Chanel no. 5 or the big mama review


As I mentioned in the Coco Mademoiselle review, many years ago I was searching for MY perfume.  Of course, I started with the iconic Chanel no. 5 and quickly rejected it.  It was just too old, and too much for a young girl to tangle with.  Maybe, as a fledgling, I was put off by the “sparkling” aldehydes.  A young girl unaccustomed to perfume complexity would easily dismiss these as soapy, powdery fluff fit only for grandmas as opposed to champagne bubbles annoucing a celebration of florals and womanhood.  But that was then and this is now. 

After reading much about the iconic-ness and genius of the Beaux creation, I had to try it again, if only to see if I could at least appreciate it knowing what I know about the perfume world now.  However, in addition to trying the latest bottle of number five, I also HAD to try a vintage bottle, both parfum strength.  My discoveries surprised me. 

First, I was surprised that on application the perfumes immediately brought to mind the cheap, er um, classic aftershave my father wears, Old English Leather.  This must be attributed to the neroli- ylang-ylang-citrus notes after the aldehydes.  Chanel’s ylang-ylang tends to haunt me and, as in Cuir de Russie, and it gives a leathery feel to the perfume.  That combined with the Neroli, a note I find in many men’s formulas, gives an unexpected masculine feel to the fragrance.  Completely unexpected.   One would not suspect to find this edge to a classic, top selling woman’s perfume. 

Further into the perfume, it becomes “spicy” and “smoky” as the King says, and I have to agree. The spice element in the perfume deepens the nature of the fragrance, turning sparkling champagne into a deep red wine, much in the way we girls go from the insecure experimentalism of girlhood to the experienced, confidence of womanhood.  Drydown continues in the animalic (nusky, no poopy) and trace of subtle spice then light woods.  The composition is quite fantastic as the various notes emerge in small clusters of citrus to florals to animal to woods and then back through the cycle. 

  The woman who wears this is sure of herself, dressing in tailored, structured pieces made of soft, tactile fabrics.  Her hair is smoothly pulled up, but easily taken down.  She is not overtly sexy, but more sensuous with lots of curves.

    Iconic as it maybe, it has been tinkered with as Polge (reigning nose at Chanel) has admitted.  Where the vintage is a deep, throaty laugh, the modern is more of a girlish titter, with more powder and sweeter floral-fruit notes.  It is still essentailly the same formula.  De-Luxe how Luxury Lost it’s Luster mentions Chanel uses the same growers in Grasse for the florals as before in effort to maintain quality.  However the animalic have been toned down and summerized to suit the modern nose, unaccustomed to the deeper complexities of perfume. 

We could also argue the reformulation of the perfume matches the reformulation of the modern woman.  Once, we were more Marilyn like.  We expected to be curvy and reveled in our sensual power.  Everyday we donned a dress or suit to go about our business and every day we did hair and dabbed perfume.  Perfume was a luxury as well as a personal signature.  Today, in contrast, most of us throw on some jeans and a pony tail to go out to dinner.  We are kept little girls longer by our culture and most men seem to prefer a more girlish companion.  We are expected to wax everything but the top of our heads as well as diet ourselves into a prepubescent state. 

In the movie Loverboy with pre Grey’s Anatomy Patrick Dempsey, Dempsey’s character describes his first romantic encounter being with “a WOMAN a real Chanel, number 5!”  What more needs to be said about the perfume that signifies womanliness, lady-like classical and timeless sensuality?  How many more adjectives can I throw in there?

Ten years after dipping a toe into the toilet waters, I’ve emerged as a full fledged perfumista, as well as a grown up woman.  The kind that aspires to fix her hair and put on some lipstick, and hopefully found something other than jeans to wear…and never passes up chocolate.   For occasions when I want to be a lady, this is a bottle I pull out to annoint myself in celebration.  Truly a rite of passage, a benchmark I have finally acheived. 

notes: aldehydes, bergamot, rosewood, neroli, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, amber, civet, sandalwood, vetrvier

Published in: on December 28, 2007 at 7:38 am  Leave a Comment  

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