One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Breath of Green: Chanel Bel Respiro

My first impression of Bel Respiro (named after Coco Chanel's country house and Italian, whether approximate or literal, for "deep breath") was not quite "Yuck!", which is a little too consonantal for something so soft, but perhaps something more like "Ugh!" or "Bleh!" It starts out with a harsh, bitter greenness which suggests the floor of something: a barn strewn with new hay, perhaps, or a forest floor with its intermingling of fallen trees and new growth. It is strongly suggestive of decomposition, it is not pretty at the outset, and I did not like it. At all.

But this is why you cannot judge a well-made scent by its opening. A linear scent is pretty much the same from start to finish, but a classically constructed fragrance has stages; it goes through changes, and Bel Respiro certainly does. Once you understand the shape of the whole scent, the opening becomes something rather fascinating, because from that rocky start--and I hasten to say that it's not bad, just unexpected and unpretty--it evolves into something considerably more attractive.

The notes--not in any particular order, it would seem--are apparently "crushed leaves, rosemary, thyme, rose, lilac, myrrh, heather, hyacinth, green tea, leather, and grass." There is a whole lot of greenery in there, and Bel Respiro is a green scent above all else. Even the florals are indistinct, watercolour sketches, as if, like Morticia Addams, you'd clipped all the flowers off and tossed them away, leaving only the stems and the faintest trace of petally perfume in the air. There is a slightly dusty quality to the middle, a holdover from the opening with its intimations of decay. Mostly, though, it's a smart, slightly sharp, very tailored green scent that would feel just as much at home on a man as on a woman.

The base is as indistinct as the florals; it's there, but it doesn't call anything in particular to mind; it's there because a scent has to have a base, something warmish and durable to anchor everything else. (It doesn't smell especially like leather or myrrh, the only things in that list that could serve as base notes, which is yet another lesson that those lists are not to be taken too literally; they're what the manufacturer wants you to be smelling, not necessarily what actually is in there.)

I can't see owning a giant 200-mL vat of the stuff, but that's the only size that Les Exclusifs are available in, which is probably doing the decanters and the splitters some pretty good business: you can buy a five- or 10-mL spray from The Perfumed Court or The Posh Peasant instead of a massive quantity that, let's face it, you will probably never see the bottom of (unless you are very, very different from me). If you're in the market for a good green--and everyone should have one, for the springtime if nothing else--then Bel Respiro is a terrific choice: grown-up, dressed-up, thoroughly Chanel.


  • Well, I guess I am different enough...I was very, very happy when a big glugg of Bel Respiro was my anniversary present this year. ;)

    This is one of the biggest shifters I've encountered in the Chanel arsenal...mind you, I haven't tried all or even nearly so...but the shift from greenery to idea of floral is definitely pronounced. Since I am a fan of galbanum, the opening actually seems rather subdued, smoothed over, rubbed to a gloss, to me, much in the same way others (including you?) see the floral in, say, Beige. It's a green, but through a triple polarizing lens.

    And then comes the other, which is also beautiful. Smoothed and buffed like the green, but definitely something else. The green haunts it, but is no longer the show.

    I have heard many people who I respect and step aside for say that Bel Respiro has shameful lasting power, but I don't find that to be true on my skin. I'll get 5 or more hours out of it. Of course, that's not 5 hours of the green, that's five hours of Bel Respiro.

    By Blogger ScentScelf, at 5:08 PM  

  • Oh, if a gigantic bottle of Bel Respiro makes you happy, then I'm happy for you! My own modus operandi is to always buy the smallest possible bottles, because I have so many and I know I'll never use most of them up; there is just no way I could ever justify a 200-mL bottle of anything. Even 100 is a whole lot to me. That's why I've mostly abandoned full bottles in favour of samples; I still pick up a few bottles a year, but with an increasing sense of unease as I add them to my ridiculous, enormous collection.

    It's true that Bel Respiro's greenery is not the shocking bright green of galbanum; still, it's thoroughly, decidedly green, isn't it? I don't find the florals nearly as distinct as you do, either, but that's also part of the deal of having a different sense of smell and a different interpretation of things: my Jim thinks that amber scents "smell like something's burning", to use his phrase, which I sure don't get.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 12:41 AM  

  • LOL @ "amber smells like something burning." Indeed and absolutely, different sniffers, different skin...different reception.

    In general, a big bottle does NOT bring the joy. I'm a happy sample to small decant to large decant kind of user, delaying a decision to full bottle it for as long as possible. Not to say that threats of reformulation or super bargains won't let me step over that line. ;) The big glugg, like a big price tag, is strictly reserved for gifting situations. Or splits. :)

    Umm, that sense of unease...does it begin after you realize you are looking for nooks and crannies to stash stuff in? Or when you realize you have more than two charming storage boxes with decants? Hypothetically speaking, of course.

    By Blogger ScentScelf, at 12:20 PM  

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