Bel Respiro is one of the 10 fragrances from Chanel's recent entry into the niche perfumery market, the Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection. The name Bel Respiro, and the inspiration for the scent, comes from a country house outside Paris that Coco Chanel owned in the 1920s. Bel Respiro was created by Chanel's in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge, and the notes are rumored to include crushed leaves, rosemary, thyme, rose, lilac, hyacinth, green tea, aromatic grasses, myrrh and leather.
The frenzy over the Les Exclusifs reached a fever pitch in the weeks before they launched — among perfumistas, anyway. I'm guessing the rest of the world is only just barely aware of their existence. At any rate, by the time my samples arrived, I was reluctant to try them at all. How could they possibly live up to the hype? When curiosity finally got the better of me, Bel Respiro was the first thing I reached for. A fragrance "intended to evoke stems, leaves and springtime" (Women's Wear Daily, 12/22/06) seemed bound to please.
As it turns out, Bel Respiro was a good place to start: it isn't the show-stopper of the collection, but it is immensely likeable. It starts off with fresh diffusive notes over deep, almost-bitter greenery. It is vaguely reminiscent of the opening of Chanel no. 19, but only vaguely; Bel Respiro smells brighter, more modern, less stylised, and evokes the smell of a spring day in the garden in a way that no. 19 doesn't attempt. A better comparison might be to Gobin Daude's Sous Le Buis, if you happen to have smelled it (it is not currently available): Bel Respiro's green is paler and more herbal, but the same buried-in-shrubbery feeling is there.
After an hour on skin, the closest association might be with the modern formulation of Balmain's Vent Vert, although Bel Respiro is drier and less floral, and they are far from twins. By now, the bitterness of the crushed leaves and stems in the opening has subsided into something much milder and softer, with transparent floral notes floating over the greenery. The base is pale but not at all dull, and gets better as it continues to develop (although I'm not sure I would have picked out either leather or myrrh); after 2 hours, it is downright sexy, and the Vent Vert smells rather prim and proper in comparison.
Bel Respiro has the elegance you'd expect from a Chanel, and the pared-down minimalism you'd expect from a modern niche scent. The lasting power is good for an Eau de Toilette, but it isn't a powerhouse fragrance — don't expect massive sillage, and it isn't the sort of scent that will make a good showing from a sample vial: it needs several good sprays. I honestly can't remember if Chanel is marketing these as unisex or not, but Bel Respiro qualifies as such. A man could easily wear it. Highly recommended.
Chanel Bel Respiro is $175 for 200 ml, and is currently available at Chanel boutiques; it is to launch at Bergdorf Goodman next month.
Looking for more green? I did a list of green fragrances last St. Patrick's Day.
Tomorrow: another Les Exclusifs de Chanel scent, haven't decided which one.