Chanel’s Les Exclusifs Sycomore EDT is an unbeatable vetiver – except when it’s remade into an EDP.
I’m a firm fan of vetiver and none has kept me captivated like Chanel’s Sycomore. It’s one of the scents from the brand’s Les Exclusifs line up, a quasi-niche (in price, primarily) range of fragrances that allow perfumers Olivier (previously Jacques) Polge to explore the house’s heritage in more unique ways.
The Les Exclusifs offerings are a lot more unique and refined than a lot of the brand’s major releases. To me, things like Coco Mademoiselle, Chance, etc. aren’t worth paying real attention to. They’re easy, marketable fragrances that earn the company money – not to say they’re offensive. In fact, Chanel’s standards of perfumery make its mainstream releases actually not bad.
But I digress from the point of this post: my love for Sycomore and subsequent despair now that the line has been reformulated to a more potent Eau de Parfum concentration. Normally, I’d be a fan of Chanel scents being an EDP strength. Classics like Coco and No.5, to my mind, deserve the more robust body that a higher concentration offers. The vintagey abstract and aldehydic structures benefit more from a rounded body that allows it shining hits of high and often soapy notes.
The problem is, a lot of the Les Exclusifs scents aren’t the heavyhitting type. Bar Cuir de Russie and perhaps Misia, the rest of the range is a bit haughtier and refined. Sycomore for instance, is a precisely spicy and woody mix of vetiver, slight sandalwood, tobacco and violet. It’s the kind of smouldering character that’s born out of the collaboration between Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake – Serge Lutens’ longtime collaborator. From Polge, I assume, we get the Chanel-ification of classicism, and from Sheldrake that particular character of scent. It’s as close as Chanel gets to making a truly smoky scent.
The bottle I have is the EDT concentration, which really delivers on balancing the heady haze of tobacco and earthy vetiver. It’s a bit dirty and muddy smelling, but supremely refined and full of personality. Part of what I love about it is its unapologetic sting of acridity. It’s not pretending to be feminine or masculine – that dryness can be challenging to men and women alike, and its Chanel aldehydes are treated as strategic bits of sparkle, instead of laundry starburst.
When I visited a Chanel beauty boutique to sniff out the EDP version, I was disappointed because of how muted the scent had become. In some ways, it was now more Chanel than Sheldrake. The sandalwood had gained a stronger voice, tipping the overall balance into creamy. The peppery bits of tobacco are all but gone and now without its characteristic dryness.
In all, I’m saddened. It’s my first taste of a reformulation ruining a product and I can tell you I’ll be spritzing with a lot more caution now.