Oh my poor Gabrielle. I’m beginning to worry for her mental health after all this bad press. It seems that maybe 15 years between pillar releases for Chanel raised the bar to incredibly lofty heights, and many are disappointed with the scent. I respectfully maintain that a critic overly enamoured with the legend of status of the house is going to read the intentional austerity of Gabrielle as a failure and I think this is a little unfair.
I resent this “Chanel should do better” story…
Gabrielle herself was a failed cabaret singer who draped young women in the cheap jersey fabric previously reserved for long johns and made a fortune out of freeing their bodies from the artifice and confinement of corsetry. A woman whose famous mantra was “take one thing off”, who created the garçonne look, a simplicity that Vogue predicted “would become a virtual uniform for women of taste, famously comparing its basic lines to the ubiquitous and no less widely accessible Ford automobile.” Yes I’m quoting wikipedia. It’s this bit I find ironic: “The spare look generated widespread criticism from male journalists, who complained: “no more bosom, no more stomach, no more rump …” There was bafflement as to why women would want these ‘formless’ shapes, a uniform that would, to the mostly male fashion critics of the time, make them look all the same, unremarkable. But for women, the uniform was liberating, and it signified membership to a certain club, elite but on different terms.
Now, does this sound quite similar to the criticisms of Gabrielle, the fragrance? I can see an argument that Gabrielle was neo-feminist anti-fashion waaay before Kristen Stewart got a buzz cut and started taking style tips from Shane McCutcheon. Maybe Gabrielle does not care whether her curves are tight enough or her structure, her bosom and rump, are ‘challenging’ enough for your olfactory sensibilities, especially when Chanel has segmented its market with the Les Exclusifs range that allows the development of more ‘complex’ releases to satisfy the noses of the fragrance elite.
I’m truly confused why a huge international luxury goods house described as “an absolute authority of timeless taste and ageless style”, is criticised for producing a perfume that is conservative.
I think Polge is responding to a market that desires this light-handed approach, that will appreciate that they don’t need to be challenged or feel weighed down by wearing scent. A market that values a finely cut white t-shirt as much as a couture gown (and pairs the gown with sneakers if required). One of the main pull quotes from Chanel chosen for the Gabrielle press material is this:
“I have chosen the person I want to be, and am.”
I don’t think we can delude ourselves that Polge was phoning this in, that Gabrielle for him was an “oops”, a blot on the vintage-cream boucle of Chanel’s oeuvre. It is intentionally composed as such so what does that say? Why aren’t we talking about that instead of making snide insinuations about the size of Chanel’s tuberose fields?
Maybe I’m sentencing myself to forever be that perfume blogger that likes insipid scents and yes, because I write for mainstream titles I sniff a lot of very, very mainstream scents (Girl of Now, my god). Maybe my inspid-o-meter is calibrated to a different scale. I don’t own a vintage N°5 although I have had the pleasure of sniffing a number of iterations from generous collectors. Maybe my nose is just not particularly sophisticated (yet!) – I can handle that. But I still think this Gabrielle bashing is a bit elitist and misses what is enjoyable in the fragrance. There *is* a narrative here in which to position Gabrielle. My most loved fragrance blogger described the scent as “the smell of disenchantment”, and of course he’s right, or rather, this a scent created as a possible, palatable antidote to disenchantment. It’s surely no accident that the campaign film for Gabrielle depicts Stewart, androgynous, alone, running hard through a suffocating, tendril-strewn twilight to break out into some kind of stylised wilderness, her face captivated by the simple sunset (we see her, not really the vista itself, make note). Perhaps this is insipid, Chanel normcore. Or perhaps it is an attempt, within the confines of a huge profit-making machine, to make some space to simply experience something lovely. To be present.
Read my review of Chanel Gabrielle, the fragrance, here.
Read the rebuttal at Olfactics. Love you Liam!