We were tidying up the kitchen the other day when we found a full unused bottle of current Nº5 eau de parfum I had been sent by Vogue and which had rolled under the sofa. I knew it was around somewhere and was itching to find it and try it on – just for a reappraisal.
Wearing a couple of sprays on the back of my right hand as we headed into Yokohama for Ricci Farouche retrieval – more on that in another post – I was first of all amazed by how familiar and comforting it smelled. Duh, you may cry in unison – this is Chanel Nº5 we are talking about: of course it smells familiar: it is the most famous perfume in the world.
But I mean familiar and comforting, in a much more lived in, intimate way : I know this smell. And then I realized – it is my mum. And my parents’ room upstairs back home. She has always had several bottles of Nº5 – mainly the contemporary eau de parfum or toilette bought as presents by my dad when off abroad on aircraft trips, as well perhaps a vintage extrait or two I have brought back home from the fleamarkets here (but you know, this is one of the only perfumes where I stray from the solemn vintage niche-istas to admit that I actually do prefer the current versions, despite my understanding of the gorgeousness of the flower extracts and civet in the original parfum, and the warmer poeticisms, more balsamic and dreamy, in some of the old colognes and edts.I personally like the uncluttered freshness of this version, unlaced with animalics.)
Sprayed newly : it just smells so…………..rounded and lovely and easy and casual and bathroby : of soaps and towels and safety and a nuzzling quality of happiness and comfort in one’s skin; so …happy and relaxing. I know that Nº5 is usually advertised as the great occasion scent – galas, formal dinners in pearls and your best diamonds; all Kidman neck, Deneuve demure grandeur – and it can be that – but for me, overall this perfume is just too satiny and friendly – more pillow underslip simplicity than fabulous gown.
Given the almost mythical, curvaceous womanliness of this Chanel flagship scent – surely one of the most brilliant and brilliantly marketed products ever created, a bottle ‘sold every minute’, or whatever the legend is in France – it might seem strange that I, not very womanly in fact, should smell so good in Nº5. But I realized the other day that the contemporary edp really does kind of suit me (Just like Brad Pitt!). Yes, the initial flourish of overdone aldehydes is rather feminine to say the least, especially when coupled with the fabulous ylang ylang in the head – surely this is the ylang ylang scent of all time? Catherine? What do you say? The essential oil of cananga odorata truly SINGS in this composition – more important by far than the Grasse jasmine, roses and iris – it is definitely the ylang that forms the essential intoxication, and I love it. On me, while the iridescence of all the other notes : neroli, muguet, bergamot, (violet)?) gradually subsides into something more gentle; the softly vanillic sandalwood of Bois Des Isles then comes into play (I was stunned when D said he really liked it on me as we sat down to lunch ‘Is it sandalwood?’) There is a muskiness, for sure, never my favourite facet in any scent, but in the current version this is not like the nitro musks of the vintage which I can’t personally abide. The whole here is more like a luxuriant bubblebath; a whoosh of protectant light-pink euphoria that lasted for twelve hours at least on my skin, leaving just a warm trace that I liked having there. I know that Marilyn Monroe would have worn it better, but it doesn’t stop me from having a go myself.
Later in the evening, after an amazing day out, I then had a few more abundant sprays before going to bed; and when I brought the coffee up in the morning, was delighted by how the whole room smelled the next day – just……………..ideal. Homely. It made me feel almost homesick actually, and although I don’t overtly associate this with my mum – that would be Van Cleef’s First or Nº22, which she has worn more of late – I know that this scent has woven its way into my consciousness over successive visits as the smell of the upstairs of my parent’s house (on the subject of which, when we were talking about this scent the other day, D told me that as a young child he had climbed into his mother’s closet one day, and selecting this as his prey, then unthinkingly just unstoppered a full bottle of Nº5; and poured it all out straight onto the carpet – must have been pretty fragrant……………………..)
All of the legendariness and anecdotal power above might make it all sound as if Chanel Nº5 really is the perfume to suit all of humanity as often advertised, but, you know, it really isn’t (one of the ridiculous old taglines in the ads was : “Every woman alive, loves Chanel Nº5” – which is clearly absolute claptrap – I know plenty of people who absolutely hate it.) Just the other day a friend, in fact, unprovoked, mentioned the musk in the base and illustrated it with a vomit emoji; another told me that her father often buys her mother the parfum for birthdays and Christmases even though she doesn’t even like it, and never has – come to think of it, I have heard this several times; this is a real mistake on some men’s part, as clever commercials aside, no fragrance will please ever everybody, because that is simply not what fragranceing is all about. On some, the aldehydes sit like spare dinners on the skin, unwanted – just……wrong; outdated, fleshily artificial.
On others, conversely, Nº5 can be divine. I remember in particular one occasion when I first came to Japan and was lacking in real friendships for a time and quite lonely. One day, we had a new teacher from Scotland by way of Australia who at first seemed very stern of eye and unfriendly – ‘Oh god, who is this?‘ I thought to myself at the time : ‘And what kind of accent does she call thar ?”I was initially quite judgemental and unimpressed. Going home together on the train that evening, though, during a lull in the slightly forced conversation, a strange thing started to happen. It was as though her perfume were doing the talk for her; filling in all the gaps and ellipses – her silence, her body even, was speaking to me (in)directly and building an entirely different connection to the superficial words we were exchanging, and I found this alchemical effect extraordinarily unloosening; as I shifted closer in my seat I began to warm to her; looked at her more intently (we later became great friends). Naturally, the perfume was Nº5, and she wore it to perfection, as of course does my mum, without even realizing it, and who I consider to be the ultimate Queen Of Aldehydes.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY