Perfume Review: Le Lion by CHANEL

We’re just over a week into 2021 and we already have the first big perfume launch of the year, which means this is my first perfume review of the year (exciting!) and it’s for a brand new CHANEL fragrance (very exciting!!) – a CHANEL Exclusif, no less (ARGH SO EXCITING!!!). This CHANEL fanboy is very please to be kicking off the year with something so wonderful – so, let’s take a few moments away from the world and enjoy a spot of scented beauty.

The latest addition to Les Exclusifs is Le Lion and it’s a long-awaited one, having launched in some territories almost one year ago! But now it’s here! As with all of the Exclusifs, Le Lion takes inspiration from the house itself, and this time the lion, the fifth sign of the zodiac and Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s astrological sign, is the theme. In the 1920s, Coco fell in love with the city of Venice, being inspired by its art and culture, and like Chanel herself, the city existed under the guardian sign of the lion. The lion became an emblem for Chanel, both in her personal spaces (her apartment at 31 Rue Cambon was filled with lions crafted from marble, bronze and wood), but also in her clothing, with the symbol engraved on the buttons of tweed suits or the clasps of bags. The lion is a symbol of Chanel’s tenacity and endurance and this is the theme that the fragrance explores.

Le Lion the perfume, seeks to capture this tenacious personality but also the rich and exotic spirit of Venice, the city of the lion that Coco loved. CHANEL perfumer Olivier Polge was intrigued by the emblem of the lion rather than the animal itself, crafting a warm amber fragrance (I’m not using the “O” word, this is my replacement) with a “solar aura” and a “gentle strength”. Le Lion stands out as a uniquely intense and warm fragrance within Les Exclusifs, which tend to lean light, ethereal, abstract, and it is quite surprising in its richness. The big question though, is whether it was worth the wait? Well, read on and you shall see!

“ I am a Leo and, like a lion, I use my claws to prevent people from doing me harm. But, believe me, I suffer more from scratching than from being scratched. ”

Coco Chanel

The Notes

Bergamot, Lemon, Labdanum, Patchouli and Vanilla

The Perfumer

Olivier Polge (CHANEL)

How Does it Smell?

Reading up on Le Lion online, I have seen numerous comparisons to Shalimar which, when you’re dealing with vanilla-centric amber fragrances, makes sense, because in that genre all roads lead back to Shalimar. Yes, Le Lion gives off shadows of Shalimar right in the top notes, with flashes of sparkling citrus (bergamot and lemon) glittering like gold dust atop the warm swathes of amber and resins that hide underneath. But that, my friends, is really where the comparison ends and Le Lion quickly veers off in a direction that is much more resinous and rich, and nowhere near as powdery, as Guerlain’s iconic flagship. Le Lion is refreshing and clear in the top notes, but quickly it shifts, revealing the wonderful waves of warm resins that make for a distinct signature.

Speaking of resins, Le Lion gives me a ton of oily, rich and unctuous resins, namely labdanum, incense and benzoin. Le Lion leans much more resinous than it does powdery – in fact, there is a distinct absence of powder, which marks it as something much deeper and more intense. The incense and benzoin, in particular, stands out for me, glowing with warm golden light. There is sweetness here – a touch of toasted caramel from the benzoin – but also the dry quality of leather smoke and the iridescent feel of frankincense. It all just feels so multifaceted and plush, and when so many ambers can be linear, one-note presentations, Le Lion feels entirely kaleidoscopic.

Le Lion’s development is like a sunset. It starts bright and brilliant gold, but deepens over time, displaying darker shades of amber as it dries down. In the far parts of the base, Le Lion leaves an auburn trail of incense and smoke, with only a mere hint of the gold dust that was so prominent in the opening. The gauzy, toasted tones of bergamot persist, wrapping the delicate incense smoke in a soft shroud, letting it unfurl delicately on the skin. The vanilla really shines at this point, unveiling a creamy warmth that is utterly compelling and addictive. It all feels incredibly rich and intense, which is a marked departure from the typical style of Les Exclusifs (Coromandel aside), which in turn makes Le Lion stand out as perhaps the least ‘CHANEL’ in style.

So what’s the verdict? I enjoy Le Lion and it’s the perfect thing for the dead of winter. Le Lion is like a great big fur coat that wraps you in undeniable warmth. I don’t find it as unique and exciting as the last Les Exclusifs, namely Boy (a super cool androgynous fougère) and 1957 (the most CHANEL of CHANEL fragrances) but it is an incredibly well (and beautifully) executed amber that feels utterly luxurious. It’s hard not to appreciate a familiar tune played so exceptionally well but is it something I will regularly reach for? Only time will tell – big, velvety ambers aren’t my go to, so it may be a case of ‘appreciate but not for me’, but we shall see! In the meantime, Le Lion is a wonderfully warm amber that pays homage to some of the greats, whilst adding a touch of CHANEL magic. Coromandel fans are gonna love it.

Longevity & Projection

Le Lion is certainly one of the more tenacious Exclusifs from CHANEL. It’s a warm hug of a scent that you, and others, are going to notice. The presence is most certainly satisfying – so much so, I don’t think you’re going to want to wear it on a warm day. Longevity is also excellent and the far dry down lasts beyond a whole day, leaving a sumptuous trail of warm resins on the skin into the next day.


Le Lion is available in 75ml (£155) and 200ml (£280) Eau de Parfum.


Images are my own. Sample (full size) sent by brand for review. I was not paid for this review and the brand had no say in the content.