In a perfect world Bel Respiro would be the standard for the quality and beauty of Chanel Les Exclusifs fragrances. Then again, in a perfect world there wouldn't be a need for a Les Exclusifs line because a Chanel perfume would equal greatness no matter what.
Bel Respiro was one of the original Les Exclusifs released by Chanel in 2007. It never got as much attention as Coromandel or 31 Rue Cambon, and didn't threaten to upstage the classic perfumes in the line, Cuir de Russie and Bois des Iles. Part of it is probably the low concentration that makes Bel Respiro seem pale next to its ancestor Chanel No.19. But we all know that No.19 is not what it used to be, so the only real green iris standing is Bel Respiro. I can live with that.
Bel Respiro opens with pale green leaves and stems swaying lightly in the cool morning breeze. The sky darkens a little as an elegant and austere iris adds its dry bitterness (with little to no powder) and a hint of leather gloves. These notes and the atmosphere around them are so very Chanel. It's very French, very streamlined without being quite minimalistic. Bel Respiro makes me think of great architecture, sublime food, and breathtaking fashion. Basically, it's Chic Parisienne bottled.
As The fragrance develops, the leather feels warmer and gains a slight sweetness and an almost animalic touch. There's something almost vintage-like in Bel Respiro, which is probably why I like it so much. If only it lasted without having to apply a bucketful every time. I've heard that the Les Exclusifs de Chanel Fresh Body Cream enhances the perfume and anchors it well. I have yet to try this miracle cream, so I can't comment. Maybe next winter, because while Bel Respiro is certainly a joy to wear in summer, it has a similar silver bell quality to No. 19 that makes it smell even more wonderful on a cold snowy day spent outside.
The concentration is the only issue I have with Bel Respiro. I still remember a Chanel executive telling me that it was a conscious decision because the Les Exclusifs are meant to be used lavishly. I'm still cranky about it. An extrait would have served Bel Respiro much better than the EDT and would have made me buy a bottle years ago. I am close to surrendering, though. A full bottle is the only way I can drench myself with this lovely iris and grass perfume, and drench I will.
Chanel- Bel Respiro ($130, 2.5oz EDT) is available from Chanel boutiques around the world, Saks flagship store, Bergdorf Goodman, and Chanel.com.
Photo of Nena von Schlebrügge for Chanel, 1960s, via Straight, Stirred Up With A Twist.