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The Chanel Project: No. 5 Eau Première


New “poser” bottle.

For a lot of people Chanel is synonymous with perfume. I often think I should be reviewing more Chanel – after all, I want to give the public what it wants! – but then I find myself thinking “Yeah, like 24, Faubourg… oh yeah, that’s Hermès.” Truly I love classic-style perfumes but a lot of the ones I like aren’t Chanel.

But when I went to look at my Chanel stores, I actually had quite a few. So I hope to review them all and you’ll see what gaps I have in my Chanel collection…

I was prepared, snobbishly, not to like Eau Première. I have an intellectual’s kneejerk overvaluation of “authenticity” and I had grown to love Chanel No. 5 in its vintage formulae. I was suspicious of Eau Première, probably rightly. Like Shalimar Parfum Initial, I suspect these “not quite the ‘real’ thing but easier to wear and understand” versions are meant to replace their original, heavier, more complex, and probably less IFRA-compliant predecessors. I believe they will go the way of Miss Dior Chérie, reformulating a classic as something far less, then nudging the classic out of the way to make room for the new fume, which ultimately gets renamed and replaces the old one, which is discontinued.

It’s a New Coke scam and I’m on to it.

Eau Première is well on its way. It itself has been “discontinued” and re-issued in the classic Chanel bottle with the square stopper. Even though other perfumes (like No. 19) are available this way, I feel that it’s just a waystop on the way to ending Le Monstre, the rule of Chanel No. 5, which is undoubtedly difficult to produce if it’s using any of the natural ingredients it claims to include – and is probably on the IFRA chopping block anyway.

So should I be angrier?

Well, here’s the thing. I try to put my “authenticity” snobbery aside. When perfumes are reformulated without warning within a few years of being issued, and 1500 of them come out a year, I’m not sure what “authenticity” is any more anyway; the perfume producers are essentially plagiarizing themselves and making money from it. You could get angry because they cheapen the formula as soon as a product hits it big; on the other hand, I’ve seen perfumes where only one specific year or even batch was the one that made me swoon, so isn’t it more that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? The ephemerality of perfume is a killer but there it is.

The other reason Eau Première doesn’t bug me is that I like it. I admit it. It’s a lighter, prettier, more wearable-for-today version of No. 5. A birthday present several years ago, I own it, and I wear it. I reach for it a lot. It’s one of those go-to, never-wrong, everyday perfumes for me. It’s lovely. It takes No. 5’s famous mix of florals, aldehydes, and clean musks and brings it into the modern era.

Now, serious perfume lovers are right to bemoan the lack of intensity of today’s perfumes. I don’t disagree. It’s like saying everything has to look like Monet, and that Jackson Pollack is pointless. Intensity and boldness has its place. For those who admire that place (1920-1960 A.D. perfumery), something like Eau Première is unsatisfyingly light and bland.

But it’s just a place, one of many. If Pollack had come before Monet, art lovers might decry washing out the colors just as much as perfume lovers decry the lightening of their classic scents. But where painting got more intense perfume got less. And you can see why. No longer the purview of just the rich, perfume is a very common luxury these days, and in appealing to more people and being more multipurpose (used all day, every day,) it only makes sense for it to have gotten a bit lightier, a bit easier.


“Original” Eau Première bottle.

Eau Première is that lighter, easier version of Chanel No. 5. Which, as the most popular perfume of the last hundred years, is no slouch in the beauty department. The musks and touch of vanilla, so popular today, are brought just a bit forward; the florals, so frowned upon by IFRA, are backgrounded (and downgraded, I’m sure) just a bit, and the aldehydes no longer bap you over the head but rather come along for the ride.

It all makes for a lovely, balanced, wearable everyday perfume, and I do enjoy Eau Première. Yes, I’m aware that it itself has apparently just been reformulated. Yes, I have a backup bottle of the older stuff. But I’m not fighting the river, I’m just calling them like I see them. And the truth is that though I admire my vintage Chanel No. 5 more, and have plenty of it, I reach for Eau Première more often. It is a worthy perfume.

Do you wear it (or one of the other “junior” perfumes, like Parfum Initial)? What’s your feelings about “authenticity”?

Images are sales images.

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What do you think?