Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Chanel No.5 L'Eau: fragrance review & marketing insights

 Chanel No.5 L'Eau, endorsed by the debutantes of the Chinese press, has been hailed as an innovation, but it's really "new old school". And I'm stating this in a positive light. It's a very likeable fragrance by Chanel which retains the spirit of the classic with a very contemporary sensibility of new beginnings and a freshness that differs from the exigencies of the 1920s, a century later. But its composition is not innovative, rather it makes abstract and elegant (in the mathematical sense) what has been passed down from tradition, in order to appear new. 

To wit, the use of aldehyde C8 is an addition that is not particularly modernist, nor is Australian sandalwood or the fractional-distillation ylang ylang that Polge père (Jacques) and Polge fils (Olivier) have been surely contemplating using for a couple of years now. The balancing act of the fragrance lies in judging how the citrusy freshness extends and rejuvenates the rose in the heart. And how an aldehydic fragrance appears non stuffed, nor "old lady perfume" (explained).

The core of No.5 L'Eau is shifted from the densely ylang and perceptible musk chord that dominates the modern varietals of No.5 to the delicate, wisp-like chord of citrus and rose. Almost a skin scent. By definition the concentration is light, ethereal, reflected in the choice of Lily-Rose Depp as the face of the ads. But why an ethereal version with a youth as the face?

It all started in the 80s when then in-house perfumer, the erstwhile Jacques Polge, created the first real "tampering" of the authentic formula to bring it up to par with the powerhouses of the decade of excess. When you have to keep your footing in the market that saw the original typhoon of Dior's Poison and the lead density of detonator of amber waves that was the original Obsession by Calvin Klein, you have to have a classy and elegant formula boosted to its logical limit. Ergo No.5 received a generous helping dose of the sandalwood synthetic Polysantol which effectuated that smooth, lactic boost that was missing from the earlier versions. No.5 Eau de Parfum is possibly not the "truest" No.5 but it is a satisfying edition that is made with great care.

Chanel continued to keep a very tight, and careful, modus operandi on any and all subsequent editions of No.5. I distinctly and fondly recall the No.5 Elixir Sensuelle which boosted the soapier smelling and muskier elements to render a less faithful but still sexy-as-hell body gel. It encapsulated what Coco Chanel herself had meant for No.5 to symbolize: a clean woman that wasn't at odds with her natural scent. The idea that women could be both sexy and not dirty. After all, her inspiration was a famous cocotte friend who smelled "clean", contrary to society women of the times "who smelled dirty" according to the French designer herself. 

The logical extension could only be manifested in something like Chanel No.5 Eau Première. Indeed praised by almost everyone in the industry for adhering to the original concept, without deviating too much, and at the same time bringing forth a new sensibility, Eau Première was critically praised by critics and bloggers, as well as connoisseur wearers only to be daunted at the fragrance counter by a relative indifference in its modern message. Eau Première, fabulous though it was, couldn't address the needs and wants of a youthful audience who knew No.5 from its legendary course and urban fashion clout, but did not feel confident in pulling it off in real time.

Unlike many, maybe even most, flankers by Chanel, such as Coco Mademoiselle and Coco Noir (extending and renewing the fragrance concept of Coco Eau de Parfum), which had little relation to their predecessor, No.5  l'Eau inherited enough of the original's nucleus to serve as a valid reimagining on the original idea.

Related reading on PerfumeShrine:

Coco by Chanel: fragrance review

Chanel No.19 & Heure Exquise: Twin Peaks

On Classifying Chanel No.19 & perfume review 

What's the True Story of Chanel No.5?

Cultural history: Exposition Chanel

Chanel No.5 Through the Years

Chanel No.46: fragrance review & history

I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire: Imaginative Fantasies

Chanel Les Exclusifs Misia: fragrance review [And a collective Chanel Les Exclusifs link.]

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