Chanel Bois Noir ~ fragrance review

Chanel logo on tree bark

While reviewing Chanel Égoïste, I became obsessed with smelling its progenitor: Bois Noir. After reading my Égoïste review, two Now Smell This readers offered to send me samples of Bois Noir from their rare and precious bottles of the fragrance, and I accepted (both men had bought their bottles of Bois Noir at Chanel in Paris). I also purchased a small sample of Bois Noir from a trusted online vendor in case any of the samples had dramatically changed over the 22 years since they were bottled.

Bois Noir had a discreet launch in 1987 (it was only available in Chanel boutiques) and was taken out of production quickly. When Bois Noir morphed into Égoïste in 1990, the “Bois Noir” name was forgotten…except by the lucky few who had bought bottles of the ‘original’ fragrance.

Bois Noir’s listed ingredients are mandarin, lavender, rose, coriander, Bourbon vanilla, sandalwood, rosewood and ambrette seed. I was almost “afraid” to wear Bois Noir because I feared it would make Égoïste seem pale and less interesting, but at the risk of arousing the ire of the kind Bois Noir donors who contributed to my Bois Noir vs. Égoïste “experiment,” Bois Noir is not that different from Égoïste.

When I wear Bois Noir next to Égoïste, I notice subtle differences: Bois Noir is richer and smells like parfum to Égoïste’s Eau de Toilette; Bois Noir’s rose and clove-y/spice notes are more rounded, ‘syrupy’ and ‘smoky’ than in Égoïste; and it’s pleasant to find a stronger dose of scarce ingredients — like sandalwood and rosewood — in Bois Noir. The rose-spice potpourri character of Égoïste is also present in Bois Noir, but ‘Bois Noir Potpourri’ could scent a larger room than ‘Égoïste Potpourri’. (The citrus I detect in Égoïste is missing from all my Bois Noir samples — getting old is a bitch.) Still, as Égoïste and Bois Noir dry down, they smell almost identical on my skin, and when I put on twice as much Égoïste as I normally do, the two scents are hard to tell apart.

Colette

It seems most people believe objects from the past are better made, more lovingly created, and more beautiful than today’s ‘products’. At the museum where I volunteer, I always hear people pining for the past (“…if only the medical care were better!”) As I’ve gotten older, like Bois Noir, I’ve lost my sparkling top notes, my lemon-scented optimism. Not so long ago, I ignored ugly facts about people and places and eras I love; now, I face those hard facts head-on and look for deeper meaning, something to learn. Though it does not compare with my shocking discovery that Colette (one of my idols) sometimes, as a young woman, beat her small dogs with a riding crop to train them, the fact that Bois Noir is not really ‘superior’ to Égoïste is ever so slightly startling…but freeing! Colette mellowed as she aged and learned that kindness and intense observation led to the best-trained dogs — and men — and I’ve learned that chasing after what is gone, fretting over the “expired,” crying over the extinct, are draining, time-consuming and futile pursuits. We can all learn a few lessons from Bois Noir: 1.) if you like a limited edition fragrance or if you learn a beloved perfume is “on the way out” – buy as many bottles as you can afford; and 2.) if you missed out on a fragrance, remember that everything and everyone will eventually disappear, and never having smelled Bois Noir (or Jean-Marie Farina Extrait de baume de Pérou or Lubin Enigma or Rigaud Un Air embaumé or Parfums de Rosine Aladin) is NOT a tragedy.

Chanel Bois Noir is exorbitantly expensive and virtually impossible to obtain. (The Bois Noir bottle itself is a collector’s item and so rare that I’ve not been able to find a photo of it.) I’ve been told by one of my Bois Noir suppliers that fake Bois Noir is often for sale online (sellers simply put some ‘slightly evaporated’ or ‘aged’ Égoïste into a sample vial or bottle and call it Bois Noir). So, take a deep breath, exhale, and enjoy delicious Égoïste instead.

Note: top image is wood bark by benjamin_mercadier at flickr; some rights reserved, with Chanel logo superimposed by the author.

Second image is Colette in a publicity still for the 1907 pantomime Rêve d'Égypte via Wikipedia.

Update: many thanks to reader Jim "Griff" Griffith for sharing an image of his original Chanel Bois Noir bottle:

Chanel Bois Noir cologne for men

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56 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I was wondering who this Colette is … looks a bit like Samia Gamal but not exactly.

    Lovely review, for a wonderful fragrance. The lingering question is – by all means you do NOT have to answer it, Kevin – is exactly how old are you? From a precious harvest, no doubt, and aged in the right “bois” like any fine wine :-)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh thanks for this Kevin! I have recently 'discovered' Egoiste and am loving it! While it would have been nice to buy a 'parfum' version of it in Bois Noir, I am content to wear Egoiste. Maybe I will try an extra spray or 2 to see if I can achieve the effect of Bois Nior, as you did.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am planning my own experiment of trying Egoiste and No 18 to see if my assumption that they are similar is correct. Maybe I will get to that later today, having been inspired by your wonderful article.

  4. Anonymous says:

    divinemama: a double dose is all you need (10 sprays? HA!)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Divinemama: let me know what happens…don't know that I've smelled No. 18!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful writing as always, Kevin. I saw a bottle of Bois Noir on eBay not long ago, but who knows if it was authentic? You're so right about lamenting the unobtainable – there are so many beautiful perfumes readily available, niche or otherwise, why waste your tears on what's gone?

  7. Anonymous says:

    sarahn: really…we can't even keep up with this YEAR'S releases, can we?

  8. Anonymous says:

    K: That's it… I need to march myself into Macy's this week and spritz on some Egoïste! Thanks for reviewing Bois Noir.

    Amen to not “crying over the extinct”!!! This is why I call myself a “nascent Buddhist” and find it immensely liberating to constantly “remember that everything and everyone will eventually disappear.”

    I'll go to hell for telling this anecdote, but a very dear friend (who ironically meditated in a Thai wat for two months) is constantly expressing anxiety about things like her favorite shampoo being discontinued and fretting that she won't possibly find one that works as well or smells as good or whatever. Of course I understand that feeling to a degree (what human doesn't?), but I always say that it's the OPPORTUNITY to try something NEW that might be even ten times more wonderful! Of course, if L'Artisan ever announced it was discontinuing Timbuktu, I'd have to buy a lifetime's supply — do you think five 100ml bottles might do the trick, or more on the order of ten? Haha.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I've recently taken a little trip down the vintage rabbit hole, and while I can't say I'm sorry for some of my purchases this post comes at a good time. I resisted the vintage perfume thing for a long time–why let myself in for all that heartbreak?–and after my current fever breaks I'll be happy to return to exploring the new stuff and all the old, readily available things I've never smelled.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Joe,that's funny…the two months in a wat didn't do much good! (I take it her head was not shaved?) I'm sure we could figure out how much Timbuktu you'd need for the next 30-40 years…

  11. Anonymous says:

    ahtx: at the risk of being banished and labeled a perfume APOSTATE: most of my vintage purchases have brought the Peggy Lee chestnut to my lips: “is THAT all there is to…XXX?”

  12. Anonymous says:

    You are such a doll. I can now cross this off my list of “old stuff you'll never get to smell anyway” and move on. To be honest, I can't imagine needing that much *more* than Egoiste in terms of volume! ;-) I do think Egoiste smells delicious on me, and it's nice to know I can get more.
    PS Didn't you review Allure Homme Edition Blanche? I got a bottle for my husband, he loves it. Nothing earth-shattering but it sure smells good, and he doesn't over-apply it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Just to add to this — I think the only serious vintage craving I have is to just get samples of vintage Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue to see what all the fuss is about the pre-oakmoss-removal formulations. From the way people talk about oakmoss, I'm expecting to hear the angels sing.

  14. Anonymous says:

    March: yes, reviewed Edition Blanche…loved that lemony top note…and I think I just saw some bottles of it at Nordstrom (I was sure it was a limited edition).

  15. Anonymous says:

    Joe: I have tried vintage Mitsouko…and I worship oak moss…vintage was really really nice, but the current version is STILL great. L'Heure Bleue hasn't grown on me over the years…old or new.

  16. Anonymous says:

    A lovely and rather wise review there; I do look forward to your posts Kevin.
    My dad used to wear Egoiste in the Eighties (my sister and I used to refer to it as the mince pie perfume – all that spice I think), and I was trying to find it at the standard Chanel counters in UK department stores recently – no joy. Have now tracked it down at the Chanel boutiques, and was very pleased indeed, so I did read your recent post on Bois Noir and feel a thrill/dread sensation – maybe this is something I need? Relieved to hear that it isn't, but glad that you had the fun of trying both out.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, you crack me up with your 10 sprays! I have been known to live dangerously, however. '~)

  18. Anonymous says:

    Kate: glad you found Egoiste. The 'experiment' did provide a couple days of anticipation/excitement.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Interesting article K. After your Egoiste article, I went and found a bottle online. Liked it well enough, but it is DEF a 7-10 spritzer for me too in the morning before work. I could barely smell a few hours later, if not at all, but when I walked by some girls in another dept…”ooh Carlos…you always smell so good”.

    (He blushes)

  20. Anonymous says:

    No 18 is based on the Ambrette seed note, with rose. I have a small decant from TPC of all the Les Exclusifs, so I get to play. Here is a link to V's review on Bois de Jasmin…

    http://boisdejasmin.typepad.com/_/2007/04/chanel_no_18_pe.html

    Marina on Perfume Smelling Things compares Egoiste to Bois de Iles…

    http://perfumesmellinthings.blogspot.com/2006/06/perfume-review-chanel-egoiste.html

    …but the ambrette seed had me thinking it may be related to No 18. Hence the desire to experiment. I will let you know.

  21. Anonymous says:

    c: YOU..a blusher! I don't believe it.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I love your sage advice that “everyone and everything will eventually disappear.” This knowledge will temper my need to hoard favorite products … no matter how much I have of it, it will eventually be gone! I'm dismayed to hear that Colette treated her dogs that way … but glad she reformed. Colette is so often quoted on the topic of cats that I didn't even know she was a “dog person”. Thanks for the review!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Jill, you're welcome. Colette usually always had a dog…I found some GREAT photos of her with her dogs but every single shot, even from the 1870s, was under copyright! Unfair.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ha! I love Peggy Lee's version of that tune.

    And honestly, I wish I felt that way. But I don't. Vintage Chane's in extrait, Lanvin's Scandal (holy Mother of…) and vintage Mitsouko and Chamade made me understand what all the fuss was about and more. Still. In theory I am all about the next thing around the bend!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Er, better make that “Vintage Chanels”. I'm not so deep into this stuff that I've discovered the previously unknown but ab fab line of Le Chane.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, this was a very interesting review. I especially like your statement, “…I’ve learned that chasing after what is gone, fretting over the “expired,” crying over the extinct, are draining, time-consuming and futile pursuits. ” It’s frustrating to read Luca Turin's whining over discontinued perfumes, reformulated perfumes, etc., and sighing over how “everything was better” then. What are we new perfumistas supposed to do? Too bad we missed the great old frags in the good ol' days, but why rub it in? Would that I had the time and money to search for rare, expensive, vintage perfumes; I don't even have the inclination to do so. There’s still plenty of interesting stuff to smell out there. I will have to be satisfied with what is available today, and judge a perfume on its merits as it is now, whether new, old, reformulated or not.

    Thanks for addressing this, and for going through the trouble to search out Bois Noir so you could make the comparison.

  27. Anonymous says:

    ahtx: HA! I was about to do a Google search of CHANE when your second message appeared.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Patty: I always think how perfume lovers of centuries past would SWOON over the variety of scents we enjoy (and complain about!)

  29. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, you are wonderful! Just about cried when you wrote,

    I’ve learned that chasing after what is gone, fretting over the “expired,” crying over the extinct, are draining, time-consuming and futile pursuits.

    It's true with fragrance and relationships and life's experiences in general, and so wise and refreshing to read. I've fairly recently started getting into vintage pre-reformulation scents and, being a woman of a certain vintage myself, clearly remember the days of buying a bottle of L'Heure Bleue extrait for $60 which smells nothing like today's imposter. Thank you for reminding us that not all the long-gone scents are necessarily all of that, and we don't have to drive ourselves crazy grieving over the ones that were. You are a wise young man, my dear

  30. Anonymous says:

    R: thanks! very sweet of you, K

  31. Anonymous says:

    Except now, Robin, you've convinced me that I need to seek out vintage L'Heure Bleue, since I'm so in love with today's imposter. GNASHHHH.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, would you please tell where you found out this shocking thing about Colette? I am really unhappy about it…but I guess that is the way people were then. Most people didn't even let dogs into the house for the most part, and fed them scraps if at all. And they certainly beat their children too. So I guess it's to be expected that even Colette would be cruel…

  33. Anonymous says:

    She absolutely adored animals. She wrote about them at length; she was never without a dog or a cat. I find it difficult to believe that about her so, yes, Kevin, where did you read about it? (I've read everything she ever wrote, as well as several biographies: I don't remember anything about her being cruel to any animal.)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Chanel could relaunch it as a one of the exclusifs, who knows? I never had hope that donna karan could relaunch chaos, and then they surprise me with the news of that precious collection. So, there's always hope :) I'd like to smell bois noir, but if it's not so diferent, i won't mind if i not smell it, since egoiste is great and i'm happy to had a chance to have smelled egoiste cologne concentree, that to me is similar to what you said about bois noir. Maybe cologne concentree was the bois noir formula slightly changed.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Joe: good luck on that quest…and let me know the result. IS “vintage” better?

  36. Anonymous says:

    luccia: I believe I read abou the “training incidents” in Judith Thurman's excellent bio…or was it the two volume French bio that came out around the same time? Most of us are a bit dumb and CONTROLLING when young…

  37. Anonymous says:

    Bela: Did you read the two-volume work on Colette…let me run downstairs and get the title…”Creating Colette”!…in that book were several dark passages…like Colette bragging that she threw the bodies of her dead dogs into the city ditch. (I believe those incidents were in the Creating Colette book) But at the time she had quite the attitude and may have been posturing a little…showing that a dead corpse was not what she loved…but the spirit of the animal that had “departed.” (What's a dead body but refuse?) I forgive Colette everything…and I absolutely love Dialogues de Bete…and the wonderful way she wrote about animals in general…did you ever read “The Blue Lantern?” A great book.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Henrique: I'm happy to get Bois Noir “off my back” so to speak…HA! And grateful Egoiste is still around.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Well!

    (you knew you would hear from me…)

    Great review but I am crushed!

    Sure, a 22 yrs old memory will surely fade, but my memories of Bois Noir and the hope of finding it one day have kept me going for almost a quarter century…

    I do remember it being richer and more complex with a citrus top (you just answered the question: it is mandarine!)

    Maybe my glorious memories of Bois Noir come from it being one of my first purchase, my first trip to Paris, my first exclusive bottle.

    My only consolation is that until recently, Bois Noir was like the fabled recording of Callas singing Isolda in Venice…. a rumor of something that may not actually exist. Now, people are actually hearing about this historic scent.

    Thank you for another great review…. but I will continue on my quest for a few drops of my ….memories.

  40. Anonymous says:

    platinum15: GLAD to hear from you! Wow…no wonder Bois Noir “haunts” you…especially since you were on your first trip to Paris when you bought it and wore it…that alone would be enough for me. Good luck on your Bois Noir quest…if you come across an old bottle of Comptoir Sud Pacifique The (tea…can't find the accent mark) in the orange bottle in some nook or cranny…BUY IT FOR ME!!! HAHA!

  41. Anonymous says:

    If you find those sparkling top notes anywhere, let me know — I've lost mine too! Your marvelous review reminded me of seeing a week-long sand mandala being made, and subsequently smushed… a worthy lesson that all things are temporary, both the good and the bad. So, in perfume terms, goodbye to Bois Noir, but also farewell, one day, to Axe and Paris Hilton!

  42. Anonymous says:

    DEAL! I will hunt for CSP The for you and you find me a bottle of Bois Noir! The hunt is on…

  43. Anonymous says:

    Well…ahem…yea…What was I thinking?!? I tried No 18 and Egoiste and I have to admit that they do NOT smell similar to me at all. No 18 is ALL about the ambrette seed and rose to my nose and Egoiste is more about the spices, I am guessing the coriander note, and woods. It is closer to Bois des Iles as Marina states on PST. Where Egoiste is BdI's “beautiful grandchild” (Marina's assesment), it is No 18's second cousin twice removed (my assessment), with the ambrette note being practically the only note that ties them together.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Yes, but if Paris Hilton is anything like cockroaches & Cher, she may be around a while…….

  45. Anonymous says:

    The Perfumed Court can hook you up with a few mls of this for you and let you know one way or the other for once and for all. A worthy investment I think.

  46. Anonymous says:

    um, is it Ecume the tea that you are after? If so, the site below says that thay have a 5oz bottle for $29.

    http://www.unlimitedperfumes.com/product_info.php/products_id/9275

  47. Anonymous says:

    Kevin thank you so much for putting yourself through this process. It sounds a worthwhile experience on so many levels. A friend picked me up some Egoiste in Madrid a couple of weeks ago and I'm so happy with it and now doubly so because I don't hanker after BN, thanks to you.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Divinemama! I knew I'd read somewhere of the “family connection” with Bois des Iles and I couldn't remember where – the lovely Marina. I think she puts it well.

  49. Anonymous says:

    divinem: now we know the results…thanks for writing back.

  50. Anonymous says:

    AussieBec: NO! Not insipid Ecume!

  51. Anonymous says:

    ilydale: TRUE!

  52. Anonymous says:

    SFLiz: don't you feel Paris is approaching, FAST, her expiration date? Once she hits 30, her fan base…?

  53. Anonymous says:

    donanicola: Glad to help!

  54. Anonymous says:

    Coming in on greased skids, as they say….. ;)

  55. Anonymous says:

    Oops.

  56. Anonymous says:

    I tried Egoïste today and to my nose, it is remarkably similar to Donna Karan Chaos – or the other way around, rather. Gorgeous fragrance.

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