Chanel Egoiste, 1990

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(image Yayoi Kusama Narcissus Garden, Whitney retrospective 1966)

Perfumer Jacques Polge

A nice woody-fruity fragrance will be at least somewhat attractive to 90% of those who smell it. It is undemanding and hits the right buttons. It’s like a blooming flower. Who actively dislikes the fragrance of blooming jasmine or rose? Egoiste skips pretty, though, and dives straight to drop-dead gorgeous. It is a neo-oriental that beat Serge Lutens Feminite du Bois to the fruity/cedary punch. Feminité du Bois has a radiant harmony. Egoiste, on the other hand, is a big diva-like melody with built-in backup singers.

Egoiste composes an accord that hits all sandalwood’s big descriptors—vanillic, creamy, fruity-sweet but also a bit tart, at once rounded and sharp. The odds are Egoiste has survived since 1987 (Chanel Bois Noir, Egoiste’s first incarnation) fully intact, despite the Mysore sandalwood drought, because it emulates sandalwood the way Guerlain’s Nahema calls to mind a rose: by employing a superb chemical geometry to create an olfactory allusion of sandalwood using vanilla, musk, rosewood and god knows what other notes. The herbal touch completes the picture and creates a medicinal tone that keeps the sweet creaminess from crossing the line to toothaching.

Egoiste makes me wonder why designer men’s fragrances don’t strive for full-on beauty instead of tolerating the low expectation of skimpy, vernacular handsomeness as a goal.

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