3/3/13

Re-Thinking Bleu de Chanel


Back in October of 2011 I wrote that Bleu de Chanel and I have no future. My review was brief and simply described the basic impressions I got, note-wise and in general, of this strange department store offering from Chanel. In short, I had nothing good to say, and felt that Bleu was trivial generic nonsense from a brand that usually does better. I can't redact my opinion because there's a lot of merit to it, and numerous enthusiasts across the internet echo my sentiments, although some seem to hold the brand to unrealistic expectations. I've always felt that Chanel was a touch overrated, with heavily synthetic compositions that rarely hide their mass-market nature, but that doesn't mean they haven't done some interesting and successful things in the last twenty years. The original Allure Homme was a resounding success, commercially and stylistically, and was something I wore exclusively for ten years. It has since been reformulated and changed a bit, but remains a "new classic" in contemporary masculine perfumery. Numerous flankers followed suit, and then a couple years ago Bleu de Chanel hit the market, and every guy from here to Paris was intrigued by it. I felt it was nice, but smelled like deodorant. That's not necessarily a put-down - deodorant usually smells good - but it's not exactly a compliment, either.

I'm wearing Bleu de Chanel as I write this, considering its nature with more thought than before. I'm pondering what a fragrance like Bleu means for Chanel, and for the American male. This fragrance is very popular here in Connecticut, and has been selling like hotcakes according to the SA I spoke with today at the Macy's in Milford. It's gotten to the point where Bleu stands almost alone on store shelves, with only the original Allure, the two Sport flankers, and PE keeping it company. I don't know why Macy's stopped offering the "White" edition of Allure, but Chanel still sells it from their web site, so whatever. Sniffing Allure Homme Sport again today, I was struck by how ridiculously generic THAT one smells. I mean, yikes. Aldehyde overload, tons of grey citrus, and that magazine-strip woody-amber drydown that's strong enough to liquify your pituitary gland. It's a dismal entry in the Allure line, and not something I'd ever be compelled to buy. The salesman didn't even want to pitch it to me. He was a bit more enthusiastic about Bleu, though, and I guess I can see why. It's a better fragrance.

I went ahead and used a gift card to buy a small bottle of Bleu, because smelling it today made me realize that this fragrance is just interesting enough to warrant exploring after all. Bleu makes it hard to do this, though. Its opening isn't that far removed from AH Sport, although I think it has a mellower aldehyde effect on top. The citrus notes are designer-grade, blatantly synthetic, and very cold, grey, humorless. You don't really feel like you're smelling lemons and grapefruits here (Adam Levine's new signature masculine, on the other hand, smells like grapefruit galore), but rather some sort of unripe, frozen analog of citrus, frosted with aldehydes. Sort of like citrus that's been sliced open two weeks prior to when it's really edible, and then tossed in the freezer for a half hour. The effect is fresh, cold, weird. The aldehydes make it feel like generic rubbish for the first minute or so, but give it enough time and smell what grey citrus notes are like. I actually don't mind grey citrus (4711 is a grey citrus), because it doesn't denote the use of junk in a formula to me. It just puts the citrus idea in a different category of "fresh" - i.e., not juicy.

Then there's an ashen ginger-mint-nutmeg-cedarwood accord that is just as frigid and colorless as the opening. It smells clean, it smells cold, and it smells like a March morning in frost-bitten woods. The woodiness of Bleu is prominent once it dries down and loses its opening luster. But I'm struck by how the "bleu" concept has been applied here. It's not "blue" in the aquatic sense, or even in the ozonic sense. It's "blue" in the woody amber sense, with those cold amber tones, rarest of rare things, used harmoniously together to form one hell of a weird, dry, deodorizing effect. Indeed, Bleu still smells quite a lot like deodorant to me, but at this stage the pinkness of some grapefruit from earlier, plus a hint of patchouli and labdanum, make this arguably the nicest deodorant a man could buy. Speed-stick, eat your heart out . . .

When it comes to masculine freshness I usually go with Cool Water as the old faithful, and enjoy Aqua Velva when it comes to shaving, but I now understand how this piercing, woody-fresh offering from Chanel can carry on the masculine tradition of smelling fresh, blue, and clean, without succumbing to the pitfalls of your usual aquatic and "sport" fragrances. It's not the stuff of greatness, and possibly not even all that good, depending on who you ask (if you ask me, it's the best of a mediocre lot), but I've forgiven Bleu de Chanel its banality because it keeps me coming back to it, and presents me with an option for when I want to smell like the cold death of morning on my way to work.














6 comments:

  1. "...an option when I want to smell like the cold death of morning..." Haha! Totally.

    A friend of mine used to wear this. I couldn't bring myself to tell him that, while it suited him well enough, it also made him practically unapproachable. He's reserved, noticeably good-looking, and always perfectly dressed, so the overall effect was almost robotic. Eek!

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    1. Haha yeah that's funny, I guess really put-together guys would favor Bleu. Wearing it today though I noticed in the drydown a pleasant blush of grapefruit and labdanum against all the grey "bleu-ness," which adds a little bit of contrast and suggests maybe Bleu has a little sense of humor after all. Altogether a nice fresh chypre, but nothing to get excited about.

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  2. when I first tried Bleu, I found that those hazy spices gave it an air of irresistible mystery, so I included it in my to-buy list.

    Even the ad was consistent with its spirit. The model Gaspard Ulliel leaving the press conference saying "I'm not going to be the person I'm expected to be anymore" seemed somehow appropriate with the overall effect.

    And then, I sampled it again months later, and all the mystery was gone. The bubble was burst, and although not dull, Gaspard Ulliel had become Ned Flanders. I had to remove it from the list.

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    1. That's interesting Andrea, I'm having a similar experience with Bleu. Since writing this post I wore it to work and had a female co-worker with an especially astute nose ask me if I was wearing Axe. That kinda dampened my feelings about it again. But ironically my stance toward Bleu, despite my ponderings of it, hasn't really shifted at all. I still think it smells like expensive deodorant (pretty much what Axe is), and can't for the life of me think of a single reason why anyone should feel they MUST own Bleu. Ultimately its ratio of blaring synthetics to natural raw materials is lopsided in favor of the synthetics, and it comes across as rather predictable and bland.

      I do think that Polge was wise to incorporate a pink, sweet-tart labdanum grapefruit note in the heart of Bleu that pokes through the bitter grey woods and lends a hint of classic-chypre blush to what would otherwise have been a completely banal and forgettable structure. Even at its most forgettable, Chanel still manages to at least ballpark some class.

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  3. Very late to this but only got some Bleu today. It's not the bees knees no, but I'm baffled you think it's so close to APHomme Sport. To me it's very very close to Platinum Egoiste, so much so that I'm questioning why I have both. Well, it's 28 C here in Hobart, Tasmania, and fresh from a swim Bleu is feeling just about right, but far too expensive! Love the blog.

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    1. It's been a while since I smelled PE, so I can't really comment on whether it compares to Bleu. I certainly could see that being true though. In the end, and despite its inoffensive blandness, I'd rather wear vintage, slightly-stale Cool Water than Bleu. At least the CW used to be something truly great, whereas new Bleu ain't all that memorable, which makes it mediocre at best. However, there is something to that cold blue woody-amber thing, that iso E Super trick, that makes Bleu worth keeping as a wild card "fresh" fragrance. Go figure.

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