Like its legendary sibling Chanel N° 5, N° 22 is classified as a floral aldehydic, and the two scents, created in perfumery’s Golden Age, are considered to be closely related. But where Chanel’s glamorous icon, still beautiful after ninety years in production, is a scintillation of champagne aldehydes, roses, and jasmine – a caress of timeless, confident femininity – her sister, the sweet, opalesque N° 22, is a very different, more plaintive creature: perfumer Ernst Beaux’s masterful dualism of warmth and cold; of wistfulness and optimism. A slow repository of calm, like a dream of white flowers falling softly from a riverbank tree on a passing swan’s down.
The perfume opens on an iridescent flourish of aldehydes and white summer flowers: orange blossom, lilac, tuberose, ylang ylang, white roses, and a sweet, powdery orchid; the bubble-bath fresh, bright aldehydes adding strength and light. This heady opening will not be please everybody, and N° 22 has the assiduous tenacity of a prima ballerina: it is, in fact, one of the most long-lasting perfumes I own – even in the deliciously delicate vintage eau de cologne, it lingers, beautifully, for over twelve hours – longer, even, than some extraits. With such a melodiously sweet opening to the scent, it might seem counterintuitive, then, to say that this perfume is thought to be suitable as a masculine, and has something of a cult following in that regard. But this is where the true artistry of the perfume is revealed. The gradation from the opening of elated flower essences, to the gentle, reflective, base is cool and poised, and perfectly calibrated; the final accord on the skin an unexpected delight: a grey, smoked incense over vetiver, and a sensitive embrace of dusted vanilla. It is a statuesque note of cold white stone that is fused to the main floral theme in absolute balance.
It is this unassailable heart that I love in N° 22. It is a meltingly gorgeous smell that I choose to wear when alone, or to close myself off from the world. For me it is the ideal scented soundtrack to days of dreaming, just existing. A far more profound creature than the exuberant N° 5: tranquil, calming, with exquisite inner resolve.