It’s 4pm and I’m sitting in a waiting room at Chanel’s Salon Vendôme, admiring the view of the Place Vendôme. 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.
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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.
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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 risks. 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.
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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.”
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?