“So… Have you actually ever thought of creating a perfume of your own?” Misia Sert asked Chanel once… Perhaps, this is just a story, who knows…
The art of creating a perfume that would complete a fashion collection wasn’t new, but so far it wasn’t successful either. Until there was Coco Chanel who decided to create a legend or, perhaps, just fulfil one of her dreams.
It all began in early 1920 when Coco Chanel met Ernest Beaux while spending time with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich on the French Riviera. Some say, it was the Duke who introduced Coco to Beaux, the official perfumer to the Russian royal family living in France after escaping post-revolutionary Russia.
Chanel had an idea of a scent and Beaux knew the magic of aldehydes, which he’s been experimenting with since 1913. The synthetic compounds were very effective for creating new fragrances, but at a high cost, every new perfume would only mean a commercial suicide for the company. At the end, both decided that Beaux would make two series of samples, numbered from 1 to 5 and 20 to 24 and Coco would choose the one she likes. Although Chanel knew absolutely nothing about chemistry, her olfactory recognised the true gem immediately.
She picked No. 22, which went into production in 1921, but there was yet another very special number…
Chanel No. 5 was created to accompany a spring collection shown on 5 May 1922. Nobody knows if the numbers were just a coincidence or had a hidden meaning… Chanel was full of secrets, after all.
The perfume was something absolutely new. Created by a human being rather than nature, it has a unique unmistakable fragrance that couldn’t be compared to any flower scent known to us. It was a magical mystery.
Unlike any other perfume bottles, most of which were made by Lalique or Baccarat and looked like tiny crystal sculptures, the parallelepiped-shaped bottle was incredibly simple and allowed one to enjoy the movement of the honey-coloured liquid inside. Being true to her roots and practical mind, Chanel decided that what inside is much more important than a fancy outer shell. She was right, yet again, but at the same time, proved that simplicity can be just as beautiful as a multifaceted sparkling crystal.
The name came as a surprise, too. Instead of frilly and over complicated “Masque Rouge”, “Bois”, “Pomme d'Amour” or “Une Caresse” Coco used her own… CHANEL… And since the sample perfume was the fifth, so No. 5 was added to a beautiful white label. Plus, of course, double CC stamp.
Black&white contrast, simplicity of form, numerology, childhood memories and dreams – that’s what the new perfume was for Coco.
She believed in it from the very beginning… “You are not buying it from me – this is my gift to you,” – she would say to her friends and best customers as she gave each of them a bottle of No. 5 as if sharing a very special secret. A triumph that added yet another dimension to the world of Chanel.
Photo source: Estella Warren in Chanel No. 5 1998 campaign, other images via Pinterest