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February 15, 2008:
She also proved unflappable in the beauty department. As the sultry evening wore on, I could feel my hair droop and my makeup start to melt, while she became even more luminous. Her face, framed by a Pucci-style scarf that kept her choppy blonde bob in place and accentuated her blue eyes, drank in all of the golden tones of the fading sunlight. Her bare shoulders glistened, a study in femininity that seemed nuanced and pixie-ish compared to the more fully bared, wonder-bra cleavages of her contemporaries (busty coeds being a dime a dozen in a university town). Not only was this girl beautiful, she smelled gorgeous, too. Whenever she leaned in to fill my glass or remove a plate, I caught a whiff of jasmine that seemed as pure as what I imagine the living flower must smell of: not an indolic jasmine (which I also happen to love), but something more incandescently sweet. Finally, I asked what perfume she was wearing. “Chanel Chance,” she answered after a moment in which she seemed to be mentally counting back the hours of her day. A look of astonishment crossed her face. “I put it on this morning,” she said. “I’m surprised you can smell it!”
A month later, my mother was up visiting me from Florida, and we went to have drinks with some of her oldest and dearest friends from high school. One of the women in the group, a moneyed woman who owns a number of professional properties in town, sits on the board of at least one non-profit, and whose father was a prominent judge, greeted me with a hug. Goodness, what is she wearing? I wondered as her scent passed from her soft neckline to my nose. The women in my mother’s circle always look and smell great, but this woman smelled better than great. She smelled modern and fresh and oh so chic. So again, I asked, and again the answer was Chanel Chance. How baffling, considering that I had been following the perfume blogs for some time now and had read mostly negative reviews and comments about this scent. It had largely been dismissed as a sell-out scent: a disappointing concession by the revered house of Chanel to win over the youth market with a fruity-floral scent that could compete with the mass of other fruity-florals being released. How could a fragrance that seemed to meet with almost unanimous disdain from the perfume-blogging community smell so stunningly good that I would actually forsake my usually shy demeanor to inquire about it? And the fact that it smelled every bit as fabulous on my mother’s friend, who is 66, as it did on the young waitress… I wasn’t expecting that (although I’m not sure why, considering that both women shared a similar beauty aesthetic: polished, elegant, devoid of flashiness).
On and off over the next eight months, I thought about purchasing a bottle of Chance, but kept putting it off because other purchases loomed greater in my perfume-collecting plan. Yearnings are fierce in the world of the collector, but it seems to me that true collectors, even the most avid ones, are a breed apart from consumers. Most collectors I know do plan: they keep a budget, study the market, prioritize their wants, and stalk their quarry. They are covetous, much more so than consumers, but they are also fully aware that not being able to afford everything you want is a gift. Because that whole plotting-and-planning-and waiting thing is agonizingly seductive—it is.
So anyway, the thought of buying a bottle of Chance lingered at the back of my mind like a niggling thought, but was a low priority for me, because I was after bigger prey and I thought that Chance would probably quickly pass into the same realm as other fruity-florals—that I would be able to buy it for a song from the perfume discounters after its popularity with the young crowd had faded. And besides, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to admit to myself, or the world, that I loved Chance. Not that it mattered: I didn’t have a perfume blog when I fell in love with it, and I had barely started leaving comments on other people’s blogs. But there was no way I was going to jump into the comments pool with a “Hey, you know I think Chance is actually quite pretty!” statement. Even when you know you are not cool, you are not exactly keen on being slapped on the back with a “Kick Me” label.
Imagine my surprise then, when, a couple weeks ago, I was reading a post at perfume goddess Colombina’s blog (the fabulous Perfume-smellin' Things) about a recent sniffing trip she took to Chicago, during which she visited the Chanel boutique, and she wrote: “I… and I can’t believe I will write this… liked Chance. Which basically means that there is now not a single Chanel left that I couldn’t wear with pleasure.”
You could have knocked me over with a Q-tip. You probably could have knocked her over with a Q-tip, too. Clearly, she had not expected to like this scent… ever. But the awesome thing about Colombina is that she keeps re-sniffing and re-trying things, even the things she hates, and is not afraid to admit it when she has changed her mind.
Validation is a sweet thing, as heady and seductive as perfume itself. Not long after I read that post, I began scouring several of the discounter sites I consider reputable to see if I could get a good price on Chance in the eau-de-parfum concentration. Funny thing was, while the eau-de-toilette concentration was widely available, the edp seemed to have largely vanished—and when I went to the official Chanel website, Chance was no longer represented on their site in anything other than the edt and parfum versions (as well as the ancillary bath/body products). Didn’t it just figure! The moment I decided to move this scent up on my priority list, the edp had been discontinued (or so I asssumed). Of course, that’s when fear set in: I might not get a bottle of the edp if I waited, because when Chanel discontinues an item, it is pretty much gone. And if you do manage to find it, you will pay a mint for it. It was then I decided to get myself to the shopping mall, a place I am usually loathe to go.
Last spring, on a warm and humid evening that spoke of summer, my husband and I attended a going-away party for one of his co-workers at a popular restaurant where our large and boisterous group was seated outside at long tables arranged on the deck. Among the wait staff serving us was a gorgeous college-aged girl who proved unflappable at memorizing dinner orders while fetching drinks, refreshing water glasses, and keeping track of people who bounced from table to table before the meal was served.
Chanel Chance: A Meandering Tale Of Perfume Seduction,
Fear & Greed
At BonTon, they had only two 50 ml bottles of Chance edp left in stock—and the sales assistant said she had wondered why the company had only sent a few of the edp's in the post-Christmas re-stocking of the Chanel scents. I snatched up one of those bottles as if my life depended on it—completely bypassing the tester, not even casting a passing glance at it. This was undoubtedly the easiest sale this SA ever made, which might explain why she slipped three generous Chanel spray samples into my bag as she rung me up.
So had I ever tried this scent before deciding to buy it? Well, yes, on a shopping excursion last summer I had tried on a spritz, but you know... it had been a while. Still, I felt confident and happy, riding home with my purchase, because I think of myself as a Chanel girl in terms of fragrance. Coromandel, No. 22, and No. 19 are in heavy rotation in my scent wardrobe. Chanel scents, even the cool chill of No. 5 and the baroque Coco, all have that highly polished, sophisticated style that I consider to be quintessentially French. I feel very ooh-la-la in Chanel. They make me walk taller, seduce me into throwing on high heels instead of low, remind me to tie on a scarf before heading out the door.
(There is an old Carly Simon song that goes: “Grandma used to nag at me to straighten up my spine, to act respectful and read good books, to take care of what was mine.” I’m betting that Carly’s grandmother was a Chanel woman.)
Nevertheless, as you already know, this is a tale of regret, so let’s finally get to it. Chanel Chance is très jolie, in my opinion—just not on me. Let me be the cautionary tale about buying a full bottle of something without properly testing it first, because this is just a disaster on my skin. And is it my skin, or my nose? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I am one of those rare people who can wear fragrances that others find too spicy or dirty or incense-y, and my skin seems to tame those notes into submission. But the sweet and fruity notes in Chance—oh, they are amplified on me. This scent is blindingly bright and makes my teeth hurt with its sweetness. One tiny, tiny spritz is sufficient to last all day.
I will likely try this scent again—I have a whole, honking bottle of it now, so why not. And maybe the heat of summer will soften the bright edges of this one; after all, the women I smelled it on were both wearing it in summer, and I have found (contrary to what most perfume-lovers report) that all of my fragrances seem to unfold better on my skin in hot, humid weather. Seeing as it’s only February, I have a long wait ahead of me. And that’s fine. I’m in no hurry to put this one on again for quite some time. I will decant it, or maybe I will gift it to someone who wears it well, as it truly did smell gorgeous on the waitress and my mother’s friend.
Or maybe I will let it sit on my dresser for a very long time and be exactly what it is for me now: a lesson about greed and fear and haste.
Chanel Chance has top notes of pink pepper and lemon; middle notes of hyacinth, jasmine, and iris; and base notes of amber, patchouli, vetiver, and white musk. (I'm not sure why it's viewed as a "fruity floral" by most perfumistas, as there doesn't seem to be much in the way of fruit in the notes. But it is sweet, so perhaps that alone is why it gets defined as such.) It can be purchased at the beauty counter of most department stores, as well as Sephora.com, where a 50-ml bottle is currently priced at $94.
Images: photo of Kelly Sweet from her website, Kelly-Sweet.com; photo of Chanel Chance from Sephora.com