Happily Haunted: Chanel No. 5 and a Good Read
My earliest memories of Chanel No. 5 were from my mother’s dusting powder and were soft, comforting, feminine and mysterious. The smell of grown up womanly world. I don’t recall mom using No. 5 as a perfume, which may explain why I was so put off by the department store clouds of the eau de parfum version that were sprayed at me in passing by over eager sales associates. I later discovered that the three liquid versions, eau de toilette, eau de parfum and pure parfum are entirely differing beasts.
After being a part of Basenotes perfume forum for some months, I realized that I needed to revisit this iconic fragrance and took a leap by purchasing a small bottle of the pure parfum. I was astounded at its beauty. Sublime. Appropriate floral bouquet juxtaposed with sexy civet that warmed marvelously on the skin. While the edp version was heady and asphyxiating, the parfum stayed close to the skin like a luxurious cloak. Writers and reviewers describe Chanel No. 5 as representing a milestone in the history of perfume by being among the first to use aldehydes. Tilar J Mazzeo gives an interesting and accessible exposition on aldehydes as well as the historical background to the creation of Chanel No. 5, including biographical details of Gabrielle Coco Chanel in her book Chanel No. 5, The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume, which I am currently reading and definitely recommend.
Reading the back story of this beautiful fragrance which is simultaneously complicated and minimally abstract makes me want to replace my squat little crystal topped bottle. I last used this bottle to annoint my mother as I said my goodbyes on the day she died, and have not felt emotionally ready to revisit it until today. I have preferred instead, No. 22, with its happy and celebratory associations. Nonetheless, No. 22 does not have the serious, seductive, grown up personality that I will always associate with its sister, Chanel No. 5.
If I do decide to replenish my bottle, it may well be with the less expensive eau de toilette, which to me, translates more closely as a lighter, truer version of the parfum than the eau de parfum. I have also experienced some inconsistencies among the formulations: for instance, my edt manufactured in the USA paled in comparison to the bottle I was gifted with which was labeled “made in france.” I have conjectured that this may be due to the difference in quality of the alcohol used in each composition. I have read that in France, potable grade alcohol is utilized whereas this is not the case in the United States. Or it could be my vivid, francophilic imagination!
This Christmas Eve, I am reading about Chanel No. 5, sniffing the art deco crystal stopper and reminiscing about early imaginings of womanhood gleaned from mother’s dusting powder.
Image: Paula, sepia print, 1980, Renee Folzenlogen