs line and the notes given for all the different variations are so radically different that I will mention only what it now says on the Chanel website – “a floral-powdery-aldehyde fragrance with a strong personality… Tuberose plays the major note.” The tuberose may explain why it works so well in the cold (Ana Maria’s exploration of Tubéreuse Criminelle springs to mind), it is a truly wonderful note, eccentric and strange, which gives depth and character to this perfume. And I was delighted when at last I found the famous incense note in the base when I wore 22 for a whole week to write this review.


To me, No. 22 is a sweet, deceptively clean and simple scent. I recommend applying it liberally to the décolletage, where warmth can release the fragrance up to your nose even when you have a coat and scarf on. The contrast between sparkling aldehydes and sweet white flowers set against bitterly cold weather is deliciously self-indulgent on a freezing bus stop and will slide you into a good mood before you’ve reached the party.


Ernest Beaux managed a very clever trick with this fragrance: he made soapy clean aldehydes feel warm and sexy. The desire to smell clean but sexy – one of the great modern themes in perfumery – is epitomised in recent perfumes by Jenifer Lopez’s JLo, which she wanted to smell ‘like the sexiest person in the world had just stepped out of the shower’. No. 22 beats that with one bat of its enormous eyelashes. It is both cool and warm; radiant and close to the skin; sexy and sweet. It has the clean sparkle and fizz of aldehydes, a rich white floral heart that probably also contains iris, given the femininity and warmth, and hours later that gentle kiss of incense smoke lingers sensuously on the skin.


No.22 glitters with the chilly, precisely calculated glamour of perfectly cut diamonds; but its facets glitter with warm, rich colours like fireworks reflected on snow. These are diamonds designed to encircle a woman’s warm, laughing throat, diamonds to dazzle and dance in. Diamonds that flirt outrageously and laugh uproariously and just possibly lose their shoes.


I hope you dazzle and enchant this New Year’s Eve, and that 2017 brings us all peace, joy and a few perfect perfume moments.

A decade ago in a little secondhand bookshop, I bought a biography of an obscure biophysicist written by a New York Times journalist and my life changed. Yes, I blame it all on Luca Turin and Chandler Burr; thanks to them I fell in love with L'Heure Bleue and haven't looked back since.

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