Vintage CHANEL: The Vamp Trilogy – Rouge Noir, Rouge Très Noir, and Rouge Argent (swatches & review)


The beauty of going back into my nail lacquer vault, is rediscovering past gems: case in point, I present you with the original “Vamp Trilogy”! Being a long-time fan (and collector) of CHANEL cosmetics, I find it so interesting that so many of today’s hues & nail lacquer trends, actually have roots in releases of the past; I didn’t even remember CHANEL creating glitter polishes other than ‘Night Sky’ (previously reviewed here), until I started digging through my collection, and was amazed at what I turned up (more on that in a future Vintage CHANEL post!). The three ‘Vamp’ varnishes that make up this trio have by now reached almost mythic proportions (well, not really…but they should!) and in my opinion, deservedly so. All swatches are with Deborah Lippmann’s 2-Second Nail Primer, and a-england’s ‘The Knight’ Base Coat and ‘The Shield’ Top Coat (previously reviewed here).



When I think of “vamp”, the image that comes to mind is that of a true femme fatale, such as Greta Garbo (pictured above) and not anything twilight-related. To me, being vamp means expressing your inner sensuality by a subtle visual clue, as in mysteriously darkened nails … enough said!



I absolutely love how the above photo (taken with my husband’s iphone using the Instagram app), gives a true “vintage-y” vibe to these gorgeous lacquers – how perfect is this?!



Back in 1994, when CHANEL was about to present one of their runway collections to the media, stylists quickly painted the models’ nails with black marker, then had their production department replicate the look using varnish, and ‘Rouge Noir’ (‘Vamp’ in the US) was born.  Rather daring for the times as none of the great houses had ever shown a nail as dark as this before, this shade quickly gained notoriety when it was chosen to be worn by Uma Thurman in the now cult hit, Pulp Fiction.  Not only was the wait list for this lacquer instantaneous but sales quickly surpassed the $1 million mark – unprecedented for a nail varnish – and so, a new era of hues was ushered in.  For the most part, us Canadians receive the European version of CHANEL products (unlike in the US where CHANEL products are specifically made there and for that market), and therefore my bottle not only hails from France, but is actually a first run edition dating to 1994! Yes … I jumped all over this beauty back then, the very instant I heard the first whispers!



A deeply blackened red, almost replicating the colour of dried blood – but only in the most fashionably tasteful way – ‘Rouge Noir’ to this day, remains the gold standard that other “vamped” shades aspire to.  Amazingly, the formula is still absolutely incredible (after 18 years, no less!) with an excellent viscosity, flowing well across the nail.  The first coat shows a maroon-like base, which quickly deepens to the bottle colour by the second coat (as applied here).  Completely self-levelling with ZERO brush strokes, the finish is insanely glossy, although I applied top coat as further protection.  Wear time was also impressive, lasting easily a full 5 days before there was the most minimal of chipping.



Hot on the heels of ‘Rouge Noir’s’ incredible success and approximately a year after that shade’s original release, CHANEL decided to expand the line with two more varnishes in that family.  First up is ‘Rouge Très Noir’ (‘Very Vamp’ in the US), ‘Rouge Noir’s’ browner sister.



Leaning rather more towards the burgundy, this shade holds that “secret shimmer” that has by now become synonymous with CHANEL, and which adds such a stunning overall depth of tone here.  Once more, the formula was excellent, albeit somewhat thinner-flowing than ‘Rouge Noir’. The first coat lays down more brown than reddish, but  by the second coat (as applied here), its true depth is reached. No visible brush strokes and with a smooth application, this lacquer may not bear the mirror-like shine of its more famous sibling, but leaves behind a super-high gloss shine nonetheless.



The final member of this fashionable trilogy, is ‘Rouge Argent’ (‘Metallic Vamp’ in the US).  Released almost simultaneously with ‘Rouge Très Noir’, this third instalment completed the triumvirate.



Moving some distance away from the more red-leaning natures of its two previous sister shades, ‘Rouge Argent’ goes towards a new, rock & roll direction with its deep purple base colour and more obvious metallic look. I found that this shade had the thickest formula of the three, although it still flowed exceptionally well just the same, levelling off easily and keeping any visible brush strokes to a tight minimum.  The first coat appeared rather grape-hued with some slight reddish undertones, but by the second coat (as applied here), the deeply blackened violet of the bottle colour, was definitely achieved.  Interestingly enough, its inner subtle shimmer comes through quite clearly in this incarnation, lending ‘Rouge Argent’ a slightly more metallic finish.


Final thoughts: These three particular lacquers hold very special meaning for me: ‘Rouge Noir’ was released in 1994, the year my daughter was born, and by the time she was 1, the other two shades had followed … turning me into (what I believed) was quite the fashion-forward new “mommy”! What I can appreciate now, even more so than when I originally wore them, is not only how sublimely these varnishes wear, but how ahead of their times they were, helping so many other brands turn the corner on standardized hues, and setting off a veritable explosion of previously unheard-of new nail polish colours. Remember, in the world of CHANEL, being a “vamp”, is good … very, very good!





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