Chanel Sycomore Les Exclusifs 1930 and 2008 : Perfume Review

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def: vetiver — frequently used in perfumery, vetiver oil is steam distilled from the rootlets of grass Vetiveria Zizanoides. It has a dark earthy-woody aroma, with a grapefruit bitterness and a touch of anise-like sweet spiciness.

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

The newest addition to Chanel’s Les Exclusifs range, Sycomore is advertised as inspired by the fragrance originally created in 1930. I have a bottle of the original, therefore I was curious to compare the two. I would describe the original Sycomore as closer in spirit to Bois des Iles (vetiver, sandalwood and soft aldehydes.) It played up its gamine features with a twist of tobacco and violet.  The new Sycomore eschews the obvious floral allusions. It is an elegant and pared down vetiver, which emphasizes the green hazelnut facet of the root. The embellishments are subtle, yet they serve to highlight the beauty of the raw material well. With hardly any retro references, Sycomore (2008) is a thoroughly modern fragrance. As far as I can tell, there are few, if any, allusions to the vintage. …

In fact, for years I have dreamed of a beautiful crisp vetiver of Chanel No 19 isolated and highlighted almost like a soliflore. I imagined Serge Lutens developing his trademark orientalist take on the beautiful root of this grass. With the advent of the evanescent Les Exclusifs, I have started pining for fragrances that were deeper and richer. Now, Christopher Sheldrake, the perfumer behind Serge Lutens’s collection, creates Sycomore in collaboration with Jacques Polge, and the result is the vetiver I envisioned—complex, richly hued and bold. Yet, somehow I do not feel the excitement I thought I would experience.

The main reason has to do with the fantastic range of vetiver fragrances on the market, from the opulent Frédéric Malle Vétiver Extraordinaire to the gossamer The Different Company Sel de Vétiver. Not to mention, the gold standard Guerlain Vétiver, the abstractly gourmand Hermès Vétiver Tonka, the animalic marine Annick Goutal Vétiver, the sheer and deliciously nutty Etro VetiverTerre d’Hermès alone has been responsible for an explosion of vetiver masculines on the market—from the prestige launches like Kenzo Tokyo and Lalique Encre Noire to Zara Basics Vetiver.

Given such an array of vetivers, I find it difficult to justify adding another classical vetiver to my collection. However, those with much more insatiable vetiver appetites will find Sycomore to be a beautiful rendition. The chocolate richness of the root is accented by the peppery and smoky notes. The composition possesses an alluring dark character, which in sensation alternates between the tannic dryness of red wine and the softly worn polish of aged woods. If some of Les Exclusifs struck me as quite ethereal and thin (28 La Pausa, 31 Rue Cambon, Bel Respiro), Sycomore has an impressive presence. Now, can I please have 31 Rue Cambon in the parfum concentration?

Sycomore is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Chanel boutiques. Also, Neiman Marcus is going to carry the entire Les Exclusifs range as well.

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31 Comments

  • scentsignals: I spritzed this one on a card and took the card home – it’s still fragrant more than a week later. but i hate to admit it, all subtleties were completely lost me. all i smell is a big block of vetiver. obviously nice, but since i prefer vetiver as part of an ensemble rather than as the starring note, it leaves me cold.

    neimans does have les exclusifs, including this one, at least in the houston store, which is where if found sycomore. – minette April 21, 2008 at 4:11pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I don’t own any vetivers apart from the Guerlain, so tomorrow’s project is to spritz Vetiver Tonka on one wrist and Sycomore on the other — I’ve only smelled a few drops of the latter out of a friend’s mini, from the Chanel show.
    The notion of the Exclusifs, I agree, is to tease out some notes from the classic Chanels and showcase them (31 rue Cambon being the exception… and the desire for a parfum version has been transmitted to the relevant person, BTW).
    I also agree that some of the Exclusifs are too evanescent — try as I may, Bel Respiro and 28 La Pausa last minutes before evaporating — and I am hoping Sycomore will be more substantial. I get the feeling it’s less gourmand than the Hermessence. Will report back. April 21, 2008 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Arwen: Thank you so much for the review. I am not very experienced with vetiver perfumes.
    I am wearing Sycomore today.
    I think it is more complex than Guerlain Vetiver or Lubin Vetiver. I have a small bottle of the Guerlain and a sample of the Lubin. Both are very nice, but I am loving this one.
    The Guerlain turns very sweet on me on the drydown (which is amazing to me, since it is geared towards men), and somehow it reminds me of the 1991 Vent Vert.

    Tomorrow I will try Sycomore with Guerlain Vetiver side by side and I will report. April 21, 2008 at 7:23pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Minette, you are right about it being “a block of vetiver,” as you put it. It is accented here and there, but it is a vetiver taking the center stage. It does wear well, however. April 21, 2008 at 9:40pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: D, it is definitely not gourmand. If I were to compare it to another fragrance, the closest match would be Vetiver Extraordinaire. Sycomore is lighter, however. I am looking forward to your impressions. You always discover something interesting! April 21, 2008 at 9:42pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Arwen, Guerlain is sweeter, more oriental in drydown. Sycomore is characteristically Chanel in its almost austere elegance. Please let me know what you think of comparing Guerlain and Chanel side by side. April 21, 2008 at 9:44pm Reply

  • Un Chant d ‘Amour: I don ‘t understand why Chanel who have been able to maintain a certain level of integrity of their classics such as No 5 would reissue a vintage fragrance completely reorchestrated under its original name. That ‘s what Caron have been sadly doing under the direction of their incompetant in-house perfumer Richard Fraysse with the cheesy reformulations of legendary perfumes like Narcisse Noir and Tabac Blond that have totally lost their original drama and boldness and make me yawn in boredom. I was hoping Chanel would never go down that road. Classic perfumes are a great source of inspiration for perfume houses but they should have the decency to choose new fragrance names instead of duping the consumers with past prestigious perfume names when they don ‘t respect the originals. April 22, 2008 at 12:00am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Un Chant d’Amour, I doubt many people remember Sycomore–it was not a big success. I do not find anything offensive about a new launch under a vintage name, especially if it is a high quality fragrance.

    As for Caron, the current regulations on the usage of certain materials are extremely tough. Sandalwood is hardly ever used, animalic materials are prohibited, oakmoss, eugenol, etc are severely restricted. Considering that most Caron fragrances are based heavily on these materials, it is not surprising that they have to be reformulated. So, I would not blame Richard Fraysse for the change. April 22, 2008 at 8:54am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    What a great idea : a long awaited parfum of 31 Rue Cambon! i am longing for that . How to get the idea across to the powers at Chanel? April 22, 2008 at 10:25am Reply

  • Un Chant d ‘Amour: Bois de Jasmin, I understand perfume reformulations undergone by Fraysse at Caron were inevitable but I question his competance in keeping a certain standart of quality and integrity. The first time I smelled Lady Caron I was shocked to recognize the same “thickness” that ‘s been ruining En Avion since 2001, I have original crystal bottles of Narcisse Noir and En Avion but also the extrait testers from the 90’s that still smell pristine and timeless, in comparison the new ones are just a coarse reinterpretation of the originals. Even my boyfriend who ‘s not a perfume afficionado can tell there ‘s a huge difference between pre and post-Fraysse period. I also have an old vintage of No 5 in extrait which still smells amazing, the sandalwood is very pronounced and it ‘s nothing like that with the current version but regardless it ‘s still decent and recognizable which is not the case when it comes to current Caron urn parfums. April 22, 2008 at 1:17pm Reply

  • violetnoir: Yes, I definitely want 31 Rue Cambon in parfum.

    If enough of us keep asking for it, it may just happen!

    Lovely review, V!

    Hugs! April 22, 2008 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Anonymous: Lovely review. Victoria have you seen the Vega being offered today on eBay? The description is lifted from your copyrighted material. April 22, 2008 at 3:00pm Reply

  • Arwen: Well, I have been making side to side comparisons. I have samples of Givenchy Vetyver and Lubin’s Vetiver.
    I also have the Guerlain one. I am not very good at describing fragrances, and also I have to consider that what I smell relates to my chemistry. Both the Guerlain and Sycomore are sweet in the drydown. I think Sycomore is more sparkling and I will put it closer to Givenchy than Guerlain. The top notes are sweeter on Sycomore than Guerlain, but the top notes last only a few minutes. Sycamore seems to have some note similar to Bel Respiro and Chanel 19, but I can’t point out what it is. Could it be a little bit of galbanum? Maybe not because that would make it bitter. At times it seems to me that they added vetiver to a Bel Respiro/Eau de Cologne (Chanel) combination and voila, there is Sycomore.
    The Lubin Vetiver is also incredible beautiful, but a little more austere.
    As a woman, I never had interest in vetiver, because I thought it was masculine. I have changed my mind after trying all these vetivers. They seem very femenine and fresh on me, very summer like.
    I already have the Guerlain one, but it would be a difficult decision choosing one of these four.
    Oh another thing, all of them have good sillage and last forever, perhaps Lubin Vetiver has less lasting power than the other three. I wore Sycomore yesterday and after I came home from work I could still smell it. April 22, 2008 at 3:13pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Well, I’ve done a wrist-by-wrist comparison of Sycomore and Vetiver Tonka. The former is definitely drier and has a fleeting moment of a note that conjures iris — but my bet would be on an ionone. None of the earthiness that some vetiver fragrances can sometimes emphasize. Sycomore initially plays on the citrus-like aspect of vetiver with a dry, smoky facet on a woody base. The vetiver notes of Sycomore outlast those of Vetiver Tonka which subside into a nutty-sweet coumarin base, but I don’t find it particularly long-lasting (but I only got two spritzes). Though I don’t tend to credit gender distinctions in perfumery, Sycomore would veer more towards the masculine.
    Oh, and Violetnoir: the powers that be at Chanel have received the message about a 31 rue Cambon extrait, conveyed by many bloggers and forum members when the scent first came out. April 22, 2008 at 4:46pm Reply

  • violetnoir: Carmencanada—Thank you! Let’s hope for the best. :):) April 22, 2008 at 6:01pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Madelyn, that would be a dream come true! April 23, 2008 at 8:27am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Un Chant d ‘Amour, I know, it is disappointing. I still think that Carons are much more difficult to reformulate than some other classics, purely on the technical level (and given that there are no good substitutes for the mossy and spicy notes they use.) April 23, 2008 at 8:29am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, Thank you very much. I hope so! April 23, 2008 at 8:31am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Anon, I will contact them. Thank you for letting me know. April 23, 2008 at 8:37am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Arwen, thank you for this fantastic comparison! I am now tempted to dig out my Lubin Vetiver sample. I agree that vetivers can be very refreshing and cool. I gravitate to them in the summer. April 23, 2008 at 8:56am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: D, sounds wonderful about conveying the message. I hope that they are considering it.

    I love your comparison too. Vetiver Tonka is sweeter. I find it light, but persistent. Sycomore is darker and richer, with a smokier facet. April 23, 2008 at 9:00am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, I hope too! April 23, 2008 at 9:03am Reply

  • Judith: I do like (and bought) Sycomore–but I think I am in the minority: most seem somewhat disappointed. I do, however, have a fairly “insatiable vetiver appetite.” Another one that I have been enjoying lately (even more) is Montale Red Vetyver. Unfortunately, the last time I tried the Guerlain it was too citrusy on my skin; I wonder if vintage would work better. . . April 25, 2008 at 10:05am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Judith, I still did not buy it, but I think that I might at some point. I think that for now my other vetivers suffice. Since you like Montale Red Vetyver, I definitely need to smell it. As for Guerlain, the vintage is definitely darker, more tobacco and leather, but I find both very appealing. I see the vintage on Ebay from time to time, so it should not be difficult to find. April 25, 2008 at 10:51am Reply

  • Anthony: Perhaps my sense of smell is not as sophisticated as it should be but Sycomore smells like a dirty ashtry on me? June 21, 2008 at 2:55am Reply

  • Jordi: I have just visited the channel boutique and I smelled this one on paper and the first thing that came to my mind was Vetiver Tonka from Ellena. I don’t know if as Sycomore developes it gets closer to it, but having the former I didn’t feel the need to add that one to my wardrobe ( even less considering the price it goes for) In my list there are other vetivers first like classical guerlain’s or Tom Ford Gray Vetiver. I also samples cuir de russie ( this one is on my skin right now and liking it so far) Also smelles Bois des Iles and I believe that for the first time in my life I recognized aldehydes in a perfume, I felt something reminiscent of channel 5 and by association I concluded it had to be aldehydes. I feel as learning a new word in a new language, like when I studied english and understood the beatles for the first time October 20, 2014 at 11:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I love that analogy! 🙂 Yes, it makes perfect sense to me.

      I also can see what you mean when you mention Vetiver Tonka. Vetiver Tonka is toasty, sweeter, but also more transparent somehow. October 20, 2014 at 11:35am Reply

      • Jordi: Totally agree,

        I compared the (soaked) paper of Sycomore to my VT at home and I feel VT fresher but more “ethereal” as the line name says, an essence of something great. Whereas I feel in Sycomore a floral underlying with ( and here I could be wrong) a musky touch.

        Maybe if I had met Sycomore before VT I would have gone for it, I think both are great but kind of the same take on a sweet vetiver.

        Also wanted to ask you, would you consider Sycomore an oriental woody perfume, if so I could be finally narrowing down my perfume preferences. October 20, 2014 at 5:43pm Reply

        • Victoria: I suppose that it’s on the cusp of woody oriental and dry woods. Those two are such large and diverse perfume families. But it sounds like you really like vetiver in general. October 21, 2014 at 8:54am Reply

  • Surbhi: I liked it a lot though after initial few minutes I only smell dry sandalwood. It smells very similar to vetiver extraordinaire to me though. But I continue to smell my wrist every time I try it so this might become my first Chanel perfume. June 18, 2016 at 8:19pm Reply

  • SHMW: Today a damp wind blows in, sometimes it carries in the smell of the North sea and sometimes the smell of the woods inland. Wearing the scent of Sycomore enhances both, somehow making the sensation hyper real. It is as if Sycomore uncovers facets in the wind never noticed before or as if it blows from somewhere at once familiar yet otherworldly. It is also a magic I cannot begin to dissect. July 11, 2016 at 7:28am Reply

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