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.
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.)