Égoïste (Chanel)

Sometimes fragrance companies produce a scent that is so beautiful, so distinguished, so utterly peerless in both radiance and allure, that everyone misses the point, few people wear it, and whole nations refuse to sell it. Such a perfume is neither aspirational, nor avant-garde, but simply the stuff every obsessed fragrance fanatic's dreams are made off.

Égoïste isn't it.

It surely serves as fragrant manna for some believers, those who enjoy its rich, herbal-fruity orientalism for being unique in an ocean of banality, and for the elegant woody-fresh ambiance it imparts. If a man stands up to say that Égoïste is the greatest masculine ever made, he isn't wrong. Because fragrance is largely functional, this person is simply bearing allegiance to that which functions best for him. To expect him to get into the ins and outs about the scent, and what it does for him, is to expect too much; I have met people who claim to love the smell of skunk, and though it nauseates me, their right to sit at home and spend hours inhaling skunk fumes (easily replicated using a common weed found in New England, nick-named 'Skunk Cabbage'), is ironclad, and I hope iron-curtained as well.

As perfumery is about functional design, it's apt to compare Égoïste to staplers, namely Swingline staplers. There are many staplers in the world, manufactured by hundreds of companies. Somehow the Swingline has become the North American holy grail of staplers. How did that happen? It's unclear, but I'd wager Hollywood had something to do with it - a little corporate comedy named Office Space not only made Swingline a household name, but prompted the company to produce the first-ever red Swingline, to correspond with Milton Waddams' inexplicably-shaded desk ornament. Red Swinglines didn't exist until Office Space threw the scare into their inventory and forced them to do a little coloring. I believe they may have gotten carried away, but there you have it.

Égoïste is Chanel's red Swingline stapler. Prior to its release, the brain trust in the back lot released something fantastic called Bois Noir, which by several accounts smelled wonderful, full of rich spices and floral notes that were big, proud, technically impossible, a true large-scale monument in modern oriental-style perfumery. But it walked a fantastic line, entertained the few who had real money to spare, and was quickly discontinued, which simply meant clearing off a shelf at the boutique in Paris. The little show at Cannes was over, and what do you know? Some people really liked it, Chanel customers in particular. Remember that off-beat woody-fruity oriental you used to make, Chanel? The one with that delectable stewed fruit thing going on in its heart? Oh, of course it wasn't unique, or significantly different (Mouchoir de Monsieur, Habit Rouge, and Samsara all got there first), or even exciting to smell, but theirs are beige, yours was red, and we want it back. We want a red stapler to call our own.

Chanel obliged, and we were given Égoïste, a tidied-up version of Bois Noir, with less oomph! Which is problematic to start, since Bois Noir's reputation rests on its having lots of extra oomph! The main attraction was the spicy-fruity mix in the middle, but somehow Égoïste's nose decided sandalwood had more heart, and attached the citrus-herbal-woody Mouchoir-like structure to a judiciously integrated Polysantol base, which may or may not have been in the original. The real attraction here is sandalwood. If you'd like a florid little semi-sweet woody oriental with a big, smooth, expensive sandalwood base, look no further. After the crisp citruses and tangerine/raisin/plum notes start twinkling out, I'm left with a soft, vanillic sandalwood that is as boring as it is neat. Did I mention the lavender? Égoïste's terse lavender note runs like a silver spine through the amorphous composition, breathing some breezy, aromatic masculinity into an otherwise-androgynous perfume. Nice enough, but is it enough?

Technically yes, perhaps Égoïste's composition is the stuff of greatness, and some fan can rattle off a dozen reasons why it's better and more interesting than everything else Chanel has released in the last twenty years. Me? I'm satisfied with the black and grey staplers, thank you very much. They perform their simple task just as well, and without all the chagrin that accompanies something fun you know is headed for the scrap bin, just as soon as everyone's forgotten why they liked it in the first place.

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