(image Nadja Benderfor Dansk Magazine, Fall 2013)
Perfumer Jacques Polge
Until the 1980s Chanel’s strategy for men’s fragrance was simple: good taste. 1929’s Eau de Cologne and 1955’s superlative chypre Pour Monsieur were conservative fragrances, but they demonstrate the brand’s commitment to fundamentals and flawless execution.
Chanel rewrote the rules of men’s perfumery in the 1980s with an emphasis on rich, woody fragrances. Antaeus separated the power-fragrance from its association with ’70s aromatic fougères and dressed it out as a sophisticated new style of chypre. Egoiste (né Bois Noir) was a woody oriental in the vein of the house’s classic Bois des Isles. Chanel used the two fragrances to reclaim a masculine market that it had long ignored. Chanel read the terrain perfectly and created two perfumes that matched the burgeoning “GQ” sensibility. Antaeus made the made masculinity chic and Egoiste made it pretty. By the ’90s, though, Chanel grew risk averse and followed the pack that it had led in the ’80s. The various Allure fragrances and Egoiste Platinum suffered from the inherent contradiction that dogged the flood of sports fragrances that filled the men’s market: they rely on an identifiable olfactory vernacular that ostensibly conveys energy and buoyancy (think: ‘fraiche’ and ‘sport’) Unfortunately, because the because the idiom has been stripped to least common denominators it reads as predictable and cliched.
Bleu’s dry-citrus-woody style is the evolution of the sports fragrance. With a big budget Scorsese mini-film marketing barrage (theme: ‘fashionable unconventionality’) Chanel are clearly hoping for as large a share of the masculine market as possible, phrasing Bleu as a perfume straight men will be comfortable with, straight women will like on them, and gay men will at least consider (the television ads are apparently deliberately homophilic.) But the problem isn’t in the marketing, it’s in the bottle. Bleu is loosely handsome and offers decent but not bothersome projection. It stays within a fresh/woody/aromatic range that generally shouldn’t offend, but Bleu’s attempt to balance extremely dry woody tones with saccharine sweetness seems disproportionate, a miscalculation. I know that a perfume like Bleu doesn’t arrive to market without being test-panneled and evaluated, but there is a harshness to the Bleu’s dessicated woods that makes the perfume shrill and skeletal.