Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chanel N°5

Chances are, if you ask the ordinary, average person (that is, one who is not familiar perfumery) to name a perfume and chances are good that he or she will say, "Chanel N°5." Indeed, I think it is safe to say that Chanel N°5 is the most famous perfume of all time.

Chanel N°5 originated with two people. One was French fashion designer Coco Chanel. Chanel opened her first boutique in Paris in 1914. By the Twenties she was already one of the most respected fashion designers in Europe. Not content with simply designing clothing, Chanel wanted a wholly artificial perfume. That is, she wanted to give women a perfume whose scent was synthetic rather than relying upon natural scents as nearly every perfume before it had.

The other individual responsible for the creation of Chanel N°5 was famed perfumer Ernest Beaux. Beaux had achieved a good deal of success with the perfume Bouquet de Napoleon, which he made in honour of the anniversary of the Battle of Borodino. Beaux had been experimenting with aldehydes, recently discovered organic compounds, with which he hoped to create synthetic scents. Beaux was introduced to Coco Chanel by Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia. Naturally, she was fascinated by his research into synthetic scents.

According to Beaux, Chanel asked him for samples of his work. He gave her two sets of numbered bottles. One set was numbered one to five; the other was numbered twenty to twenty four. Of the samples, Chanel favoured the one contained in bottle numbered five. Since it had been in the fifth bottle, Chanel named the new perfume "N°5." Initially, Coco Chanel expose her friends to the perfume first, on May 5, 1921. In the early days it was given to her preferred customers at her boutiques. It would be in 1924 that she would introduce Chanel N°5 to the world, entering into a partnership with Pierre and Paul Wertheimer for her perfume business.

Relying heavily on the scent of jasmine (then the most expensive scent on the market), Chanel N°5 was at the time the most expensive perfume in the world. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), it swiftly became a success. In fact, it would eventually become the most popular perfume in the world. The height of its success may well have been the Fifties, when Chanel N°5 was endorsed by Marilyn Monroe. Interviewed in an airport in Japan in 1953, when asked what she wore to bed, Monroe reportedly said that she only wore a few drops of Chanel N°5. The perfume's sales, already strong, increased even more. Wrestler Gorgeous George would always have the wrestling ring sprayed with disinfectant, a formula which reportedly contained Chanel N°5--although George said it was "Chanel N°10," saying, "Why be half safe?" In 1959 the packaging of Chanel N°5 would be placed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Andy Warhol immortalised Chanel N°5 in a series of nine silkscreens. Chanel N°5 was mentioned in the movies Hud, RocketMan, and Just Visiting. When Channel Five in the United Kingdom launched on March 30, 1987, the first commercial it showed was one for Chanel N°5. Among Ridley Scott's earliest works would be some of the more famous commercials for the perfume.

Since the Fifties Chanel N°5 has varied in popularity, but at no point has it ever become unpopular. After 87 years of existence, it not only remains popular, but perhaps the most famous perfume of all time. Whether it is because of its actual scent or the impact it has had on pop culture, but it has always been my favourite perfume for a woman to wear. Coco Chanel herself once said, "A woman should wear fragrance wherever she expects to be kissed." I might add that she will probably improve her odds of being kissed if that fragrance happens to be Chanel N°5.


Susan said...

This is a really in depth fascinating piece. Chanel no 5 is my mom's favourite! I personally use the fragrance 'Glamorous from Ralph Lauren', its my trademark summer scent and it really seems to give me great confidence when i have it on, this is what i think a great perfume should do!

d. chedwick said...

It was my mom's favorite scent too, and I always keep a bottle on hand.

d. chedwick said...

I remember Robert Mitchum giving Chanel # 5 soap to Shirley MacLaine in Two for the Seesaw because he wanted her to smell wealthy. -