I have often commented on what I consider to be an untoward appointment in the perfume world: Olivier Polge, son of long-serving Chanel house perfumer Jacques Polge, succeeded his father in 2015 after the former's illustrious thirty-seven year career, during which time Jacques crafted some of the finest work in modern fragrance
. In Chanel's nearly century-long history, the House has only ever had four official perfumers, and it's considered to be among the most prestigious positions in fragrance. He who perfumes for Chanel need never perfume for anyone else.
Given all of this, and the extraordinary pool of talent that currently exists in the perfumery world, I have for some years considered Olivier's appointment to be distasteful nepotism at best, particularly due to the fact that I find many of the younger Polge's works, both for Chanel as well as for his previous employers, to be dully skeletal, wholly unpleasant affairs. While there are certainly some standouts (hello Midnight in Paris
and the 2005 reformulation of Dior Homme
), it's hard to find more than a handful of interesting works in his 155-fragrance portfolio
. His work for Chanel has been, in my view, only a pale shadow of his father's contribution, with screechy trash like Boy
marring the pedigree of one of the few surviving bastions of Golden Age perfumery.
Monsieur Polge, my apologies. I am glad to eat my words.
Paris - Édimbourg
, if Chanel's breathlessly overwrought copy is to be believed, was conceived as part of the Paris
series in an attempt to pay homage to Coco Chanel's love for Scotland and her affair with the Duke of Westminster. I'll be frank and admit to knowing probably less about the life of "Mademoiselle" than I should, and I have never been to Scotland, so I cannot comment on whether Édimbourg
succeeds in that particular enterprise. What I will
say is that this is a long-awaited return to form, something that can stand with the greats of Chanel's catalogue and does the House's perfume history proud.
Knowing nothing about the line, I encountered Édimbourg while simply browsing through the Chanel section in Nordstrom and immediately had to give the whole set a once-over. While all of them are impressive, Édimbourg stands alone: the enchantingly natural freshness of juniper and bergamot (Chanel also claims lemon, but it's just not coming forward to me) set against the rumbling rasp of fine vetiver oil is absolutely lovely, while the lavender, cedar, and vanilla character that underlies this main architecture balances out the earthy swampiness of the vetiver oil in a way that is entirely pleasant and completely integrated. This is not a revolutionary fragrance, nor does it even have anything particularly original to say, but it's so cleanly and solidly executed, with such attention to quality and palette, that I would put it above all but a very few vetiver fragrances in modern perfumery (more on that in a minute).
However, there are two major issues with Édimbourg. The first is that it's just too damned linear; this is not a fragrance that develops or evolves in any particularly interesting or even noticeable way beyond the initial juniper/citrus burn-off, which takes about an hour or so. After that, it's all cedar and vetiver all the time, baby. Now don't get me wrong: I love vetiver. I consider it one of the most misunderstood notes in fragrance, and firmly believe that it's at its best when left to its own most natural devices, no shrill amber molecules or irritating laundry musks to muck up the works and drown it out. But, for the love of God, do something with it. There is so much possibility here, so much that could be said, but Polge has seen fit to say only one thing and in only one tone: WOOD IS CLEAN AND FRESH AND CHANEL KNOWS IT SO IF YOU WANT TO SMELL FRESH YOU SHOULD WEAR THIS. We get it. You associate swamp roots and juniper with the moors. You couldn't have made it more plain it you had said it in sky writing.
The second problem, which is, perhaps, the more important one (after all, nothing wrong with a linear fragrance if it smells good the entire way, right?), is the pricing. I'm entirely clear on the fact that this is Chanel and that a certain elevated price point is to be expected. But I have trouble justifying buying Édimbourg
over Guerlain Vetiver
or even Lalique Encre Noire
. The former exists at the same price point and speaks in a full range of tones and timbres, showcasing the many elegant facets of quality vetiver oil in a way that few other vetiver fragrances have ever matched. The latter shares the freshness present here in Édimbourg
, though its materials are of noticeably lesser quality and its vetiver note significantly more tangy and tinny than the rich woodiness in the Chanel. However, considering that a big 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle of the stuff can be had for about $30, while Édimbourg
comes in at $90 for a bottle literally half that size, Encre Noire
seems like a better bet for every day wear. Or, if you're looking to make a statement, especially if it's the kind of statement that you want people to remember, then Guerlain Vetiver
is the richer, more interesting, better choice, and retails for $105 for a 50 ml bottle, only ten dollars more than Édimbourg
for the same quantity.
All of this is not to say that Paris - Édimbourg is not an excellent fragrance. It is, and, as I mentioned, represents a return to form for a perfume house that I had worried was going to consign itself to the ash heap in its quest for modernity. It's a lovely, fresh, beautifully-rendered picture of what a nose for quality can accomplish. It stands above most other modern vetivers in the respect that it's not a derivative, boneless copy of Tom Ford's Grey Vetiver or an airheaded attempt at avant-garde commentary like Escentric Molecules 03. And if you're a vetiver lover who has tried all of the greats but is looking for something a touch lighter, then Édimbourg is absolutely for you. But, while I'm pleased to see that Olivier has finally taken up his father's attention to detail, I will be waiting for him to produce something truly special for his new employer. Good to know that he can walk the walk, though.