Puckrik on Perfume

Katie Puckrik ON Jul 10, 2009 AT 12:11 pm

Katie Puckrik: Photographer Martin Shaw

Katie Puckrik: Photographer Martin Shaw

Chanel No. 5 Eau Première
By Katie Puckrik

I always associated Chanel No. 5 with my mother, who wore it with evening gowns and upswept hair to years of James Bond-style galas filled with diplomats and spies. To me, No. 5 signified elegance and womanliness, and it never occurred to me to try to parse the perfume into mere ingredients. But with the appearance last year of No.5’s latest iteration, Eau Première, I decided to take a closer sniff at this legendary essence. The story goes that Coco Chanel’s brief for perfumer Ernest Beaux was for a “woman’s perfume that smells like a woman”, and not like a flower – in contrast to all the soliflores popular at the beginning of the 20th century. The creation launched in 1921 was modern to the point of avant-garde: an abstraction of peachy florals and woods pixilated behind a glittering curtain of aldehydes. The highest grade of jasmine and rose blended with aroma chemicals resulted in something born of nature, then jet-propelled way the hell beyond it. No. 5’s powdery coolness was warmed with rutting-animal musk – only revealed on the skin, like a secret between lovers. Adding to the modernity was the minimalist bottle with industrial-style graphics – now a design classic.

The No. 5 parfum and eau de toilette are still more or less the real deal, hewing to the original blueprint. I’m not so crazy about the 80s-era eau de parfum, which is thicker, sharper, more synthetic. It’s a portrait of the original edt sketched roughly with a fat-nibbed marker pen. It took this generation’s Eau Première, with its younger, more nuanced interpretation to lasso me into the No. 5 fold.

Chanel No. 5 Eau Première

Chanel No. 5 Eau Première

“We kept the same ingredients, but used fresher, more transparent versions of the notes,” Chanel perfumer Christopher Sheldrake explained at its launch. To my nose, the old glittering curtain of aldehydes is now a soft fizzy sparkle, playfully highlighting a lemony-orange kick-off. The citrus is the new kid on the block, putting a little jut in the lady’s strut. The fizziness deepens into what we’re told is jasmine, ylang-ylang and rose, but what I only know as “that classic No. 5 smell”. As Eau Première and my skin get down to business, they release a soapy butterynesspretty and rich with a light touch, like Talitha Getty before the heroin.

Maybe Eau Première is the Cliff Notes version of Chanel No. 5, but if that’s what it takes for me to appreciate the legendary classic, Eau Première one gorgeous-smelling study aid. Wear with a summer dress, red lipstick and your best Nouvelle Vague waif-in-Paris attitude.

When not sniffing up a storm, Katie Puckrik is a TV presenter, journalist and performer, as well as the author of a memoir, Shooting From the Lip.

Visit KatiePuckrikSmells for more perfume rants and rambles, visit the blog here.

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