Chanel Cuir de Russie

The closest I have ever been to Russia is the Czech Republic, on a school trip about a year ago. For a week we visited the concentration camps and ghettos of Poland; on the last day, we were given time to run around Prague. Had we been meeting under different circumstances, I would no doubt have been enchanted by Prague, with its beautiful churches and miles of luxury shopping. But after a week of Auschwitz and Majdanek, a week surrounded by unfathomable death, I couldn’t deal with Prague’s (relative) extravagance. After seeing barracks piled to the roof with children’s shoes, a block of Louis Vuitton and Versace boutiques seemed outrageous. The decadence felt all wrong.

As you may have guessed, Cuir de Russie rubbed me in rather the wrong way. There are two reasons for this. First, this highly-praised leather scent is far sweeter than any leather scent has a right to be. The sweetness was straight up bizarre. If I order a steak, I do not expect to be served dessert. CdR does become more savory as time passes, but that first half hour is off-putting.

More importantly, the leather note in CdR strikes me as much closer to the smell of furs than to leather. I had envisioned CdR as a fitted leather jacket, or perhaps a fine leather purse. Instead I find a woman dripping in furs, decked out in every jewel in her safety deposit box, wearing too much eye makeup and a garish shade of lipstick, and reeking of cigarettes and perfume that went bad years ago. CdR smells “new money” to me, like a socialite who has not yet learned that restraint can be more elegant than ostentation. It’s all too much for me.

Disclaimer: I sampled Cuir de Russie at Saks Fifth Avenue. Cuir de Russie is available for $200 for 6.8 ounces. It can be found at Bergdorf Goodman, select Saks Fifth Avenues, select Chanel boutiques, and the Chanel website.

Chanel No 22

Start with the golden elegance and sparkling aldehydes of Chanel No. 5. Strip away some of its aloofness and add a seamless blend of non-sweet orange blossom, jasmine and tuberose. No. 22’s best quality is a stunning streak of incense that lends gravity to what otherwise could have been essentially a No. 5 flanker. The end result is a beautiful scent heady with mystery and glamour. Chanel No. 5 is often paired with pearls; Chanel No. 22 would go better with diamonds. No. 22 adds a touch of khol to No. 5’s mascara and red lipstick. It is the scent that Marilyn Monroe, a dazzling but not particularly classical beauty, probably should have worn.

No. 22 is part of the Le Exclusifs collection, which can be found at select Chanel boutiques, select Saks Fifth Avenues, and Bergdorf Goodman. It is only available in the EDT formulation at $200 for 6.8 ounces. The official notes from the Chanel website are: lily of the valley, neroli, aldehydes, tuberose, oriental jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, haitian vetiver and bourbon vanilla. One word of caution: as an EDT, No. 22 is not particularly strong or long-lasting.

Disclaimer: I was given a sample of No 22 by an SA at the Chevy Chase Saks Fifth Avenue, aka best Saks ever.

Chanel 28 La Pausa

There was a girl in my high school, a professional dancer, who was so overwhelmingly beautiful that whenever someone spoke to her they often forgot what they were trying to say. Chanel 28 La Pausa reminds me of her. I try to conjure up words to describe its beauty, but it simply renders me speechless. 28 La Pausa is a supremely buttery iris scent with a great deal of warmth. It smells light and clean, but is far removed from the “clean” (read: harsh and sterile) feel of many modern citruses. Iris scents frequently have a great deal of powder and are therefore prone to melancholy natures, but 28 La Pausa has a distinctly sunny disposition. There is no list of notes online, but I’m sure that it must be aldehydes that give 28 La Pausa its sparkle and that classic Chanel feel. But aldehyde haters need not fear: this fragrance contains nary a hint of Chanel No 5.

When I really love a perfume, I tend to associate it with a book or a movie. In the case of 28 La Pausa, it’s The Lord of the Rings. Yes, I used to speak Elvish; yes, I have a life size cutout of Legolas in my room; yes, I am a tremendous dork. 28 La Pausa has the ethereal beauty of Tolkien’s Elves, too pure and lovely to survive in a human-dominated world. Liv Tyler, with those huge blue eyes and translucent skin, embodied that delicacy perfectly in her role as the Elvish princess Arwen. Does anyone else ever wonder how in the hell Liv turned out so gorgeous despite Steven Tyler contributing half of her DNA? It’s one of the great mysteries of our time.

La Pausa’s ethereal quality is something of a double-edged sword. It has weak lasting power, which means that Chanel only sells it in humongous 6.8 ounce bottles, which means that La Pausa is going to set you back a good $200. For this reason, I would also suggest Prada Infusion d’Iris. They’re not the same thing at all- the Prada is a little more introverted, a little less lighthearted- but Infusion d’Iris is another iris scent with a similarly classy, graceful vibe. It is available at Sephora and most department stores; Sephora sells a 1 oz bottle for $56. 28 La Pausa is part of the Chanel Le Exclusifs collection, 12 scents that are available at Bergdorf Goodman, select Chanel boutiques, and the occasional Saks Fifth Avenue. If you can afford it, buy it. It’s perfect.

Disclaimer: An extremely generous and knowledgeable SA at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase made me a sample of this fragrance.