Five By Five

There are so many perfumes that are nearly No 5, but not quite.   This is what happens when you are the cool girl at your school, everyone wants to be you, and the melancholy truth is, that some variations of you may be more engaging than you are yourself.  Think of all the times you have said to yourself, well No. 5 is very fine but supposing she were warmer, or more floral, or had more aldehydes, or fewer aldehydes, or incense.  The list of possibilities is long.

Of the many contenders for most charming version of No5, I’ve included here five: Balenciaga’s Le Dix, Guerlain’s Liu, Robert Piquet’s Baghari, Estee Lauder’s White Linen and Mme Rochas.

Why these?  Why not say, Arpege?  Well, Arpege is a big enough variant to my mind to have broken free of the sister scent stigma.  Arpege is her own self, and always has been, warmer, deeper and much more ambery than No 5, at its best Arpege smelled to me like a floral butterscotch, of a most unctuous and melting sort.

The rest of these though all have something to offer the original format of the floral aldehyde, genus Chanel, than you might have foreseen.  Le Dix, a favorite of my daughter’s, is more flowery, the flower in question being violets, this is also true of White Linen.  No one, or practically no one now, remembers the fact that White Linen debuted as one part of a trio, the other members of this triplet team being the forgotten perfumes Pavilion and Celadon which have evaporated since their 1978 introduction, but in the interim, White Linen has become a classic, a gently floral aldehyde, suitable for ladies.  Constitutionally incompatible with cleavage, leopard prints and red stilettos, this one goes with pearls, crisply ironed shirts and well, white linen.  My mother-in-law has used White Linen for years now, always likes it, and always returns to it.

She would not care, I think for the next contestant in this little variety show Baghari.  If Le Dix is No 5 with violets then Baghari is No 5 with oranges and spice.  To smell, the scent is a half way house between No 5 and Bois des Isles, not so gingery and dark as the latter and definitely with more warmth than the former.  Baghari is what you might call the Christmas version of No 5.  The Piguet is also interesting because it is one of those unusual perfumes that come on heavier than they dry off and dry off more charmingly than they come on, lighter, more playful and much more citrus than in the head notes.  Baghari is not particularly floral though, and since it isn’t, is also much more easily wearable by men than the other perfumes mentioned here.  Here is one for the guys.

This leads me to the other two contenders in the No 5 durbar, the slightly sentimental Liu and the suave and debonair Mme. Rochas.  Liu when I knew it best, back in the 1990’s was always sweeter and easier than No 5, but distinctly predicated on the Chanel.  Interestingly, Liu wasn’t the last perfume that Jacques Guerlain produced that was similar, he also did Vega which is currently available once again at about USD 255.00  and said to be more ambery than Liu.  I have smelled Vega, and Liu, delicate, very jasmine inflected, and a tad high pitched, is more feminine.  If you like White Linen, I’m guessing you’d also appreciate Liu.

(Can you keep a secret?  The story goes that when old Joe Kennedy was doing his Hollywood foray, he had an affair with Gloria Swanson who was wearing No 5.  Rose, who also liked No 5, was darned if she was going to wear the same thing.  So either an indignant Rose or a contrite Joe got Guerlain to come up with a suitable substitute in Liu.  Yes, Virginia, the rich are different.)

Mme. Rochas on the other hand is much more rounded and is plainly  inspired by Arpege.  There’s a golden tone to the whole perfume. Or I should say, there was.  It’s been re-formulated and I am not sure what the current version smells like.  Let’s hope that they kept it as close to the original as possible.  Because as we all know- imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

(Bonus audio track – For your listening pleasure, here are Harry James and Helen Forrest performing Mr Five by Five.)


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4 thoughts on “Five By Five

  1. I love aldehydes.

    Having said that, I have to admit that I do not particularly care for Liu (too powdery. and too much jasmine for moi), vaaaaastly preferring Vega and actually considering ponying up for that gorgeous bottle.

    ‘Course, I’ve been considering Vega for about three years now so maybe I’m not all that serious about it.

    I should try Le Dix again. It had been recommended to me as “a violet scent,” and it really was not the violet I was looking for, so I swapped away my little vintage mini and can’t revisit to see if it was just ruined by age or I was being closed-minded.

    Baghari I do not like. Can’t say why, other than I feel that it’s made up of things that don’t really go together. I have a small spray sample of the refo, and a decant of vintage edc, which is animalic enough in the heart to make the grocery store clerk lean away from me.

    I’ve always felt that White Linen should have been called Mildewed Laundry: it is sour and cranky, at least when I’ve tried it, and of course it is a Lauder which means that no matter what the top of it is like, after two hours I’m going to have to scrub it off due to nausea. I did try White Linen on my scarf once, and my stomach kept its balance but I didn’t enjoy the experience.

    Mme Rochas I have been jonesing to try for some time. I keep stalking mini bottles on ebay… and then they sell for more than I want to put into an unsniffed mini. I may have to bite the bullet – or just buy a sample from TPC.

    Reading over this comment, it appears that I do not in fact love aldehydes at all… but I do, I do! I have a small vintage Arpege extrait that obsesses me in the fall, and “golden” is such a good descriptor for it. The drydown is stunning (though I struggle a little through those overripe florals). No. 5 parfum itself, especially vintage, is utterly gorgeous. Iris Poudre, Ferre 20, Ferre – either the one in the black and gold grenade bottle or the newer one with fruit- Bois des Iles, Sonoma Scent Studio Champagne de Bois and Nostalgie, Tableau de Parfums Miriam, the aforementioned Vega, vintage Coty L’Aimant, Climat, vintage Sortilege, the old Nina by Nina Ricci… enjoy all, love many.

    • Yeah, but you do like No. 5 and that is the acid test for love of aldehydes. Speaking of Ferre, and Iris Poudre have you smelled the Great Empresses of Japan? It’s another Pierre Bourdon one that is quite similar to Ferre and IP but subtler I think. It’s as though he took that formula and kept mulling it over and over, and those perfumes are the products of that mulling. Poor man, I make him sound more like a slow cooker than a master perfumer, but you know what I’m getting at here, the same idea sort of simmers over time.
      Is Nostalgie really wonderful? I like SSS but don’t wear any of her things, but do like Champagne de Bois very much, and wonder about that new one. I’ve actually preferred Champagne to Bois des Isles sometimes!

      • Nostalgie is really lovely, very much in that retro aldehydic floral style, all powdery-pretty-making at the dressing table. It reminds me a great deal of Miriam, actually, except that Miriam is mostly about the sandalwood and goes quite sweet in the base.

        I haven’t tried the Empresses of Japan one, but I like that whole Iris Poudre-Ferre nexus, so I may have to investigate.

        • Well then I’ll have to try Nostalgie. My last attempt at a retro fragrance was an extravagant composition of Strange Invisible perfumes which smelled…well, more on that later, let’s just say that it was compellingly animalic to me.

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