Chanel No. 5 L'Eau (2016) // How to Make a Perfume Relevant Again {Perfume Review & Musings}


In 2016, Chanel launched No. 5 L'Eau, a renewed attempt at stripping the house classic of its more intimidating aspects. In an era when foody, gourmet scents rule the day, you have to make a very special effort to make an aldehydic composition, which has a dry side, be captivating and youthful to contemporary perception, almost a century after No.5 brought the snow-drifts charm of the Arctic to Paris thanks to Russo-French perfumer Ernest Beaux, who bottling the smell of snow of his native Russia made it an olfactory sign of elegant aloofness mediated by Chanel tailored fashion...

Last year's composition came a decade after Eau Première, whose professed aim in ca. 2007 (the launch projected for 2007 was pushed to the year after due to technical reasons) was already to be a "fresher, rounder, more delicate version [of No.5] intended to be used every day,"

Reviewing No.5 L'Eau a year after it was issued provides the unforeseen advantage of being able to make a parallel with a new scent in 2017, The Body Shop White Musk L'Eau just out, which proves to be a downmarket copy of the first. That was swift.

This means that No. 5 L'Eau has succeeded in conveying the sense that it is absolutely relevant to today's mores. So much so that now it must be reproduced like photocopies for the masstige market.

This frenzied desire to copy also helps see more clearly that what has been retained from No.5 L'Eau are not only the aldehydes - which are cool again - but its fruity facet, which now appears advertized by the Body Shop under the shape of a green pear in the visual advertisement. In No. 5 L'Eau EDT, the pear is replaced with lemon, mandarin and orange together with the fruity nuances of rose and ylang.

The Body Shop White Musk L'Eau smells pretty and arctic cool around a fan, with an uplifting quality, which makes it a great casual summer office scent, but it is not very lasting.

No.5 L'Eau opens on lovely snowy roses soon followed by an animalic yet controlled jasmine. The brand mentions "oxygenated jasmine". Subtle strawberry, carameley nuances float on the cloud of jasmine. The ylang is a "new fraction" of it, which is designed to smell "more modern than ever." The original amber of No.5 appears but cleansed, oxygenated and new-generation. Fine pencil shavings of cedar play with your nose proposing the illusion that you are rubbing the tip of it with a Caran d'Ache. The scent is bathed in white and in light, with the aldehydes adding movement to the composition just like mustard does to a sleepy palate. I am also reminded of Serge Lutens Laine de Verre (2014) and Van Cleef & Arpels First Rosée d'Or (2015), which showcases aldehydes whipped up on a bed of pears. We're back to The Body Shop White Musk L'Eau, which mixes aldehydes and pear.


No.5 L'Eau is like a tonic version of No. 5, a Sprite-soda filtered No.5. It is pleasantly citrusy, with a transparent ambery glow. The eau de toilette is a bit powdery in the drydown and has vetiver lastly too. All in all, it is even more dressed-down than Eau Première, which has that youthful lift due to hesperidic notes and more lightness, but is unmistakably plusher, thanks to iris.

It is no mere chance that the sillage of No.5 L'Eau rests on "cottony musks". Chanel wants to offer another laid-back version of No.5, which itself is closer to a fur scent, or a tweed one. Eau Première is more like silk and linen.

With No.5 L'Eau, the house explores how a classic can wear a white cotton tee-shirt - and be as wearable as one - while still remaining a standardbearer of their olfactory signature. Logically, they could dress down further with synthetic - or naked skin (with a Chanel tattoo please).

Come to think of it, No.5 L'Eau has a facet that smells a bit like scotch tape. Well, yes, actually, aldehydes are synthetics and smell synthetic and man-made, so the brand could just let its hair down and go back to basics further down the road by dressing you in scotch tapes - or nothing.

Of course, do not be fooled, the reality is that a Chanel cotton tee-shirt still smells expensive. For people gauging the annual level of white musk overdoses that go into fragrances, you could say that the luxury house managed to rely on the idea without smelling laundry-like and cheap. They overcame.

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