Chanel is really going for it with its new fragrance, Gabrielle. Which is not at all surprising, given it’s its first big fragrance launch in 15 years. Reviews so far have been mixed. Some describe it as smelling like a room diffuser from Next (ouch), while others love its fruity-floral effervescence.
While the ad campaign positions it as bold, groundbreaking and dynamic, it’s really not a power scent. To me it’s more of a pleasing ‘feminine’ floral fragrance that’s uncomplicated and easy to wear. There’s certainly nothing about the mandarin, grapefruit and blackcurrant top notes combined with a white floral heart that could possibly offend, especially not the young Asian Chanel customer who adores her clean, light florals.
But I think with all the hoopla and the ultra-sophisticated faceted bottle (designed by Chanel’s head of packaging and graphic design, Sylvie Legastelois – *Googles her immediately*), the expectation was for something, well, unexpected, different, challenging even.
It’s a big ask to to create an instant classic. And it must be far trickier when you’re Chanel, with the world’s most iconic fragrance under your double-C belt. So perfumer Olivier Polge has had his work cut out, aiming to appease every type of Chanel customer, from the 70-something to the young millennial mademoiselle. And let’s be honest, that’s the customer Chanel needs to capture now.
The Guardian reports that sales of perfume are down between 5 and 10% a year as those pesky millennials shun legacy fragrance brands. I’m not a millennial by age but I am by mindset and right now it’s the cool young niche brands that are capturing my imagination. For the old school brands that’s a hard pill to swallow. For so long they held the power and as with every other creative industry, that power has been diminished in recent years by young disruptors.
Chanel has attempted to capture newer noses before, most recently with Chanel N°5 L’Eau. That was fronted by Lily-Rose Depp and given a lighter, citrus-y twist. For Gabrielle, the masterstroke was getting Kristen Stewart as its face of the fragrance. Her tomboy demeanour but classic features are right for our androgynous moment, yet she scrubs up well. Her fan base is the one Chanel wants to capture, the effortless cool girl who cares about how she presents herself without spending hours contouring her nose. Kristen represents the young Gabrielle Chanel, whose independent spirit it hopes to bottle.
While I quite like this fresh, Chance-y scent, I think a more gender-neutral type of fragrance could have been a bolder success, pinpointing this moment in time while still having the potential to be a future classic. Commercially though, while not necessarily breaking new ground, I don’t think Chanel has anything to worry about. It certainly looks and feels special, luxurious and desirably Chanel.
To help things along, Chanel is amping up the promotion with an experiential concept called Espace Gabrielle Chanel. With typical Chanel-style brand immersion, it has taken over a store at 27 Old Bond Street, W1 to create a discovery world for Chanel aficionados. Open until September 24th, you can enjoy a workshop on Gabrielle Chanel, an ‘olfactory discovery experience’ (book here) and leave with a Gabrielle perfume sample and a special one-off Chanel tote.