Chanel No 18 Les Exclusifs : Perfume Review

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Abelmoschus_moschatus

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).

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42 Comments

  • voyageuse imaginaire: all the Exclusifs by Chanel including N°18 disappointed me a lot, actually I had high hopes because ambrette seed is used in Fleurs d ‘Oranger by Serge Lutens but this doesn ‘t come close to it in terms of sensuality and radiance.
    The only new fragrance I found exciting is Rousse, a soft spice sheer Féminité du Bois. April 10, 2007 at 12:37am Reply

  • Gail S: So, no pickle note for you?

    I kind of enjoyed this scent, if just for the novelty. But definitely not the one to shell out the big bucks for. I’ll reserve that for 31 Rue Cambon, maybe after the much-desired parfum comes out? April 10, 2007 at 1:05am Reply

  • Tigs: Oh, V, you’re so lucky. Mostly I got… pickle. Not green rose, not tea leaves, not freshness or powder, or dust, or anything sparkling, but PICKLE. As Gail points out above, I think this is a common reaction. I also got a very brief but heartbreakingly beautiful rose-iris combo in the heart, but it was so faint and fleeting that I became ridiculously angry and kind of haraunged the poor SA about it. For this reason, even though I like 31 rue cambon the best by far, I’m most interested to see No. 18 in the parfum. Will it be hours of that stunningly gorgeous heart for me or hours of gerkins? April 10, 2007 at 1:44am Reply

  • Elle: This is the one scent of the new releases I was *sure* I’d adore w/out question since I’m a huge fan of ambrette seed. However, it turned out to be the only one of them I don’t really love. It went soapy on my skin and my soap phobia overshadows everything else I’m afraid. I’m still hoping it will work for me in parfum form since I did actually adore the dry down. April 10, 2007 at 7:46am Reply

  • Marina: This is one of the new Chanels and one of the scents in general that, when I put it on, I feel like I am “completed” in a way. This is the scent that is totally “me”, you know? Love it. April 10, 2007 at 8:21am Reply

  • Anya: I just try this one, it sounds lovely. Just a note about the binomial nomenclature and common name mixups: Musk mallow does indeed have scent in every part of the plant, but it is Malva moschata. Ambrette seed only has scent in the seed and it is Abelmoschus moschatus.

    Elle — ambrette does have a soapy quality to it when the percentage is too high in a fragrance. Hopefully it is toned down in the perfume, as you desire. April 10, 2007 at 10:24am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: VI, I already know that you are a big Fleurs d’Oranger fan! 🙂 It is wonderful to find such a favourite and to be so loyal to it. April 10, 2007 at 10:30am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Gail, no, I do not see pickles per se here. As it starts out, there is an olive oil and tea scent, but then it develops into a sheer green rose. Perhaps, I am not familiar with the same pickles you guys are! 🙂 April 10, 2007 at 10:32am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tigs, I am hoping for the parfum to come out soon. It would be wonderful if the floral accord is made richer. April 10, 2007 at 10:37am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I hope that in the parfum it lasts better. The fleeting quality is just too frustrating. April 10, 2007 at 10:39am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, I know exactly what you mean, because it makes me feel the same way. Like I mentioned in the review, its beauty makes me forgive its lack of tenacity. I am banking on the parfum to be spectacular. April 10, 2007 at 10:40am Reply

    • Marissa: Hi Victoria, this is the first time I’m commenting on your blog! No. 18 has been my signature scent for about 5 years; I’ve yet to find anything else like it, and when I do (like Ce Soir Au Jamais), they always fall short! This is such a gorgeous fragrance and to me there’s something spicy, and almost funky in a body odor-type way, about it (not that this is bad by any means!). Part of me wants this fragrance to get more recognition, but I also like the fact that I’m only one of the few who wear it and love it. I totally agree that its beauty makes the the short longevity worth it, although it still bothers me from time to time. I’m wondering if you might know whether or not Chanel is creating a EDP version of this… I always ask the sales associates when I go to buy a bottle, but they usually say no. I would *LOVE* *LOVE* *LOVE* an EDP and am just dying to know… Thank you! ~Marissa March 8, 2015 at 11:21am Reply

      • Victoria: So far, I didn’t hear of any news of it becoming the EDP or parfum, but I’d love it if they offered a new version. Will keep on hoping! March 8, 2015 at 11:30am Reply

        • Marissa: Me too! Thank you! March 8, 2015 at 11:39am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anya, musk mallow (Hibiscus abelmoschus) from which ambrette seeds are derived also smells subtly musky all over, especially leaves when rubbed. I know because we grew it. They are all in the mallow family (Malvaceae). April 10, 2007 at 10:44am Reply

  • sarah patton: Coromandel is my absolute favorite from this collection… I don’t think you’ve reviewed it yet? I’m intruiged by #18 but can’t get past the pickle. In fact I’m on the alert for that note in other fragrances so I guess it’s been a useful learning experience for me. Can you explain why they issue the eau de toilette first? Will the parfum be coming out on all of them, including #22 and Coromandel at the same time? Thank you, Sarah P April 10, 2007 at 10:50am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Sarah, I did not review Coromandel yet, but I will soon. No 22 has always been available in the parfum, and it is sold in the parfum already. As for the newest Les Exclusifs, I do not know why they wanted to issue the EDTs first. I find their lasting power mediocre, and it is one aspect of the collection I dislike. As for the parfum coming out, this is according to Christopher Sheldrake, but it is not clear when that might be. April 10, 2007 at 11:33am Reply

  • Anya: Hi, V
    Yes, they are Malvaceae, close cousins in fact. My pointing out that musk mallow is Malva moschata and has mauve flowers and delicate foliage was aimed at separating the confusion. Hibiscus abelmoschus is the old name for what is now called Abelmoschus moschatus and the source of ambrette seed. There is no commercial source of, or use for, the seed of the musk mallow Malva moschata. That was the main point I was making. The scent of the foliage (which was barely perceptible to me when I grew it, but may be due to cultural differences, like zinna flowers smell beautiful in Kansas, but not many places elsewhere) that you noticed is notable, and I bet, if like the zinnia, it smelled that way everywhere, it may also have a use in perfumery. Lord knows I’d be out tincturing it! LOL. April 10, 2007 at 11:47am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anya, musk mallow is Abelmoschus moschatus according to my botany books. It is just a general name though (like rose refers both to rosa centifolia and rosa damascena), and it is often used to refer to Malva Moschata as well, which is why for the clarity sake, I added the Latin name above, including both versions (Hibiscus abelmoschus = Abelmoschus moschatus). April 10, 2007 at 11:57am Reply

  • Kathy: I love No. 18, and I do wish that it would stay around longer on me. I’m on my third (light) spritz today. I thankfully don’t get pickles from it, but I do get the green tea scent along with something that I can’t identify until it merges into the floral notes. For me, it smells sparkling and slightly spicy, but I am unskilled at identifying notes. I would happily buy a bottle of this one if they sold a smaller size. No. 18 is an unusual scent that is unlike anything else that I own, and it makes me happy when I catch a whiff of it. Thank you for reviewing it. April 10, 2007 at 12:07pm Reply

    • Marie Shanahan: I agree! I really splurged last year and bought 3 of the Exclusives and #18 was one of them. It struck me as undeniably beautiful, but very rare in that I’ve never smelled anything like it. It smelled very…”old” in terms of it’s scent and complexity. It immediately reminded me of something that a New York aristocrat from the 1850’s would have worn – but only if she enjoyed deep, musky floral – but not “very” floral scents that were, above all, interesting.

      Anyway. I loved it. No pickles, LOL but green roses and a myriad of precious spices on me. But I can’t say what it would have been, long term, once I had a chance to “understand” it as it goes it with some Chanels as my niece literally “swiped it” from me!!! 🙂 She loved it so much, I had to give it to her. 🙂 It’s an unusual scent, but I think very beautiful. August 12, 2013 at 2:19pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kathy, it is a very unusual fragrance. I find it very interesting to see how the ambrette seed rendition is executed here. I liked the idea in Ce Soir ou Jamais by Annick Goutal, but the drydown was far too musky and musty on my skin. Here, it is lovely from the beginning to the end. April 10, 2007 at 12:55pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anya, actually, I had a conversation on this very topic with one of my friends who teaches the subject at Harvard. We were speaking about the confusion that the common names can cause. I brought up musk mallow, because was writing a short article on the topic, and he confirmed that the name can refer to several species of Malvaceae, including Hibiscus abelmoschus = Abelmoschus moschatus and Malva Moschatus. So, just use a Latin name to avoid confusion.

    Alright, let’s stop boring other readers with botanical details at this point (we can do so to each other via email,) and back to the subject of perfume. I would like to hear what you think of No 18 when you try it. As I mentioned to Kathy above, the first time I tried a fragrance where the ambrette seed was very strong and paired with rose, it was Ce Soir ou Jamais. Yet, it was completely unwearable for me, smelling more like sour wine dregs than rose-ambrette. April 10, 2007 at 1:03pm Reply

  • Jupiterbelt: Thanks for yet another wonderful review on Chanel Les Exclusifs! The review on No. 18 raises interesting points on this scent.

    V, I am wondering your thoughts on the jewelry connection. Although I am certain that Jacques Polge got the blessing from the jewelry headquarter in Place Vendôme, I don’t think that particular idea is thoroughly articulated. There are too many conflicting ideas in this regard.

    By the way, isn’t this Mr. Polge’s 4th try at creating a jewelry-inspired scent in 20 years? First there was Tiffany by Tiffany & Co. (1987), Chanel Allure (1996), Pure Tiffany by Tiffany & Co. (2003) and now Chanel No. 18. While the four scents smell different enough from each other, I really don’t understand why the design philosophies for these two houses would blend into one another in such a manner. Of course, I’m sure this is perfectly allowed, but I really don’t know why Chanel SA, which holds the license for Tiffany & Co., wouldn’t expect the consumers to notice this at all…

    Also, I ponder the rarity of ambrette seed (Abelmoschus moschatus in my books as well). While I perfectly understand that ambrette is a luxurious ingredient, is the global supply of ambrette, as Mr. Sheldrake repeatedly stated, so rare that Chanel can only afford to put it in No. 18? Based on the list of ambrette-based scents that you stated in your review, I would think otherwise…

    Anyhow, that’s my two cents. No. 18 is a artisan fragrance with its own merits. I am sure it will find its rightful supporters. I just expected more, since its name follows such a grand tradition: No. 5, No. 22 and No. 19. April 10, 2007 at 1:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Jupiterbelt, being inspired by jewels is not such a rare thing now, isn’t it? Boucheron, Cartier, VC&A, to name a few. Why shouldn’t Polge be inspired by jewels in this case? Now, whatever the press releases say, it is part of a marketing story and that is more or less fluff that could have been written after the fact. Such as L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar stories. However lovely, they are completely made up to fit with the fragrance already created.

    Ambrette seed is expensive, which is why you do not find it used frequently in large doses. It does not mean that you do not find it at all, of course. It is just rare to see a fragrance that overdoses it. Plus, it can be a difficult note for many, as the comments above demonstrate. April 10, 2007 at 1:37pm Reply

  • Jupiterbelt: Dear V,

    Thanks for the comments on jewelry & fragrance. I, for one, would be interested in reading an article from you on this subject…

    I suppose your point is valid, with the publicity-driven strategy so commonplace these days. I’ll definately re-think my paradigm on the “stories” and try to separate the myths from the facts.

    Your latest comments on ambrette is spot on. I think that’s why Mandy Aftel cautioned amateurs of using ambrette hastly in her book “Essence and Alchemy” — it’s quite a challenging ingredient to work with, to say the least.

    J April 10, 2007 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Patricia Seybold: Pure gin martini on me!
    Patricia April 10, 2007 at 2:25pm Reply

  • Cait: Hello,
    I went ahead and purchased a bottle of this in Hawaii. I love it. I had no idea that ambrette seed was from a really different plant from Hibiscus, and while walking through a really interesting garden at Waimea Audubon park that featured the development of the different hibiscus hybrids, I fantasized that somehow No. 18 had a hibiscus-like scent. I find that No. 18 does render the luminosity of a jewel, and I would say it reminds me of the Imperial Topaz, with its champagne color and intriguing depth and clarity. I enjoy even the strange opening scent of this perfume and grow to adore it as it ripens on the skin. Although I understand the pickle association, for there is a tart dill aspect to it, to me there is more apple juice in ambrette seed. I remarked on it with le labo’s Ambrette, too. Thanks for this review that causes me to reflect further on a favorite new perfume of mine. April 10, 2007 at 4:29pm Reply

  • Anya: Common names can cause such confusion, can’t they, Victoria? The botany book did err, however, and that’s JMHO. I recently had a buy on musk ambrette seeds, and you can visit the page to see pics of the two very different seeds
    I guess I’m so used to calling one plant musk ambrette and the other musk mallow that it just jumped out at me. I hope to visit the Chanel boutique this weekend and sample the new set, returning to the topic at hand 😉 April 10, 2007 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Anya: Martini, pickles, dill — love it! Wonder what my nose will pick up? I’ve heard the sampling policy at Chanel boutiques is quite strict. Any insider info how a civilian like myself might score some while I’m there? Special hand signals? Secret code? I want to keep my credit cards in my purse, lol. April 10, 2007 at 5:08pm Reply

  • Jupiterbelt: Dear Anya,

    Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve heard that the policy for some Chanel boutiques are 2 Les Exclusifs samples per person. Also, some SA would actually decant a bit of the scent if you bring your bottle and ask for it. (Of course, this really depends…)

    Although I’ve never had a problem with my samples at the Chanel boutiques, I have not asked for a sample from the Les Exclusifs line, so this is based on what I have heard from others so far…

    Hope this helps.

    J April 10, 2007 at 7:41pm Reply

  • k-amber: Thank you for a wonderful review and a great piece of information on the much anticipated parfums. I also like to read your commnents about Coromandel.

    Kaori April 10, 2007 at 9:35pm Reply

  • trinity: This happens to be my favorite of the Exclusifs collection. I enjoy the weird top notes, yes I can see some association with dill/pickle/sour whatever, but thankfully it is very brief for me. Then on to that absolutely glorious dry amber & rose combo. Such beauty in this scent! I do agree with you about the staying power – just dismal. This really needs to be an EDP or a parfum even. I hope Chanel reads the blogs and takes note! April 11, 2007 at 8:25am Reply

  • William: Does anyone know when the parfum versions of the Les Exclusifs will be released? Please respond with any info!!!! April 11, 2007 at 12:24pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: William, I mentioned this above–I do not know. I only know what Christopher Shedlrake said–the parfums might be available in the future. April 12, 2007 at 1:26pm Reply

  • Robin: Will I like the Guerlain Iris Ganache? Can you send me a decant? April 12, 2007 at 5:01pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: No and no. 🙂 The latter is because I do not have one. April 12, 2007 at 5:21pm Reply

  • Arxsyn: I don’t have the guts to ask for a decant at a Chanel boutique. Until reading this blog I simply thought it wasn’t done. Where I am from there is a Chanel ‘scent bar’. you sit at at a special table fitted with glass vials. Housed in each vial is a tubular ceramic piece. The ceramic piece is grainy and porous. They are dipped in their respective fragrance daily. Basically they act like scent strips, only more classy, permanent, and economical.

    It’s a really cool way to experience their entire perfume line without the mess. Simply wave the ceramic over the nose and set it back into it’s holder.

    Oh, and of course perfumes can be tried on. With this setup, this particular boutique absolutely does not give out samples or decants. I’ve only gotten perfume samples whether the purchase of no18. July 1, 2012 at 2:26am Reply

  • gracelesslady: Falling in love with a perfume is like falling in love with a person. The circumstances are always different and dependent on so many variables– mainly where you are in your life and who you see yourself becoming. When I first smelled this EDT I had no idea what hit me. I wasn’t even searching for a new scent. I had been content with what I’d been wearing off and on for a few years. Initially it smelled like body odor and vodka, maybe gin, but there was something about it, something confusing that I could not wrap my head around. I continually sniffed my wrist for 24 hours, long after the base note had left, but the remnants and memories were still there. This EDT is not long-lived on the skin, but that never mattered to me because the initial few hours felt worth it. I couldn’t decide whether I actually liked it or not, but this wasn’t the question. I couldn’t help it, I was attached. And I knew it. Every couple of weeks for an entire year I would look forward to going into the department store only to spray it all over me. I’d relish in the romance that kept me going for the next few days. Only the day before I moved out of the city where I first tried it did I decide to invest the $250 in this perfume. It helped me to define myself. I smelled the perfume and envisioned who I wanted to become as a person. I know this all sounds really dramatic, but this is how it was, and remains to be.

    It smells like sex, plain and simple. Ambrette Seed and Iris are not what I normally gravitate towards. Like someone else noted– it is a perfume, but not a perfume. It’s not a perfume one wears, it is the perfume that smells like an extension of oneself. It plays off of your skin and smells differently depending on the weather, your clothing, or even the specific bottle that you purchased.

    Unlike a first love that doesn’t work out, this EDT is the one that did. It inspires, encourages and keeps me fascinated every day that I smell it. April 6, 2014 at 11:56am Reply

  • Olivia: Id really like to know if all the edts of the les exclusifs de chanel are weak as the No5 edt, because its A LOT of money and I really want to buy one for myself for xmas, and Im really worried about it!
    As an illustration, my No5 edt finished in 40 days because I had to reapply itconstantly to suit my skin and taste. It was really frustrating. And expensive! It seems that my skin burns the formula out as rain on hot ground! You can almost “see” it turning into a fog, hahhahha November 13, 2014 at 6:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: The floral exclusifs are quite light, but you have to try on your skin to see how the perfume will behave. For instance, No 5 EDT lasts the entire day on me, while 28 La Pausa vanishes within 2 hours. No 18 lasts fine, but if you had issues with No 5, it may not last well on you either. November 13, 2014 at 6:49pm Reply

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