Chanel Égoïste has a reputation for being a difficult, ultra-masculine scent. A hairy relic of the 80’s that was released in the early 90’s and failed for being too loud, too sexual and too in-your-face. The iconic commercial directed by Jean Paul Goude helped build its reputation as a Man’s fragrance (with a capital M) but apparently didn’t help its commercial career. It has never been discontinued although it is very difficult to find in some markets. A lighter, younger-smeling brother to the selfish beast was released, Égoïste Platinum, fresh enough for a 90’s man, cool and fitting for business or sports, sliding into two very popular masculine scent genres that I have never managed to understand.
Égoïste opens big, bold and sweet but also extremely volatile. It doesn’t feel cloying because a high-pitched, resinous quality is there from the start. It feels like smelling a big ball of caramelised cinnamon resin if this makes sense to you because such a thing does not exist. As it progresses a beautiful combination of vanilla and sandalwood take centre stage, thick and creamy but still mixed with this je-ne-sais-quoi note that makes everything smell tart, spiky, almost like a layer of freshly applied wood polish that didn’t have the time to dry. What I like about Égoïste is exactly this fierce quality, the way it takes over the sweetness of vanilla, the spiciness of cinnamon, the woodiness of sandalwood, and transforms them into perfume, in the good old sense of the word. A perfume that smells all dressed-up, crisp, sexy and serious.
The story behind Égoïste is more or less well known. It is the little brother of Bois Noir, the perfume that was commissioned to the house perfumers by the chairman of Chanel, Alain Wertheimer in 1987 for his personal use. Bois Noir was briefly available as an exclusive in Chanel boutiques and in 1990 was released widely as Égoïste. If you see the two bottles, Bois Noir and original Égoïste, they are identical except for the name of the scent but differences do exist as people who have tried both testify. My experience comes from the latest version but my memories of the original tell me that the only difference is that the vintage version smelled even more closely knit and the je-ne-sais-quoi, shiny, volatile, varnish quality was even stronger. Wearing Égoïste feels to me like wearing a silk bathrobe, black with red and golden details. The contradiction of something extremely cosy but datedly formal. It is one of those scents that make me want to smell my wrists again and again, immersing into sweetness and warm complexity.
Do you ever smell a perfume that feels familiar but cannot quite put your finger on what it reminds you of? I had this deja vu with Coco Noir. It took me many days to get to the heart of this familiarity. Then I realised that Coco and Coco Noir are members of the same family of perfumes, together with Égoïste. What makes Coco and Égoïste trully unique is this warm, sweet and aggressive base that jumps off the skin and revitalises the spirit with images full of sleek passion and sexual tension. Of course Coco possesses a lovely floral opening, rich and creamy yet beautifully natural, but who from the ranks of Coco lovers can deny that what we are all craving for is that rich, unctuous base that makes Coco stand out. And the same quality is there, in Égoïste. Unadorned by flowers, spicy and oriental, the sleekness of Coco shines brighter and arrives faster. And to be perfectly honest Égoïste is not the masculine beast that is rumoured to be. Such sweetness, such lack of herbal elements, such warmth are not the makings of a masculine powerhouse. To set things straight Égoïste is a unisex scent built on typically feminine qualities. To set things straight all women who were flustered by the announcement of Coco Noir and disappointed by the juice should give this a try. It is the essence of Katherine Hepburn dressed in a man’s suit, wearing her hair sleeked back à la garçonne . For more visual stimulation on the subject look here, were I found this classic photo.
Notes from Parfumo: Coriander, Mahogany, Mandarin, Rosewood, Carnation, Rose, Cinnamon, Amber, Leather, Sandalwood, Tobacco, Vanilla
Notes from my nose: rose jam, cinnamon, sandalwood, vanilla, wood polish
Rose jam image from Ewa in the Garden
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