Apologies for my absence. Somehow I could not get access to the Narcissus, nor even my email account, while in England for the last three weeks so I couldn’t write. Even if I had though, I was so busy gallivanting across the country seeing friends and relatives, going to art exhibitions and films, eating over priced restaurant food, and pints and pints of cider (something you can’t get here in Japan, along with real fish and chips) that I probably wouldn’t have written very much anyway.
There were certainly perfumed experiences I will be catching up with on here though, including a deliriously exciting trip to a North London pharmacy with Olivia that was a true treasure trove of vintage glory that will just have to be recounted, although in truth at no time was I ever in the mood for grand, central London and Harrods and Harvey Nichols and all the crowds and the hassle and the synthetic oudhs and the overpriced niche, so it is quite possible that I missed out on discovering anything truly new or interesting to divulge for your pleasure.
Nevertheless, both the new Chanels were there on my return flights though from Birmingham via Amsterdam to Tokyo for me to sample and assess at leisure, first Boy for my first leg of the journey, a rather disappointing, flat and drab little lavender, nice for a couple of minutes, that then quickly dries down to a skin-indelible, perfunctory lavender sports fragrance that you can’t quite scrub off – like some cheap, Yardley body product. Forget what other bloggers have written, desperate to say something nice about it, so as to keep contact lines open with their PR representatives, in truth, to my nose at least, this perfume should in fact just be renamed Bore.
Imagine the TV commercial, some woman or man yawning continuously, tears streaming down their face as they sniff listlessly at their own wrists….
‘Le Parfum plus ennuyeux du monde’….
The new L’Eau was thankfully much better. I had had a few hours to kill in Amsterdam, so was able to spray copious amounts of all the No 5 concentrations available on scent strips – about five fully drenched strips of each gorgeously aldehydic variation, which I then inserted into the pages of the book that I was reading in order to properly be able to ascertain just what had been changed, whether the new formula works.
For me personally, it does. From the first spray there was that beautiful recognisable Chanel signature, that velveteen loveliness we know and love so well ( I do think that No 5 is a work of total genius), just freshened and aerated with a delicious mandarin and orange note and a significant extra dose of ylang ylang – one of my favourite notes in all of perfumery – with all the muskiness (the part I like least) toned down, reminding me, in fact, of an old Gianfranco Ferre perfume I once knew in the shape of a hand grenade (which was that one again? Can anyone remind me? ) : all sandalwood, jasmine, and a delectable corona of orange loveliness dancing tantalisingly in the top.
Yes, No 5. When smelled side by side, however, in across-the-range comparison, I was able to see that the L’Eau was in fact by far the least No 5-like of all the perfumes. It really is quite different and new. While the classic eau de toilette was curiously missing from the shelves ( I am presuming that it hasn’t been discontinued?), the eau de parfum I smelled seems the most quintessentially No 5-ish to me: all champagne aldehydes, full-bodied rose and jasmine, and all the other delicious ingredients that swirl and loop in that classic blend and make it such a sensuous masterpiece. The eau de parfum of No 5 is like a satin pillow of Perfectly Produced Perfume – willowy, dreamy and seductive, suffused with decades of self-conscious classicism, even if it does, simultaneously, have a certain, how can I put it – rich, bourgeois, stasis – an unthinking heaviness, a ‘this is No 5′, mumsy self-satisfaction that you can imagine putting off younger contemporaries: that incommensurable sheen of good-living and sustained income that makes this concentration, while as comfortable as silk pyjamas, feel the least olfactively demanding or dangerous.
Moving through the pages of my book as I sat drinking an extra cold Heineken in a Dutch cafe at the corner of the airport and deciding to alight on the parfum, this version, the original, if modified, version of the Ernst Beaux 1920’s classic, really does feel dangerous, actually, almost shocking in its strength and thigh-dousing ardour: in comparison with the edp, even this current extrait smells quite thick, dense, and wild in an almost Indian attar-like fashion of high quality rose and jasmine oils ( so great that Chanel does sincerely seem to have maintained the quality of these essences), along with all the other cool, oil pressed flowers and fleshly musks and powder that have always been there in the blend – but it is precisely this aspect that I know for a fact that I don’t personally enjoy. I have bought several bottles of the vintage at Japanese flea markets just to be sure, and know now that, sacrilegious though it might be to say so, I just find the dense, old school musk in the base so off-putting that I just don’t really like it. To me, there is none of the beautiful, rainbow-like balance of the lesser concentrations; the golden rays of glistening aldehydes melting effortlessly into flower and fruit, wood and vanilla – all is just too fudged together; so orrissy, voiceless, and unyielding. A classic, to be sure – obviously, but always the No 5 I am definitely personally least likely to ever wear.
The Eau Première, from 2007, in contrast, feels perfectly updated and clean (if a touch prim and proper when all is said and done), yet undoubtedly an immaculate piece of perfumed work that when seen side by side with the other concentrations of No 5 almost smells a touch like Prada’s Infusion D’Iris (I do think that that cool, contemporary and fashionable iris note is much more prominent in this more recent edition). There is a certain mademoisellish perfection in Eau Première, a muted, statuesque and alabaster lightness that still makes it work really well as a chilled, contemporary flanker, though if l’Eau does take off, (Olivier Polge has been working on and tweaking this formula since 2013) you wonder whether Chanel will actually continue to produce it. How many concentrations of Chanel No 5 does the world in fact need?
Well, to judge from the cannily produced advertising campaign starring Lily Depp (the beautiful young cheekboned offspring of Johnny and Vanessa Paradis), with its YOU KNOW ME. AND YOU DON’T. YOU KNOW ME. AND YOU DON’T ad tag refrain, I do think that a new, young generation could actually really go for this l’Eau. When sprayed in the air it smells deliciously fresh and palatable, peach and rosy as the dawn, even if on card, in comparison with the other concentrations, it smells like a white-musk laden, watery, sweet and smooth-skinned nothing. Still, with that gorgeous ylang and orange opening (Olivia, are you listening?) I must say that if I could have had any of the concentrations of No 5 for my own personal consumption, it would probably, dastardly though it might sound, have to be the L’Eau. I don’t know. Sometimes you just have to look into the sunlight, face the future.