Chanel No. 5: The scent of scents
In 1921 Coco Chanel revolutionised perfumery forever with the release of her debut fragrance, which she called Chanel No.5. The fragrance was a smash hit with women, and went on to become arguably the most iconic fragrance of all time and a benchmark for all future scents to be judged. The story of the scent is one of ingenuity and Chanel's own unique personality.
Arriving in Paris in 1909 on the arm of a wealthy textile baron, Chanel soon established herself in Parisian society with a series of successful fashion boutiques. By 1921 she had decided to try her hand at fragrance, determined to try and capture the essence of the 'modern woman' that she embodied and also rid women of the overly ‘musky’ smell of the time.
"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud." - Coco Chanel
Coco had spent part of her childhood in a convent where the constant smell of freshly scrubbed, soapy skin had left a deep impression on her. As a result, she obsessively kept herself clean and she was keen for her fragrance to have this same quality, which in those days was no easy task.
Struggling to find a perfumer who could realise her vision, Chanel came across a man named Ernest Beaux while on holiday in the south of France. Suitably impressed by what she had seen she left him with the sizeable task of bringing her dream to life. After some months of toiling Ernest returned with a selection of samples labelled 1-5 and 20-24. Of course Coco chose the now iconic sample number 5, saying "It was what I was waiting for. A perfume like nothing else. A woman's perfume, with the scent of a woman.”
The most iconic figure in Hollywood history famously remarked that she wore only Chanel No. 5 to bed.
The scents genius was in its use of aldehydes, which were a newly manufactured synthetic form of citrus. Before No.5 achieving the desired fresh tones required the use of either lime or bergamot, which typically didn’t last very long. This synthetic version was far more potent than its natural counterpart, and the lingering freshness combined with an array of fragrant delights gave the scent a complexity that had never been seen before.
Chanel No.5 is a true cultural phenomenon, inspiring works from artists including Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.
In a true display of her marketing skills and showmanship Chanel decided to test the fragrance in one of Paris’ trendiest restaurants, spraying it around her table and waiting as passers-by stopped to ask about this captivating aroma. Launched on the fifth day of the fifth month in 1921, Chanel No.5 soon became the talk of the town and truly brought fragrance into the 20th century.
Chanel No.5 is still a show-stopper today, and is still the most coveted item on every woman’s nightstand. A bottle of Chanel No.5 is sold every 30 seconds, and there is no sign of its appeal waning anytime soon. So why not see what all the fuss is about and grab yourself a fragrant piece of history.