Perfumer Jacques Polge has authored or co-authored so many of my favorite Chanel fragrances (Beige, Coromandel, Cristalle Eau de Parfum, Coco) that it always pains me to admit that he has also authored my least-favorite Chanel scent, Chance. Chance always smells to me as if a brand of lesser and striving quality decided to make something “à la Chanel” in style and came up with Chance.
I understand where marketing was going with this scent—that extremely lucrative twenty-something market must be addressed and not with No. 5. In its fruit, vanilla, and patchouli trope Chance has the ingredients to appeal to this younger market and from that marketing standpoint Chance was a smart idea indeed; the scent does sell and sell well. I smell it on young girls in the mall, their hair swinging and their limbs tanned, and it doesn’t smell any better to me on them than it does on me.
With its gumbo of lemon-pastel vanilla, pink pepper, and patchouli, Chance is still on trend a decade after its release. It’s oddly unisex for something so clearly aimed at young women, and the abstract floral (hyacinth, iris, jasmine) is no match for certain of Chanel’s more sophisticated bouquets. It has no signature nor sigh factor when the usually gorgeous Chanel bouquets release their bloom. Instead, there’s a musky rose lollipop stuck into a cotton-candy-and-patchouli balloon. As with Coco Mademoiselle, this reads as sticky on my skin. The patchouli is too sharp and cloying, the synthetic that renders the candy smells too false.
What puzzles me is how the house can issue the brilliant No 5 Eau Première and No 19 Poudré and then dumb down so much for the younger market, as if that market should not be able to recognize or know anything else. In that respect, there’s an analogy to the street chic found in mall retailers, except that Chance is eminently more durable than the here today, gone tomorrow fashion trends.
In an attempt to overcome my objections, I wore both of the Chance flankers through several weeks this spring. Eau Fraîche, a lighter, lemony and aquatic version with a pronounced “water hyacinth” note. This was somewhat more successful, although ultimately the same sticky candied patchouli bored through the floral and overtook it. Eau Tendre is the pretty-in-pink version that adds a blush of sweet grapefruit and powder to the mix.
Neither worked for me, but in their defense I will say that the mall is full of blockbuster scents that do not work for me, and that I can enter a Sephora and spray nothing—fun does not follow money. Still, Chance is a clear cut above celebrity fruit juice and in its lack of formality it will go far as a casual scent. As they say, your mileage may vary and it probably will. It’s just that given a choice, I’m going to reach for Eau Premiere again, each and every time.