Misia Sert was a close personal friend of Coco Chanel. Misia was also something of a cultural icon in Parisian society, hosting a salon in her home for artists and serving as a muse. Both Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir painted her portrait. And now Misia plays the muse again, since she is the subject of Chanel’s latest release for the Les Exclusifs line. Misia the fragrance is Olivier Polge’s debut at Chanel, as he gradually takes over the role of in-house perfumer from his father, Jacques Polge.
All of this is quite a lot of history to sort through, but what does Misia actually smell like? As you might be able to guess from Chanel’s promo image, Misia is practically a celebration of powdery cosmetic notes. The opening notes of powdery iris give off a cold impression, like pressed powder in a cool metallic compact. The iris has an earthiness to it as well, slightly rooty and carroty, although this scent is decidedly not gourmand. It’s much more cool and dry than that. Misia recalls that daily ritual performed by so many women: applying makeup in private before going out to meet the demands of the day.
There are two different strands of rose in the notes here, but I find the rose fairly subtle. The violet is the dominant floral note of the heart for me, which is a funny choice since violet inevitably brings Guerlain cosmetics to mind, not Chanel. I have to think this was a purposeful, slightly cheeky move on the part of Olivier Polge, because Misia is no mere Météorites rip-off.
In fact, I find Misia quite unique and deceptively simple. Lipstick, powder, and cosmetic notes are a common enough theme in perfumery. Misia is interesting in that, though it recalls luxury cosmetic items, the fragrance also projects an air of chilly refinement that borders on austerity. We don’t typically associate austerity with luxury, but Misia unites the two concepts. The coldness of the composition also projects an air of privacy, which is another funny choice given that this perfume is named after a person. This is not a fragrance to evoke nostalgia for fun times spent with friends. Instead, it is a scent that projects self-containment and self-possession. The narrative Misia has to offer us is a complex one, and a little subversive in its contradictions.
The benzoin and tonka bean dry down adds a touch of warmth to the composition, and I do mean just a touch. Misia is simply not the kind of fragrance to come over all warm and sensual. Instead, the composition turns more rich in its own way, now recalling loose powder instead of pressed powder. It’s more earthy as the orris root anchors the base. And that carroty iris note becomes tangible again, bringing this complex composition full circle. Total wear time is between 6-7 hours on me.
Misia is a rare fragrance in that it works as both something to wear in private around the house, and as the finishing touch before going out. However, Misia is no chameleon. This fragrance exists exactly on its own terms, always projecting that puzzling but fascinating air of austere sophistication. And, ultimately, this air of self-possession is probably the best way Olivier Polge and Chanel could pay tribute to Misia Sert herself.
Full bottles of Chanel Les Exclusifs fragrances are available at Chanel boutiques and at Saks and Bergdorf’s in New York. Fortunately for those of us who don’t have easy access to a boutique, The Perfumed Court carries Les Exclusifs, which is where I got my sample of Misia.