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.

(The last time my parents were in Japan, ten years ago, around this time.)
With my brother in France, 2008




Filed under Flowers

28 responses to “EVERY BEDROOM SHOULD SMELL OF : : CHANEL Nº5 (1921)

  1. gunmetal24

    I received some samples of the EDP from the local boutique and I loved spraying them in the shower. It has a very calming effect for me. The Leau version does smell like the shower experience out of the vial.

    • I love that as well.

      The whole 5 juggernaut is too famous by far, but it is a blockbuster for a reason : and I think the calming quality is underdiscussed. Something dreamy you can escape into. And we all need that these days !

  2. emmawoolf

    Bravo. I love it, too. It’s also my mum. The smell of home. Aged 16, I wore Rive Gauche during the day to sixth form college, but had no perfume of my own to wear in the evening. So I would drown myself in mum’s No 5, put on some Christian Dior red lipstick (a blueish red which absolutely did not suit, but still..) and head off to someone or other’s party in some very random venue (often a squash or golf club, tarted up to be transformed with a few balloons and paper chains into someone’s 18th “do”) in the hope of a snog… sometimes it worked! I bought some No 5 for my mother for Christmas a year or two ago, but am disappointed that she never wears it. It sits in the bathroom upstairs, a little dusty. She prefers sickly Allure or other such nonsense these days. Actually I’m heading over to hers now for lunch with a couple of bunches of daffodils. I shall tiptoe upstairs and cover myself in it, and see if she notices. Happy mother’s day xx

    • PLEASE DO.

      And oh my god….not your mum too. Mine wore Allure for a while and I let her know clearly how horrendous I thought it was.

      I understand perfectly why people like it. But…..

      As for you and perfume, you are one of the people who wear it best : Y, Woman III, Cristalle, and especially Jardins de Bagatelle, all smell mindblowingly lovely on you.I envy your canvas!

      • emmawoolf

        That’s very kind. I haven’t worn J de B for years – not since I was ill. I associate it with those bad old days – and haven’t gone back to it yet. Perhaps I shall one day. PS you’ll be pleased to know that the No 5 is now in my possession after mum admitted she no longer wore it, and I might as well have it. All thanks to your post. Happy Mother’s Day to me! x

      • Yey!

        Nice to have something extra for the collection, just a perfume that is pleasing and easy to wear at certain moments, then saving the best for more special times. x

    • Also: we love Calandre to death, obviously, which is so close to Rive Gauche. I imagine it suited you well actually, although ultimately I prefer the more smooth and silvery green quality of the heavenly Calandre.

    • I wore Calandre yesterday!

  3. emmawoolf

    Also, so envious of this casual sentence… “We were tidying up the kitchen the other day when we just happened to find a full bottle of No 5 that had been sent to me by Vogue…” xx

    • I know. You can tell I am in a good mood today and was being a bit cheeky and off the cuff (I think those days are over, incidentally, as Conde Nast has had a big restructure post-pandemic. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted…)


  4. The sandalwood in No5 comes to the fore on my skin also. I prefer the Eau Premiere’s chiffony lemon for everyday though.
    Your mum is gorgeous!

  5. What a coincidence to read your blog this morning. Chanel No. 5 was my bed scent last night (and it often is, although I wear in the daytime as well). My sheets and pillow cases smelled so nice when I woke up. I have it in all formulations, but still prefer the eau de parfum. You have a beautiful Mom by the way. It’s no wonder where you got your good looks!

  6. A beautiful post and absolutely so right about No.5. I also love reading an opening paragraph like that and imagining what our 15 year old selves would think. 🥰

    • That picture of Brad Pitt though…he looks ridiculous

    • That is an amazing thought as I can see us both at your house thumbing through the magazine, lying around gazing outside and then inside the glossy pages of the magazine – really taking it in – and the impossible world it represented. I still feel like that – as I never actually went up to the office, even though I had a nervewracking lunch with the main ladies which felt like an interview- and I will never have that kind of money either. Still, the fact I can say I wrote for the magazine will never not seem anything less than SUPERBLY COOL.

  7. Cath

    Hi Neil. You called? Oh yes I love No 5, the aldehydes, the ylang, the smooth drydown. I like to wear the bodylotion at night, the lotion is all cosy drydown, just heavenly.
    Let me tell you a little episode. I have several vintage parfums, and as I was trying them, comparing them, one of the extraits made me sit up in horror: it was the scent of my (not beloved, witch of a) grandmother on my mother’s side. It kind of makes sense that she would choose Chanel, if you knew her you’d understand. Lol.
    Anyhow, that specific bottle has been shoved to the back of the box. My EDP bottle from 2005 is still one of my favourite versions. And my favourite No 5 af is the one with Carole Bouquet, such a stunning woman. I’m surprised that you didn’t add that photo actually.

    • Yes, I was going to – I don’t remember seeing it though in most of the pictures that came up – I like that incarnation as well; much better than Brad Pitt when all is said and done!

      I love the sound of that body lotion; and glad you also know what I mean about the nighttime soothingness of it all.

      Hilarious to have No 5 connected to an old witch!

  8. Your mum is so beautiful!! You do look like her so much!! Such a lovely photo.
    My Mama was one of those people who absolutely detested No5. She could not tolerate it at all, but she had a bottle in her drawer while I was growing up, one that was completely sealed like a hidden treasure. It was given to her in the 1950’s, by a friend who travelled to Paris. When I was around 11 she gave me that bottle of extrait, and I have worn it on special occasions since. I still own it, and think I will put on a little today. I am one of those lucky people that No5 smells great on, and I adore the aldehydes, along with those vintage nitro-musks. The newest bottle I have of it is from the 1980’s, an edt, so I am not entirely sure what the modern versions smell like, but I am sure they still smell divine, Chanel is all about quality. Once I venture forth from my domain, I will have to douse myself ever so liberally with the eau de parfum and see.

  9. i cannot wear No 5, it wears me. i can cope with No5 L‘ Eau, but i prefer C&A First…

    • First is untouchably gorgeous.

      L’Eau I like as well – it took me by surprise that I would like the actual No5 as much as I do, but it is a perfect match for me in certain moods now!

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