Stop Everything: Chanel Is Launching A New N0 .5

You wouldn’t stroll into Mario Batali’s kitchen and overthrow his carbonara recipe. Or walk through Christian Louboutin’s studio and suggest tweaking the color of the soles. And it would certainly take guts to take on the world’s oldest and most beloved fragrance, Chanel No. 5. But if there's one person poised to do it, it’s perfumer Olivier Polge. His take on the scent, launching in the form of Chanel No. 5 L’Eau this fall, is the freshest, cleanest, and — in my opinion — sexiest interpretation of it yet.

But to understand the new scent, you need to understand a little about Polge first. The 40-year-old is a bit of a prodigal son in the world of perfumery. He was born into fragrance royalty (his father, Jacques Polge, was Chanel’s master perfumer since 1978; before that, it was Henri Robert who succeeded the original perfumer, Ernest Beaux, who created Chanel No. 5). But Polge rejected the call for a while — pursuing architecture, classical piano, and graphic design before slowly making his way back to fragrance and producing edgy hits like Flowerbomb and Florabotanica in the early 2000s. Finally, in 2013 he took over his father’s post at the house of Chanel. With it, he brought a completely new outlook — reinventing classic scents and breaking longstanding traditions. (His other major project, Chanel Boy, launching this summer, is the house’s first unisex fragrance.)

So, when it was time to rethink Chanel No. 5 — coincidentally the fifth reinterpretation of the scent in 95 years — his bold perspective went into overdrive. Polge, who wanted to create “the freshest version of Chanel No. 5,” also didn’t want to overhaul it completely. “I wanted to tell the story in a different way and with very contemporary aspects,” Polge tells us in Grasse, France, where the brand unveiled the fragrance for the first time.

This is the freshest version of Chanel No. 5.

Olivier Polge
Practically, that meant breaking down the classic juice ingredient by ingredient — which could only be done by someone who knows it inside and out. “No. 5 is a pillar of our identity, and we produce it all year long,” explains Polge, who says he first smelled No. 5 when he was 4 years old. “So for any fragrance we create, [Chanel No. 5] is in the back of our mind and part of our sensibility.”
L'Eau still contains No. 5's main floral pillar — May rose — which has been carefully sourced from Grasse since 1921. And when we say carefully, we mean it. The flowers only bloom for two weeks a year during May, and, once picked, must be transported to the factory within two-and-a-half hours to maintain their robust scent. It takes about 800 pounds to produce one pound of rose absolue. So, yeah, May is a pretty busy month for Polge.
Photo: Cat Quinn for Refinery29
It requires 800 pounds of roses to produce one pound of rose absolue at the Chanel fragrance factory in Grasse, France.

There are also nods to classic jasmine, aldehyde, sandalwood, and ylang-ylang in the new scent — and that’s where things get interesting. Polge isolated the ylang-ylang using a special distilling process. The result is a greener, crisper note than anything you'd find in the original. “Natural, raw ingredients are almost fragrances by themselves,” says Polge. “We can be much more precise today than we used to be, and we have the ability of redistilling the concentrate.” He also kept sandalwood, but balanced it with a lighter, “more vibrant” cedarwood for a crisper, softer dry-down.

The final outcome? A fresh, clean, light, and invigorating scent that looks chic as hell on a nightstand — but that you would wear for a night out. You'll just have to forget all your preconceived notions. “We all have in mind so many things about Chanel No. 5,” says Polge. “It’s a story that takes up so much space in our minds.” This new chapter is definitely our favorite yet.

No. 5 L'Eau is available in September 2016. You can sign up for the waitlist — and a chance to get your hands on it early — right here.

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