In a market where introducing one truly distinctive fragrance is an achievement, Chanel perfumer Jacques Polge plans to release a collection of 10.
In February, Les Exclusifs de Chanel, a group of fragrances featuring expensive, rare ingredients and representing what Polge calls the "artistic spirit" of the company's perfume business, will be rolled out to most Chanel boutiques in the U.S. and will enter Bergdorf Goodman in March.
Polge, who joined Chanel in 1978, has been responsible for a string of the upscale brand's commercial hits, including Allure, Coco and Coco Mademoiselle. Les Exclusifs de Chanel is a more personal project, he explained.
"We wanted to do a project which celebrated our heritage in fragrance, but the intention wasn't to do perfumes of the past," said Polge. "It was to do a heritage project in a modern way."
And price was no object, evidently. Polge chose ingredients which, for the most part, are rare and very costly. "We wanted fragrances which were unusual and special," he said, noting that while several are favorite notes, most are too costly to use in a more widely distributed scent such as the house's Chance or Coco Mademoiselle. "Above all, we tried to do fragrances which are very different from one another and very different from what is currently offered in the market. These are the ingredients [that] we simply wouldn't have in the quantity to use in a more widely distributed fragrance."
Six of the scents are new, while the remaining four have roots reaching back to juices concocted by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel herself.
Coromandel, named for the Chinese lacquered screens Gabrielle Chanel collected, is a spirited oriental with amber and dry notes; 28 La Pausa, built around an iris note, is named for a house Mlle. Chanel owned in the South of France. "Iris grew in Mlle. Chanel's garden at La Pausa," said Polge, adding that it is one of the most expensive ingredients in perfumery. "When the decision was made to use it, we wanted to do a scent with a high concentration of iris. The best comes from Florence, Italy, which isn't all that far from where Mlle. Chanel's house is located."Bel Respiro, named for one of Mlle. Chanel's residences on the outskirts of Paris, is intended to evoke "stems, leaves and springtime."
"It's a very green, fresh scent," said Polge. Added Laurie Palma, the U.S.-based senior vice president of fragrance marketing and Internet marketing, "It's energizing and makes you feel lively."
Polge chose ambrette seed extracted from hibiscus flower for No.18, named for the Chanel fine jewelry boutique at Place Vendôme. The ingredient is sourced from the northern edge of South America, said Polge.
Named for the location of Coco Chanel's couture workshop, 31 rue Cambon is a chypre. "Nowadays, no one uses it, and that's why I wanted to build around this note," he said, describing the chypre juice as a "dry, musky, nutty scent — it is very difficult to describe. Also, there are very few chypres on the market now. I think they are seen as not being very commercial, but that didn't stop us. They can be very elegant." It has another difference as well. "It has been said that in order to do a chypre, you have to use oakmoss, but I don't like oakmoss," he said, "so I experimented."
Palma has another view: "It smells like expensive jewelry."
Eau de Cologne, which is the lightest of the bunch, is a lively floral. "Every perfumer used to make his or her own 'haute' cologne," said Polge, who fashioned his with citrus, bergamot and neroli.
The remaining fragrances in the group — Gardenia, Cuir de Russie, Bois de Iles and No.22 — were created by Mlle. Chanel and have been distributed in Chanel boutiques. These are being updated with new packaging. An aldehyde fragrance was considered but not produced after Polge felt it smelled too much like the house's signature scent, Chanel No.5.
Each of the fragrances will be available in 200-ml. sprays, each $175, and the Eau de Cologne will also be available in a 400-ml. splash form for $300. The weighty glass bottles have a magnetized black cap — embossed both inside and out with Chanel's signature interlocked Cs — and are placed in boxes that bear the Chanel name. The individual scent's names are emblazoned on the bottom of the boxes, noted Palma. As with the fragrance itself, the bottles and packaging were developed in-house.Because the fragrances' distribution is so tight, Chanel doesn't plan national advertising for the scents.
The company plans to build a counter at Bergdorf Goodman that is separate from its existing counter, to set apart the high-end positioning of Les Exclusifs de Chanel. Sales associates at the Chanel boutiques at Bergdorf Goodman will be given special training on each of the fragrances. "We want to make this a destination," said Palma.
Other fragrances are likely to join the collection, said Polge. "We're starting slow, with precious and rare scents," he said. "Going forward, we will see what happens, but I could definitely foresee doing more of these types of scents."
While none of the executives would discuss sales projections, industry sources estimated that the collection would do upward of $1 million in the U.S. in its first year on counter.
"This is huge fragrance news," said Ed Burstell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, jewelry and accessories for Bergdorf Goodman. "There is a great synergy: We are at the top of luxury goods retailers, and Chanel is at the top of luxury producers. This is an incredible opportunity for us at retail. We think it will cut across age groups — Chanel is so very hot as a brand, and particularly as a modern luxury brand. This will appeal to classic Chanel customers and designer customers alike."
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