When a little bird at Chanel (actually, they’re all little birds at Chanel) told The Scent Critic that their next fragrance launch was based around lavender and vanilla, I said a silent ‘hmmmm’. Because lavender and vanilla aren’t natural bedfellows, in fragrance. They don’t go together like a horse and carriage; they go together like a horse and – well, a tricycle. Or a pair of rollerskates.
But this is a Labradoodle of a fragrance, as it turns out. Or a Cockapoo. You know: those dogs which are created by taking two fairly attractive breeds (for instance, labrador and poodle), and creating something altogether more cute and appealing. (Though not a ‘dog person’ – The Scent Critic has plastic bag issues – I have been known to melt when encountering a Cockapoo on the end of a lead.) Lavender on its own: aromatic, but a touch antiseptic. Vanilla? Great in an ice cream, or a sponge cake, but over-eager use in a fragrance sends it speeding in the direction of ickiness. Together? In über-nose Jacques Polge’s hands, at least, somewhat delicious.
It took me a few wears to really get my head round Jersey, nevertheless. (And a few ‘Wow, you smell nice’-es, from friends and colleagues, which always helps.) It’s crisp and clean at the start: I really am trailing my fingers through a lavender bush, which obviously is the effect Polge was going for. Now, classically, lavender is a masculine ingredient. Or a Little Old Lady ingredient (familiar from brushing your lips against a favourite great-aunt’s slightly hirsute cheek, and getting a whiff of her Yardley). But here, the herbal cleanliness mellows in just a few minutes, and Jersey becomes cloud-soft and cashmere-snuggly.
OK, I lie. Jersey is soft like those microfibre socks and blankets which feel like swansdown, are spun from some earth-plundering petrochemical, no doubt – but which are (ssshhhh!) the guilty textile pleasure of many an otherwise soignée woman in my social circle…
In reality it’s intended, I’m sure, to be soft as jersey itself: the fabric which Coco Chanel embraced in the early 1920s, taking it out of the underwear drawer – it was worn, by chaps, in vest form – and using it instead to create drape-y clothes which liberated women from whalebone corsetry in one French-seamed bound. Why, the bottle I was sent – not sure if this is standard issue or Scent Critic privilege – actually came with its own drawstring jersey pouch.
The lavender, FYI – grown close to Montpellier – is apparently unusual in that it’s extracted in a ‘dry steam’ distillation, which doesn’t ‘cook’ the raw material in the usual way. Is that why it has all the lightness, and none of the familiar antiseptic qualities? Peut-être. (What I do know – having recently been privileged enough to be present at the Chanel jasmine harvest in Grasse – is that they’re obsessive about provenance. Which is partly, of course, why Chanel is Chanel.)
Rose and jasmine give Jersey its necessary structure – the Little Black Dress ingredients in every fragrance – but the vanilla (and a touch of tonka bean) sweep in pretty smartish. There’s an element of ‘baby’s head’ about it: the nuzzleable quality of a freshly-bathed toddler. Indeed I wouldn’t label Jersey as ‘sexy’, at all; it’s comforting and soothing (in aromatherapeutic terms, vanilla and lavender are both calming), which probably make it just what the doctor ordered in a global financial meltdown. (Although, like all the Les Exclusifs creations, Jersey’s exclusivity comes at a pretty hefty price.)
As I fossick around in my scent memories, the fragrance it most reminds me of is the original Tartine et Chocolate (from Givenchy): originally marketed as a children’s scent, because of its subtle delicacy, but loved by grown-ups, and – just like Jersey – unfolding to a vanilla warmth, on the skin. Were you so inclined, and despite the white musk whispers in the base, you could also safely spray Jersey on a 4-year-old. (Not that you probably would, at this price, unless you happened to be wedded to a Russian oligarch).
Equally, it could be worn by a man, I’d say (though probably not the stevedore type), and would smell très elegant as he wafted around. It doesn’t hang around for that long, to be totally honest, but I think it’s nice while it does. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but I like both the bold Provençale lavender overture, and the pretty, powdery dry-down. And I’ve found myself fairly compulsively re-spritzing, since Jersey landed on my desk, which probably speaks volumes.
Plus: I really love it when perfumers, like dog breeders, break the rules. Rule-breaking is a great Chanel tradition – why not make frocks out of vest fabric, or be first to try to balance lavender with vanilla? – and while this may not be the greatest scent creation of the 21st century, and not quite up there alongside Sycomore or 28 La Pausa in the roll-call of Chanel Les Exclusifs triumphs, Jersey deserves a rosette, for trying.
A black and white rosette, please.