When I was a teenager in the 1990s, the notion that I might one day own a Chanel perfume seemed faintly ridiculous. Cost aside, that impeccable black and white packaging was just not compatible with desperate adolescent life. Haughty perfection and interlocking Cs didn’t mix with 15-year-old angst. Even now, owner of a couple of Chanel fragrances, I feel something akin to imposter syndrome when I so much as look at the bottles, as if Coco Chanel’s ghost combined with essence of Karl Lagerfeld has been distilled into a formidably stern tone of voice that tells me I’m too immature for these offerings.
All Chanel acolytes will know that, this year, the house released Gabrielle, their first wholly original fragrance in 15 years. This is big news in perfume land. So, when the press sample arrived in the post, I decided I was going to get over the imaginary tutting Karl inside me and just wear the goddamn scent for a week. Would I be able, finally, to channel the insouciant essence of Chanel?
The concept of Gabrielle is a white floral (quadrants of tuberose, jasmine, orange flower and ylang ylang) shattered into abstraction, referencing the rebellious mythology of the brand’s founder and echoing the splash made by Nº5 back in 1921. Gabrielle was Coco Chanel’s real Christian name, the one of her youth, which hints at the real audience for this scent, those fabled millennials sought by so many brands.
Initially, I got a load of sugary grapefruit, which is as ubiquitous in modern perfumery as it is rare in my fruit bowl (every now and then I trade in orange juice for a whim with grapefruit and always regret it, muttering, “Breakfast is ruined!”). Grapefruit and lychee is catnip that helps to quickly sell a perfume on the counters, because it’s accessible and instantly pleasing, but original it is not. I was feeling rather sad that Gabrielle seemed to be just like all the other launches of the past few years and was ready to snooze.
This is big news in perfume land. So, when the press sample arrived in the post, I decided I was going to get over the imaginary tutting Karl inside me and just wear the goddamn scent for a week
Thankfully, Gabrielle soon cut her toothless grin and started to hiss. The white flowers in this perfume are spare and shimmering – think of the sound of a wet finger around a wine-glass rim. When I asked for friends’ opinion of the perfume, some of them interpreted this as sterility: “You smell like an anonymous meeting room with grey carpet and a lonely flip chart stand,” said one, with obvious glee. Another said I came across as very presentable and organised, as if I’d done all my ironing. Gee, just what one wants. My husband said I should lead a sorority and bleach my teeth.
The Gabrielle ad campaign starring Kristen Stewart references luminosity – we seemed to be in stark LED territory, rather than glowing Plumen bulbs. By day three, the light was blinding me and I was slightly terrified of Gabrielle-the-interrogator.
What the scent did allow was for me to wear my sloppy Joe clothes – good old Hush harem joggers – and feel polished, as if Karl himself was whipping me into shape. I started to admire the technical accomplishment of this perfume, its flawless structure and the fact it would be compatible with any outfit. Gabrielle reminded me that you don’t go to Chanel for the weird – you go for what is done well.
After a few more days of wearing the fragrance, truthfully I was bored with conformity and craved something truly rebellious. So, I returned to the voluptuous, odd fun of another Chanel, the Cuir de Russie parfum, £140. Yet, for those days where you don’t need the works, rather something pleasant to accompany you about your day, Gabrielle is a pretty helpful person to have around.