One Thousand Scents

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Grace Kelly: Chanel Beige

Beige has gotten a bad reputation. It means boring, unsophisticated, commonplace. (In popular slang it has a synonym, "vanilla", something else that has been unfairly slammed as irredeemably dull and unadventurous.) But beige is the colour of high-quality unbleached wool or cotton. It's a pale, subtle, sophisticated colour in the yellow-orange part of the spectrum, and it can look much sharper than plain old white if it's used correctly. This is the essence of beige, and of Chanel's Beige: subtle suavity. The overall effect of Beige is actually blonde: Hitchcock blonde, in fact. It suggests the sort of cool, reserved woman, immaculately put together, who will nevertheless seduce you when and where she decides to. Beige calls all the shots.

It starts out bright and clean and a bit aldehydic, and my first impression of it, which has not diminished with repeated wearings, is that Beige is very, very Chanel, with all the polished French elegance that that suggests. There is a certain fruity-floral quality to the top, but the fruitiness comes from the flowers themselves: Beige is a white floral based largely on freesia and gardenia, and it smells so much of freesia for the first little while that I was reminded of Calvin Klein Eternity, which is also a white floral with lots of clean freesia, though Eternity of course went in a very different direction, the late-eighties scrubbed all-American style (which Klein spearheaded with Eternity and Escape) that was a reaction to the huge room-filling scents of the previous decade (which Klein also helped to make popular and profitable with his latecomer Obsession).

To the shiny (never quite sparkly) freesia of the opening, Beige adds a surprisingly restrained frangipani, nothing like the suffocating bouquets that most perfumes make of the flower. (This, in fairness, is hard to avoid, I think, because the tropical-greenhouse quality of frangipani, like gardenia and tuberose, has a tendency to dominate anything it touches.) Bathed in honey which becomes stronger as the scent evolves, it's the most subdued frangipani I've ever smelled, and I like it a lot, which surprised me, because I usually find it cloying or overwhelming. But this is the way of Beige: it's not for someone who would dance a (possibly drunken) flamenco in the middle of a restaurant, but instead presents the image of someone who is completely in control of herself (in public, anyway).

Eventually after the florals has died away, the honey is joined by a polished blonde wood; no lusty civet or dirty patchouli for this ice queen, nothing that suggests libido or carnality. It's relentlessly chic and aloof from start to finish.

Beige is the most recent addition to the Chanel collection Les Exclusifs, gigantic 200-mL bottles currently retailing for $190 U.S. There are twelve scents in the line, eight new (28 La Pausa, 31 Rue Cambon, Coromandel, Bel Respiro, Sycomore, Beige, No. 18, and Eau de Cologne) and four re-issues of discontinued or hard-to-find scents (Gardenia, Bois des Isles, Cuir de Russie, and No. 22). Let's see how many of them I can get to in September before I lose interest and wander off to something else.


  • I love Beige. But the first time I sniffed it, I had the opposite reaction: I though "A fruity floral! How very unlike chanel."

    I'd love to get some, but the bottles are so huge! I wonder if i can buy a decant anywhere?

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:02 PM  

  • It does start out as a fruity floral, or at least a floral with a fruity overtone, but I immediately decided that the fruity quality was due to the flowers themselves and not some big synthetic watermelon-raspberry-carambola accord layered onto the flowers as it usually is. It's a lot more subtle than that.

    I got my decants of Les Exclusifs from The Perfumed Court: I've ordered from them a couple of times and can attest to the quality of the product and the service. There's another similar concern called The Posh Peasant; I haven't tried them but I assume you'll have the same sort of luck, because if they weren't any good, word would get around pretty quickly. Chanel Beige is available from TPC as a half-ounce spray for $35; that ought to keep you going for a while. (And you can get bigger and smaller decants, too. I figure that a half-ounce is usually just the right amount.)

    If you do order from The Perfumed Court, take my advice; go big (if you spend $175 or more you can get 8% off with the code SCHOOLDAYS175) and let them do all the work for you (the selection is overwhelming, so focus on the pre-made sampler sets and then fill in around the edges with individual samples you can't live without).

    Ordering samples may seem expensive on a per-volume basis, but it's better to spend $200 on fifty or sixty samples and decants than on one or two bottles of things you may decide you don't care for in a few months' time. Long expensive experience has taught me this if nothing else.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 3:11 PM  

  • I splurged on the big bottle of Chanel's Eau de Cologne when on vacation this summer. It's all citrus, being a proper EdC, but it lasts for maybe ninety minutes before vanishing. It's a good thing it comes in the handy gallon size, because it requires a *lot* of applications.

    By Blogger D.J., at 11:19 PM  

  • Nice review!
    This sounds very pleasant, I would like to try it. I noticed that Les Exclusifs are now in Selfridges in London, so I can go and sniff before I order any decants.

    I agree that the Perfumed Court is a good service. I've also used The Posh Peasant, and they are good, too - just on a smaller scale. They also sell full bottles of some niche lines, which is nice.

    By Blogger Tania, at 10:56 AM  

  • If you like white florals, this would be a good choice, I think. I find a lot of them to be kind of loud, and this one is anything but. A bit strong at the beginning, but it quiets down quickly.

    I'm not surprised that the Eau de Cologne has no lasting power: they hardly ever do. Even Comme des Garçons Anbar, which has an amber base, isn't good for more than a couple of hours. I haven't tried the Chanel EdC yet, but it's coming up soon.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 11:14 AM  

  • Hi...

    Don't know if you'll see this, Krista, but there is also a ScentSplits wiki where folks offer partial bottles and from scratch splits. Just google "scent splits," or go to

    By Blogger ScentScelf, at 11:26 AM  

  • I received Chanel Beige as a gift from a friend [actually a frenemy now, but let's not mention this ;-)], and can't decide if I like it. Googling information about it, led me to you and your two cool blogs. My name's Chris, and it's nice to meet you!

    By Blogger Chrisy, at 1:24 PM  

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