Friday, March 19, 2010

Chanel No. 5

When my parents and I flew to San Diego for my grandmother's funeral, we stayed in the little apartment she had lived in for the last several years of her life. On the counter in the bathroom was a half-empty bottle of Chanel No. 5.

I idly sprayed a dab of it on my wrist, thinking, I think, that it would smell like her. It didn't, it smelled to me of generic grandmotherly perfume, but didn't spark any particular smell memory. Too powdery and archaic for me at the time--I was not even a newbie perfumista at the time--and I put it aside.

Now, I should explain, before I come to my most recent experiment with Chanel's great masterpiece, that my grandma was horribly allergic to most fragrant flowers. We never sent flowers for birthdays, and they were never in her home. I remember walking with her in Golden Gate Park, hearing her reminisce about the time my aunt and a friend of hers, with the best of intentions, filled her room with jasmine blooms in little vases. She woke up to breakfast in bed, but was unable to open her eyes, which had swelled up from all the jasmine.

A few weeks ago, I was walking through the Macy's in downtown San Francisco, and hovered briefly by the Chanel counter. On a whim, I picked up the Chanel No. 5 EDP and sprayed my inner arm heavily.

The first hit was of dusty, chypric notes, less powdery than I recalled, and then, five minutes later, as I walked out of the store, I was hit with a high, screeching note that emerged out of nowhere, and which I could only identify dazedly as smelling like peaches in syrup and mint. It howled. I had no idea what it was, since as best I could remember the official notes of No. 5, Screaming Minty Fruit Salad was not among them.

Today, walking by the baseball field on a sunny spring day, I got hit with the smell again, this time in context, and now I know--that's the jasmine, that high heady screech smell. Funny, and a little bit ironic, that the note I smell strongest in No. 5 is the one that, on the vine, would make my grandmother flee the garden.


Daly Beauty said...

Ah well I can tell you what happened there. Chanel No5 EDP is a late 80s creation and is an abomination of the original gorgeous scent. I bought a bottle when they were out of EDT & ended up giving it away because it was nothing like the Chanel No5 I loved.

While in it's EDT or extrait formuation Chanel No5 gorgeous, those too have suffered from the reformulations that limit use of rare ingredients such as Mysore sandalwood and jasmine. If you can track down some vintage (even pre 1985) Chanel No5 EDT, extrait, or even better in my humble opinion, the EDC (eau de cologne) I promise you will experience a whole other perfume.

BBJ said...

Good to know. Perhaps I will give it another shot...