Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
“I’ve loved Chinese screens since I was eighteen years old. I nearly fainted with joy when, entering a Chinese shop, I saw a Coromandel for the first time. Screens were the first thing I bought,” said Coco Chanel in one of her interviews, as quoted by Claude Delay in Chanel Solitaire, 1983, p.12.) The dark lacquered wood of Coromandel screens with their unique luminescence was the main impression of those who visited her apartment at 31 rue Cambon in Paris. Their unique blend of opulence and austerity, of dark sheen and bright gold embellishments was the inspiration for the fragrance of the same name from Les Exclusifs collection: Chanel Coromandel.
Having decided to build the composition on patchouli, perfumer Christopher Sheldrake emphasizes Chanel’s fascination with the exotic—the Indian Coromandel Coast was the site of trade in Chinese goods and Indian wares, including patchouli. The camphorous woody character of this leafy plant is so complex that it lends itself to numerous variations. In Coromandel, it is taken into a dark, luscious direction, someplace between the fun fair exuberance of Thierry Mugler Angel and the dusky bitterness of Serge Lutens Borneo 1834. Like other Chanel fragrances, it is above all elegant and refined, with a beautiful and rich sillage.
The notes of green pine needles introduce the resinous darkness of patchouli. Its musty and earthy qualities are toned down considerably, while the sweet woody facets are played up in the base of Coromandel. Rose and jasmine appear as delicate brushstrokes, making the composition both lighter and more complex. The velvety oriental base has a similar baroque flair to that of Chanel Coco, but the emphasis is on woods and incense. Treated this way, patchouli appears as warm and spicy, hinting at its chocolate liqueur-like richness.
When I was testing Jean Paul Gaultier’s new masculine fragrance Kokorico last week, I was immediately inspired to revisit Coromandel. The treatment of woods as simultaneously dry and gourmand is very intriguing, and I would add, polarizing, because it does not fit within our expectations. Although marketed as a feminine fragrance, Coromandel would suit men who like oriental blends. If on the other hand, Coromandel is too bitter of a morsel for you, try Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady or Agent Provocateur where the emphasis is on floral notes at the expense of woods.
Chanel Coromandel features notes of jasmine, patchouli, woody notes, amber, benzoin, and frankincense. It is a part of Les Exclusifs collection that also includes Jersey, Beige, Sycomore, No 22, Gardénia, Cuir de Russie, Bois des Iles, 28 La Pausa, Bel Respiro, No. 18, and Eau de Cologne. It is available in the Eau de Toilette concentration from Chanel boutiques and Bergdorf Goodman. 2.5oz, $110; 6.8oz, $210.
Sample: my own acquisition
Image: red flower on Coromandel screen via wikipedia.com