History of Chanel n ° 5
Is there a corner of God’s green earth where a flask decorated with interlocking Cs and a single prime number does not elicit sighs of desire and cries of joy? This year marks the 100th anniversary of Chanel No. 5, the revolutionary fragrance that is perhaps Coco Chanel’s most enduring confection – an ode to modernism in a bottle that laughs at the passing of time.
If every woman alive wants Chanel # 5, maybe that’s because from the start the perfume represented a new woman – someone who threw off her corset, slipped into a little black dress and is part without fear to face the future. Its powerful appeal may never be fully understood (like love, can it ever be fully understood?), But there are clues in the backstory.
It is 1920. The First World War is over, the flappers start to cut their hair and roll up their stockings, and Coco Chanel meets the Franco-Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux. She asks him to concoct a perfume that is neither sticky, neither floral nor sweet, as it was at the time. In short, she said to him, she wants a bouquet that evokes “the scent of a woman”. In a story straight out of a fairy tale, told at an exhibition this year at the Palais Galliera in Paris, Beaux travels the planet, even as far as the Arctic Circle, in search of ingredients that will bring life to life. with the aromatic fantasy of Coconut. He finds ylang-ylang in the Comoros, tonka bean in Venezuela, sandalwood in New Caledonia and, closer to home, May rose and jasmine, produced exclusively in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. The essential aldehydes that give the perfume its legendary “clean” scent? For me there is a hint of arctic snow.
From these delicious elements, Beaux prepares several contestants to pose at Chanel’s delicate feet or, should we say, nostrils. According to the story, she selects the fifth sample, stating that five is her lucky number – she showed her collections on May 5, which is the fifth month of the year. And to make sure that women understand, she forgoes the traditional perfume bottle, typically adorned with Belle Epoque flowers, and introduces a bottle whose austerity is an elegant tribute to a symbol of the scientific method: the laboratory bottle. . And there you have it: Chanel, a pioneer in many other ways, becomes the first fashion designer to mark her name as a perfume, her ex machina perfume an immediate must.
It was then. This does not take into account the hold that this ageless centenary still has on our imaginations. Like the multitude of petals of a May rose, the Beaux floral hybrid threw itself into the original formula (Rosa x centifolia to a botanist), there are a hundred reasons for the durability of No. 5, but a few other interlocking Cs come to mind: confidence, conviction, change. And while the individual ingredients of this potion haven’t been fundamentally changed in 100 years, his perception has been. Arriving first, # 5 put himself in our shoes and never left, a Promethean creation that set the standard for everything that followed. From that point on, there would be # 5 and all the rest. This pedigree aroused the most captivating of aphrodisiacs: envy. We want what we believe is the best, and we want to be the first to own it.
And then there’s that elusive quality we once associated with movie stars: mystique. “Gabrielle Chanel wanted a perfume constructed like a dress, both artificial and abstract, which gives it a mysterious dimension,” explains Olivier Polge, house perfumer and resident nose of Chanel. “There is always something in number 5 that you cannot grasp.”
We may not be able to grasp it, but who can blame us for trying? The truth is, it’s the rare thing – in fashion, in culture, in life – that retains all of its alluring modernity. Marilyn Monroe confessed in a 1952 interview that she wore “five drops of Chanel # 5” and nothing else in bed, and can’t you just hear her say it in her panting voice? It’s not just Monroe, the scent has been associated with women from Catherine Deneuve to Nicole Kidman. He even trapped a gentleman or two; Marlon Brando was said to be a fan, and Andy Warhol immortalized him in screen printing in 1985. Who can forget Brad Pitt’s gloomy black and white rhapsody in a series of commercials in 2012?
To mark this centenary, Chanel presented a high jewelry collection inspired by this perennial four-quadrant beauty, a task not without daunting challenges. How do you take something as fleeting as smoke and translate it into precious, wearable works of art? The collection plays with five distinct elements – the signature cap, the geometric bottle, the number 5, the flowers at the center of the perfume and the invisible wake – to evoke the soul of the perfume, with one-piece diamonds dripping to suggest droplets. The most exciting specimen (not for sale) is a necklace that sports a 55.55-carat custom-cut diamond worthy of this rarest milestone.
“The difficulty was even to touch this icon. It’s a little intimidating. It’s risky, ”explains Patrice Leguéreau, director of the Chanel Haute Joaillerie Creation Workshop. He wanted, he explains, “to be inspired, to celebrate and to design something new, not only to replicate the bottle, but to touch his mind.”
And isn’t that what we all want: a touch of magic? Sneak into our Chanel dress, throw a cardigan over our shoulders, dab our cuffs with this elegant miracle and step out into the world as on a higher plane. The ancient Greeks had a word for it: ekstasis, the feeling of being spellbound outside of oneself. Sometimes it only takes five small drops.
This story appears in the October 2021 issue of City Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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