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.


  1. Hey Bryan,

    Since you are investigating barbershop fragrances these days, I thought I'd ask if you made anything of the purported resemblance between Égoïste and Trumper's Sandalwood... I'm curious, as the Trumper is supposedly a pretty strong performer (not always the case with these more conservative English products), and has a great line (cologne spray, deo stick, and a moisturizer balm thing called 'skin food') that is not too hard to come by here in Canada (unlike Égoïste.)

    Post-script: my black office stapler was proving a bit weak for my heavy-duty stapling needs, so I hit the thrift store looking for something big, bulky and utilitarian. Sure enough, for a buck-fifty I found a weighty one (still loaded!), in that grey-green metal redolent of Cold War bureaucracy. After purchasing it, I turned it over and saw "D.O.C." sharped on the bottom... So what, I wonder, is the fragrance equivalent of a stapler so old-school it's actually from a prison?

    1. Probably Mennen Millionaire or Jovan Gambler, although that's just a guess.

      I see these comparisons all the time between two entirely different fragrances and at this stage I've decided to ignore it. Whenever people say that these things resemble each other I look into the pattern at hand. Often it's two frags at opposite ends of the price spectrum, but in this instance it's the rarer comparison between a frag that is complex (Égoïste), and a frag that's simple (T. Sandalwood), and the supposition is that one can substitute the other. Maybe, but why bother? If someone likes Égoïste and Sandalwood, get both! There are a couple of threads on basenotes where guys compare Platinum Égoïste to Curve. Are they similar? Only in that both are "fresh," and that's where the similarities end. So ultimately I don't really put much stock in comparing scents and claiming resemblances exist unless you're dealing with a family lineage issue, such as with GIT and CW, or Drakkar Noir's monopoly on 80s inspired fougeres.


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