May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

Today is Mother’s Day in the US, and I’m thinking of my own late mother and the perfume I associate most with her, Chanel No.5. No.5 is 100 years old this year, having been launched by the house of Chanel in 1921, which hardly seems possible! Here is the wonderful video Chanel released this year to celebrate No.5‘s centennial:

The version I have is the eau de toilette; in fact, it is the last bottle of No.5 that my mother owned. I brought it home with me, with its few ml of fragrance left, after her funeral and clearing out her home. Wearing a few drops now on the back of my hand, I can still smell how beautiful it is, and think peacefully of my mom.

I wrote about her and No.5 five years ago, in “My Mother’s Last Perfume“. She died in May of 2017; if she were still alive, she would be turning 90 this year — only ten years younger than No.5! We held her memorial service in July of 2017, so that all members of the family could be there, and a memory I find very consoling is that I took charge of working with the florist for the church service. I used to help my mother arrange flowers as part of the church’s “Flower Guild”, a volunteer role that she took very seriously, albeit with some humor. She loved to recount how long it took her to win the approval of the older women in the Flower Guild when she first wanted to join, in spite of her being a member of the church’s vestry! They only let her cut off the ends of stems and hand them the flowers for months.

Because of those companionable times we spent together arranging flowers, I knew her strong likes and dislikes — I don’t think my mom had any likes or dislikes that were anything but strong. I remember telling the florist that we could not have gladioli under any circumstances, because my mom hated them with a passion and she would return from the grave to haunt us all if we had them at her memorial. I was so pleased with our final selections: the roses and lilies she loved; Bells of Ireland, to recall her Anglo-Irish roots and her beloved aunts and grandmother, with whom she spent school holidays; eucalyptus as a reference to her birthplace of New Zealand; and other fragrant flowers, some of which are notes in No.5.

Because I started buying her No.5 in the 1970s, as a child, the version I recall most has the original notes (though I think by then the civet was synthetic): top notes of Aldehydes, Ylang-Ylang, Neroli, Amalfi Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes of Iris, Jasmine, Rose, Orris Root and Lily-of-the-Valley; base notes of Civet, Sandalwood, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Amber, Vanilla and Patchouli. I’m not sure of the date of the eau de toilette of hers I now have, but it’s probably from the early 2000s. And after an initial “off” opening, it is just lovely.

The aldehydes have survived the passage of time, as have the ylang-ylang and much of the neroli. Lemon and bergamot are no longer detectable. The notes of jasmine and rose are most prominent to my nose in the heart phase, with a gorgeous powdery softness provided by the iris and orris root. I can detect the lily-of-the-valley faintly, but just barely. The drydown is also lovely: it just keeps getting warmer, softer, and sexier, with those beautiful base notes. As many have noted, No. 5 is so well-blended, it is almost abstract. While it is possible to detect single notes, the overall impression is not of a particular flower, which is what perfumer Ernest Beaux and Mme. Chanel intended. No.5 is simply itself, and it is unmistakable to this day.

I don’t often wear No.5, as beautiful as it is, because I do associate it so much with my mom; but I use and love No.5 Eau Premiere as well as No.5 L’Eau. Blogger Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus described the trio so well in his book “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent” (which I highly, highly recommend!):

Chanel’s enduring, glamorous icon is a scintillation of aldehydes, rose de mai, ylang ylang, orris, jasmine and vanilla (among many other ingredients) — a caress of timeless, confident femininity…. Successful recent reiterations of the No.5 brand that aim to appeal to the younger consumer include Eau Premiere (2007) — which I like for its streamlined primness and muted, statuesque lightness that works convincingly as a chilled, contemporary flanker of the original — and No.5 L’Eau in 2016, which smells as peachy and rosy as the dawn.

I can’t think of another perfume that has had the famous Any Warhol portrait treatment, can you? Do you like No.5, in any of its current versions or flankers? And happy Mother’s Day to all who are celebrating it today!

Bottles of Chanel No.5 perfume by Andy Warhol
Chanel No.5 portraits by Andy Warhol; image from Fragrantica.com.
Fragrance Friday: Harry Potter?

Fragrance Friday: Harry Potter?

Another blog, “Book Riot”, recently posted the most amusing game: guessing what fragrances the leading characters in the Harry Potter series would wear: The Perfect Fragrances for Harry Potter Characters. Here are some of the author’s choices: Gucci Pour Homme II for Sirius Black; Coco Mademoiselle for Fleur Delacour; Reserve Smoked Vetiver for Dumbledore; Demeter’s Paperback for Hermione; Demeter’s Christmas Tree for Hagrid; Bonbon for Luna Lovegood; Tobacco Vanille for Remus Lupin; Spicebomb for Draco Malfoy; Mr. Burberry for Ron Weasley; and D&G’s Light Blue Pour Homme for our hero, Harry Potter.

I love this game but I don’t love her choices (although in matters of fragrance, chacun a son gout!). In my opinion, Fleur Delacour would definitely wear Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. (Gabrielle would be ideal for her little sister). Hermione deserves something more notable and longer lasting than Paperback. Solstice Scents has a fragrance called Library, but it sounds smokier than I would think suitable for Hermione. Remembering her triumphant arrival at the Yule Ball, on the arm of Victor Krum, I’m giving her Caron’s Nuit de Noel. Yes, it’s a mature fragrance, but it’s very elegant and well-suited to a formal evening dance in the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

Hermione Granger and Victor Krum dancing at Yule Ball

Hermione and Victor at the Yule Ball.

What about Luna Lovegood? Bonbon seems too mainstream and girly. Given her habit of making weird accessories for herself from odds and ends, I will give her ELDO’s I am Trash. The brand’s description is as eccentric as Luna herself: “There is a jumble of romantic and titanic science fiction poetry that emerges from the slow, sure, and inevitable rocking of wastewaters in the industrial cycle. We want to make this perfume a messenger, in service not only to the survival of the species which results from seduction, but above all in service to the planet where our own miasmas must reflect beauty.”

Luna Lovegood wearing Spectre Specs

Luna Lovegood

Prof. McGonagall needs a fragrance: something as direct, honest, and no-nonsense as she is. I’ll assign her Caldey Island Lavender for regular use — and Vol de Nuit for more notable occasions. What about Molly Weasley? I’m thinking Creamy Vanilla Crumble from 4160 Tuesdays, since I always associate Mrs. Weasley with comfort food, although she proved her mettle many times.

Molly Weasley in her kitchen at The Burrow

Molly Weasley

Red-headed Mr. Weasley would, of course, wear the ultimate “Dad” scent: Old Spice, the original vintage version. I’m not as familiar with men’s fragrances — what do you think of the choices the blog author made for the male characters, and what might you suggest instead? And what about any of the characters I’ve listed, or any others you like? Or maybe some you don’t like, such as Vernon Dursley!

All characters by J.K. Rowling; images from Warner Bros.

Thunking Thursday: Gabrielle

Thunking Thursday: Gabrielle

I’ve realized I have two completely opposite ways that I thunk samples. One, I happily thunk a sample because I liked it so much that a full bottle has entered my house, either for me or a loved one. That is how I thunked Vitriol d’Oeillet, because I had bought a full bottle for my husband. It smells super on him, and I can get another sniff any time. I also thunked a sample of Tiffany & Co. Intense, because I knew I would be getting a full bottle for Christmas.

Two, I’ll cheerfully thunk a sample when I know I probably won’t hanker for it in the future, but I don’t hate it so much that I can’t finish the sample. Gabrielle, the new pillar fragrance from Chanel, falls into that category for me. It is a pretty fragrance, and I’ll even say it is better than most of the fruity-florals aimed at younger women, but to me it suffers by comparison with the much more interesting Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. So today is the day I will thunk my sample of Gabrielle, with some affection but no regret.

How do you think about thunking? Any thunks this week?

Gabrielle Delacour, Beauxbatons students and little sister of Fleur Delacour

Gabrielle Delacour; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Today I tried my sample of the new fragrance from Chanel, Gabrielle.  It is meant to evoke a youthful Chanel, the woman whose given name was Gabrielle before she became known as Coco Chanel and then, as befits a legend, just Chanel. However, this scent is SO youthful that I can’t imagine the real Coco Chanel ever having been as innocent as this after the age of, say, ten. Fragrantica commenter andrewatic put it perfectly:

This doesn’t automatically mean that the fragrance is bad, by any means. It should just be called something else, such as: “butterfly frolicking on tuberose flower in paradise” for instance, with an under title: “made for sweet, cute 15 yo girls, dressed in pretty immaculate-white, flower-decorated, frilly dresses” and then I would get it!

Actually, though, where my mind immediately went was to the “lovely ladies of Beauxbatons”, the French wizarding girls’ school whose students’ chic blue uniforms and fluttering entrance — accompanied by, yes, butterflies — swept the hearts of Hogwarts’ male students, led by Fleur Delacour and her little sister: Gabrielle.

Beauxbatons students entering Hogwarts in blue uniforms with butterflies

Entrance of Beauxbatons students at Hogwarts; photo Warner Bros.

Fragrantica lists its notes as:

Top notes: mandarin, grapefruit, black currant
Heart: tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, orange blossom
Base: sandalwood, musk.

For me, the fragrance Gabrielle is too sweet and fruity. Even the floral notes are very sweet across the board: orange blossom most prominent to my nose, followed by tuberose, jasmine and ylang-ylang. Even the grapefruit and blackcurrant notes, which are often tangy enough to counter too much sweetness, smell sugary to me. It’s not offensive, it’s not overpowering, it is just very girlish. And not very Chanel-ish. While some commenters don’t like the bottle, I do. I think the faceted front is a creative play on the classic Chanel bottle shape, and I like the color. It feels good in the hand, too. The fragrance itself is not as memorable, though it isn’t bad. Dior has done better, in my opinion, with its fruity floral Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet.

I do understand, I think, what the Chanel perfumers and executives are trying to do. They must maintain contact and an image with a new generation of young women, who will be future customers and who have been flocking to sweet, fruity floral scents. They must also woo the growing number of fragrance customers in Asia, where I understand the taste tends more toward the light, sweet and inoffensive. And I am not that demographic on any level: not young, not Asian. I think the company’s quest to appeal to a younger customer is much better fulfilled by the new Chanel No. 5 L’Eau.  I thought that was a delightful, youthful take on the classic No. 5, without giving up any of the spirit of Chanel. I could see Fleur Delacour wearing L’Eau very well, with her undoubted chic in addition to her undoubted skill and spirit well-matched to the fizz, lightness and underlying classical structure of L’Eau.

Beauxbatons student and TriWizard champion Fleur Delacour

Fleur Delacour; photo Warner Bros.

The drydown of Gabrielle is quite pleasant, with sandalwood and musk, but again, it doesn’t stand out as special. I can still smell it on my skin five hours after application, so longevity is good for a fragrance like this. I can see many girls loving this, and that is, after all, the whole point. But I would steer my own daughters toward L’Eau.

Gabrielle Delacour, Beauxbatons students and little sister of Fleur Delacour

Gabrielle Delacour; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire