In my Suddenly Diamonds post I expressed disappointment that Lidl had gone from copying the iconic Coco Mademoiselle to a fairly middle of the road BOSS perfume, instead of going for 'the big one', ie Chanel No 5. Along with the likes of Guerlain Mitsouko and Shalimar, No 5 is regarded as one of the leviathans of the perfume scene. And thanks to a tip off from an anonymous reader I learnt that the store had now taken on Goliath(!) and brought out Suddenly Woman 1, an apparent knock off of Chanel No 5... Well, it seems I had missed Suddenly Woman 1 in stores first time round, for it had already been and gone by the time I caught up with the news. However, the same reader kindly alerted me to the relaunch on 27th November, carefully scheduled to catch the run up to Christmas.
So I hotfooted it down to my local store the other day, where there is currently an offer on of two for £7 as opposed to the usual price of £3.99 each for 50ml. And assuming I would be as impressed as I have been up to now with the other scents in the Lidl stable, I bagged a couple of bottles, thinking I might give the other one away to a friend who loves Chanel No 5, and fancies something inexpensive she can splash around during the day.
It took me a few minutes to find the product, mind, as Lidl seems to have a habit of initially showcasing its perfume releases in a prominent spot nowhere near the toiletries aisle. I was about to beard an assistant about why they weren't stocking Woman 1 though it was comfortably after 27th November when I stumbled upon a display right next to some condiments and cruets. But of course!
Before getting into the scent itself, a word about the packaging. Like No 5, the box is monochrome and pretty classy-looking - with added silver edging. The bottle is the best yet - a pleasing rectangular yet elliptical shape, with a thick glass base and chunky black top. I could believe the packaging is worth £3.50 on its own, and to think it might not be makes you realise how big a profit margin is built into some high end scents.
But as for how Suddenly Woman 1 smells, that is where it all begins to unravel. I first tested it blind against actual Chanel No 5 edp on a friend in the next street whose cat I feed. She is a completely 'normal' member of the public (ie not a raging perfumista like me and many Bonkers readers). My friend owns a few bottles (eg Shalimar, Gucci Envy) but isn't nuts about scent as such. Anyway, she immediately spotted which was No 5 and which the imitation. She described the Lidl scent as flat and monotone, like a 'single malt' (but not in a good way ie with the emphasis on 'single', or one-trick-ponyness!). The No 5 she said was multi-layered and fresher.
From my own subsequent trials I would add to that that No 5 was more floral, and more cleanly soapy - in a luxury milled soap sense - whereas Suddenly Woman 1 was sort of 'musty'. The aldehydes seemed rougher - less finely milled if you will! - and the base (to which the scent immediately defaulted) reminded me slightly of an Estee Lauder scent you don't see around much for very good reasons - Spellbound. I remember that one as a dark, spicy, sticky number, which Luca Turin dubbed 'medicinal treacle'. The base of Suddenly Woman 1 is nowhere near that bad, but it has an odd borderline 'off' character. I'd liken it to those 70s orientals (Lentheric Mystique is one that springs to mind) that have a challenging bottom end if you know what I mean - and which if you do come across them now, might not be in perfect nick either.
After an hour, Suddenly Woman 1 does mellow considerably, but there is simply not much going on on my skin by now other than a vague prickle of aldehydes and a faint murky undertow. No 5 meanwhile continues on its soapy way, less fizzy now, with more pure soap at this juncture. Suddenly Woman 1 was a bit brighter on my friend, so it is quite possible that YMMV.
That all said, Suddenly Woman 1 is arguably a perfectly good take on a retro style of perfume that just isn't to my taste. I would love people to try it to see what you DO think it smells like, especially during the crucial first hour. Something vintage, a bit spicy - maybe with moss?, musk? I really ain't sure - I am so bad at deconstructing scents that we need keener noses on the case. And when you think how complex the formulation of No 5 is said to be - for it is reputed to contain no fewer than 250 ingredients, of pretty high quality one may infer - it was always going to be a big ask to come up with a decent dupe in nice packaging for £3.99...
One and a half hours in and Suddenly Woman 1 has lost all its bite and darkness and is just a gentle hum on my skin - nothing remotely objectionable about it now, but nor could I tell you what it smelt of at this point. It's soft, with this puzzling vintage vibe. I am not 'high fiv-ing' it, that's for sure. Or 'high No 5-ing' it, even. I do like my perfumes to smell actively pleasant long before this point. ;)
I tried to find some other views on Suddenly Woman 1 and at the time of writing I only came up with was this thread on Mumsnet - note that all the comments are favourable except one. That person got a terrible migraine from Woman 1 and thought it smelt ghastly. So I guess my experience of the opening is more aligned with hers. And as I say, if you are prepared to sit out the first hour or so, it is much more congenial, and as both the No 5 and the Lidl scent are more indistinct at this point, there is a greater resemblance from this point on, though I wouldn't overplay it.
Definitely something you have to try for yourself and make your own mind up, so for the sake of four quid, please don't be put off by my review, but buy a bottle if you can and come back and tell us how you got on.
I say, you don't suppose it could be a copy of Mitsouko, by any chance? Nah, surely not....;)
Last night I was round at my mate Clare's, helping her retrospectively cost dog cakes, since you ask. She happens to own a used bottle of No 5 - a bit longer in the tooth than the sample I had been using as a control, but still very nice. I got her and her husband Tony to comment on how the Lidl scent smelt vs both the No 5s (on my wrists), and the findings were interesting: Tony thought the two scents were somewhat similar, but that Suddenly Woman 1 was 'sharper', as in spiky, and also a bit 'old lady'. Clare preferred the Lidl perfume, and promptly gave me her old bottle of No 5(!), partly as a reward for my financial services, but also because she rarely feels a yen to wear it these days.
I must also say that I was surprised to find that neither version of actual No 5 is anything like as fizzily aldehydic as I remembered (I owned it myself in the 80s). I really do think Suddenly Woman 1 will appeal too fans of vintage scents from the 70s - or earlier? And of course it may behave quite differently on other people's skin.