Misia Sert and Coco Chanel shared deep affection for each other. Sert comforted Chanel when her lover Arthur Boy Capel died in a car accident. She inspired the designer and introduced her to a glittering circle of artists, writers and musicians. Misia’s salon in Paris attracted such luminaries as Marcel Proust, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Odilon Redon, Paul Signac, Claude Debussy, Stéphane Mallarmé, and André Gide. She was a talented pianist, captured by Toulouse-Lautrec at the piano, but she was also a cultural icon and a muse. In this last role, the spirit of Sert returns to the house of Chanel in the form of a new perfume, Misia.
Imagine a vintage silk purse that still holds the aroma of violet bonbons, rose scented lipstick and rice powder. This, in a phrase, is Misia. Tender and romantic, the fragrance settles on skin in a soft powdery layer, and if it suddenly makes you feel like painting your lips a retro crimson and watching The Red Shoes, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a perfect vintage vignette fantasy.
Misia is the work of Olivier Polge, as he assumes the in-house perfumer title alongside his father, Jacques Polge. As his first work for the house, it’s both interesting and curious. The interesting part is to observe how Polge uses the classical Chanel ingredients–iris, sandalwood, and rose–to create a composition that feels retro but unsentimental. Misia is composed in bold strokes, opening up with a whirl of violet-rose powder and a hint of raspberry, a natural accompaniment of violet notes, and peppery citrus. The iris is the bridge between the shimmering top and the velvety, cozy drydown. Its cool, “roots under snow” sensation is ideal to lift up the heft of the brown sugar notes of benzoin and the triple cream of sandalwood. Misia is a perfume that blossoms on skin, and it has several distinctive layers and many nuances.
The closest perfumes to Misia in spirit are all of the rose-violet compositions like Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose, L’Artisan Drôle de Rose and Traversée du Bosphore. Misia is much more subtle and faceted than Lipstick Rose, but darker than L’Artisan’s fragrances. There are also hints of Jean Charles Brosseau Ombre Rose and Jean-Paul Gaultier Eau de Parfum, the classic “makeup accord” fragrances. Like all those “cashmere wrap” fragrances, Misia clings to skin and lasts for hours.
The curious aspect of Misia is how un-Chanel it feels. It’s far from the austere elegance of No 22 or self-assured presence of No 19. With all of those layers of tonka bean, sandalwood, rose and iris, occasionally I get fooled into thinking that Misia is a Guerlain. It’s that baroque and luscious. Misia, of course, is a small niche launch, and as such offers more room for experiments, but I hope that Polge’s desire to push the boundaries will infuse the house with new vigor. After all, Jacques Polge made a splash when he created Coco and later Coco Mademoiselle (with François Demachy). Not classically Chanel, but classics nonetheless.
Chanel Misia includes notes of Iris root, Turkish rose, rose from Grasse, violet, tonka bean, benzoin and sandalwood. 75 and 200 ml Eau de Toilette will be available at Chanel boutiques and concessions starting March 2015.
Painting: Misia by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1897.