Call it a family tradition: Olivier Polge was just four years old in 1978 when his father, Jacques Polge, became the third-ever in-house fragrance creator at Chanel. Now, nearly four months after the elder Polge passed the baton to his son, the younger Polge is set to launch his first scent, the latest in the house’s Les Exclusifs lineup.
While the younger Polge spent summers working as an intern at the Chanel fragrance laboratory, he didn’t initially intend to follow his father into fragrance. An art history major, Polge thought he might pursue a career in art or in music. But spending his days in front of a scale weighing ingredients and studying molecules started to intrigue him, and he began training at Charabot in Grasse, where Chanel’s first fragrance creator, Ernest Beaux, had begun his own career. After two years at a small Geneva-based fragrance firm, he joined International Flavors & Fragrances, where he spent 16 years.
“Now, following in [my father’s] footsteps seems natural,” said Polge, adding that as Chanel is one of the few left in the fragrance business that distills its own fragrances in-house rather than outsourcing them to an oil house, the creative aspect of it is also appealing. “Also, it gives us a lot of creative freedom, including the ability to change things at the last minute. My father also pointed out that at Chanel, the creativity begins with the raw materials. I loved working at IFF, but in my previous position, I was bound to a brief. So I was writing a chapter [of the brand’s history.] Here at Chanel, there is the possibility of writing the book myself.”
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The first chapter in that book is Misia. The new fragrance was named for a close friend of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. “My intention for this fragrance wasn’t so much to recapture Misia herself, but her role as a turning point in the life of Gabrielle Chanel,” Polge said. “Misia introduced Gabrielle to a number of new things. With this fragrance, I wanted to convey the atmosphere of the Ballets Russes [of which Misia was a patron] and the smell of makeup from that time.”
Polge mixed violet (a favorite of his), Grasse rose, Turkish rose, orris, tonka bean and Laotian benzoin in the eau de parfum, which will retail for $160 for 2.5 oz. and $280 for 6.8 oz. In the U.S., it will be on-counter in March in about 33 doors, including Chanel boutiques and chanel.com. “Scents in Les Exclusifs are designed to be limited and special, and we have the ability to use rare ingredients which couldn’t necessarily be used in more mainstream scents,” he said. Polge noted that the line started in 2006 with eight fragrances, including historical scents Le Cuir de Russie, Gardénia and N˚22. Polge’s offering will be the 15th offering in the collection.
The best advice Polge the elder has imparted to his son? “To join Chanel,” said Polge with a laugh.