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How Chanel’s Perfume Has Stayed Iconic for 100 Years

Whereas Chanel N°5 celebrates its centennial this yr, many would argue the scent is as resonant at the moment because it was in 1921. In 2019, an merchandise infused with its perfume—a fragrance, bathe gel, or cleaning soap—was bought in America each minute, both in individual or on-line. So at a time when magnificence tendencies come and go along with the swipe of a thumb, it begs the query: What makes an icon eternal?

Chanel N°5 is each recognizable and distinctive to every particular person. “It is not that certain notes [in N°5] smell differently on each woman’s skin,” says Olivier Polge, Chanel’s in-house perfumer creator. “It’s more about the complexity of notes that resonate in a very personal way according to the woman wearing them.”

N°5 Eau de Parfum



That almost bespoke really feel is because of a mix of over 80 notes and accords, from wealthy sandalwood and ylang-ylang to citrusy bergamot and orange blossom to a copious quantity of specifically sourced jasmine. The system—a guarded secret, in fact—additionally consists of aldehydes, artificial components that add a heady je ne sais quoi. They have been cutting-edge when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel launched the scent in 1921. On the time, single-note floral scents dominated the market, so the combination itself broke the mould as the other of the period’s monotone florals.

“She wanted to make sure people would say, ‘You smell good,’ and not, ‘You smell like rose or jasmine,’ ” explains Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur, Chanel’s head of worldwide inventive sources for perfume and sweetness, fantastic jewellery, and watches. “The only thing that counted was the woman.”

The summary scent wasn’t the one factor that made Chanel N°5 uncommon for its time. Previous to the ’20s, perfumes normally had fanciful names like Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue—an ode to the time every day when the sky is at its deepest hue. Most fragrances, together with Guerlain’s, got here in ornate, detailed bottles with swirled motifs carved into the glass. N°5’s smooth, geometric bottle couldn’t be extra completely different.

chanel no5 add


Rumors abound as to the inspiration for the silhouette, together with the stopper, which some say mirrors the geometry of the Place Vendôme, seen from Chanel’s favourite suite at The Ritz Paris. The form and design ushered in a very new aesthetic on the earth of perfume.

Coco Chanel additionally enshrouded her selections in thriller. Historians usually ponder her fixation along with her fortunate quantity, 5. The perfume might have been launched on the fifth day of Might, the fifth month, for instance. After which there’s the identify, stated to be the inevitable alternative when the nostril she labored with, Ernest Beaux, offered her with varied numbered choices of the system.

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Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life

Lisa Chaney


“The vagueness around the perfume is part of the whole mystique and created quite intentionally by Beaux and Chanel,” says Lisa Chaney, writer of Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life. Finally, Chanel had a knack for understanding what ladies appreciated and would proceed to understand. It’s onerous to think about the extra avant-garde scents of at the moment, like Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 (a cult-loved mixture of artificial and pure notes in a sharp-lined bottle), current with out Chanel N°5 earlier than them.

“She wanted to give the message of modernity,” Chaney says. “She had this uncanny instinct for being one step ahead of her time.”

This text initially appeared within the June/July 2021 challenge of ELLE Journal.

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