Chanel – 31 Rue Cambon (Les Exclusifs)

Chanel Bag

Chanel’s 31 Rue Cambon is a bag of tricks. For starters, it’s been labelled a ‘chypre’, even though it lacks the pre-requisite oakmoss (a result of IFRA restrictions, a sore topic of mine). But I’d read reviews prior to trying 31 Rue Cambon so I went in with moderate expectations, wondering how Chanel’s in-house perfumer Jacques Polge would develop an oakmoss-free chypre. In fact, I half expected a sheepish chypre.

But no, I was thoroughly surprised and impressed by 31 Rue Cambon. After opening with a delightfully fizzy bergamot (with the aid of aldehydes, it seems) that clearly signalled its intentions to be très chic and modern, 31 Rue Cambon segued into an airy jasmine lightly dusted with a smidgen of powdery iris. At that point, I found myself thinking: It’s well-made and has to some extent succeeded in re-interpreting the classics and making them more accessible to a modern audience. It’s also a restful fragrance, light and languorous in the way that many others in the Les Exclusifs line are. I’d wear it on a day when I want to play it safe, but not on my more creative days, or days when I need something more solid. 31 Rue Cambon, I thought, was a well-executed ghost of a chypre.

Then came the surprise. It vanished almost completely after an hour, leaving the slightest trace of a gauzy musk. C’mon now! I’m not going to spend over £200 on a fragrance that doesn’t last at all, however good it might be!

Half an hour later, the strangest thing happened. A sweetish amber-patchouli wafted from my elbow, stronger than either the opening or the heart. And boy was it delicious. Its structure reminded me of the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which starts with a sound that resembles that of an orchestra tuning, then bursts into stormy chords for the next 40 seconds, and at the 1:04 minute mark, disappears into a pianissimo that’s barely there. Finally, at 1:20 it magically revives and surprises the listener. Check it out for yourself:

The amber slowly fades, leaving us with a semi-sourish patchouli, that can still be smelt 8 hours after initial application. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole trajectory of 31 Rue Cambon, and found myself happily humming along to the Ode to Joy portion in the fourth movement, which happily paralleled how I felt about the drydown. A joy indeed.


Chanel 31 Rue Cambon, being part of the Les Exclusifs range, is available exclusively at Chanel boutiques or on the Chanel website. It costs USD130/£110 for a 75ml bottle or USD230/£205 for a 200ml bottle.

[I obtained my sample from the Chanel pop-up boutique in Covent Garden, London]

The Smelly Vagabond