« Aramis by Estee Lauder (1965) | Main | Scents and Sensibility: Perfume Bottles Through History at the New Orleans Museum of Art »

June 29, 2010



Lovely! Wish I had something poetic to add, but you have said it all I think.

I have a relatively recent iteration of No 5 parfum, and an older one, vintage unknown. It has 'perfume' on the label and not parfum, and I seem to recall reading somewhere that Chanel did this for a while for the American market? I love them both. But on my skin they are very fleeting. I was astounded and disappointed in both cases to find that they both last only about an hour. Can parfum lose its potency? I would not have thought so, so it must be just me. My parfum of No 19 is also rather fleeting. Shalimar parfum, on the other hand, lasts all day.

So I have No 5 in two iterations of the parfum, as well as the EDT, the EDP and the old EDC. Plus a few bath and body products. All different and all lovely, although the EDP is my least favourite. The body creme is divine.

To me the thing that makes No 5 a great work is that people seem to finds something different in it. Some find it beautiful but cold and unapproachable. Some warm and welcoming. Sparkling or fluffy. Light and dark. Classical, but can be worn with jeans. I find it changes according to my mood, or perhaps the season. I adore the EDT but sometimes even that strikes sour. That usually means I've been wearing it too often and I need to give it a rest.

It's interesting how Chanel has prodcued a huge family of No 5 products so as to keep its diehard fans happy, while always inviting in new, younger customers. And it shells out untold millions on its ad campaigns to make the scent seem always relevant. Amazing, really.


Anne: I've changed my review a bit, because you read it in draft form before I was finished! (I accidentally published it.) I'm glad you were able to appreciate my first responses to Chanel No. 5. I've been very shy about approaching this iconic scent, but because it had such an impact on me, it's OK that you read my first, most passionate responses to it. :) It is interesting that people view Chanel No. 5 in strikingly opposite ways. Can a perfume be both warm and cold? Seductive but haughty? Maybe that's Chanel No. 5's secret: it's a paradoxical perfume.

Le critique de parfum

A strong and daring idea. Exactly what most today's fragrances are missing.


Yay, wondeful review, B. :-)
I'm glad you enjoyed the vintage extrait, I am hording several bottles of it. Although I love the EDT (vintage & modern EDT are very similar, nearly identical), it is the vintage extrait that continues to bewitch and intrigue me. I do smell the iteration of that well-known No. 5 floral accord in the vintage extrait, but it is the now-obsolete nitromusks and civet that give it that animalic edge that all current No. 5 formulations seem to lack - beautiful as they are - due to various restrictions. When I wear No. 5 vintage extrait, it's like I've gone to musk heaven, floating on my musky cloud singing musk songs, playing my musky harp. lol.

Ironically, I am very much an animal lover. I don't eat meat, don't wear leather, etc. If the vintage version of No. 5 were still in production today, I would not buy it, because I don't feel comfortable financially supporting the abuse of animals. I buy vintage bottles of certain beautiful animalic perfumes on Ebay and at antique shops, because I know my money is no longer supporting the animal-ingredient industry which is now, thank goodness, nearly defunct. If I had lived in the 1940s, I would not have purchased such a fragrance, because doing so would have been directly supporting the contemporaneous harvesting of those animalic ingredients in the most cruel and inhumane ways. So my point, I guess, is that I'm lucky to live in 2010 in which the musk, civet, and castoreum trade has largely been replaced with synthetics (which might not smell as grand but are certainly much more humane to produce). Anyway, rant over. Thanks for reading. :)


Thanks for your comment Robin, and again, for the vintage extrait. I would probably not have been as blown away by Chanel No. 5 if I didn't have the opportunity to smell the divine perfume you sent met. A question, and a couple comments.  I'm curious — you say "nitromusks" — so there's not natural musk in this extrait? Also, I totally agree with you about animalic ingredients — it's odd both to love vintage versions of animalics while abhorring how their natural animal notes were obtained. I'm very torn about that and would never support such a thing now. Glad you mentioned that. And finally, I loved this line: "When I wear No. 5 vintage extrait, it's like I've gone to musk heaven, floating on my musky cloud singing musk songs, playing my musky harp." I think that about sums it up. :)


Well, in Turn/Sanchez's book "Perfumes: The Guide" she does a side by side comparison of vintage & modern No. 5 parfum and at one point she states "Wow, those nitro-musks in the vintage smell grand." So I assume based on that statement that nitro-musks are what were *primarily* responsible for the musky wallop of the vintage parfum extrait. I think it's likely that, just as in today's perfumery, there were a whole cocktail of musks used, including some natural musk tincture although because natural musk tincture has always been extremely expensive, it probably was not used in abundance. Also, perfume blogger Octavian stated IIRC that in addition to the ubiquitious nitro-musks, real musk tincture was used in vintage No. 5...so again, I think real musk tincture was in the formulation but not in abundance, and mixed with other musks.


Thanks so much, Robin. That makes sense that it would be prohibitively expensive to use all-natural musk, and if anyone knows their stuff, it's Octavian from the fabulous blog (for those who don't know) 1000fragrances. Here's what he says about the vintage extrait: "This cuir [leather] note can be an effect from the civet, musc tincture (+nitromusk) + styrax+ jasmin/orris/cassie, but its presence is unmistakable and creates what was often said about No 5 – the smell of a woman. This is not true for the modern No 5 which is more 'artificial' without the depth often found in old perfumes." You can read more here: http://1000fragrances.blogspot.com/2008/05/chanel-no5-extrait-vintage.html


It's great to see a discussion about the use of animal-derived ingedients in perfumery. It's hard to get good info on this. I've started buying from Sonoma Scent Studio partly because it uses no animal musks, civet or castoreum, and does not test on animals. (And the fragrances are wonderful.)


Hi Anne, virtually all contemporary perfumes described as animalic use synthetics in place of natural animal notes. Ambergris is the only animal note that can be used legally, but it's prohibitively expensive so only a handful of perfumes have the real stuff, and even then, I'm sure they use synthetics in combination with it. (Because ambergris is expelled from the sperm whale, harvesters say they can gather it ethically, although I read somewhere — Cropwatch? — that about 96% of ambergris comes from slaughtered whales.) If you're interested in animalic notes, you can try some synthetics from a variety of sources. I got synthetic castoreum and civet from perfumeapprentice.com, and wow! they smell quite realistic to me! I also got a tincture of (ethically gathered) ambergris from her site. More on that later...


Hi B, how have you been? Just checking in to see what's new here. Great review! Love the peasant/genius quote. Now this is weird, because my mother wears No 5 and my father wears Aramis. You've just reviewed both and created all sorts of associations I don't want to have!


Hi Heather! Sorry to create unsavory associations around mum and dad, but may I note that they have amazing taste?! An Aramis man and a Chanel No. 5 woman — that's quite an olfactory couple. It would be fun to pair up other men's/women's fragrances as couples. A post for another time? :) A Fracas woman and a Kouros man? A Calandre woman and a Grey Flannel man? etc...


Maybe you could do a piece on famous couples of old and their scents? That would be keeping with the vintage theme.


Lovely review! I always love reading what you have to say about vintage fragrances. I hope that someday I'm lucky enough to try the vintage Chanel no. 5 extrait. :)


Thanks, Lovelyandroid. I'm glad you're reading, and yes, you need to get your hands on some vintage extrait! It's wonderful.


That's a great idea, Heather. I bet it will be easier to figure out the female stars' favorite scents (I can think of at least 5 off the top of my head) than the men's...


My mother wore No. 5 when I was young, and for that reason I avoided ever buying any of it for myself. She smelled wonderful, of course - but it isn't very... sexy... smelling of one's mother, is it?

Last summer I cast about on ebay for a bottle of parfum to give her, since she hadn't had any No. 5 for years. I won an auction for a very-slightly-used 1 oz bottle, still in its double box. When the box arrived, I could tell that the packaging was quite old: matte cardboard, not glossy, and rather yellow, with the Chanel name *engraved* - not printed or embossed, it's actually cut into the cardboard. I'd also been hearing horror stories of people buying No. 5 parfum on ebay and being fobbed off with edc in old bottles, so I opened the bottle and slapped on two healthy dabs, thinking, "Well, this smells quite faint - where are the aldehydes?" Half an hour later I was in utter heaven. The florals pop, the base is warm and musky and full of real sandalwood - and I understood what a wonder this thing really is.

I kept that bottle, and bought my mother a different one. I blush to admit it. (I did make her a sample, but she hasn't used it yet.)


That's a great story, Mals. I think all perfume-lovers would understand that you kept that bottle! I wonder what decade it was from. Any ideas?


Hi Mals,

If you'd like to take a pic of your vintage No. 5 extrait + boxes and link to the pic, I could likely tell you what time period it originates from, based on boxes, stopper size, wording, label position, boldness of font, etc.

Also, someone mentioned fakes...yes there is definitely one seller in particular to steer clear of. I would love to mention his Ebay ID here but I don't know if that's allowed (slanderous?).


My guess is, maybe, 50s? 40s? I should not think it was older than that.

Thanks for the offer, Robin - I've had trouble getting my camera and my 'puter to talk to each other, so to speak. (Seems to be software issues.) If I can manage it, though, I'll put up a link.


I have never warmed to No. 5, as I find it rather distant and oddly cold, but then I have never tried the Extrait. Maybe someday I will have the chance. It's just too powdery for my taste as well, which is why I love its main competitor from back in the day, Le Galion's Sortilege. It has the richness without the powder and has other similarities in style. Funny how perfumes that are so closely related in their composition can be just different enough so that one is pure love and the other is just "not me!"


I have the Sortilege and need to try it. Thanks for the reminder. The vintage extrait really blew my mind, but as beautiful as I find it (and just thinking about it makes my mouth water, weirdly enough), I couldn't ever wear it. It's not me, either.


What does the bottle of Chanel no 5 extrait look like?


That's a good question, Bunny. Let me ask Robin for a picture!

L'Homme Vert

I collect vintage Chanel 5 and have numerous bottles from the late 1930's to the present day, and yes I'm a devotee of the older or more original formulations as these do contain natural civet and musc.tincture + now obsolete nitro musks.
Nitro-musks were discontinued in the 1960's due to photo-sensitivity issues and the possibility of carcinogenic activity, a shame as they were incredibly beautiful and a versatile element in the perfumers range of ingredients.
I recently purchased a new bottle of #5 parfum, the difference between this modern formula and the vintage is immense, the aldehydes are more apparent in the opening, drying down to a soft powdery base of synthetic woods & bland white musks. It's a matter of individual taste, I'm so glad that #5 was produced in quantity as this will guarantee supply of the vintages well into the foreseeable future. What did we do before the advent of eBay ?


Hi L'Homme Vert. Thanks for stopping by to talk about your vintage Chanel No. 5s. I was really blown away by the vintage No. 5 a reader sent me, and noticed that added dimension and bite from the now-banned notes of civet, musk, and nitro-musks. The current No. 5 is a nice facsimile but having smelled the original, it seems like a high-resolution photocopy of a gorgeous print photograph.


I bought a sample of No.5 Eau Premiere, reportedly Coco's preference during much of the legal wrangle over No.5, and I'm sad to report that I cannot love it. There's something of anise in it that reminds me of licorice, which spoils the sophistication for me. Now, I need a sample of the vintage No.5 for comparison.


Vintage No. 5 is gorgeous, Nance. A reader was kind enough to give me the vintage extrait and it was a revelation! So animalic and sumptuous.


I'm assuming that my mom had the vintage (bought in the early 60s) and she allowed me to share it until it was gone. I wore it once at the age of 14 and a woman only 9 years my senior,who recognized the scent, said to me, "Aren't you a bit too young to be wearing no.5?" Flash forward thirty some odd years later and I bought 1/4 oz. perfume from a high end department store to reconnect to this fabulous fragrance. Got many compliments but it just wasn't the same.


Barbara- any chance for a post on no.22?

Dyna Hicks

It's all about the stopper! mostly, basically this changed every decade or so. The really old ones are thin and look very much like an emerald-cut gemstone. The newer bottles 70s onward look like they have a house brick on them


I inherited about two pints of No 5 pure perfume, all sealed and stored in a cooler, in a wine cellar. There are two 8oz bottles of perfume, a 4oz bottle several 2oz bottles and the rest are mostly 1oz and 1/2oz sizes. There are three very unusual ones they contain extrait. and are a different shape from the usual ones they are about two inches tall and have a round flat stopper, one has a glass stick, or dropper attached.
I have been slowly working my way through the more common looking bottles, opening them, and using them up, but I have not opened one of these yet. Does anybody have any idea what they are or their history.

oriel ross wardell

I must confess to a time I tried No5,I was managing an hotel at the time and one morning my boss came in,all mink from head to toe and as she passed me,she asked if I was wearing No5?,as that was her signature perfume.I said"oh, I wear it doing chores,but keep my good stuff,(meaning my Caleche)for going out.Luckily she was a good sport about it and didn't hand me me dismissal.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Book

Order Here

Vintage Perfume Reviews