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“Suck it, Chanel” or The Importance of Being Ernest | Manolo for the Big Girl

“Suck it, Chanel” or The Importance of Being Ernest

So I have issues with Coco Chanel.

I think we all know the manolosphere’s stance on Herr Karl (namely that he puts the “tool” in Teutonic) but I gotta say for as many great black dresses, pithy quotes and iconic styles she gave us –not to mention That Perfume– she kinda was a big ole Nazi sympathizer who not only had a long affair with a Nazi officer (how do you think she was allowed to stay on in style at the Ritz Carlton during the occupation?) but also tried to use the laws forbidding Jews to own businesses to regain control of her perfume house from the Wertheimer family (The Wertheimers own all of Chanel now).

I am not a fan. I’m influenced by her design –we all are– but I am not a fan.

I am, however, a fan of Ernest Beaux.

Ernest Beaux

Not only is he cute –I’m a sucker for a boiled shirt front and an aristocratic nose–he was also responsible for creating what is known in the perfume industry as le monstre, Chanel No.5, the aldehydic masterpiece that was released 88 years ago today.

Chanel No 5

“They” say Chanel No.5 is the most popular fragrance in the world, and I’m not going to argue with them. I will say, however, that I can recognize its sillage anywhere, and I’ve only caught it three or four times in the past year and yet the godawful Theirry Mugler Angel and its equally odious flankers (I mean seriously, at this point they should just create a Angel: Bridge and Tunnel and call it a day) is freaking omnipresent.

Okay, deep cleansing breaths.

Ernest Beaux was born in 1881 in Moscow, son of French perfumer Edouard Beaux, who was chief nose at A. Rallet & Co, the Russian fragrance and soap house.  Ernest developed a few successful fragrances for Rallet and in 1920 was introduced to Coco Chanel by her lover, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch, who’d been exiled from Russia for the role he played in the assasination of Rasputin. Beaux went on to develop No.5, No. 22, Bois de Iles, Gardénia and Cuir de Russie for Chanel.

You probably own No. 5 and at least recognize No. 22. but if you haven’t given the other three a try, let me commend them to you. They are all aldehydes (meaning there is a slightly dry, powdery presence somewhere in their composition) and have been reissued as Les Exclusifs, which means they’re only available at brick and mortar stores through the Chanel boutiques. I believe they’re available in 15 ml parfum and 100 ml eau de toilette. Of course the parfum, which is the highly concentrated queen to the EDT’s princess, is exponentially more expensive.

For my money, the smartest of the bunch is Cuir de Russie but sniffer beware. As with all scents, particularly ones with animalic or leather notes, you would do well to buy a decant from The Perfumed Court and see how it works on your skin. When animals go bad, they go very, very bad.

All perfume, especially complex classics like these, are almost entirely body chemistry-dependent, so unless you want to be out $300 for a perfume that makes you “smell like a barn.” (which is what happened when I bought a bottle of Cuir de Russie Parfum without test driving it at that concentration) test drive a tiny tube first.

8 Responses to ““Suck it, Chanel” or The Importance of Being Ernest”

  1. Jennifer May 5, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    Love this post! I love fragrance, and will be on the lookout for the reissued Chanel. I cannot believe I’ve never heard of “The Perfumed Court” before. What a wonderful idea!

  2. ladymissm May 5, 2009 at 10:18 pm #

    I love the idea of the Perfumed Court! My issue with perfume is that I get sick sick sick of a fragrance after about a third of the bottle. Thanks, Plummy!

  3. Jane H. May 6, 2009 at 6:02 pm #

    I love Chanel No. 19 – but not easy to find.

  4. Peggye May 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    My mother always wore Chanel 5 and frankly I hate perfume. But one time I got lost in Saks where my mother was a dedicated shopper and found a fur coat and the scent of Chanel 5 and tried to slip my hand in hers but this being a different era I was not kidnapped or arrested for elder abuse but the nice lady said. “My dear I am not your mother”.Incidentally she was not Brooke Astor and my mother of course was furious that I had strayed from the glove counter. Still I have always found Saks to be the least welcoming store in NYC for large size ladies until you like to drop $1,000 or so on an outfit.

  5. Eva May 7, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    Cristalle is my favorite Chanel. Can’t live without it and it is very hard to find in the boondocks. My bottle is about gone and I’ll have to make a trip to the big city. Oh, darn.

  6. La BellaDonna May 8, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    I’m grateful that I’m not the only one who hears “Chanel” and thinks “Nazi sympathizer!” I also think Vicious Whore – she underpaid her staff, and when her models wanted a raise, told them to take lovers to fill in the economic gaps. I suppose if it was good enough for her ….
    (I have no problem with women who are driven to support themselves that way; I have every problem with employers who drive them to it.)

    My problem with perfumes with aldehydes is that, on me, they smell like FORM-aldeyde. I recently remembered Arpege, from Lanvin, which my mother used to wear, and it’s a WONDERFUL scent. And Mme. Lanvin earned her money stitchin’. And was good to her staff.