Every 30 seconds, one bottle of Chanel No.5 is sold somewhere, making it the best selling and best-known perfume in the world, pretty amazing for a scent that was the result of a mistake.created almost a hundred years ago, in 1921!
The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when someone mentions Chanel No. 5 is, of course, Marilyn Monroe saying in 1952 that the only thing she wore to bed was this iconic French scent, but do you know the story behind Chanel’s perfume?
The French designer Gabrielle Chanel, AKA Coco Chanel, came from a poor family in rural France. Her mother died when she was a little girl and her father sent her to a convent, where she was to spend her teenage years. From those years in the Cistercian convent, she was marked by the smell of soap and clean skin.
In 1909 she came to Paris with a lover who helped her set up a little millinery boutique. Ten years later, Chanel had already become a famous designer, with successful boutiques not only in Paris but also in Biarritz and Deauville. She had revolutionised woman’s fashion and wanted now to create a scent for her modern and stylish clients; a woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent.
While travelling on the Cote D’Azur, Chanel met a sophisticated perfumer, Ernest Beaux, and told him what she was looking for.
The most famous perfume in the world revolutionised the way perfumes were made at that time. Instead of single flower fragrances, the French perfumer prepared a bouquet with more than 80 different fragrances, including jasmine, roses, vetiver, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, tonka beans. To this floral extravagance, Beaux’s assistant added by mistake in one of the samples, a higher dose of aldehyde, that had never been used in perfumery before. The aldehyde is a synthetic component that exalts perfumes as the lemon and reminds a bit of the scent of soap. Among the 10 samples the perfume editor presented to Coco, she chose the one that contained more aldehyde, which reminded Coco of her years in the convent. If you guessed that the sample she chose was sample number five, you are right!
The iconic perfume comes in a bottle designed to look like a bottle of whisky and was also inspired by the geometry of the Place Vendome in Paris. The clean and austere lines of the design were also revolutionary as in the 1920s, all perfumes came in elaborate bottles. At that time, perfumes had romantic and sentimental names, never before had anyone used a number to name a scent, and the label is minimalistic like the bottle.
In 1937, it’s the turn to revolutionise the way advertisement was made. Mademoiselle Chanel decides to be photographed at the Ritz to advertise her perfume in Harper’s Bazaar, This was the first celebrity endorsement campaign, followed by several other celebrities featured as the incarnation of the scent like Catherine Deneuve, Candice Bergen, Carole Bouquet, Audrey Tatou, Vanessa Paradis and her daughter Lily-Rose Depp among many others.
The design of the French perfume was so modern that several years after being launched, the pop-artist Andy Warhol made a series of silkscreens depicting it.
Back then, everything in Chanel No.5 was as incredibly innovative, audacious and modern as was Mademoiselle Coco Chanel, and the iconic perfume remains contemporary almost a hundred years later, this is why Chanel No.5 shall never grow old.