Perfume Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon

This fragrance, frequently deemed the most striking and original of the six “Les Exclusifs de Chanel” released in 2007, has been reviewed by many, many perfume bloggers… but not by me. Robin at Now Smell This reviewed it in the context of the Exclusifs collection; Victoria at Bois de Jasmin reviewed it as a stand-alone. Denyse at Grain de Musc reviewed it as reminding her of Great Chypres We Have Known, several in succession (and so, famously, did Tania Sanchez in Perfumes: The Guide, in a small difference of opinion from Luca Turin). Recently, Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am reviewed it as fulfilling a brief that simply said “elegance” and “the most Chanel of all the Chanels.”

Looks like it’s my turn. I’m reviewing it from the perspective of having heard that 31 RC, as I’ll call it, was “good,” and as a newbie to perfume, I should try it. Dear Daisy sent me a sample, and I had to agree: it is good. Shortly thereafter I got in on a bottle split, and own a sadly-depleted 10ml decant.*  Incidentally, the Les Exclusifs were originally only available in 200ml bottles, selling at about $210, but have recently been made available in 75ml bottles, at $110.

31 Rue Cambon, named for the apartment which Coco Chanel kept Much has been made of 31 RC being the “no-oakmoss chypre,” or the first “modern chypre.” I should probably mention that I’m not one of those people who throws tantrums about my chypres having their teeth pulled. (I know, I know, it hurts to lose the things you love, and if the use of rose in perfumes were suddenly restricted the way oakmoss has been, you’d better bet I’d be pitching seventeen kinds of hissy fit.) But then, I only love chypres if they are heavily floral, and I’m not all that bothered by less oakmoss. I’ve always said, if a fragrance has that bitter edge to it, even if it has less oakmoss than a “proper” chypre should, it’s a chypre in my book. If you’re a big fan of the bitter greenies like Bandit – or Diorella, even – 31 Rue Cambon will not seem like much of a chypre to you.

And in point of fact, it doesn’t seem like all that much of a chypre to me. I would classify it alongside Guerlain’s lovely (and discontinued, grrrr) Attrape-Coeur and my darling Teo Cabanel Alahine as a Floral Amber.

Notes for 31 Rue Cambon, cobbled from reviews and the Chanel website: bergamot, jasmine, iris, patchouli, labdanum. This is surely not a complete list; the fragrance is far more complex than that, and I suspect that the amber note is not straight-up labdanum but rather the Ambre 83 base that Luca Turin mentions as being the centerpiece of Attrape-Coeur. It is, however, a list that mentions every note discernible to me.   Some reviewers mention pepper, but I don’t pick up on it.

Now that I’ve gotten the “to chypre or not to chypre” discussion out of the way, what’s 31 RC actually like? It starts off with bright citrusy notes of lemon and bergamot, with just a tiny hint of bitter-green, and for just a moment or two I think of Chanel Cristalle, that classic citrus chypre (which, for the record, I do not love). After the first five minutes, I’m already smelling amber underneath the citrus. It’s the same rich, plush-but-not-too-sweet amber note that you get with those other floral- amber fragrances I already mentioned, and which I also smell in Mitsouko (another chypre I don’t love). 31 Rue Cambon seems to slide effortlessly from citrus into jasmine, and from there into gorgeous satiny iris, but everything always underpinned with the soft amber. There is a bare hint of patchouli in the base, but – thank goodness – it’s the aged, green/herbal kind, and merely a suggestion anyway, not enough to bludgeon me. The fragrance is seamless in its transitions, and even after the citrus and jasmine are gone, they have left an impression on my brain, so that even the far drydown carries with it a suggestion of the way 31 RC smelled from the beginning.

The entire scent is a perfect model of elegance – clean lines, nothing sticking out, nothing overemphasized. It’s not the crisp elegance of a perfectly-pressed white blouse or the stern perfection of a tight chignon with not a hair out of place, however. It’s far more comfortable and effortless than crisp and restrained, and it imparts a graceful, smiling demeanor. When I wear it, I feel rich – and, somehow, nicer.

31 RC is thick, like a full chord, and yet somehow airy and weightless. This is a quality it seems to share with Chanel No. 5 – it’s lushly sensual, and at the same time it is never too much. The seamlessness, the tactile satin effect, make it very easy to wear despite its fullness.

The one quibble I have with 31 RC is the same one that most people have with it: it’s a little too light. Chanel needs a parfum concentration of this. I keep seeing the prediction that they’re working on a parfum and it’ll be released any moment, but we’re now four years (almost five!) into the life of this scent, and there is no parfum available, nor any definite announcement of one coming to the market. Which makes me wonder if the balance goes off somehow when you try to strengthen the mixture. This makes me a little sad: I love Bois des Iles, too, but it’s so fleeting that the Les Exclusifs EdT just frustrates me. Knowing that the parfum is available, even if I can’t afford it, makes me feel a little better. 31 Rue Cambon does have a slightly stronger presence than Bois des Iles, and it does last for close to four hours on me, twice as long as BdI, but I have to snorfle my wrist to smell it for that last hour.

That said, I still think 31 RC is wonderful. “Distilled elegance” sounds about right to me as a short descriptor. I think I’m always going to want to have a small amount on hand, for wear when I feel I might need a reminder that I’m a worthy human being.

A few other reviews, besides the ones linked in the first paragraph (and I do mean a few – there are dozens more!):  Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things calls 31RC “austere, yet opulent,” and I’d agree wholeheartedly.  Dane at Pere de PierreAbigail at ISTIAThe Non-BlondeFor the Love of Perfume1000 Scents.  

* Here’s some further information on bottle splits (scroll down into the post), in case you’re not familiar with this wonderful opportunity for owning small amounts of full bottles you can’t afford. In my case, there are a lot of scents I’d love to own, but can’t swing $200 a pop; sometimes I don’t even want a whole bottle, and 5 or 10 ml is the perfect amount. Splits are the way to go, if possible. Robin at NST has more information, too.

Image of 31 Rue Cambon bottle from Fragrantica.  Image of Coco Chanel and Suzy Parker ca. 1957 from The Recessionista.


18 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon”

  1. Ha! How funny, chypres never make me feel “nicer”. They make me haughty, since the unwashed masses no longer appreciate them. This is one of the very few Les Exclusifs I haven’t tried. Thank you for throwing your hat into the ring, Mals!

    1. I see what you mean about chypres.

      But, see, 31 RC isn’t really a chypre. It’s an amber. With some flowers and a buncha that Chanel iris… which, truth be told, people generally either love or find too standoffish.

  2. I think I tested the exclusifs line in my first year of serious serial sniffing.
    I set foot in a Chanel boutique for the first time in my life just to smell them. I was a bit embarassed, but apparently the perfume gods were assisting me because I got out of the boutique with no purchase but with 5 (five!!) 4ml miniatures of the scents… I know, a stupid anecdote, but it felt like a little treasure, and it came as a surprise….

    At first 31 RC, together with Beige, was the the exclusif that appelaed to me the most. Truth to be told, I would wear it only to work, and only if there was some itchy meeting ahead.
    Now I never reach for it. Not interesting enough – nor do I reach for Beige. I prefer n.5.
    Or Bois des iles. Or Cuir de Russie. Or n. 22. Even Sycomore. And oh how I wish I had some la pausa (instead of beige) to test properly…apparently it’s the one and only iris fragrance I like.

    On a side note, I think that the LE, as a whole, gathers really a lot of great perfumes. I would/will probably spring for several of them……. in due time… 😉 [sorry, my commenti is loooooooooong]

    1. (I like long comments.)

      I have not tested the series, because I don’t have access to a Chanel boutique, and I haven’t been interested enough to buy samples. I do have a decant of Bois des Iles from the LE collection, and it’s much thinner than the pre-LE sample I have from TPC. I don’t like Cuir de Russie (virtual cow barn) or No. 22 (sugary). I have the sense to Stay Away from Coromandel, patchouli hater that I am, and from Sycomore since I don’t much care for vetiver either! I have heard that 28 La Pausa is fleeting, and since I have issues with longevity, that one’s off the list too, especially since I don’t love iris as a scent focus.

      I’m sure the miniatures were helpful, at least. I’d bet they would feel like a treasure to me, too.

      I do see why you would find 31 RC “not interesting enough.” I think it’s beautiful and it fits a little cubbyhole in my fragrance wardrobe, but it’s not one of the scents that feels really “me.”

      1. Thought you would love/like n. 22!

        p.s. bois des iles is excessively thin, but I discovered it makes a wonderful evening scent – or gray weekend fragrance. It’s one of the few fragrances I liked layered: with Attrape Coeur and Egoiste. But I don’t really like to layer, overall.

        1. I thought I would, too. But I don’t like the texture… it feels like grains of sugar crunching in my back teeth, and it’s nerve-wracking. Arrrrgh.

          I don’t like to layer, either. If I do, it’s usually an accident.

  3. For me, 31RC is an iris scent. Since I’m ultra sensitive to the note, that’s pretty much all I can smell, after the fizzy opening… which is just fine for me! 28 La Pausa lasts about two minutes on my skin, and RC is smoother, and more refined IMO.

    I’ve sniffed through the line, but the only one I love is Bois des Iles, which, as you point out, has really naff lasting power! I wouldn’t mind owning a bottle (or large decant) of RC, but if truth be told, I’ve been more impressed overall with the new Dior exclusive line (*ducks*), and would love to have FB’s of each one I’ve tested! 🙂

    1. Oh, it’s definitely irisy. But, then, all the Chanels are irisy, IMO, even No. 5. (My favorite iris scent is No. 19, so you see where my standards for “irisy” lie!)

      Seriously, you liked the Diors that much? I only sampled the one that appealed to me by the notes (New Look 1947), and then was disappointed when it was so skin-scenty. For what it is, it’s nice – it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be, so I was bummed. The rest just did not sound like My Sort of Thing.

      1. Oh yeah, I liked the Dior’s that much! Though I’ve only smelled a few: Mitzah (love!), New Look— which I never would have sought, based on the notes, but it came to me and I LOVE it, Granville (surprisingly sexy), Eau Noir (love!), and Bois d’Argent (also love!).

        I expected to like Mitzah, and like turned to love less than half-way through my decant. I guess it was New Look that did if for me, because it was such an unexpected hit—though, I know a lot of people were disappointed with that one! It would be great to try the rest of the line, but just these few that I’ve tried are so much better overall than the Chanel’s… (blasphemy!!). I mean, I like 29LP, but two minutes? I really, really like BdI, but, two hours? Come on Chanel! 31RC gives me a few hours, but one spritz of any of the above mentioned Diors, and I need to shower them off! The Chanels just seem anorexic in comparison. I like my ‘fumes Rubenesque!

        1. Rubenesque, eh?

          Makes sense. Chanel is def. not Rubenesque.

          I don’t know that I’m a big fan of the Chanel LE series, either. I was seriously ticked off by the thinning of BdI. But I remember reading notes lists for that Dior series and going, “Nope. Not that one. Nope. Nope. Not me. Ooh, that’s interesting.” (New Look) Cologne, Ehhh. Nope.” and so forth.

          I could be missing some gems, but I still doubt that any of them are to my taste. There’s so much out there, I don’t feel guilty about missing stuff anymore…

  4. A fine review of a fine scent of which I have squirrelled away a few decants. I read this as an iris scent, but agree about the luxurious, soft aspect that kicks in after a while, and which I now realise is amber and the “satiny iris”. I am not always in the mood for it, mind, as the opening is rather austere or bitter, as you say, but I am drawn to RC in winter especially.

    La Pausa is also nice – I call it “cryogenic iris” as it is super cool on the skin, but it is fleeting for sure. In fact I like them all except Coromandel (raging patchouli and spice) and No 22 (too sweet), And Gardenia is a bit shampoo-y, maybe. Oh and I know what you mean about Bois des Iles being crunchy, but I like it all the same!

    Another New Look fan here – major lemming!

    1. I think it’s true that many of the Chanels have difficult openings, V! The opening of 31RC is my least favorite part. I do like it better in the winter – I suppose because of the amber.

      And I have heard that many of these LEs are fleeting. Leading, I suppose, to the concept of selling them in vats. Grr.

      I wanted New Look to be more floral and less of that… creamy-powdery thing. Which, as I say, was very nice, but I wanted more white flowers! (stamps foot. pouts)

  5. This is a bit off topic, but 31 Rue Cambon always makes me think of a work I saw as part of Chanel’s mobile art exhibit a few years ago. It’s Le Troittoir by an artist named Erlich. It was an installation in a dark room, with a reflective pool in which one watched a looped video of people in a row of Paris apartments, coming in turning lights on and off, etc. It was so cool. It’s how I want 31 RC to smell. There’s a kind of bad picture of the piece here:

  6. I do not know how it happened but I haven’t tried 31RC. Probably because I didn’t like the name (for some reason I have to make a special effort to make myself even to try perfumes named after addresses). I like at least 4 perfumes in this line (but so far own only a small decant of Coromandel and a Beige mini) so with me being on Chanel kick this year I’m affraid even to try more. But I will.

    1. Oh, I think it’s worth trying, especially if you do like Chanels.

      I’m funny about names too, but in a different direction – I was loath to try any Etat Libre d’Orange ones, mostly because of the advertising, but also the names are stupid, I think. Fat Electrician? Uh, no, thanks. I have tried three of them now and liked only one: Putain des Palaces, which I like to call Hotel Slut. Luckily for me, I thought it was similar to JHaG Citizen Queen, which I already had a decant of, so I didn’t have to buy Hotel Slut and explain it to people.

      1. Etat Libre d’Orange is one of the lines I do not actively seek to try because of their names. I liked Putain des Palaces but I won’t be wearing a perfume named this way. I like Archives 69 and might consider owning it but my attitude towards that brand in general clouds my desire for the perfume.

        1. Yeah, I’m definitely not a fan of ELdO. I think a lot of people like their anti-glamor, let’s be naughty attitude, but I feel like they’re deliberately trying to push away people like me: suburban, church-going soccer moms. (Or baseball moms, as the case may be.)

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