Review: Chanel’s “Coco Noir” Eau de Parfum

IMAG0023Coco Noir is very purple. That is a succinct description of the latest offering by Chanel’s in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge, in conjunction with Christopher Sheldrake. According to Fragrantica, the perfume notes are listed as follows: “Top notes: grapefruit, Calabrian bergamot, Heart: rose, narcissus, rose geranium leaf and jasmine. Base: tonka bean, sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli and white musk frankincense.” Those notes are important for one reason: I didn’t get many of them! At least, not to the degree that one would expect from a Chanel perfume. (And I don’t have a novice “nose.”)

Housed in a stunning, gleaming black bottle, Coco Noir can be summed up as a purple patchouli that is heavy on the fruit. It opens with a strong note of spicy rose. Not tea rose, but more like a combination of roses, I think to myself. Perhaps damask rose? There is a touch of geranium, too, and a miniscule whiff of citrus lemon. But most of those scents – faint as some of them may be – are nothing as compared to the overwhelming blast of something not listed in the notes: purple plum. Soon after those initial rose notes, the fruit emerges and continues to emerge ad nauseam. I smell heavy, ripe plum and perhaps a hint of sweet Anjou pear. The patchouli starts to emerge but the fruit just gets stronger. Grapefruit starts to blast its way into the mix, like a giant elephant pushing aside all in its path.

As Coco Noir develops further, so does the patchouli. But, alas, this is a very synthetic patchouli to me. I’ve read that Jacques Polge loves to use a lot of something called “Iso E,” which seems to be a chemical compound or synthetic that boosts florals and increases the perfume’s longevity. Perhaps that is the cause of something smelling so damn sharp to the nose, but whether it is the Indonesian patchouli or the white musk frankincense, I can’t tell. For all I know, it could be the damn grapefruit that is now threatening to beat me over the head!

A few hours after all this, the elephant is now tired and recedes to the background, allowing the trio of vanilla, musk and sandalwood to finally emerge. Like timid mice, they creep in, creating a powdery, vanilla, sandalwood warmth that is my absolute favorite part o f this scent.

For all that this review seems negative, it’s not. (Well, minus that bit about the synthetic element to the opening notes.) But, for the most part, I enjoyed Coco Noir for one reason and one reason alone: I didn’t go in expecting Coco (original). I expected an expensive-smelling Chanel perfume and that’s what I got. Whatever this is, and whatever the disappointments, this is still better than 95% of the fragrances in department stores – stores that are awash in a sea of Britneys, Rihannas, Beyoncés, Estee Lauders, Ralph Lauren and (heaven help us) Snooki scents. This is a perfume that smells expensive. It’s simply that it’s a disappointment to hardcore perfume addicts.

Chanel’s perfumes have, over the last 20 years or so, gotten sweeter and sweeter. Coco Noir is no exception. If anything, Chanel and Polge have — perhaps intentionally — created a very safe, mainstream perfume. This is not a Frederic Malle, Serge Lutens or Amaouge. This is not Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom or YSL’s M7. This is a very safe perfume designed to appeal to the average woman who wants the Chanel name and something not very daring.  And there is nothing wrong with any of that!

Unfortunately, it’s simply not what perfume aficionados were hoping for when they heard that Chanel was coming out with a “Noir” version of Coco. They seemed to have thought – quite logically I may add – that it would be “Sultry! Smoky! Intoxicatingly dark and seductive in an animalistic but always elegantly Chanel way!” No wonder then, the howls of horror, revulsion and rage when they finally smelled the released product. (One commentator compared it to a “tumor” which is in desperate need of chemo!)

Coco Noir will appeal to the woman who likes Coco Mademoiselle or more fruity-spicy scents. To be frank, to my nose, this smelled a LOT like Marc Jacob’s Lola: a heavy blast of grapefruit, pink peppercorn and purple fruit, with rose, sweet-spicy musk, and tonka bean. I don’t mind Lola. I own Lola. But I would never say that Lola is special. Some have compared Coco Noir to Narcisco Rodriguez For Her. I don’t agree. Narcisco Rodriguez For Her is all clean, fresh detergent with white musk. (I’m sorry, I find that it smells like fabric softener or detergent mixed with sweet musk. It’s an intriguing scent on occasion and it certainly gets in one’s head. But it’s hardly something I would rave about. For me. Everything is subjective, after all.) No, to me, Coco Noir is extraordinarily similar to Marc Jacob’s Lola until the final dry-down where it’s like a thin, cashmere veil of cozy sandalwood, vanilla and musk that lie close to the skin. Then, it becomes somewhat spicy and powdery, with a trace of the Chanel signature. Then, it’s nice and cozy. But is it cozy enough to warrant the cost? ($98 for a 1.7 oz eau de parfum bottle.)  That’s a personal decision that is up to you.

Speaking only for myself, I’m glad I have this for my collection. And the bottle is stunning. Truly stunning. For some strange reason that is actually a bit inexplicable to me, I like the scent. Perhaps because it’s a nice change from my sea of spicy orientals or florals, and because it does smell expensive.  Again, the synthetic nature of some of the notes bothers me, especially in the beginning. But I wonder if it can be helped, given the IFRA regulations whose limitations on the concentrations and amount of certain essential oils have pushed perfumers to use some synthetic components instead.

Ultimately, I think your views of this scent will be determined by whether you go into it expecting a Noir/Black scent and a Noir version of Coco, in particular. If so, then you will be disappointed. But, if you smelled this in an unmarked bottle and without expectations, or if you’re not a hardcore perfume addict, then you may find yourself liking it. Or not….