Launched in 1921, Chanel N° 5 is without doubt the most famous perfume in the world. Until very recently, it was also the best seller year after year. From May 5 until June 5, 2013, a free traveling exhibit focusing on the iconic perfume will be at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The exhibit is comprised of archives of films, drawings, and photographs that retrace the history of N° 5 and connect it to the era of its creation, including those friends of Chanel who were inspired it, such as Salvador Dali.
Coco Chanel was looking for a fragrance that would capture the spirit of the new era of freedom. She worked with “nose” Ernest Beaux (his former clients were the Tsar of Russia and his court) to create a scent that was utterly different than what was on the market, which tended to be single-note florals. Chanel and Beaux went in a totally different direction with a synthetically devised base combined with over 80 different components.
As for the name, the popular story is that Beaux presented Chanel with fragrance samples numbered 1 to 5 and 20 to 24. Chanel preferred the fifth sample and adopted the number as the name of the perfume. Another account says that she picked the fifth sample because five was her lucky number, son chiffre porte-bonheur (sohn shefruh port bunur), as she was notoriously superstitious. Whatever the reason, the name worked. It was easily recognizable and translatable all around the world.
Lately, I’ve started following the Chanel channel on YouTube (great short videos, many of which are in French). They’ve uploaded several videos with vintage footage about Chanel N° 5. This one gives the history of the perfume. Several of the classic commercials are there, featuring French beauties such as Carole Bouquet and Catherine Deneuve. Another tells the story of the sultry Marilyn Monroe quip that all that she wore to bed were a few drops of Chanel N° 5 and the fabulous free publicity this brought to the perfume (you can see the bottle of perfume on her bedside table in the photo), sending sales to stratospheric heights. A legend was born.
- History of Chanel No.5 (With added history of others at that time) (fcpfragrance.wordpress.com)
- Chanel No. 5 “There you are.” (moiraxob.wordpress.com)
- Chanel herself would spritz No 5 on to the coals in her fireplace (thetimes.co.uk)
- Chanel No 5 : Perfume, EDT, EDP Review and Fragrance Poll (boisdejasmin.typepad.com)
- The Secret of Chanel No 5 by Tilar J. Mazzeo : Book Review (boisdejasmin.typepad.com)
- Reuters Video: Chanel No 5’s ‘sexiest man’ ad (englishblog.com)