Some food for thought. I call this the Chanel problem.
They’ve done this to themselves.
The initial reaction to Gabrielle hasn’t been overly enthusiastic, to say the least. In fact, it has called for a retreat into perspective. What perspective? The general consensus has been drawn: “It’s perfectly fine for a mainstream fragrance.” What does that even mean? I believe a retreat into the mainstream is ridiculous and in no way an excuse for a substandard fragrance. I refuse to adhere to that mindset.
Indeed, Gabrielle is perfectly fine for a mainstream fragrance, but that carries the implication that mainstream is immediately lacking in the creative department and is absolutely unable to produce works that ping on the radar and beg for investigation. Gabrielle is imminently forgettable: a fizzy pop and a slow plunge straight into flatness by the way of a clichéd ‘meat and potato’ romance between white florals and white musks.
Let’s not even get started on the marketing. I’ll save that for a proper review.
Photo by Chanel
In conversation, Luca Turin has described Gabrielle as a “blot on the brand”, and I believe that puts my view of the fragrance in simple terms. I believe Chanel has put themselves in a curious position, a corner, so to speak. In light of their other works, especially the Les Exclusifs, Gabrielle is indeed a “blot”; a stain on their intricate tapestry. This venerable tapestry is the result of two things: Chanel’s persistence towards luxury status – the preciousness of their Grasse produce, their staggering economic capital, the focus on quality ingredients, Yoda-like well-trained nose(s), and things to that effect. Secondly, an impressive history and track record – Chanel rightly deserves quivering, knee-wobbling status. Take for instance the crisp symphony of No.22, in which each movement of the scent is like watching fragile things pushed to the absolute limit of their sublime tension. No.5, which pads this idea and adds a fullness in the heart. Or perhaps Pour Monsieur, the intelligent Chypre; Coco – an act of overt chinoiserie; No.18 and its demure elegant grey. Or more recently Misia, which features blushing hues carved in powder, or Jersey – the ultimate in texturally intriguing lavender. Alas, Chanel is not free from sin, and I must, unfortunately, remind you that Boy exists, as does Chance, Platinum Égoïste, Beige, No. 19 Eau Verte, and …
And when these two features are considered together, the Chanel problem arises. If Chanel is going to base their brand image around being the absolute authority of timeless taste and ageless style, in which they certainly do, and continue to do so in light of the cacophony that has come to be the indiscriminate sea of fragrances, then there is no room within the Chanel canon for mediocre fragrances. That includes Gabrielle for its insipidness. What’s even worse is that this insipid fragrance has been done before, time and time again. It is unoriginal. Gabrielle is a loaf of bleached white bread occupying the same shelf as No.5 (the timeless croissant), Cuir de Russie, Antaeus and Sycomore (dark rye bread), and No.18 (sourdough) – pretty on the outside, functional, albeit nutritionally sparse and texturally lacking.
Is a dichotomy between mainstream and not-mainstream or niche and not-niche useful? Do we put ourselves into a different mindset when we encounter something deemed mainstream? We cannot do that to ourselves. Eliminate the sharp and distinct categories of high and low, and praise the endeavour of creativity in the infinitude of its forms, regardless of whether the work is from the ghetto or Grasse; IFF or out of somebody’s basement. For groundbreaking is groundbreaking irrespective of anything other than its inherent qualities of novelty, creativity, and how it fits into a context and a narrative.
So demand nothing other than groundbreaking, anywhere, for anything other than that is plainly unacceptable.