Although sometimes I’m prone to romanticizing the golden days of perfumery–that vague time in the past when regulations and profitability didn’t shape the industry the way they do today, I’m not a traditionalist. Tastes change, and I don’t expect that young people today want to wear only fragrances created 100 years ago, just as the children of those whose wear Lancôme La Vie est Belle and Bleu de Chanel might reject their parents’ choices. Yes, a day of “vintage” La Vie est Belle will come. This is why I don’t object to the reworks of classics, such as Chanel No. 5 L’Eau, provided that the brand keeps the original intact and interprets the “young and trendy” theme in an interesting manner.
L’Eau is an attempt by Chanel to draw a younger, trendier audience to No. 5. Although I smell enough of No. 5 on women in their twenties in Paris and notice its constant presence in the top 10 best sellers, it is still somewhat of a cult favorite. L’Eau goes for wider appeal.
Modernizing No. 5 is tricky. It’s an expensive formula, and a number of its components, from the aldehydes to the musky-balsamic notes in the base read to many as old fashioned. But remove aldehydes, those odd starchy-metallic ingredients, and you have a dull, flat floral with little to recommend it. What to do?
Olivier Polge has approached the problem by changing the tones and accents. The first time I sprayed L’Eau was at the busy counter of my local beauty shop, and even though the air around me was full of other smells, the radiance of L’Eau took both me and the sales assistant by surprise. The shimmer of aldehydes in No. 5–and their starchy tang–is taken down to the minimum, and instead the brightness is provided by citrus and shimmering florals.
L’Eau is bright but it feels velvety on skin, and right through the transparent top notes, you can make out the rose and white flowers. Everything is pastel and sheer, but there are delicate accents of vanilla, cinnamon and woods to give texture and layers. The drydown is mostly mild, fluffy musk, but the floral and spicy themes persist. L’Eau lasts well enough and has a soft, lingering sillage. It’s not a heavy fragrance, however, and it has less presence than No. 5, which in a way makes L’Eau easier to wear.
As a perfume marketed towards young women, L’Eau is as good as I would have hoped. It’s sophisticated, with a lighthearted and charming character. Without compromising the sophistication of Chanel’s signature, it’s fresher and brighter than No. 5 Eau Première, which has been one of my enduring loves. But I can see myself switching to L’Eau, especially on days when I want something elegant but casual, polished but versatile. Ultimately, it might be a good introduction to the grand dame herself, No. 5.
P.S. Some of you have asked about longevity. L’Eau is meant as an eau de cologne, so it has a corresponding level of freshness and brightness. It has a good sillage and nice presence, and while light, it lasts on my skin for the entire day. However, I predict that those who can’t smell certain types of musk will have complaints about sillage and longevity–the drydown is very heavy on musk. In other words, try it on skin first.
Chanel No. 5 L’Eau includes notes of lemon, mandarin, orange, neroli, aldehydes, rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, cedar, white musk. It’s available in 50 and 100 ml.