Once I received the press release back in May; my most anticipated release of this year was going to be Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. This is a perfume which came with so much anticipation for me. Chanel stated this was going to be their attempt to update their classic No, 5 for a new generation. For in-house perfumer Olivier Polge this was really going to be the first mass-market release under his tenure. M. Polge did release Chance Eau Vive last year but that was really just a riff on the grapefruit, jasmine, musk axis of the original Chance by his father. No. 5 L’Eau was going to represent his first opportunity to stamp his influence on this venerable brand. With my curiosity dialed up to maximum when I had the opportunity to purchase a preview bottle last week I hopped right on it. I have spent most of the last four days intensely examining No. 5 L’Eau. Much to my surprise it is a perfume worthy of the scrutiny.
When I received my bottle, despite being assured in the press release it wasn’t, I expected a watered-down limpid imitation of No. 5. Reading through that press release it felt like Chanel was all on board with the trend of making things ultra-transparent for the Millennials. As I read M. Polge’s words talking about replacing metallic aldehydes, removing the powder, lightening up the jasmine, and decreasing the vanilla I expected the worst. Instead M. Polge has made astute decisions throughout the construction of No. 5 L’Eau. What he seems to be saying to Millennials is if you’re interested in No.5 I’m willing to meet you…half-way.
Throughout No. 5 L’Eau M. Polge has cleverly found substitutes for the heavier aspects of No. 5 in an attempt to modernize. It starts right from the beginning as the famous aldehydes of the original are replaced by a different set of aldehydes in No. 5 L’Eau. The main aldehyde in No.5 was a 13-carbon aldehyde, 2-methylundecanal. It has a characteristic metallic scent profile. The beauty of aldehydes is there are a whole palette for the modern perfumer to use. For No. 5 L’Eau M. Polge chose the ones which have a citrus-like scent profile; the 8-carbon and 10-carbon ones seem like the culprits here. These are matched to the actual citrus notes of mandarin, lemon, and orange. Together this comes off as a vibrant blast of pure sunshine. These aldehydes provide lift to the citrus notes as if they were champagne bubbles bearing them upward. I love this opening for honoring the past while updating everything.
Rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang are the floral DNA of No. 5; providing its heart. For No. 5 L’Eau M. Polge does lighten things up but not so much to turn this trio of notes insipid. It starts with retaining the iconic Rose de Mai. The change comes with using one of the synthetic jasmine notes which provide that same expansiveness that the citric aldehydes did for the top accord. It also elides the indoles out of the equation allowing the depth of the Rose de Mai to do most of the floral heavy lifting. Next M. Polge chooses a fractionated part of ylang-ylang which removes the fleshiness and promotes the greener nature. It is almost lily-like but it has that ylang-ylang floralcy without the stridency lily would have brought to this. Again M. Polge has worked with the historical and turned it as expansive as it could be.
The original No. 5 ends with a beautiful woody duet of vetiver and sandalwood. Only here does M. Polge go for the obvious although it is in keeping with the expansiveness of the earlier development. Cedar replaces the sandalwood and it is joined by a suite of white linen musks. Vetiver is used more as a supporting player to those than a true equal. By going with the laundry clean musks they provide the final bit of lift which has been building from the beginning.
No. 5 L’Eau has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t think I have ever been as impressed with M. Polge as I am after experiencing No. 5 L’Eau. He laid himself out there on a project where derisive laughter was the more likely outcome. Instead he took that famous society lady of No. 5 armed her granddaughter with an iPhone, a Chanel purse and sent her out into the world. I don’t know if Millennials are going to flock to this. I hope that they do. Of everything I have tried this year which has been aimed at them this is the first one which has challenged them to consider what it is that defines their personal style. My fingers are crossed that when the Holiday scoreboard is revealed at the end of the year No. 5 L’Eau is on top.
Disclosure: This review is based on a preview bottle I purchased.