We should be happy. Chanel has been very careful with its legendary No. 5 and until now has only dared an Eau de Parfum and Eau Première beyond the original Eau de Toilette and Extrait. Both were careful enhancements. No No. 5 Noir or Eau de Sport or Resort Rose.
I can almost imagine Chanel executives casting sidewise glances at Guerlain. “What the heck are they doing with Shalimar?” they might ask. All those takes on the classic — Eau Legère, Light, Souffle de Parfum, Parfum Initial, Ode à la Vanille, and more — are akin to stealing Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads and eyebrows. At some point you end up not with an icon, but with a placid starlet who will please the common denominator for a few months, then be forgotten for good.
And now we have No. 5 L’Eau. Is it worthy of the original, or is it a sell-out?
No. 5 L'Eau was developed by Chanel house perfumer Olivier Polge, son of the former Chanel house perfumer, Jacques Polge, creator of No. 5 Eau de Parfum and Eau Première. No. 5 L’Eau’s notes include Rose de Mai, lemon, mandarin, bergamot, orange, aldehydes, jasmine, ylang ylang, sandalwood, cedar and “cottony” musk notes. Lily-Rose Depp, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis’s wide-eyed, pouty-lipped kid, fronts the brand, which tells us that they’re aiming for a young market.
So, what have we got? Basically, No. 5 L’Eau is a “lighter and fresher” take on the original, just as Chanel promised. No. 5 L’Eau is recognizably a spawn of No. 5, but with the hard parts taken out. It’s not an Eau de Cologne in the traditional, bracing sense. Instead, it’s the sort of fragrance you could spray on by the quart and not feel overwhelmed. It’s No. 5 stolen from the womb before it had the chance to grow pearls and a cocktail dress.
No. 5 L’Eau likes its neroli and opens with a orange-y waft of steam-iron aldehydes sweetened with rose. As it relaxes, it shows the barest kiss of white flowers and veers dangerously close to shampoo, but more sheer. The occasional shimmer of jasmine peeks out during its first half hour. A gentle woody musk picks up the rear. And there you have it.
No. 5 L’Eau isn’t edgy, but neither is it old-fashioned. I’d feel comfortable giving a bottle to a 12-year-old, even if she craved the “sexier” but more banal Chance instead. An adult with a fat pocketbook might want a gallon jug with a sprayer to anoint curtains, lampshades and sheets. But I don’t see No. 5 L’Eau becoming a signature scent the way No. 5 is. It simply doesn’t have the guts. It’s probably not meant to.
To me, No. 5 L’Eau is a careful, pastel sketch of No. 5 that doesn’t pander to contemporary trends. It should stay relevant for decades, and I appreciate Chanel’s respectful approach. If I had a bottle, I know I’d use it up in the wink of an eye. But I like an Eau with a little bit of playfulness, and for the money I’d probably turn to Cartier Baiser Volé Eau de Toilette, instead. Of course, No. 5 Eau de Toilette will always have a place of honor in my perfume cabinet.
Chanel No. 5 L’Eau is $64 for 35 ml, $100 for 50 ml, $132 for 100 ml Eau de Toilette.