The story behind Chanel No.5: the result of a mistake? How was it created?

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 created a hundred years ago. And, believe it or not, story has it that Chanel No.5 was the result of a mistake!

Certainly, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when someone mentions the iconic perfume is Marilyn Monroe. The Hollywood star famously stated the only thing she wore to bed was this French scent. But do you know the real story behind Chanel No.5?

Marilyn Monroe wearing Chanel No.5, which story has it, was the result of a mistake.

A bit of the story of Coco Chanel

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. Consequently, her father sent her to a convent, where she was to spend her teenage years. Chanel would always remember the smell of soap and clean skin from those years in the Cistercian convent.

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 fashion designer, with successful boutiques in Paris and Biarritz and Deauville. She had revolutionised women’s fashion. And now, Coco Chanel wanted to create a scent for her modern and stylish clients, a woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent.

A mistake, Coco Chanel, and No.5

While travelling on the Cote D’Azur, Chanel met a sophisticated perfumer, Ernest Beaux. She then explained what she was looking for. That’s where the story of the famous Chanel No.5 began.

The most famous scent 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. He put together jasmine, roses, vetiver, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, tonka beans, among others. Beaux’s assistant added in one of the samples of this floral extravagance, by mistake, a higher dose of aldehyde, which had never been used in perfumery before. The aldehyde is a synthetic component that exalts perfumes like lemon and reminds a bit of the scent of soap. Among the 10 samples the perfume editor presented, Chanel chose the one containing more aldehyde. She said the smell reminded her of the years in the convent. So if you guessed the sample Chanel chose was sample No.5, the one with the mistake story, you are right!

Bottle of the iconic Chanel No.5, which story has it, was the result of a mistake.

Chanel No.5; a revolution

The iconic perfume comes in a bottle designed to look like a bottle of whisky. And it was also inspired by the geometry of the Place Vendome in Paris. The clean and austere lines were also revolutionary in the 1920s as 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. Additionally, the label is minimalistic, like the bottle.

In 1937, it was 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.

Is the iconic perfume Chanel No.5 the result of a mistake?

The design of the French perfume was so modern that several years after its launch, the pop artist Andy Warhol made a series of silkscreens depicting it.

Back then, everything in the story of Chanel No.5 was as incredibly innovative, audacious and modern as was Mademoiselle Coco Chanel. And the iconic perfume remains contemporary a hundred years later; this is why the timeless Chanel No.5 shall never grow old.

Finally, you may also like to learn about the history of manicure throughout the centuries.

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Photo via Chanel and Wikimedia

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