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Deep Dive Part II - A Closer Look at Chanel Japan

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In a recent post we focused on a 1970s vintage Chanel that was purchased in Japan. It was distributed under license by Liebermann Waelchli and Co., which served as exclusive agent for Chanel in Japan for a bit over 10 years, from 1969 to 1980. I mentioned that the LW name (rendered in katakana) on a Chanel fragrance is an almost sure indication that the item was produced during that timeframe. In other words, Liebermann Waelchli on the packaging = '70s vintage (roughly speaking).

Not everyone reads Japanese, obviously. Fortunately, it's not really necessary. My hope is that by the end of this post, even non-readers of Japanese will have learned to distinguish between '70s vintage (dist. by Liebermann Waelchli) and '80s through early-'90s vintage (dist. by Chanel Japan). To convince you it can be done, it might be a good idea to retrace the early days of Chanel Japan, the foreign subsidiary established by the parent company in 1980.

Chanel Japan was initially registered at an address in Shinjuku Ward in downtown Tokyo. The company抯 offices were set up, perhaps not coincidentally, in the same building that was already home to Liebermann Waelchli. (This building, the sleek Shinjuku Mitsui Building, was the tallest in Japan when it opened in 1974.) Because LW and Chanel operated out of the same building, the postal addresses for the two companies were identical, and would remain so until Chanel Japan moved across town to offices in Shibuya in 1994.

So, all this talk of stickers and addresses梬hat does it add up to? Well, let's look at some examples. The image below shows two bottles of No.19 eau de toilette. The one on the left was distributed by Chanel Japan, the one on the right by Liebermann Waelchli. In both cases, the address terminates with the numbers "2𢴏". Finding this address somewhere on a Chanel fragrance indicates that the item was produced between 1974 and 1994. The numbers "2𢴏" can thus serve as a shortcut, in the absence of other clues, to identifying a vintage Chanel from this period.



On left: A partial list of ingredients appears below the horizontal line.
(Blue #1, Yellow #4, Red #504, Yellow #5, fragrance, alcohol)



In both cases, the address is printed on a single line. The name of the distributor is printed directly above. Next, I'd like to draw your attention to those names, and their relative lengths. Rendered in Japanese, the name "Liebermann Waelchli and Company S.A." contains roughly 3 the characters found in "Chanel Japan", and is thus much longer. The name is usually printed over two lines, as it is here. With the difference in length between the two names, and because Liebermann Waelchli is rendered entirely in katakana (the characters of which are simpler and tend to stand out visually), it shouldn't be hard to tell the names apart, even if you cannot actually read them. If you have questions about the names and addresses of these two companies, put them to me in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

Just a word more on corporate addresses: In 1994, Chanel Japan moved to an address terminating in "4203"; since 2002, the company has been registered at a Ginza address terminating in "3𤃁". Chanel cosmetics distributed by Chanel Japan during this period (1994杙resent) should be similarly marked with stickers showing the company name and corporate address.

Next, I'd like to shift to the topic of production.

The fragrances sold through Chanel Japan (and Liebermann Waelchli before that) have always been purely French-made. Contrast this with Chanel fragrances sold in the United States, some portion of which has been produced (i.e. compounded and packaged) in that country for decades.

Why might that be? Japan抯 reputation for quality control was firmly established by 1980, so it seems unlikely that concerns over quality would have kept Chanel from producing its fragrances there. The decision may have been driven by economics, as Japan was not a cheap place to do business even in the late 1970s. But while cost was likely an issue, I suspect that branding also factored into the decision. I'm speculating here, but I imagine Chanel had done its homework on the Japanese consumer and learned that the appeal of a Chanel perfume comes down in no small part to its very Frenchness. That is to say, a Chanel fragrance made in Japan might be identical in every way to its French-made counterpart, maybe even superior in terms of batch-to-batch consistency (knowing the Japanese obsession with quality control), but it would not carry the same cachet. But whatever the reasons, Chanel fragrances have never been produced in Japan.

Because these fragrances were made in France, the batch codes are no different from those of other French-made Chanels of the same period. Two distinct coding systems were used, one based on 4-digit codes (e.g. 4608), and the other on 3-character alphanumeric codes in a number-number-letter format (e.g. 37A). The latter system was implemented in the late 1970s ('79 or possibly '78) and had been abandoned by around 1983. I am confident about the general time frame, even if the precise dates are something of a mystery. Another mystery is why Chanel would switch from one coding system to another, only to do away with the new system and go back to the old one after a few years, but that's a topic for another day.

I hope this follow-up post helps to put the first one in context. In short, if you see a sticker like those shown here on the packaging of an older Chanel fragrance, you can be confident that the item is genuine and was originally distributed through official channels by Leibermann Waechli or Chanel Japan. And if that sticker shows an address terminating in "2𢴏", the fragrance was made between 1974 and 1994. Finally, to reiterate, the LW name on a vintage Chanel is a strong indication that it was produced between 1969 and 1980, regardless of the address.

Again, I hope this post proves useful to some of you. Vintage Chanels with stickers of the type discussed show up frequently in online listings. Armed with the tips presented here, you should be better able to determine the date of production as you consider a purchase.



No.5 EDT dist. by Liebermann Waelchli.



No.19 EDT dist. By Chanel Japan.
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Updated 6th April 2020 at 05:18 AM by roro

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Comments

  1. Bavard's Avatar
    Lovely. Hopefully there's plenty of 70s Chanel in Japan to go around.
  2. roro's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Bavard
    Lovely. Hopefully there's plenty of 70s Chanel in Japan to go around.
    It's out there. The extrait is the easiest to spot, as you probably know, due to the simplicity of the labeling.
    When it comes to dating the EDTs, the stickers are a nice clue to have, especially when the box is missing.

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