Upon hearing “Coco Chanel”, what image pops into your head, her “little black dress”, signature “boxy jackets and knee-length skirts” or “Chanel No. 5” perfume?
In 1921 Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (born in 1883), founder of the House of Chanel, debuted Chanel No. 5, a perfume that would become the single most recognized women’s fragrance in the world.
Ernest Beaux, the creator of the fragrance, had strict orders: it should smell like a woman, without the smell of any particular flower, no roses, no lilies of the valley, it should be a composition of fragrances. He came up with two sets of samples numbering them 1-5 and 20-24. Madame Chanel had to make a choice and she chooses sample number 5. In this practical, unglamorous manner, Chanel No. 5 was born.
For the design of the fragrance, Madame Chanel followed her classic principle: less is more. She selected a simple presentation: a rectangular glass bottle with the top resembling Place Vendome inParis.
Being superstitious, the new perfume was launched on the fifth day, of the fifth month of 1921.
In the creating process of the Chanel No. 5 fragrance, Ernest Beaux used, for the first time, the synthetic component “aldehydes” which he mixed with fragrances of rose and jasmine. The fragrance of aldehydes is pure and fresh, reminiscent of the odor of clean linen just brought in the house from the fresh frosty air. It is believed; Coco chose this particular fragrance because it reminded her of the simple scent of cleanliness, fresh laundry and scrubbed skin of her childhood and youth spent in an austere medieval convent in south-western France. Others say the inspiration originated from Beaux’s visits to the Arctic Circle and the smell of water at midnight. The unique smell of frozen lakes and rivers fascinated him so much that he decided to replicate them in his creation.
When Madame Chanel was asked where a woman should wear fragrance, she responded, “Wherever she expects to be kissed.” Not wants to be kissed, mind you, but expects to be kissed.
In 1954 a reporter asked Marilyn Monroe what she wore to bed and she replied “just a few drops of Chanel No.5.” Needless to say, perfume sales spiked. To this day, it is said that someone, somewhere in the world buys a bottle of Chanel No. 5 every 30 second.
Next time you’re in Paris, make a point of visiting the Chanel boutique at 31 Rue Cambon.
You’ll enter into a glittering shrine to fashion and fragrance, and yes, the fragrance you’ll smell will be Chanel No. 5.