Neutral Reviews of No. 5 
Chanel (1921)

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No. 5 by Chanel

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Reviews of No. 5 by Chanel

This iconic, legendary behemoth of the perfume world is a mystery to me. Others speak in hushed tones of its brilliance, its sparkle, its ability to transport and transform the ordinary into the exquisite. I want(ed) so very much to love it, much like my desire to love seafood or The Tragically Hip. Alas, like them, it is not to be. I have tried it at very different times throughout my life, (EdP & EdT), and every time it is an exercise in aversion. To me it smells like I am trapped in an old lady's sitting room and she is repeatedly whacking me with a bundle of faded, blowsy flowers. Over and over. I remember my mother had a bottle of No 5 that sat, untouched, on her dresser--it was the source of my first "try". And the bottle then remained untouched by me as well. Maybe it's genetic? I give it a neutral instead of thumbs down, because I know in my secret heart that I will surreptitiously try it again...

I come at No. 5 unhindered by any associations with female family members or acquaintances wearing it - nobody I know is that classy. I had been testing the EDP for years now, just a random spritz here and there when I was in a perfume store, just to make sure it was as deeply repellent as I had remembered it. The EDP never disappointed, in that regard.

But recently, I was on my way back home from a holiday and realized I had forgotten to pack my precious little decant of Bois des Iles for the plane ride home. I am an extremely anxious flyer and have found that the calming scent of sandalwood is practically the only thing standing between me sitting quietly in my seat with clenched buttocks, a silent moan of terror trapped in my throat, and running down the aisles butt naked screaming "We're all going to f*^$#&ÎNG DIE!!!!". It is safe to say that I was mildly disconcerted to find that I had no sandalwood on my person. As was my husband. Anyway, in desperation, I looked at the bottle of No. 5 EDT on the duty free shelf, figured there had to be some good sandalwood in the base, and so spritzed it on liberally. It worked. The EDT has a rather short performance trajectory, so I was well into a glorious sandalwood dry-down by the time I was boarding, maybe 90 minutes later. It is true that I may have bruised my husband's forearm during take-off, but at least there was no screaming and naked antics from me, for which we are all truly grateful.

The slight similarity to Bois des Iles in the far dry-down had me intrigued. Was it possible, I wondered, that I could get my ruinously expensive sandalwood fix through plain old No. 5, which is, compared to BdI extremely easy to find and not as hard on the wallet? I conducted a little investigation. I bought a small bottle of 1940s/50s pure parfum from a Basenotes member, as well as a small purse spray of the EDT (current version). Here are my thoughts:

The Good: The vintage pure parfum is simply exquisite. It is a smooth, round thing of beauty. They say that Chanel has secured the harvest rights to all the best jasmine and roses in Grasse for generations, and you can tell. I would not be surprised if they have St. Peter under contract to collect the tears of angels in heaven for this too. The florals are deeply abstract, super-blended, and buttery in the way only Chanel can pull off. I can't identify a single one of the flowers used here - it's like they picked some flowers, dipped them into liquid gold, waited for them to dry, then broke them up into little pieces and put them back together all mismatched, like a sort of Picasso's Desmoiselles d'Avignon, with the the bottom part of the jasmine welded to the top of a rose. It is all very fuzzy and abstract. Later on, I detect something pleasingly animalic in the dry down, as well as that soothing sandalwood.

The Bad: The extreme abstraction comes close to feeling synthetic at times, and there is this weird plasticky netting cast over the florals, as if the golden, fluid smoothness has been pushed to the brink. In the parfum, this plasticky feel manifests itself as a semi-pleasing sort of nuttiness, like unsweetened almond essence. It is an odd effect, like I said, half-pleasing but half-unsettling and synthetic, and I am not sure that it belongs. I perceive this plasticky, almond thing in the parfum to a small but noticeable extent in the pure parfum, but not at all in the EDT, leading me to think the effect is due to taking the abstract richness a step too far.

The Ugly: The EDP takes this plasticky effect to the florals and pushes it to the limit of my tolerance. Actually, the EDP smells like burning plastic for much of its development on me, and it is quite unpleasant. It is joined by a synthetic note from the laundry or household detergents aisle in the supermarket.

I enjoy the EDT a great deal, perhaps the best out of all the versions. But it is surprisingly light and last for only three hours on my skin. What I have taken to doing is dabbing the pure parfum on pulse points, and then spritzing the EDT all over my body, so that I get both concentration and volume. Then I am surrounded by a lovely fug of golden scent all day long.

I have to add two important things, though. First of all, putting on No. 5 is a conscious act of melding with the madding crowd - there is nothing to tell you apart from the legions of women who put it on just because either their mothers did before them, or just to wear something famous. There is nothing about it that says "Hey! I am wearing No. 5 because I choose to, based on the notes!" You will just smell like everyone else (well, of a certain age). For those of us who like to express some aspect of their individuality through choice of perfume, putting on No. 5 feels like you are willing accepting to be an anonymous face in the crowd. It is so recognizable and such a cultural shorthand for luxury, class, and "poshness" that it has, I find, a depressing sort of flattening effect on your own individuality. And you can't bend No, 5 to your own personality either - forget about it. You can wear it defiantly with shorts and flip-flops, but your smell will still say "I am a posh woman, slumming it today. I have my pearls and twin-set waiting for me at home".

Lastly, I discovered that although No.5 is an acceptable short term alternative to Bois des Iles for a plane ride home, it really cannot replace Bois des Iles in the long run. Note to self: Just buy Bois des Iles and be done with it.

Not my style, smells o.k., not memorable to me. Best left for my Mom to wear but don't love it/hate it either way. Obviously a timeless classic for so many people so worth having in a collection, just not mine.

It was Christmas, I was 16 and my poor Mother had been nagged to weariness over the past 3 months about L'heure Bleue,I'd never smelt it, but I fell in love with the romance of it. It took such a leap of faith for my Mum to spend so much on a perfume for a child, that I pretended to love it. But I didn't.I resolved to wear it for a week, and put it in a drawer, never to be smelt again.The next day, leaving the house, to go out to the cold, dry dark I thought, Casmir? Van Cleef? No, I'll HAVE to wear it.So I did, and in the cold, dark night, it came alive and I fell in love.
Its a cold, dark night,20 years later, and I left the house hoping to fall in love with the slighty clove medicinal floral greeness that I get from my chemistry with No 5. But I can't.It doesn't warm, it doesn't change and then dazzle on me, it's just kind of, meh, and may go in a drawer, never to be smelt again.But, although I certainly didn't nag for this one, don't tell my Mum.

"This was my mother's perfume..." Thus probably begins many reviews of Chanel No. 5. I have seen people accuse it of being an "old lady" perfume. I can't say I find the scent to be "old lady" so much as "perfume." For me, those perfumey aldehydes just don't work. On me, it smells like hostess soap. As a young woman, just establishing herself after college, I preferred the crisp, green of No. 19.

On my mother, however, it was lovely. She had many fine fragrances in her collection, but No. 5 was "hers." My cousin Joan wore Shalimar, her sister Irene wore Je Reviens, and their mother, my Aunt Mary, wore Joy. On each, her chosen perfume was lovely, but whereas my 20-something-cousins seemed to "wear" their perfume, my mother and my Aunt became their fragrance, or rather, it became them. After having so often complimented my cousin Irene on her Je Reviens, she gifted my mother with some. It was awful on her; it smelled like the worst possible cheap soap (even worse than No. 5 smells on me). It was hard to convince her that on her this wasn't the exquisite essence it was on my cousin, and I was left with no great opinion of Je Reviens. Thankfully, my mother returned to her No. 5.

Many years later, as I kissed my cousin Irene good-bye after a visit, I was greeted with the most entrancing scent. "What are you wearing!?" I asked, astonished. "Je Reviens," she answered, as if to say, "what else?" I had not remembered it being so wonderful. Not long after, when I visited her sister Joan, I was greeted by the most celestial garden of spice, and after the same, shocked "What are you wearing!?" she nodded, knowingly, "Shalimar." Years earlier, I had not sensed the spiciness of that "powdery" vanilla.

What is this long tale meant to illustrate (apart from that the women in my family have excellent taste in perfume)? That, even among the closest family members, there will be great variation in how fragrances present. We all know as much. But there is a theory I have developed from this experience as to why some people consider perfumes like No. 5 to be "old lady" perfumes--because their best expression is achieved on older women, and so we associate the scent with older women. My cousins had to grow into their perfumes; the fragrance, likewise, evolved on them. This isn't simply a matter of maturity or class. As women's body chemistry changes, as their skin density changes, so too, I believe, does their fragrance. (Not to be too sexist, here, I imagine the same happens with men, but we don't yet have a generation of mature men here in America who boldly wear what are considered "women's" perfumes to test this theory.)

Not long before her death, as I brought my lips to my mother's cheek to kiss her goodbye, I smelled the most perfect perfume. I couldn't describe it as anything in particular--just the most wonderful and perfect scent of a woman. When I asked the inevitable "What are you wearing!?" she said, "Chanel No. 5, as always."

This perfume was so avidly promoted on a friend's Open Diary page a few years ago, that I went out and bought it. To me it has a baby-powder esque-ness (that is so not a word, lol!) that cannot possibly be escaped. When I think sexy I think My Sin by Lanvin, or Coco by Chanel. When I think, what bottle of perfume is still sitting in my car? Oh yeah, Chanel No. 5... picture the really attractive blonde in the corner that is gorgeous right up until she opens her mouth, and yes, there you have it...

THE CLASSIC! Well... maybe. but its not that good. Since i wasn't quite familiar with this fragrance till relatively recently, i was stunned by the fact that it smells THAT soapy. Its really prevalent.
Yeah, its a decent scent, i wouldn't dismiss it or want to tell people to wear something else since it is pleasant. But its really nothing far-out there. Buy it if you want, i like it, but wouldnt fall in love with it. Neutral.

So this is the one that started Attack of the Killer Perfumes.
I can't wear this because of the aldehydes. It comes across on me as harsh with airy hairspray florals, and develops surprisingly little. I suppose if my skin and nose liked aldehydes I might see the loveliness of this classic, but I do not. This strikes me as the start of that slow slide toward the dreaded department store perfume smell. It also had a little funky note to it from the animalics that didn't sit well with me - it tended to separate out on my skin instead of blend, so I smelled it on its own instead of, let's say, a dirty floral - so N°5 isn't destined to be a fragrance I will wear.
Edit: I tried N°5 in parfum formulation and its beauty shines through reduced aldehydes, so I've revised my review to neutral. They seem almost like different fragrances to me. As a parfum, it is luxurious, smooth and feminine. It still had the problematic little funky note, so I won't wear it, but the parfum is the one way I can understand it's beauty.

Radiant and futuristically chic back at time of its inception this chemical concoction stands out still on the stage nowadays. It's unique, indeed instantly recognizable. Synthetical and floral-aldehydic Chanel N. 5 is a chilly-radiant, cosmetical and powdery-gasseous scent that smells like a cloud of soft ambery musk over which are scattered petals of pink and white roses side by side with jasmine. A proud iris enhances the powdery sophistication in the central part on the side of lily of the valley and this middle stage performs as a perfect balance of floral patterns. After few minutes of a slightly hesperidic fickle blast this blend turns out incredibly cool, spacious and glamour with its initial floral blast of sensual ylang-ylang but it does it paradoxically with a retro, luxurious and nostalgic touch as well as you'd take a plunge in a colonialistic age of high class ladies in white dresses strolling along the Royal Pavilion with their umbrellas under sun. Some sweet woods provide a right dosage of woody delicate mildness. The final trail is yet balmy/aldehydic and woodsy with a touch of severe patchouli, a rooty hint of vetiver and a subterranean aftertaste of orange. The soapy-aldehydic effect is anyway not creamy or resinous despite amber and vanilla but instead powdery and airy because of the fluctuating and aerodynamic aldehydes effect which provides a sort of balsamic frosty "glaring" substance, anticipating the glamour talky temperament of many aromatic and balsamic powdery upcoming creations of the current modern market. This nostalgic piece of history deserves respect and I do it even if by its "peaceful" translucent cleanliness it does not fully satisfy my ideal model of naughty, sensual and gorgeous floral femininity.

I believe that it takes a very brave person to say they don't like Chanel No.5. Unfortunately all I get from this fragrance is powder and soap. The Chanel sales assistant told me that my skin chemistry went well with this perfume and although I agreed that I enjoyed it to a certain extent, I know I won't be adding No. 5 to my wishlist.

Perhaps it is my young age that makes me dislike most Chanel fragrances, but I respect them for being universally recognised and incredibly popular. This fragrance is very dependant on a person with the right skin chemistry, sophistication, class and maturity. On the wrong person it could be a disaster.

I used to wear No5 during the early 80s, when I thought it was wonderful. Though I usually wore the Parfum strength, I liked the Eau de Cologne (which had a more noticable rose note) for summer. The EDC has now been discontinued, along with some wonderful bath products. Strangely, the EDP (which was released in the UK in the late 80s, at the same time the EDC was discontinued) goes to nothing on me within 20 minutes of putting it on, even though the EDT lasts for a few hours. I have not smelled the Eau Premier, and am not in a great hurry to.No 5 is a strongly aldehydic mixture of rose, jasmine, musk and sprices (not dissimilar to Coty's L'Aiment and Givenchy's L'Interdit); it developed into rich and heavy scent, which I kept for special occasions. It's quite difficult to describe exactly what No5 smells like, as the aldehyde changes the other ingredients drastically. Once smelled though, you'll remember it.Today, though I do not dislike No5, it has not aged well (I feel the last 20 years have not been very kind to No5), and is actually a rather boring fragrance (especially when compared to the largely discontinued No22). Not a fragrance I am likely to buy again.

I actually find it quite boring and passé. It's like a safe bet. Sure your mother in law will love it, but who wants mother in law approval? I rather misbehave with something more complex and unexpected.

This smells like my grandma, which is okay, but I would never wear it myself. The good news is that it is long lasting!

Loved it when I was in college, but now it no longer suits me. It is very complex, with many notes. I love the scent when it comes from the bottle, but not on my skin.

My mom got this as a present and she is (thankfully, for me) allegic to fragrance - they make her head spin, she says. So I gladly took this one from her. Well, that's the good part. The bad part is I didn't like it. I wanted to like it. After all it is Chanel No. 5. The Classic. The Timeless. But why??? I didn't hate it, but I didn't see what I was supposed to like, either. To me it was just a strong, aldehyde fragrance. And I do not even like the word aldehyde. Doesn't it sound (and smell) artificial? If you must try it once in your life - if you just can't pass up on that fame - get the smallest bottle you can find.

When I turn 50, I will wear this everyday.It just smells too "old lady" for me currently.

Ah Chanel No. 5...I so much wanted to hate this, to just pan it, give it a great big thumbs down. Chanel is just so boring. I knew this fragrance wouldn't suit me from the get go, knew this innately before I ever even smelled it. Ergo, this is my first review of something I sampled that I knew just had no possibility of ever being in my wardrobe. I brought a decant of EdP home last night, and as my husband and I smelled it straight from the vial, we were both reminded of every octogenarian's home we'd ever been in. I applied it to my skin for the first time this morning.I'll start by mentioning the aldehydes, which I actually kind of like. They're kind of cool and interesting, and I was disappointed when they left and their replacements gave me a headache for half an hour. Even so, this headache-inducing middle is pretty. There's this thing I couldn't put my finger on, kept sniffing my wrist trying to get it and irritated that it was eluding me, when it hit me-- soap. Just like everyone else got. Not bad soap, but soap, nonetheless. Why? Why does this legendary, classic, timeless work of art in a bottle smell like soap??!? Please. It lasted two and a half hours at best on my skin, but I can't say I hated it. It was fine. Headache not withstanding, it is pleasant and pretty. Second application of the day conjures up that pink Johnson & Johnson baby lotion. Nice, clean, unobtrusive, uninteresting. And I have to ask-- if it wasn't Chanel, would anyone care?

My mother had this perfume and i used to try it as a child. After five minutes it had disappeared without a trace. I have perservered and sampled this on numerous occassions in an attempt to understand what all the hype is about. I have never been able to get past the top notes ( which are frankly uninspiring) due to the short longevity of this scent on my skin.I do wonder if it is a case of the 'emporors new clothes' .

I really couldn't get a good sense of what this actually smelled like in the store when I sprayed it on a tester card.It did have a sparkling opening which intrigued me...but I'd never get this one for my wife.I know its a classic, but I just don't care for it too much.

No.5 is undoubtedly beautiful and timeless but on my skin, sadly, has absolutely no staying power. I get 10 minutes of sparkling aldehydes, before skipping straight to the powdery drydown. After an hour it's all gone. For me there is no radiant heart in this fragrance. Tragic, as I have experienced its beauty on other people. However, this disappointment is with the EDT which is the only formulation I've tried. I've read recently that the EDT, EDP and Parfum are three very different experiences. In fact, it seems, they are probably three very different fragrances - the EDT being a 50s or 60s reformulation, the EDP an 80s take, and only the Parfum true to the original 1921 conceit. This said, the varied experiences in the many reviews here are for 3 different fragrances with 3 different characters. My hope is that I am still to find the No.5 that works for me. I look forward to trying a sample of the EDP and Parfum to compare. To be continued...

This is for the Sensual Elixir version: If you want a good musk, go for this if you're in the money. It seriously smells like nothing more than an ordinary 'drugstore' musk, taken to an expensive (and high-quality, let's be fair) extreme. I like it, I'd wear it if given it, but I think the emperor is in the alltogether.

This is gorgeous if you smell it straight away, but it really doesn't last long at all. Maybe it is just the way it is on me, but even if I use the EDP after a couple of hours it has completely gone.Still, if it lasts longer on other people, I really can't fault the actual scent

My boyfriend bought this for my 18th birthday, many years ago. I liked it well enough. I didn't find it too distinctive, but then the aldehydic fragrances aren't really my thing. It definitely seemed old-school to me, as many of the older scents are big on the aldehyde notes. But it got compliments and had sex appeal to it. I agree with the earlier comments about the EDP vs. the EDT, because the gift I got back then was the EDP. And although it isn't my dream scent, it smelled warm and comforting (along with the sex appeal). One day browsing through a Sephora, I spritzed Chanel 5 EDT on to try to remind me of it, but it did not smell the way I remembered it. In fact, I didn't like it at all. Not on the paper strips nor on my skin. I don't know if the formula was changed in the past decade or so, or if the EDT is in fact that different in character (not just strength) from the EDP.

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