Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
Chanel No 18 is startling. Unctuous and green at first, reminiscent of olive oil and green tea leaves, it becomes warm and floral, separating into soft billowing layers of fruity rose and powdery musk. The striking simplicity of this composition belies its inherent loveliness. It is gentle without becoming meek, delicate without appearing pale and feminine without being clichéd. …
No 18 is based on ambrette seed, a material that is not often given such a tribute. It is derived from seeds of the musk mallow, the entire plant of which has a subtle musky scent. The fresh, floral, fruity and musky facets of ambrette seed make it quite a complex material, which blends beautifully with rose, as one might discover in Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais, Lancôme Mille et Une Rôses, Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose, Parfums de Rosines Rose d’Été, and Chanel Égoïste. The powdery musk quality of ambrette seed is explored in L’Artisan Bois Farine, Institute Très Bien Cologne à la Russe and Hermès Hiris.
The reason for No 18’s beauty lies in its ability to explore all facets of the ambrette seed note, while underscoring its fresh, floral quality. It shimmers like a crystal ornament in the glow of candles. It floats like Isadora Duncan’s veil. The green rose accord, which complements the ambrette in No 18 lends an ethereal quality, lightening and uplifting the composition. In many ways, I find it to be the most unusual fragrance of the collection, given its ability to recast the idea of an uncommon raw material in an intriguing and modern manner.
The qualm about the lasting power that I mention in my earlier reviews of Les Exclusives applies to No 18. If it were not so striking, I would have far less patience with it. Chanel No 18 is an accord of ambrette seed, rose and iris. It is part of Les Exclusifs collection that also includes No 22, Gardénia, Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles, 28 La Pausa, 31, rue Cambon, Coromandel, Bel Respiro, and Eau de Cologne It is available in the Eau de Toilette concentration from the Chanel boutiques and Bergdorf Goodman.
Photo of musk mallow (Hibiscus abelmoschus = Abelmoschus moschatus), from which ambrette seed oil is derived from Plants of Nepal (photo by NN Tiwari).