Chanel Beige Les Exclusifs : Perfume Review

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Camelia Chanel

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

A few years ago I had a revelation about Coco Chanel. Sure, I had read several books about her and her fashion contributions, but it was only at the Chanel exhibit at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that I began to understand her ability to reinterpret shapes and structures, to appreciate her novel construction techniques and spectacular use of seemingly muted colors like white, black, ivory, grey… And of course, beige! …

Seeing the folds of beige fabric form everything from a tailored cardigan jacket of wool boucle to the deliciously decadent splendor of a ball gown opened my eyes to the warm, elegant and sensual effect of this color. The allure of this shade was not lost on Chanel who commissioned an eponymous scent in the 1930s, along with Rouge and Bleu. Launched in 1940, they were meant to embody the tricolor of the French flag and evoke the colors of Chanel’s last pre-war collection. In 2008, the house of Chanel unveiled a new version of Beige as a tribute to Chanel’s statement—“I take refuge in beige because it’s natural.”

What scent could be the color beige? To me, it could smell of soft kid leather, wool yarn, almonds, vanilla, white peppercorns, mirabelle brandy, and angelica roots. But also, as Chanel Beige made me realize, of gardenia petals and honey, of indolic notes present in flowers and products of decay.

The drops at the bottom of my vintage Chanel Beige flacon reveal a fragrance rich in orris, indole and ambery notes, warm and almost fur-like. The new Beige is a lavish floral bouquet that spills into frothy layers of jasmine, gardenia, rose and frangipani. The luscious white floral notes are rendered effervescent and airy by the aldehydes, which also serve to temper the characteristic white floral sweetness. Accented by spicy-warm anisic notes, the floral accord gently cascades into the sweet orris base, resulting in one of the most gorgeous effects I have recently experienced. As the fragrance dries down and melds into the skin, it becomes velvety and soft, almost blending the line between olfactive and tactile perceptions. The only downside to Beige is that the late drydown is a touch less spectacular. The sensation of warmth on the skin peters out leaving the powdery almond sweetness (heliotropine, vanilla, musk) to take center stage. Yet, this happens several hours into the wear, giving Beige enough time to enchant.

Chanel Beige includes notes of hawthorn, freesia and frangipani, and honey. 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, No 18, Coromandel, Bel Respiro, Eau de Cologne and Sycomore. It is available in the Eau de Toilette concentration from the Chanel boutiques and Bergdorf Goodman.

For those curious about other vintage Chanel fragrance from the 1940 series, I can offer some brief observations based on the contents of my vintage bottles. Chanel Rouge is a violet-rose composition on a wet-woody base, while Chanel Bleu is violet and hyacinth with a strong sandalwood note. Taking into account the deterioration of scent with time, the original Beige is still the most interesting of the three given its contrasting layering of accords. At the same time, I hope that Chanel will eventually reveal Jacques Polge’s interpretation of Rouge and Bleu which could be a great experience.

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24 Comments

  • violetnoir: Hi, V!

    I was not as taken by Beige as you were, but I would like to see re-interpretations of Bleu and Rouge. All of the originals sound fascinating!

    Hugs! June 9, 2009 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: R, that would be great! Well, maybe, they will do it one day…

    xoxo June 9, 2009 at 2:44pm Reply

  • Zazie: I really like beige… And the honeyed-white flowers like me: one of the few Chanel I contemplated buying. If it wasn’t for the 200 ml thing…! The ridiculous size and marketing (I find it quite mainstream, not in a bad way, but really I don’t see the exclusiveness here) bother me a bit. Well, I suppose a bottle will eventually join my collection! Very pretty! Thanks for your nice and informative review! June 10, 2009 at 5:19am Reply

  • ScentScelf: I tend to enjoy a woody-rose…making the Rouge a (non-existing) must-sniff. (Even better than trying to find elusive bottles…it just. doesn’t. exist. LOL) Anyway, I enjoyed listening to your ruminations on Beige. I myself have so far had a “ah, very nice” but no fireworks response to it…yet I suspect that I am going to come to appreciate it more deeply, much in the same way you had your epiphany about the structure and thought behind the clothing. June 10, 2009 at 8:44am Reply

  • Sveta: Mmmm, sounds so good! I m imagining honey coated gardenias. 🙂 June 10, 2009 at 10:45am Reply

  • Mark D: Nice to read your new reviews! I’m also dying to hear your opinion of Hermes Eau de Gentiane Blanche. Can please I make a request for more masculine fragrance reviews while I am at it?
    *am I being too demanding? 🙂 * June 10, 2009 at 11:34am Reply

  • Kathryn: What a lovely review! It is very much the way I feel about Beige, but much more graceful and articulate than anything I have been able to express. I sometimes wonder if we have become so bombarded by colorful advertisements and by the overwhelming use of aroma chemicals in just about everything that it has become harder to appreciate the understated elegance of a perfume like Beige. Not only your words but the photograph you chose to illustrate your review demonstrate how charming subtle intelligence can be. June 10, 2009 at 8:16pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I was quite taken by Beige right from the start — to me, the feel of cashmere on nude skin — and realised that I sometimes craved something that didn’t buffet my nose with demanding accords. Which I think is why it got a lot of “mehs” on blogs and forums.
    What I noticed though is that there is a HUGE muguet note sitting right in the middle of it — I think that’s what give Beige its light texture despite the big florals and honey. I’d like to know if you got that too? June 11, 2009 at 1:53am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Zazie, I also prefer small bottles, probably because they are much easier for travel. Well, I also have such a large collection that huge 200ml flacons are simply not convenient. I am still using up my decant, but I like it enough to consider a larger bottle. June 11, 2009 at 8:58am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: A, I did not experience any fireworks when I first tried Beige, but as I kept returning to it, I found so many facets and beautiful aspects in this perfume that I reconsidered. Now, it is probably my favorite out of the whole Les Exclusifs collection (not counting Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles and No 22, which are the gold standards.) June 11, 2009 at 9:00am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Sveta, what a lovely image! June 11, 2009 at 9:01am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Mark, not at all! I gladly consider requests, and I will try my best to fulfill them. 🙂 June 11, 2009 at 9:01am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Kathryn, you’ve put it so well when you said “it has become harder to appreciate the understated elegance of a perfume like Beige.” So many launches are trying to be everything to everyone that they end up smelling like a mishmash of things–a bit of oriental, a bit of gourmand, plus a fruity top, plus a “sexy clean” accord. Beige is not trying to break new grounds, but for me, it is about luxury and elegance, which are often missed in the new releases. June 11, 2009 at 9:05am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: D, that is a perfect way to describe and a very accurate one. Beige is soft, yet it has a tremendous power. I am very impressed with the composition.
    As for the muguet note, I definitely noticed it. It did not strike me at first, because many florals have a muguet element to them. Here, it is a nice touch serving to lighten the sweetness. June 11, 2009 at 9:33am Reply

  • Arwen: Thank you for a very lovely review. I agree with you, Beige is about luxury and elegance. A quality lacking in most of the 800+ yearly releases. June 11, 2009 at 11:56pm Reply

  • 2scents: I do love Beige, but it was a bit of sleeper to start. What has captured my interest is the earthy (i think the hawthorn) note, also present in the much maligned Miel de Bois. June 12, 2009 at 10:57am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Arwen, how true! I am glad that there are still such exceptions. June 18, 2009 at 11:40am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: 2scents, you are right, that honey note is very sensual, providing a perfect accent. In Miel de Bois, it was rather extreme. June 18, 2009 at 11:41am Reply

  • Mollie: Maybe this is too cliche, but Chanel really is my favorite designer. I adore her. When I got old enough to really be getting into perfumes, I recall the first few things I smelled were No. 5 (of course), No. 22 and Gardenia, all courtesy of my grandma. Now that I’m an art history student, I appreciate Chanel’s aesthetics as well as her legacy of perfumery! Anyway- I like Beige, mostly because there’s a nice, elegant simplicity about it. I don’t think I could wax poetic about it! But I’m very fond of it. June 23, 2009 at 12:02am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Mollie, not a cliche at all! Chanel designs are timeless, and their elegant simplicity is unique. Plus, Chanel was such a strong part of the art movement in the 20s and in the subsequent decades. As an art history student, you must find so many fascinating elements in her creations. June 23, 2009 at 12:40pm Reply

  • hongkongmom: am curious victoria, did you eventually buy a bottle? i sprayed this today and have really enjoyed it… September 21, 2011 at 5:41am Reply

  • Mel: I am really late in posting comments – but I’ve recently only discovered your beautiful blog, dear Victoria!

    Beige is a beautiful fragrance…! And even though this might sound completely random, but I find Kerastase’s Elixir Ultime to smell quite similar to Beige. Its my heaven – I’m always wary of spraying perfume in my hair and I just love the fact that when I use this product my hair smells like “Beige” 🙂

    Chanel Beige I only own in 3 decants – But purchasing this fragrance is definitely on my list of “to buy” items! September 10, 2012 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Mel!

      Now, I really want to smell Kerastase’s Elixir Ultime! Some of their products are so beautifully scented. September 12, 2012 at 4:30am Reply

    • lila: I’m laughing right now as I’m wearing beige. I keep thinking “shampoo” when I wear it and now that you mention Kerastase (one of my favorite hair care lines which I haven’t used in a while) it totally makes sense. I’m smelling Kerastase! 🙂 February 20, 2014 at 9:26am Reply

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