Make N°5 younger?
And why not tickle the Mona Lisa to make her crack a real smile? Slap some blusher on the Venus de Milo? Paint Versailles candy pink? (Mind you, since Jeff Koons has been showing there, that’s kind of done.)
Well, Jacques Polge has done it. And it’s utterly lovely.
N°5’s streamlined Art Deco silhouette has been turned to flesh like Pygmalion's Galatea, lit with the pink, lemon and peach hues of dawn in a Fragonard painting, breaking through a pearly cloud of musk. The ice cap of the myth has melted: Eau Première gives N°5 the amiable face she could have had in her youth, if she’d ever been under 30 by shedding a different light on her.
Too matronly, too obvious, too successful, too copied, N°5 has put off many perfume lovers despite its iconic status: that of the perfume, als dich, whose very perfection can be intimidating. Not to mention the millions of women who wear it.
In Eau Première, the trademark aldehydes are slightly muted: the hairspray note appears, but more as a quotation than in a starring role, to assure us that this nymph does indeed carry N°5’s DNA, and its fresh cheeks are held up by her ancestor’s cut-glass cheekbones. The citrusy top notes are amped up, blended in with a peachy rose accord underlined by citrusy aldehydes; the musk base notes, more perceptible in vintage versions of N°5, are pushed to the foreground. The iris has absconded, the ylang-ylang is more muted. The vanilla-sandalwood base is more obvious. The drydown is the phase in which N°5's bone structure appears most noticeably: it is similar to the smell of the body lotion.
The result, with its fairly quiet sillage, is more tender, more flattering, more accessible and also more legible, which isn’t necessarily a flaw: if Eau Première was conceived as a gateway into the world of N°5, it stands on its own as a fragrance rather than coming off as a mere flanker.
When she asked Ernest Beaux to conceive a perfume for her, Gabrielle Chanel wanted it to “smell like a woman”. Eau Première smells like a woman too. But this one’s smiling.
Chanel N°5 Eau Première, after an aborted launch in 2007 due to a defect in the cap, is now once more available. And not a minute too soon.
Image: Jeune fille délivrant un oiseau de sa cage (Young Girl delivering a bird from its cage), by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.