Part X: Polge, Sheldrake and Helleu...Oh My!
The tour of the Chanel fragrance laboratory was a highlight of my Paris trip. I never dreamed that I would ever be given this opportunity. To actually meet Jacques Polge or shake the hand of Christopher Sheldrake was beyond a thrill.
At dinner the night before the tour, I compared Polge to Paul McCartney and Mr Sheldrake to Mick Jagger. For perfumistas these men are legendary rock stars. Polge is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend with Sheldrake being the new bad boy of perfumery.
As a team...they will be unstoppable.
The bloggers were broken up into two groups for the tour. My group consisted of Seth & Aimee from Cool Hunting, Kay from The Clothing Project, Betsy from Fashion is Spinach and Adrian from Fashion Verbatium.
Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake took us on an olfactory tour.
They showed us a can filled with vetiver, a bowl filled with the most incredible smelling patchouli leaves and a root from an Iris plant. This specific root is aged for three years and then crushed and ground for distillation. Polge stated that is the most costly ingredient in Chanel perfumes. While he was speaking my eye spied lab bottles of Tonka Feves, Tolu, Poivre Essence, Fir, Baise Rose and Violette on the shelves. Polge then generously offered to let us smell anything in the lab. I immediately asked to smell their Iris. There is nothing more heavenly than that pure note.
Sheldrake opened lab bottles of their jasmine. We actually got to smell side by side Jasmine from the Chanel Grasse plantations to Jasmine harvested from Egypt.
Seth from Cool Hunting then requested to smell "the worst ingredient in the lab".
This request was a pure delight to Polge and Sheldrake. Polge wanted us to sniff a note that smelled like rotten eggs. The nameless assistant in the back of the lab began saying "No" a hundred times with a violent shake of her head. Sheldrake then thought of a note that was being stored in their fridges. This note was a musk extrait from a beaver.
Sheldrake dipped testers in the bottle and quickly passed them around.
Adrian at Fashion Verbatium proclaimed that beaver essence smelled like olives.
It was a compelling and interesting smell.
It was slightly earthy and green.
Jacques Polge was studying literature when he stumbled across an offer to become "a nose" for a company in Grasse. He spent two years in the United States learning the craft and eventually worked for Roure-Betrand-Dupont. Mr Dupont had "a long standing vocation to create fragrances for coutiers".
He joined the Chanel family in 1978 following the footsteps of the legendary Ernest Beaux(creator of Chanel 5) and Henri Robert(creator of Chanel 19). Polge's mission was to ensure that the original scents were being reproduced to the letter and that the materials being used were of the highest quality.
Polge created Coco in 1984. He was inspired by Mademoiselle Chanel's apartment on the Rue Cambon. He was inspired by her decorative choices and work. The apartment with it's baroque and eastern feel gave him the idea of the Coco fragrance.
After the launch of Coco,many successful fragrances launches followed such as Allure and Chance. Coco Mademoiselle was created in 2001 and contains the notes of Rose de Mal, Patchouli, Vanilleine, Iris Absolute, Jasmine and Vetyverfract. Polge wanted a fragrance that was "distinctive but did not wear out it's welcome with the wearer". Mademoiselle has a gentle sillage that wafts around the wearer. I always receive lovely compliments when I wear it.
My personal favorite fragrances from Chanel are in the Les Exclusifs line. These scents were inspired by places in Chanel's life from her apartment(31 Rue Cambon), country home(28 La Pausa) to her favorite coromandel screens(Coromandel). Polge was given free reign when it came to the creation of these scents. He is most proud of this body of work. He enjoyed being able to create fragrances based on materials seldom used like Amberette Seed. This ingredient plays an important role in the No 18 fragrance. The Exclusifs line is currently available at Bergdorf Goodman and select Chanel boutiques.
Chanel fragrances are exquisite in many ways besides their exceptional ingredients.
At Chanel, the fragrance is treated like a "luxury, small scaled product".
They have their own harvests, plantations and laboratory. The bottles have hand made touches. The Chanel creative team and staff have been long standing employees within the company. People do not leave for greener pastures. This company is the pasture with the greenest blades of grass. Many of the employees I spoke with had been with the company for decades and proud to call Chanel home. New employees had that special glow that comes from having a job you admire and love.
Can you imagine waking up and actually looking forward to a day in the office? Chanel staff can.
They get to work in a beautiful smelling office and drink coffee out of Chanel mugs.
Adrian(Fashion Verbatium) and I practically squealed when we spotted them on Chanel desks.
I bet my Maxwell House would taste 1000 times better out of that mug!
Credits: Blogdorf Goodman and Chanel.
Disclosure: This Paris trip was made possible by Chanel.