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Bombay Duck London

Chanel No. 22

Odd that it’s taken me this long to get around to reviewing a Chanel fragrance, because my past is cluttered with them.  The late-teen obsession with Cristalle.  That so-sophisticated No. 19 phase in my twenties (well I thought so, at the time), when I ate at La Brasserie in South Ken every night for about five years (and as a result, No. 19  will forever be inextricably linked with memories of Croques Monsieur).  And Coco.  Ah, Coco.  I basically wanted to be Inès de la Fressange, and dabbing so-vanilla-y Coco down my décolletage was as close as I could get (even if Inès doesn’t have much of an embonpoint going on, herself).  And of course, there’s Chanel No. 5.  The Scent Critic dips in and out of wearing this, usually for a pretty lengthy phase after I’ve been on some kind of Chanel assignment.  (Visiting their fields of Rose de Mai in the south of France, to see the harvest.  Interviewing a Chanel make-up genius, or Jacques Polge, Chanel’s god-like in-house perfumer.  Or maybe watching a preview of a Chanel commercial with a plate of Ladurée macaroons in front of me.  And no, it’s not a tough life…)  However, my most enduring love affair with a member of the Chanel fragrance family is with lesser-known No. 22.

Personally, I always think that if Coco Chanel hadn’t stopped Ernst Beaux, her perfumer, at No. 5 of his samples – which is of course how the world’s most famous fragrance got its name – then he’d have kept going to No. 22 and she’d have halted him there instead.  It may be heresy (and I may be struck down by a thunderbolt here, issued straight from Mademoiselle Chanel’s fingertips), but actually, I believe that in parfum formulation, No. 22 is even better than No. 5.  There’s the same O.D. of dazzling aldehydes, those rock-your-nostrils synthetic ingredients first successfully used in No. 5, which changed the direction of modern perfumery. Rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang, the heady white flowers which of course swirl at the heart of No. 5, too.  But this is much warmer, even more voluptuous and sexy – with the paradox of distinctly confession-on-Sunday wafts of incense drifting through, as it dries down.

For a moment, its pepperiness reminds me of Caron’s Bellodgia, which is one of the few carnation-based scents out there.  (Unlike Bellodgia, this still smells incredibly contemporary, though.)  Crucially, alongside that smoky incense there’s enough vetiver to keep even me happy, as it sweetly fades on the skin.  And what is the deal with the name…?  There’s occasionally suggestion that No. 22 got its name from ‘1922’, the year of its launch – but I’m utterly convinced it actually came from vial No. 22, which (had not Gabrielle Chanel settled upon vial No. 5) would have gone on to become the most famous fragrance in the world.  A little like a second son being passed over for the Dukedom, with all its sprawling acres.  But the reality is that while you might rather fancy the title with all its grandeur and richness, you could probably have much more fun with the decadent younger brother.  So:  No. 22 it is, for me.

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