Tis the season to be jolly, almost, which means one thing and one thing only: Candy Crush becomes Christmas Crush as I share a few of my favourite gift ideas for the upcoming holidays. These are the fragrant things I’d like to find under my tree this year and perhaps, you would too!
Red is the colour of passion, danger, and blood.
The colour of lipstick, anger, and roses.
But now, this Christmas, red is the colour of CHANEL Nº5. Now, I don’t know about you but when I think of the iconic Nº5 my mind instantly moves straight towards the colour gold. Perhaps it’s the amber-coloured juice, or maybe it’s just the olfactory sparkle of the fragrance, but Nº5, to me at least, has always smelled of shimmering flecks of gold. But Nº5 and the colour red red actually have a bit of a history, and more than just a touch of chemistry…
A bottle of CHANEL Nº5 is sold every thirty seconds – just digest that fact for a second – that means by the end of this sentence, someone, somewhere around the world has bought themselves, or someone they love, a bottle of a fragrance that is as iconic as the Volkswagen Beetle, as timeless as Cartier diamonds and as beautiful as Paris at night. Nº5 has been a consistent bestseller since its launch in the 1920s putting it in the unique position of being the scent of many generations – it is our scent, the scent of our mothers and grandmothers – the smell of first dates, goodnight kisses and heart wrenching goodbyes. Nº5 is so much more than a perfume, it’s a friend that has accompanied us on life’s many journeys and it is someone we all know oh so very well.
Writing about CHANEL Nº5 is like photographing the Eiffel Tower – others have been there, done that and said all that can be said, snapped all that can be snapped, sniffed all that can be sniffed, even, but still there is a yearning to experience it for oneself and to speak of that experience. CHANEL Nº5 is a legend of the perfume world. Scrap that, Nº5 is the most famous perfume in the world and when most people think of perfume they think of Nº5. So it’s a daunting fragrance to approach as a writer because how could one ever do it justice? For me, Nº5 is the elephant in the room – it simply has to be written about. In this piece I’ll be celebrating CHANEL’s flagship fragrance by taking a look back at its history as well as sniffing its five incarnations, guiding you, Dear Reader, through the fabric of a perfume that can only be called a legend, and even then the description doesn’t quite do it justice. This is Nº5 to the power of five.
There’s always a sense of unease amongst the perfume-appreciating public when a brand announces that they are tinkering with a classic and presenting it in a new guise. Teeth are clenched, short breaths are inhaled and noses are on guard, all held in hope that whatever this new fragrance child turns out to be, it lives up to the high standards set by its forbearer. Personally, I’m not so precious about the classics and I view these remixes as being similar to the remake of an iconic film. Just because something is being remade, doesn’t mean that every single copy of the original will be deleted. The classic will still be there so if the new version doesn’t resonate, that’s fine, one still has their classic to enjoy. So yes, brands can remix and remake as much as they like because you know what? The results can often be quite interesting indeed (case in point: Shalimar Parfum Initial).
I say all of this because CHANEL are just about to launch Nº5 L’EAU, an entirely new interpretation of none other than Nº5, arguably the most famous perfume in the world. L’EAU comes as the first rehash of Nº5 under the penmanship of Olivier Polge, CHANEL’s latest in-house perfumer, who took the reigns in 2015. This however, is not the first rebirth of Nº5, which has seen a number of incarnations in its time, starting as an Extrait composed in 1921 by Ernest Beaux before the perfumer revisited the composition to create an Eau de Toilette just two years late in 1924. Under perfumer Jacques Polge’s tenure, we saw an Eau de Parfum concentration composed in 1986 in addition to an ‘Eau Première’ version which followed in 2007 as an introductory scent for a younger audience. Now we have L’EAU, a fragrance that is being billed by CHANEL as the Nº5 of today.
“A fragrance for here, now and always” – that’s how CHANEL describe Nº5 L’EAU. The fragrance is a “complete reinvention” of the original but at the same time, the brand is quick to point out that Olivier Polge has been respectful of Nº5’s history whilst he has dissected the formula to see just how it ticks, and rightly so. Nº5 L’EAU looks to the future to create a new Nº5 – a Nº5 for the modern generation. The trick here is to create something new from something so instantly recognisable, to make the known surprising and to not lose the spirit of the composition along the way. So how successful has the exercise in modernising and lightening an olfactory icon been? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out!