Individualist – Review: Chanel Les Exclusifs N°18

N°18 is surely the most unusual and daring among the Les Exclusifs fragrances. While the others are mostly wonderful, they are not exactly groundbreaking in their conception, but excellent examples of certain styles (e.g. The Fresh Green One: Bel Respiro, The Classic Aldehydic Floral: N°22, The Tender Iris Perfume: 28 La Pausa, The Floral Leather: Cuir de Russie, The Classic Cologne: Eau de Cologne, The Not Really Exotic White Floral: Gardénia, The Woody Scent: Sycomore, The Patchouli: Coromandel and so on).

N°18 on the other hand is not a perfume you would expect from Chanel. It features ambrette seed, a vegetal musk derived from the musk mallow (Hibiscus abelmoschus).

N°18 was created in 2007 by Jacques Polge and includes notes of ambrette seed, rose and iris.

N°18 opens with a startling blast of the most un-perfumey smell imaginable (for Chanel standards, we are not talking wild and weird here, this is not Christopher Brosius or EldO after all), but the opening of N°18 is nothing if not memorable and unusual. Like a cold, and earthy combination of green leaves and rooty vegetables (carrots? parsnips?), it warms up and sweetens in a few minutes and the iris inherits the rootiness, but adds a warmer, powdery aspect to the mix.

Above this earthy mix lies a beautiful, pink rose, soft and gauzy, translucent and ethereal.

As it develops a soft fruity note appears making N°18 more feminine. The musky drydown is powdery, rosy and has a tender feel to it. The entire perfume is soft and somehow quiet in feel.

N°18 stays rather close to the skin and its longevity, although better than 28 La Pausa’s, is not very impressive unfortunately.

Although I said it is Chanel’s most unusual perfume, it manages also to be quintessentially Chanel-esque in its inherent elegance and understatement.

N°18 always behaves well, although not one of many, it knows how to fit in. It is quiet, refined, elegant and flawlessy pretty.

I can’t help but admire this perfume for it is able to bridge the gap between conservative and creative, between classic and modern, between fitting in and standing out.

N°18 is like no other perfume, but it is no rebel. An individualist among perfumes, N°18 does it her way, without offending anyone.

There is something to be learned here…

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37 Responses to Individualist – Review: Chanel Les Exclusifs N°18

  1. I’m hard-pressed to think of an Exclusif that I don’t like.

    I don’t think i’ve ever tried No. 18, but this makes me think I should drop by Chanel for a good sniffing! I love the smell of root vegetables, especially parsnips — which actually sound quite nice when paired with iris.

    I haven’t tried Jersey either . . . but I’m not sure if I want to. I just can’t get that picture that Perfume Candy Boy posted of Chanel with the title, “Go Granny Go!”

  2. laniersmith says:

    I am enamored of Cuir De Ruisse and looking to add to my colleciton from Les Exclusifs. I am leaning toward Coromandel or Sycamore. But I am going to take a sniff of No.18 after reading your wonderful post. As for the “Go Granny Go” to a mere child, anything over twenty might seem old.

    • Olfactoria says:

      The problem with Jersey is not that is smells old at all, it just smells extremely unimaginative (for a Chanel that is an even worse offense).

      As for N°18, I hope you like it, it is really unusual and interesting.

  3. Tara says:

    I can’t seem to get on with ambrette seed no matter how hard I try. But I so admire No.18 and I loved you review of it as the individualist. It is so distinctive, I wish I could love it. Maybe one day.

  4. Suzanne says:

    I greatly enjoyed your post, Birgit, even though Chanel No. 18 is probably my least favorite of the initial “Les Exclusifs” fragrances. It’s too quiet and flat for my tastes … probably no surprise there, huh? 😀

  5. Joe says:

    Hi Birgit! I saw your post announcement last night before bed and decided that was my prompt to finally pull out my decant of N°18 and make it my scent of the day today.

    I really love N°18, and I don’t find the opening as jarring as you do. I really love the whole thing from start to finish, and I find the overload of ambrette musk to be incredibly cozy. There’s something almost “nutty” about the scent, though that’s not the right word exactly. I’m sad about the longevity as well, but I do spray with abandon and reapply — and the scent it leaves close to the skin is really nice. So thanks for finally forcing me to pull this out and wear it today (I have so many decants that I often lament how long it’s been since I’ve worn some of them).

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hi Joe,
      I’m glad to having helped decide your choice of SotD today.
      Sometimes poor longevity isn’t so bad, at least that way we get to wear more than one perfume a day. 🙂

      No18 is a bit of a hidden gem, so glad you like it too!

  6. Dionne says:

    I do wish that No. 18 liked me, but for some reason it’s gone very quickly. I haven’t figured out yet if it is actually disappearing or I’m anosmic to something in it, but considering that I own four of the Exclusifs and Equistrius is my go-to for a sweeter iris, it’s not a very large regret.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Maybe it is indeed the ambrette seed you are slightly anosmic to…. I loved your Equistrius review today, so I see you are really well equipped in the iris department anyway. 🙂

  7. smellythoughts says:

    I was realllly unimpressed with the Chanel Exclusifs, I have only gave a few of the big names passing sniffs – Coromandel, Sycomore, Cuir De Russie etc, this sounds like it may be the one for me! 😀

  8. Undina says:

    I tried No 18 only once and it smelled very dirty (as in not clean) on my skin. I still have a sample so I might give it another try at some point but my guess is: it’s not for me. Still enjoyed your review: I would have been running to get a sample if I hadn’t tried it before.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Really? I would be very interested to hear if you still perceive it as dirty, when you try it again.
      No18 seems so “above reproach” to me, your experience with it sounds intriguing.

    • arxsyn says:

      As a natural musk, ambrette can turn animalic on skin. I get a warm, sweaty feeling once the top notes fade. However the perfume itself is not dirty at all. The base of it has one of the trademark Chanel aldehydes–a dry, waxy triple milled bar soap aroma–therefore this is nothing like say, Muscs Koublaï Khän by Serge Lutens. There is this strange cyclical effect where I feel I’m giving out fresh beads of sweat onto clean, cool skin leaving you a gorgeous glow and sheen. Still, there’s something ‘old’, grey, and musty smelling about the perfume. Dishevelled, and casual but still glamorous/gorgeous in an unconventional way. Think Kate Moss in said dishevelled disarray, white shirt a little wrinkled, traces of tobacco, booze, and musk linger about her.

  9. Figuier says:

    Lovely review! I do like this one. For a long time I lumped it together with Bel Respiro and 28 La Pausa as one of the gauzy and ‘vaguely characterized’ Exclusifs, but recently received a spray sample of it, the wearing of which has ignited my enthusiasm.

    For me the musky ambrette is lovely, a welcome change from more commonly used musks which to me either smell of laundry detergent (Shalimar Parfum Initial) or simply fail to register (Narciso Rodriguez). The heart of No 18 is particularly enjoyable, it reads as a delightful blend of apple and rose, very pretty and vivacious without straying into commercial fruity-floral territory. And on me the longevity is actually quite decent.

    Also: hope you have a great time in Italy, I’m sure it’ll be wonderful!

  10. Philipp says:

    I love love N18… it is my second favourite Chanel les E. after La Pausa.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Both are wonderful perfumes.

      • Philipp says:

        Yesterday I was in Milan and bought my own bottle of N18. As usual the staff at the Chanel counter are much nicer and more knowledgeable than the staff at the proper Chanel boutique. There’s really no comparison. With my purchase I was given minis of Jersey and N22 and samples of Bel Respiro and La Pausa.

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  12. arxsyn says:

    The first time I visited the local chanel olfactive bar, no 18 made the biggest impression on me. It was unique, distinct, and unlike anything I’ve ever smelled and most important, something most people will not think of wearing. That thought alone, made me buy into it. The only regret, had i waited another couple of months, i could have bought the smaller version instead of the gigantic 200ml. Truthfully though i admire this frag for it’s originality and artisanal quality i would like to wear sycamore, my other great love from that session. I cannot justify another exclusif

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello arxsyn,
      The big bottle is really a challenge to go through, but since you love N°18 so much, enjoy that you have it, at least that way you can be lavish with it without worrying of using too much. It is a very individual perfume – you smell great!
      Maybe Sycomore can go on your wishlist as a gift for a special occasion? 😉

      • arxsyn says:

        It’s awfully expensive still. I went through my credit card statements to remind myself:a bracing total of $269, including local sales tax. Yes I smell nice, but I wish others could enjoy it on me too. For such an exorbitant price, wish it has more silage! I have tried spraying the eau more judiciously. However after more than three sprays on the body I can hardly smell it on myself either. Weird. Absolutely frustrating and disappointing in that department. I wonder if it’s because from the boutique sold me an original bottle from 2007, if I can trust lot number converter from the internet. maybe it’s past the shelf life;I bought the eau in Dec 2010! I also own a perfume mini manufactured 2009, and it smells markedly different.

        • Olfactoria says:

          That is unfortunate. 😦
          If you hadn’t metioned the mini, I would have ventured the idea that there are perfumes (especially those with muscs) that we can’t smell well on ourselves, but that still register distincly with others.

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