Angel Belsey is a Londoner. She owns too much perfume and too many books.

Bois des Iles

The first spray of Chanel's Bois de Iles is, to me, akin to the beginning of a Chanel-themed high-tech amusement park ride, where you're sitting in a soft comfortable seat, the safety bars are being gently lowered to your chest, and a soft female voice echoes around you: "WELCOME TO YOUR CHANEL EXPERIENCE." That first puff of floral aldehydes is very Chanel and leaves you with no doubt about what to expect from your perfume: it's going to smell pretty, and expensive, and classic. This is not to say that Bois des Iles develops into anything like a roller coaster ride--this isn't Christopher Sheldrake we're talking about. No, after that initial blast of sharpness the fragrance settles right down into what, for me, is a sandalwood version of Chanel No 5 (which as far as I am concerned is what Chanel No 5 should be).

The effect of Bois des Iles on skin is not adequately describable. I can approximate it by saying that it's soft, warm, velvety, and spicy, with quiet flowers in there too. Some people get a distinct gingerbread note from it. (I have to work to smell gingerbread, but I just about do, right in the heart, if I try very hard.) Mainly I get spices, ylang-ylang, and rose, and an incredibly beautiful sandalwood that deepens as the fragrance fades, finally becoming the primary focus.

Bois des Iles would be perfection, but for one thing: the EDT disappears FAST. You spray it once or twice like you would normally. It shows you that it's going to be amazing. You leave your bedroom. By your living room, you wonder where your scent has gone. It's there, but you've got to smash your nose against your wrist. You go back and spray more liberally. This time it sticks, but two hours later you're again wondering just exactly what the hell has happened.

This problem could probably be solved if you buy the EDP. But, I ask you, have you ever seen even the EDT of Bois des Iles at a perfume counter? Unless you're very much a perfumista, you may not have even been aware of its existence until now. I spend a LOT of time hanging around department store perfume counters, and I have never once encountered Bois des Iles. To get a sample, I had to order a decant from the US. I wouldn't have even known Bois des Iles was still in production if I had relied on it being in shops.

This is a real shame because (and this may sound like heresy) Bois des Iles is a better fragrance than Chanel No 5, apart the problem with longevity in the EDT. It's got all the beauty without any of the harshness and with a more rounded heart and finish. But Chanel No 5 is a huge marketing success and thus available in every possible formulation in every shop you go to, while if I want to buy the Bois des Iles EDP, I'm going to have to try a specialist Chanel boutique or order a decant from somewhere like The Perfumed Court (not that that's a hardship!).

It's unfair to the beauty and perfection of Bois des Iles that it's virtually unheard-of. Chanel really should wake up and start promoting it better.

Bois des Iles, Chanel, 1926 Notes: sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean, vanilla, ylang ylang, iris, coriander, rose, jasmine and aldehydes (and some say gingerbread)