Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere and Chanel No. 5

I’ve 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 fabled 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 borderline 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. Adding to the modernity was the minimalist bottle with industrial-style graphics -- now a design classic.

But Chanel No. 5 isn’t entirely about good looks and brains. Underneath this flapper’s fringed dress is No. 5’s musk accord, which given the classy context is almost shocking -- like you’ve walked in on some unexpected intimacy.

Rasputin, a fellow fumehead, had a great take on it in Basenotes: “No. 5 smells like a woman who bathed herself, powdered herself, and peed herself, in that order.”

I don’t know if I experience the scent as viscerally as that, but I concur that No. 5 probably got her “good behavior badge” revoked a long time ago.


  1. and here it is!
    Hi Katie,
    Your description of Chanel No. 5 was evocative. My mother also wore Chanel No. 5, and, as a teenage perfume voyeur, so did I, and the image of her doing as Rasputin describes makes me cringe and laugh at the same time. Spritzing and sampling all of my mother's perfumes in the 60's and 70's makes me think I got the best of No. 5 then. I have worn it off and on since but my love affair with it has run its course, as they often do. But those early spritzes have formed my preferences and imprinted my nose like no Mother Duck ever has her ducklings. It is nice to know that the formulation changed which gives legs to my departure and sounds better than "just because I don't like you anymore". (I see a foot stamp in there somewhere)

  2. I have always thought it was the queen of powdery perfumes. I can't wear it with my chemistry. My mom favors No 19.

  3. Rebecca, No. 19 is so feminine and classy. I remember years back being photographed by a hip 19-year-old art student who wore it, and loving the contrast between her sexy boho vibe and the No. 19's serene beauty.

  4. Really, you do the most enjoyable reviews. Even for 'fumes I will never wear myself, I get completely caught up in your musings and impressions. The line about the Chanel and your skin 'getting down to business' is perfect.

  5. BooRad, I thought something was stuck in my musings - and it turned out, it was you!

    Pino, I myself have plenty of foot-stamping moments when it comes to perfume, so you're in good company. I've not smelled the old-timers formulation of No. 5, but it's said that civet and oakmoss played a bigger role in the good old days, making it "dirtier" than it is now. WAHHHHHHHH! I - want - to - smell - that! (Cue foot stamp.)

  6. Dear Katie,

    I'm tickled to immediately purchase Chanel Eau Premiere unsniffed (since Chanel isn't available in my country) after listening to your Chanel Eau Premiere review on YouTube...

    1. Would you compare Chanel Eau Premiere to Chanel Sensual Elixir?

    Different notes/base/drydown? eg. Eau Premiere has more vanillic vs. Sensual Elixir has muskier drydown?

    2. Would you compare Chanel Eau Premiere to Guerlain Shalimar Light (which it often resembled/compared to)?

    I read someone smelled Eau Premiere in a magazine test strip and immediately thought it smelled like Shalimar Light.

    Lotsa thanks!

  7. Hi simplicity - I haven't smelled either Sensual Elixir or Shalimar Light, so can't give you a comparative analysis. But it looks like the Basenotes gang gave you a thorough consumer comparison test on the topic. I love the fumehead community's collective brainpower and willingness to share - it takes a village, y'know!

    Everyone else, I urge you to peruse this interesting thread on simplicity's query:

  8. Well I am one of the mothers who always wore CHANEL No5 from 1960 when 1/4 oz bottle was $5. I most assuredly can tell you in early to mid '90s a dramatic change occurred.I don't know what but sadly No5 stated to smell synthetic,like a knock-off of itself.When I ask Chanel people what happened they reply,"...there is no difference, No5 has not been reformulated."That is B.S.the aromatic recipe may not have changed ...something sure did.It is no longer the No5 I knew.

  9. terbiz, it's so maddening that these classics are tampered with - and with no acknowledgment from the company, as you've experienced.

  10. I can only say that Chanel no. 5 (I have the EdT) is sacrosanct in my perfume history. I received it as a present when was in my late teens in the 1980's and wore it for years. When I hear someone say that it's too "heavy" or "an evening fragrance only" I'm still surprised. As surprised as I was the first time I realized (honestly) that not everyone likes Chanel no. 5. I went "What??? - But it's Chanel no. 5!!" Total perfume innocence ;-)

    That's the way I feel about this fragrance. It's an evergreen for me. I wore it when I was a student wearing jeans and t-shirts, one of my fellow students always said I was the only person she knew whose backpack was Chanel no. 5-scented :-) It just stuck to everything I touched. It still does and I still wear it - also as a daytime fragrance. I love other fragrances as well, but Chanel no 5 will always be my holy cow perfume ;-)

  11. Junelady, there's such a wonderful lack of judgment when you approach perfume (and art, music, etc) when you're younger and have no real context for things. I love the sound of your Chanel No. 5 scented backpack!

  12. You're so right. Generally, I don't mind getting older - in fact I think there are more upsides than not. So far, at least.
    However, I wish I had more of the innocence, for lack of a better word, I had 20-25 years ago. Cynicism does sneak in occassionally and it must be kept in check.

    And pleasures of the senses seem to help in this respect - it activates other parts of the brain (cynical again ;-) - or simply let us enjoy life more.

  13. I just turned 30 and as of late, I've been drawn to more of the refined things. Like fine china and of course perfume. The week of my birthday, I stopped by the Channel counter and it was there that I fell in love for the first time with No.5. I've always thought it was for an old lady, but after experiencing it again for the first time, I realized how refined and feminine it is. A friend of mine said that things like this happen as one comes into her/his thirties. I believe I've arrived at refinement with Channel No.5.

  14. Judy, that is certainly a perfume milestone you've experienced! Certain perfumes, like food or fashion or music or men, are a taste you grow into.