Friday, 19 August 2016

Persolaise Review: No. 5 L'Eau from Chanel (Olivier Polge; 2016)

The soundbites
If No. 5 L'Eau were an item of clothing, it would be a simple, short-sleeved linen blouse.
If it were a colour, it would be ivory.
If it were a time of day, it would be 10 in the morning on a Saturday, when the weekend is still full of promise.

The review
A few days ago, at a local branch of a ye olde generic perfume departmente, I overheard two teenage girls deciding which tester to grab for a quick spritz. 'Oooh, what about Chanel No. 5,' one of them said, chuckling, 'you can't go wrong with that.' Her friend paused for a moment and frowned. 'No,' she said, 'I think I do like it. But it's a bit too grown up for me.' That sums up the issue which has almost certainly led to the brand releasing a new flanker to their icon: No. 5 L'Eau, composed by Olivier Polge.

As my little story shows, the No. 5 legend has successfully been handed down to the next generation, but it is now too grand, too complicated, too downright weighty to be accessible to the very people whose endorsement is needed to keep the myth alive. Chanel tried to address this conundrum in 2007 with the beautiful No. 5 Eau Première (by Olivier's father, Jacques), but their efforts didn't strike as powerful a chord as they'd hoped. So now, with their young, in-house perfumer firmly installed in their lab, they're trying their luck again. And they're not pulling their punches, because L'Eau is probably as unlike No. 5 as a scent could be, without rendering the use of the No. 5 name completely nonsensical.

Housed in the familiar bottle, minus the golden trimmings, L'Eau is No. 5 stripped back, toned down, made more transparent, more linear and, crucially, less abstract. Eau Première tried a similar tactic by making the original formula less challenging, but it still retained its trademark aldehydic sparkle and that vintage-inflected puff of powder. L'Eau takes the modernisation even further. With considerable bravery, Polge has attempted to bring concrete legibility - so in vogue at the moment - to a scent whose very identity is based on mystery and inscrutability.

What does this mean in terms of how the stuff smells? Well, the aldehydes are present, but they're far less radiant and they've lost that snuffed-candle dryness. The citrus notes at the top are now more overt, almost recalling the grapefruity zing Polge recently showed off in Chance Eau Vive. The jasmine core is less specific, less indolic, more polite. The vanillic richness has gone on a strict diet. And the powderiness has pretty much disappeared.

This leaves us with an extremely attractive, easy to wear, but perhaps not terribly original composition, which will probably do well at the tills. And if it does, I won't complain for one moment, because at least it's nothing like the sugar-coated pap which so many other brands continue to inflict on younger shoppers. L'Eau is not No. 5. But it does have a compelling style of its own. And if it keeps its grandmother's magic intact for a few more years, then I'm all for it.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Chanel in 2016.]



  1. I wish they wouldn't tinker around with no 5. Eau Premier was a nice rendition but not necessary. I think Chanel should stick to the Chance being flankered to death and leave the classics alone or create something new.

    1. Eldarwen, I know what you mean. But the question of what's 'necessary' in the perfume industry is often tricky. The perfumers at Chanel may well have thought that L'Eau wasn't necessary, but the people in the marketing and finance offices might have had a different view.

      I guess we ought to be grateful for the fact that, in comparison with other high-profile perfumes, No. 5 doesn't actually have that many flankers.

  2. I am quite keen to try this. I had written No.5 off but then I discovered the EDT which is just beautiful and I far prefer it to the very aldehydic EDP which is always the one on the counters. I have recently tested Eau Première and I think it's lovely - there are so few modern mainstream scents that still go for evolution; they seem either totally linear or the drydown collapses after a promising start. I was really impressed with how good (and different from the start) the vanilla and vetiver drydown of Eau Première was.
    I just hope that the new Eau doesn't meant that Première will be discontinued... Or perhaps, if the cover girls are anything to go by, l'eau is for the tweens and l'eau Première is for the over 30s?

    1. IndigoEye, thanks for your detailed comment. I know the whole No. 5 edt vs edp can get quite heated for some people :-) I prefer the edp myself.

      As far as I'm aware, there are no plans to delete Eau Premiere. I, too, think it would be a shame if we lost it.

  3. I tried this a few months ago and didn't like it one bit. Too thin, and in the end rather harsh. The original I prefer in extrait and I really enjoy Eau Première as well. It would be a shame if that were discontinued in favour of this "thing".

    1. Anon, thanks for your comment. It's a shame you didn't enjoy L'Eau. I can't say I found its drydown harsh, but there we go.

      I'm a fan of No. 5 extrait too.

  4. I love the EDT the most and secondly the EDP . The extract has not been the same to me since around 2011 .
    The first version of Eau Premiere before reformulation- I also had a soft spot for .
    Having not smelled the new L'eau yet , I reserve my judgement .
    However , I do think it sad Chanel feel it is necessary to have 2 flankers of No 5 . I also wish Chanel would stop playing around with the classics !

    1. Mimi, when you get a chance to try L'Eau, do let me know what you think of it. As for messing around with classics... yes, I know what you mean, but it's probably a crucial way to keep the classics alive.

  5. I was rather hoping this might be like the Elixir but no luck. If the real No5 didn't exist I'd probably like this just fine but it is really quite thin, there's faint fruity note which I dislike and the sandalwood is much more distinct which I also dislike. I didn't love Premiere either but I just don't see the point of this. It's sufficiently close to the original that if you dislike the original you won't enjoy this but it really brings nothing to the original and subtracts a lot from it.

    1. Thanks for your comment, GSE. I'm sure the real point of the release is to try to drag younger buyers into the No. 5 legend. I still adore No. 5 extrait, edt and edp, and I'm not going to ask anyone I know to stop wearing those in favour of this. However, as a modern take on an aldehydic floral - ie as an aldehydic floral with fruity and sweet notes - I have to say that I think it works well.


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