Bois des Iles is one of a number of legacy perfumes Ernest Beaux created during his time as Coco Chanel’s head perfumer. Along side the infamous No. 5, it is the stuff perfume legends are made of. Chanel raised Bois des Iles from the dead in 1989 and again as part of their Exclusifs de Chanel collection in 2007 where it is currently offered as an eau de toilette and parfum extrait. Created for Chanel in 1926, Bois des Iles not only feels like a scent of the era infamously known as the roaring twenties but the composition also has Chanel’s classic signature of aldehydes that were an integral part of Beaux’s successful No. 5 a few years earlier. I remember smelling Bois des Iles in 2005 after reading an article that described it as an inspiration for modern day Chanel perfumer, Jacques Polge. The article was in relation to my favourite Chanel masculine, Egoiste. Of course the two fragrances are not identical compositions but it is easy to see the connection between Beaux’s Bois des Iles, and Polge’s Egoiste, originally titled Bois Noir. I was merely curious to smell the scent I had read about and in 2005 I didn’t see it as a potential scent for me to wear. Back then a number of Chanel counters carried Bois des Iles and other revived classics that made up the Rue de Cambon Collection. The bottles were more inconspicuous on display compared to Chanel’s modern bread and butter; Chance and Coco Mademoiselle. Carrying these older classics felt more like a respectful gesture to the Chanel women who had been buying Chanel perfume for decades. It was their reward for years of loyalty to the brand. Had these clients known the collectability their vintage bottles would retain, they would have surely stocked up. Today, modern perfume fans have developed a frenzied approach to collecting perfume from bygone years. Last week an Ebay auction for a sealed bottle of Robert Piguet’s Bandit parfum, first created in 1944, sold for US$953. Curiosity got the better of me and I too have dabbled in vintage perfumes on Ebay. Whether the soaring popularity of vintage perfume is due to a fear that perfumes don’t smell the way they once did as restrictions on certain perfume materials increase, or because these days, some of perfume’s rarest materials cannot be produced in large enough quantities for a growing consumer culture; it is an interesting phenomenon. Nowadays a perfume discontinued only years ago, today benefits from being called vintage. And perfumes older than 40 years are tantamount to archaeologist Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. It’s a goldmine! After a few failed attempts at securing an Ebay sale for vintage Bois des Iles, I decided to go to Chanel and purchase a new one. Do I really not trust Chanel’s integrity and I need to find a bottle from all those years ago with the hope it will smell miraculously better than the one currently sold? – Of course not. Even with vintage perfume, you have to make a sacrifice. Sure, they do contain wonderfully complex raw materials no longer found in today’s perfumes. The nitromusks Beaux used in No. 5 have since been deemed unstable and although they smell wonderful, they had to be replaced. The trade-off of buying old perfume is that depending on its storage over the years, the top notes can often be in bad shape, either fading or rancid. The vintage perfume you are smelling is never the exact perfume your predecessors had the pleasure of smelling. So my opinion is- why not enjoy what the world provides you today. 2012’s Bois des Iles smells truly sublime!
Bois des Iles (parfum) starts with a brisk opening of fizzing aldehydes, bergamot and neroli. Perfume critic Tania Shanchez cleverly points out a cola-like effect the fragrance gives before it departs into more floral territory. One of the main reasons I purchased the parfum over the eau de toilette was for the increased amount of Chanel jasmine and rose I expected to find this in the extrait de parfum version and Chanel did not disappoint me. Paired with ylang-ylang this is the sibling of No. 5, which I love. Where Bois des Iles breaks away from No. 5 is with a rich oriental woodsy accord made from sandalwood, vetiver, benzoin and musk. It is an accord I think you find in varying amounts in many Chanel creations, but it is unbridled and let loose in Bois des Iles. The perfume melts down to become a sugary balsamic wood described by Chanel as gingerbread.
I recommend the current eau de toilette version for modern men. If this 2007 eau de toilette has been reconstructed in any way, as I suspect it has, it feels as if some of the outdated notes have been striped away. Today’s version feels lighter, slightly more transparent. It has a modernity to it whilst maintaining all of the house’s historic codes. The parfum version is likely to be popular with fans of the great French classics. Whilst I can appreciate the beauty of the floral notes, some men could potentially think the parfum smells a little too ladylike. Another consideration is that Chanel parfum is less travel friendly with the traditional ground glass stopper. I would not put it in my toiletry bag, especially on a plane for fear of leakage. But there is something wonderful about dabbing a few drops of this precious liquid directly to skin instead of spraying from a larger bottle.
Chanel Bois Noir, Chanel Egoiste, Chanel No. 5 Parfum, Keiko Mecheri Bal de Roses, Guerlain Shalimar, Serge Lutens Feminite du Bois
Perfumer: Ernest Beaux
Bottle designer: Coco Chanel, Jacques Helleu, Jean Helleu
Release date: 1926
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody Oriental