When I first became interested in the world of perfume, I was a Guerlain girl all the way. I didn’t think Chanel was for me. In particular I didn’t think No. 5 worked with my skin chemistry, nor did it suit me overall. Now, here I am, over a decade later, and I’m a Chanel girl. And, when you’re a Chanel girl, you have to dive into the world of No. 5.
When I used to work in fragrance, I would constantly hear “No. 5 smells too perfumey” and, of course, the dreaded “It’s too old lady.” We associate No. 5 with old ladies because it’s what everyone’s grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-aunts all wore. That’s the reality of a classic, iconic fragrance. But our great-aunts weren’t always old. At one point, they were young women and perhaps they wore Chanel even then.
For those clients who would make the “it smells too much like perfume” comment (which is an endlessly frustrating comment for someone working in fragrance to hear), I would steer them towards No. 5 L’eau or the No. 5 Eau de Toilette concentration. And that is how I became hooked on the No. 5 EdT myself. There is something about the way the notes weave in and out in the EdT concentration that is pure magic.
It starts with the aldehydes, which are clear, shimmering, and pleasantly sharp here. It’s not the same champagne rush of the aldehydes in Cristalle. You can sense there’s a lot of substance swirling beneath these aldehydes, but you have to be patient. I typically don’t get much of a substantial rose note from Chanel compositions, except here in the No. 5 EdT. The rose note is the central floral heart note on me. It’s delicate, but substantial. A smokiness from the vetiver begins to weave in and out creating a really interesting contrast of the floral and smoky.
The vetiver eventually leads into the earthy base notes of patchouli and oak moss. I also get the impression of a sheer yellow ylang-ylang that reminds me of a sweet dessert wine. According to Fragrantica, there is supposedly still a civet note in the base. While I definitely get a substantial musk note here, I don’t get anything quite like civet on my skin. I’m guessing it may be more pronounced in the pure parfum concentration.
The No. 5 Eau de Toilette is the original concentration that Coco Chanel and Ernest Beaux released in 1921 (along with the pure parfum). I like to think that, even through all the reformulations over the years, there’s still a bit of the magic of the original in the current EdT formulation. Sometimes it wears very quietly on my skin. Other times it’s louder and more insistent with a lot more vetiver and earthy oakmoss. However, the EdT is never heavy or overwhelming. And it’s certainly not “too perfumey.” Although, naturally, I don’t believe there is such a thing!
Photo taken by me. I ordered my bottle of the No. 5 EdT directly from Chanel.