Chanel’s No 5 turns 100 this May. Time to look back.
A New Scent
Before No 5 hit the market, women’s fragrances could be divided into two categories: heavy, musky ones, which were used to show that one is indeed ready and available, or single garden flower scents for ladies of higher social status. When Chanel released her first perfume, it was without a doubt one of the greatest new fashionable inventions on the luxury market. The most unusual thing about this fragrance, and something which made it remarkably stand out, was the unusual high quantity of aldehydes.
Coco Chanel had been cooking up the of a fresh new fragrance for some time when she was finally introduced to perfumer Ernest Beaux in 1920, who was the official perfumer to the Russian Royal Family at that time.
Beaux worked on No 5 for several months with the crisp, polar freshness of a cold Russian winter in mind. When he was ready, he presented small glass vials containing sample scent compositions numbered 1 to 5 and 20 to 24 for her assessment. “Number five. Yes,” Chanel said later, “that is what I was waiting for.”
A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.
She told Beaux: ”I present my dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year and so we will let this sample number five keep the name it has already, it will bring good luck.” And yes, it did. It brought her so much luck that by choosing No 5, she chose the most successful perfume composition in the world, to this date.
A New Bottle
Lavishly designed bottles were exquisite yet very common. Chanel had once again something new in mind. The bottle needs to suit the new scent. She wanted “pure transparency …an invisible bottle.”
It is believed that she was inspired by her english lover’s whisky decanters. She admired their sleek, simples lines yet those bottles were heavy and somewhat substantial. That is exactly what she wanted to reproduce, an “exquisite, expensive, delicate glass.”
The bottle itself has become a cultural icon, famously commemorated by one of Andy Warhol’s silk-screens. It is to this day a symbol for an entire genre of products and for luxury itself. What an achievement.