In Defence of Traditionalism: No. 5 L’Eau by Chanel

Reading the preamble of Bois de Jasmin’s No. 5 L’Eau review highlights an approach to fragrance and fragrant criticism that differs strongly from mine.

Being a traditionalist is not a negative, nor does it necessarily imply rigidity. Being a traditionalist in this exercise refers to the ability to recognise archetypes and their respective merits and values which they contain, then applying these standards as the basis for every other relevant scent that follows.

Reinvention of a style loses its archetypical similarity, yet either results in an apparent synthesis / mutation, or a complete reinvention where no references exist.

The leather fragrance moved from tobacco smoke and carnation to plush fruit and floral suede – a synthesis where leather moved closer to floral.

The watery aquatic found itself too structurally solid to be a citrus, and too aromatic to move into the floral camp. This act of reinvention resulted in the water style placed in a category of its own, and it itself has its own archetypes and styles. Naturally, it exists between citrus and aromatic. In that way, traditionalism is not limited, but able to accommodate changes to the usual structure.

But where does this leave No. 5 L’Eau? The reality of a perfume does not remain static. Shalimar is shaped as an Oriental experience, but now also moves commercially into a sensual one. These are not mutually exclusive, but the emphasis is liable to change. When looking at Shalimar as an Oriental experience, such an archetypical, classical (read: traditional) perfume remains tantamount to its enormous reputation. Looking at fragrance in reference to reviewing practises in this way is a cleverly concealed appeal to historical value, and ought to be considered, but not capitalised upon.

The No. 5 DNA exists within L’Eau. There is an adequate albeit loose thread which ties the mother to the young daughter, despite the hallmarks of the house becoming hard to read. The aldehydes are tempered and present little luminescence to the structural whole. The base is a trendy application of soft musks seen before; ad nauseam. The structure of the matriarchal No. 5 moves nicely and is a result of clever abstract compositional skills. The entirety of No. 5 is weightless, mostly imperceivable and transitions with graceful, uninterrupted turns. The aldehydes are detected with an innate reality to them: they are an abstract luminescence that saturates and carbonates.

As long as No. 5 L’Eau bears the No. 5 name, it will be a consideration that cannot easily be disregarded.

Chanel L'Eau

Photo by Chanel

The difficult task of the reviewer, then, is to move beyond this aspect of thread and question the personality behind an individualistic perfume, and how its notes achieve a sense of presence. This is the question of value a reviewer tries to tap into.

The citrus-as-aldehyde effect at the top is ultimately unconvincing: it is unsure of itself. Its potential presence is muted; stifled and lukewarm. Tauer’s Orange Star also goes for citrus-as-aldehyde, but utilises generous brushstrokes and reaches a convincing degree of luminescence, with an additional degree of counterpoint with a grounding application of tonka bean and ambergris.

The texture of No.5 L’Eau is there, with enough variance of its colours and tones to consider it a perfume rather than a monosyllable. But the texture loses itself to figurative perfumery. I can look into L’Eau and find a quiet symphony in rehearsal, polished and uniform, but in need of differing levels of volume. I look through No. 5 and find colours of the non-spectrum, a transparent shimmering rhapsody with a fervid, crescendo of charge and uniformity of presence. L’Eau is otherwise shimmering with a monolith in the distance of its structure, and while a pretty and plush accord of ylang-ylang, rose, neroli, and jasmine dance around this – the citrus top is far too shrill and candy-like, and the fluffy musk doesn’t want to move.

The idea of tension is nowhere to be found in L’Eau, and the reverberant hums and purrs of woods and animalics (and similar) cannot be found. A baseless fragrance, whereas traditionalism dictates that base is the most important aspect. Herein exists a further problem: L’Eau is in structural limbo, far too scarce and unnecessarily watercolour and pastel; that awkward midpoint between figurative and abstract work.

Tip: Abandon the No. 5 label and make a Gardenia 2.0. Like L’Eau to No. 5’s abstractness, Gardenia isn’t even a gardenia anyway.

The problem with a target market in mind: beauty becomes secondary. 

Subjective rating : 2/5

Objective rating: 2/5

3 thoughts on “In Defence of Traditionalism: No. 5 L’Eau by Chanel

  1. I haven’t smelled this yet but your words tell me it is going to smell exactly how I think it is. You’ve basically confirmed that to me. Even if you said you’d rather smell a skunk, I’d still have to try it. It has THE NAME after all. It must be tried. It must be compared.
    I would like to think that those at Chanel don’t take associating anything with the cash cow that is No 5 lightly, but at this point in time I think the smell of a perfume is now totally irrelevant to its popularity. Yes, you’ve heard it hear first, I declare the that we exist in a post-tumaceous age. Odor, aroma, perfume has become too omnipresent. Everything and everyone smells. The point, today, is to smell of something. Anything. It matters little what. But the name of that smell will still carry cachet and here we see that in practice.
    It is my thinking that as an ill regarded flanker of MISS DIOR ended up deposing the queen and itself became MISS DIOR, we are now seeing the stage being set for a similar coup at Chanel. It may not be quick but it probably will happen. This L’eau will become No. 5 for a new generation conditioning their noses and untimely allowing for the reformulation of THE MONSTER that has pretty much defined the word PERFUME for the last 90 years or so. Times change. Things change. And the money keeps rolling in.

  2. Thank you for an interesting post. I agree and disagree with it – but it does raise a thought or two.. It is really hard to judge new perfumes according to same tradition, as tradition comes from very deep history. Perfume nowadays is very different from what it used to be..

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