Coromandel (Chanel)

If you are at least remotely acquainted with the historic marvels that are Coromandel screens, you know they're very special and insanely beautiful items. Layer after layer of heavy lacquer is applied to each panel, with incised half-tone colored images inlaid between them. They've become rather rare to see nowadays, and are often found in museums. There's plenty of olfactory imagery built into the material concept of these screens, at least for me. I imagine old, dehydrated wood, the musty sweetness of lacquer varnish, the bitter, powdery twinge of trace precious metals and stones. The centuries of disuse has rendered this combination no less lovely now than the day a Chinese tradesman put it all together. The spirit of a past era is therefore indefinitely detained, harnessed by the power of a man-made inanimate object.

Translate this to perfume. Consider an opening of sweet benzoin, its lusty energy brimming with fragrant woods and the sharpness of lacquered turpines as they emanate from coniferous hairline fractures. Then there's the smoky essence of whatever street the tradesman works on, with a low hum of patchouli (Asian moths are purportedly a nuisance) flitting through incense and olibanum. The longer you stand there processing the screen, the closer you come to its dry, sacchariferous core, essentially comprised of whatever colorful spicy-floral nonsense neighboring grocers and merchants placed on the bare boards before they were painted and bejeweled into service. The scent feels like it is alive, pulsating, functioning beyond a perceivable realm. That's the mystery of good craft: it transcends function, and even art, and enters a singular space of its own.

Chanel's Coromandel smells this way - on paper. Spritz a strip and revel in the lush elegance of a structure that touts benzoin, patchouli, woods, and chocolate, without falling into the oriental perfume-trap of overzealous redundancy. You've been here before, of course, especially with that much sweet patchouli, but never in a way that felt this refined, and in some ways restrained. Coromandel never shouts, never loses its balance, and never feels immediately familiar - on paper. Wafting from the strip's fibers, it's a postmodern marvel, a succinct commentary on the importance of remembering customs and civilizations that were extinct a few dozen generations ago. You'd be hard pressed to find anything else that smells this good - on paper. Unless you spritz another strip with Zino by Davidoff. And then it gets interesting.

These two perfumes share nothing in common. One is a mellow patchouli oriental, the other a lavender-rosewood fougère. Coromandel is soft and possesses Chanel's trademark fuzziness; Zino is characteristically sharp, and more herbal. Zino's opening definitely does not match the sweet, smiling grace of Coromandel's, and intead feels brutish, more than a little mean. And yet . . . and yet thirty minutes after application to the strip, Coromandel begins to resemble (stripping away the notion of bright lavender and woody citrus) Zino's early drydown, if it were reduced to mere amber. There is enough patchouli, smoky rosewood, and amber in Zino to make me think about Coromandel. Conversely, Chanel's use of resins and incense zeros in on Davidoff's ambery-fern approach. I'm sure you think I'm insane to write this. But do this: apply Coromandel to a strip, wait an hour, and really get a good sniff. Apply Zino to another strip (at the same time as Coromandel), wait forty minutes, and inhale. Switch between them, recognize their differences, but feel their respective vibes, and feel your eyebrows rise.

On skin, Coromandel is not quite up to par with expectations, but significantly better than 31 Rue Cambon. Its richness is apparent, but so too is its prettiness, that quality in every well-conceived Chanel. After the spicy opening and the ambery heart, this fragrance dries into a creamy, white-chocolaty, and surprisingly flat base. I'm told Borneo 1834 is the rough draft of Coromandel, but I've never smelled it, so cannot comment. I feel that, expensive and classy as it is, this Chanel has its masculine counterpart over on the designer shelf at the mall. But still, Coromandel has soul, generates wonderful associations, and every fragrance lover ought to try it.


  1. I don't think this comparison is so crazy. Zino was the first bottle I ever bought when I first started getting in to fragrance about a year ago and I have a new bottle and a vintage splash. In fact I just wore it today and always thought of it as a somewhat sweet medium body scent. Coromandel has the same kind of density as Zino however the benzoin is something I can never get totally in to. I've tried a few benzion heavy scents and I thinks it's just a note that doesn't ever feel quit right on me. It's always just too powerful or something.

    They also both share the same mood in a way. Zino's bottle always seemed so perfect for the scent. Not in photos where it appears black but in person when you see it's deep wine red glass and gold script lettering. That color just reflects the mood of Zino perfectly and Coromandel evokes the same abstract space to me; cool evenings, mature, and a bit decadent.

    If you haven't yet, try and get a hold of Bois 1920 Extreme. It's like a high end version of Zino. I did a review on Fragrantica recently. If I had $200 to blow I'd grab it for sure. Like I said in my review it's like a more expensive perfum version of Zino to me. It's really really close but just feels a bit deeper and more luxurious. But again at a much higher price. And funny enough the juice is a deep red color in the same way as Zino's bottle.

    1. Thanks for sharing, it's amazing how influential Zino has turned out to be (and the Davidoff brand), with so many people attributing recent perfumes to Cool Water, but fewer seeing connections with Zino. Benzoin is a tough note for me, too. can never seem to find anything benzoin-heavy that inspires love. But here and there it has its moments, and Coromandel, for me, certainly feels like a rare exception.

      I'll look into Bois 1920 Extreme. That sounds like amazing stuff, because to date I have not yet encountered anything that intensifies and elaborates on Zino's structure. Review pending!

    2. I'd be really interested to hear what you think of it in comparison. I'm all for bang-for-your-buck cheap scents but when you spray on a well made expensive perfume it can be hard to beat. I've heard a lot of things compared to Zino but this is the only one that made me do a double take.

    3. I'll be sure to let you know when I get a chance to compare them! That's exciting to think that there's something out there that blatantly improves on Zino's structure while staying close to the same type of scent profile.

  2. I got a sample of this the other day and found a definite likeness to ZIno too. Still prefer the dark, thick, herbal aroma of the Zino but Coromandel is a beautiful fragrance regardless.


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