Chanel Égoïste: the real Coco Noir walks in drag

Chanel Coco in drag

Chanel Égoïste has a reputation for being a difficult, ultra-masculine scent. A hairy relic of the 80’s that was released in the early 90’s and failed for being too loud, too sexual and too in-your-face. The iconic commercial directed by Jean Paul Goude helped build its reputation as a Man’s fragrance (with a capital M) but apparently didn’t help its commercial career. It has never been discontinued although it is very difficult to find in some markets. A lighter, younger-smeling brother to the selfish beast was released, Égoïste Platinum, fresh enough for a 90’s man, cool and fitting for business or sports, sliding into two very popular masculine scent genres that I have never managed to understand.

Égoïste opens big, bold and sweet but also extremely volatile. It doesn’t feel cloying because a high-pitched, resinous quality is there from the start. It feels like smelling a big ball of caramelised cinnamon resin if this makes sense to you because such a thing does not exist. As it progresses a beautiful combination of vanilla and sandalwood take centre stage, thick and creamy but still mixed with this je-ne-sais-quoi note that makes everything smell tart, spiky, almost like a layer of freshly applied wood polish that didn’t have the time to dry. What I like about Égoïste is exactly this fierce quality, the way it takes over the sweetness of vanilla, the spiciness of cinnamon, the woodiness of sandalwood, and transforms them into perfume, in the good old sense of the word. A perfume that smells all dressed-up, crisp, sexy and serious.

The story behind Égoïste is more or less well known. It is the little brother of Bois Noir, the perfume that was commissioned to the house perfumers by the chairman of Chanel,  Alain Wertheimer in 1987 for his personal use. Bois Noir was briefly available as an exclusive in Chanel boutiques and in 1990 was released widely as  Égoïste. If you see the two bottles, Bois Noir and original Égoïste, they are identical except for the name of the scent but differences do exist as people who have tried both testify. My experience comes from the latest version but my memories of the original tell me that the only difference is that the vintage version smelled even more closely knit and the je-ne-sais-quoi, shiny, volatile, varnish quality was even stronger. Wearing Égoïste feels to me like wearing a silk bathrobe, black with red and golden details. The contradiction of something extremely cosy but datedly formal. It is one of those scents that make me want to smell my wrists again and again, immersing into sweetness and warm complexity.

Do you ever smell a perfume that feels familiar but cannot quite put your finger on what it reminds you of? I had this deja vu with Coco Noir. It took me many days to get to the heart of this familiarity. Then I realised that Coco and Coco Noir are members of the same family of perfumes, together with Égoïste. What makes Coco and Égoïste trully unique is this warm, sweet and aggressive base that jumps off the skin and revitalises the spirit with images full of sleek passion and sexual tension. Of course Coco possesses a lovely floral opening, rich and creamy yet beautifully natural, but who from the ranks of Coco lovers can deny that what we are all craving for is that rich, unctuous base that makes Coco stand out. And the same quality is there, in Égoïste. Unadorned by flowers, spicy and oriental, the sleekness of Coco shines brighter and arrives faster. And to be perfectly honest Égoïste is not the masculine beast that is rumoured to be. Such sweetness, such lack of herbal elements, such warmth are not the makings of a masculine powerhouse. To set things straight Égoïste is a unisex scent built on typically feminine qualities. To set things straight all women who were flustered by the announcement of Coco Noir and disappointed by the juice should give this a try. It is the essence of Katherine Hepburn dressed in a man’s suit, wearing her hair sleeked back  à la garçonne . For more visual stimulation on the subject look here, were I found this classic photo.

Notes from Parfumo: Coriander, Mahogany, Mandarin, Rosewood, Carnation, Rose, Cinnamon, Amber, Leather, Sandalwood, Tobacco, Vanilla

Notes from my nose: rose jam, cinnamon, sandalwood, vanilla, wood polish

Rose jam image from Ewa in the Garden

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.

14 comments

  1. My father used to wear Egoiste and I loved it on him (since then he moved to something else, he never stays with the same perfume for two long) but I’ve never even thought of trying it on me. I might one day but it feels a little strange since it has a strong masculine association for me.

    • In your case wearing Egoiste would be too strange. You will probably never be able to shake the association of your father from your mind. But if you look over at Fragrantica reviews I am not the only person who sees Egoiste as a variation of Coco.

  2. I have a mini bottle of Egoiste which I have sometimes worn when I am in a rose phase, seeking to explore different facets of rose, one of my favorite notes, and have not strongly associated Egoiste as a purely masculine scent. Having said this, you really opened my eyes and nose to the relationship between Egoiste and Coco – marvelous! I love and admire Coco, but traded my bottle away since wearing her would more often make me feel like I was atop a runaway horse. Your have given me a new perspective and renewed appreciation for my little bottle of the elegant Egoiste. Thank you!

    • I know so many people talk about the rose in Egoiste but for some strange reason I cannot focus on it, the same way I cannot focus on Coco’s huge flowers. It seems my love for their similar bases is too big and I just look forward to them.

  3. OK, I need to try Egoiste as soon as I can. :) Sounds like something I might like and wear (and maybe I’ll lend it to my boyfriend once in a while). ;)

    • It is in this weird Limbo where fragrances go before they are discontinued. I here it is very difficult to find in the US but in Europe it is widely available. I think you will love it and keep it for yourself.

  4. ginzaintherain

    I stupidly gave my bottle to a Japanese woman who it smelled better on. But I will never forget my first experience of it. I was horrified! Sheer cinnamon bun, so sweet, yet not gourmand; so….sickly, yet compelling. So NOT masculine in fact, despite that advert. In Japan, the Platinum version was one of the most ubiquitous scents for a long time, and I have to say that while it smells ridiculous up close, its sillage, when used discreetly, is pretty damn sexy.

    • I don’t like gourmand perfumes very much but this cinnamon bun is so chic and laced with gold flakes. I have tried Egoiste Platinum several times but for the life of me I still cannot recall what it smells like…

  5. Because I have a bottle of the original Egoiste, and to my nose it is sooo very suave and has its accent on a very wearable rose and sandalwood combo that leans to the side of metrosexual or feminine, your opening lines to this post completely flummoxed me. Really??? Egoiste has a reputation as being a difficult, ultra-masculine scent??! I have a hard time imagining that anyone could view it that way, but I’ll take your word for it that they do. By the end of your post, though, I could see where you were going with this and I think our perceptions of the scent matches up … I’ll have to wear it side by side now with Coco and see if I can detect the similarity of the base. Of Coco Noir, I can’t comment, since I haven’t tried it.

    • If you research male reviewer’s opinions the words “hairy chest” and “golden chain” keep popping up. Like you I cannot get the association.

      I would love to hear if you see the similarities with Coco

  6. Cybertussi

    This is not Coco Chanel in drag, but Katherine Hepburn at the time of making the movie Sylvia Scarlett (1935) in which she performed in male drag

    • Of course it’s Katherine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett. My point is that Chanel Egoiste is in fact a rather feminine scent, very similar to Chanel Coco, presented as a masculine, like Katherine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlet.

  7. I need to try the original, all I have is a decant of the concentèe version, and it is extremely potent. I don’t smell the rose for some reason. With Ègoïste, my nose gets overwhelmed with all the spices,and that’s all I am able to smell. After the heavy spice bomb recedes, the dry down featuring sandalwood with a touch of vanilla comes into play, which is quite delightful.

    • I think that for some strange reason the original Egoiste is discontinued in some markets like the Us or in very limited distribution. The concentrée version must be something extraordinary and probably even closer to Coco.

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