Chanel N°5, the most refined bouquet of essences, a sweet and provocative perfume, unique in its recipe, was born out of a romantic love affair. In the glamorous and noble atmosphere of Venice in the early 1920s, fashion designer Gabrielle Chanel met a young cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, Dimitri Pavlovic. Enraptured by the warm and fleeting liaison, she came, on a sweet holiday, to Grasse where she met chemist and nose Ernest Beaux. In 1921 Gabrielle decided to create her own authentic sillage, commissioning the perfumer to create the future Chanel n°5. The result was ‘a feminine fragrance, with the scent of a woman’.
What Mademoiselle called “the authentic woman’s scent” was conceived, a far cry from the classic pure rose perfumes. In fact, Ernest Beaux combined, for the first time, fragrances based on rose, aldehydes, ylang ylang and jasmine in a unique and unrepeatable olfactory solution. It was the first perfume composed of a mix of distinct flowers and essences, still unknown in perfumeries at the time. Claude Delay described it as “the perfume that will haunt the world”. Indeed, the debut was not only characterised by an explosion of refinement, but also by an enlightening artistic revolution. Its thin glass bottle was described as an ‘unprecedented work of art’.
The elegance of the bottle
“With a single gesture, Chanel eliminated the hideous Lalique bottles, the ones with tassels, and invented a simple bottle, with a clean, black monogram, at the service of the world’s most exclusive sense, the sense of smell,” said Dalay. Indeed, Coco Chanel designed a bottle that was both aesthetically and functionally intelligent. A minimalist and simple profile, with a clear label stripped of all ornamentation, aimed at the pure and unique enhancement of the amber gold colour of Chanel N°5.
The bottle became timeless and maintained elegance as a constant. Made of thin glass with beveled edges and faceted corners (the distinctive elements), designed to be pocket-sized and present for every occasion of the day, it had a simple and radical design. It reflected what Coco Chanel firmly stated ‘always take away, never add’.
Until 2012, the label remained unchanged inits shape and graphics; it was later refined and made smaller, emphasising the N°5 label. The octagonal cap, the third iconic element, recalls the shape of Paris’ cult square, Place Vendôme, which has always been one of the designer’s inspirations. In 1970, it was modified, becoming larger and more massive to keep up with the trends of the time.
When choosing the solutions proposed by Ernest Beaux, Gabrielle opted for No. 5. Yes, it was here that N°5 went down in history. When asked what to call the perfume, Mademoiselle replied ‘I present my collection of dresses on 5th May and May is the fifth month of the year. We will therefore give this perfume the number given to it, the number 5, and it will bring it good luck’.
The designer dictated the instructions for using the chosen one ‘A woman should wear the perfume wherever she liked to be kissed’. She herself used it on specific occasions: she constantly carried a handkerchief impregnated with Chanel N°5 and when she returned to theHotel Ritz, where she often spent nights, the doormen would spray a drop of the fragrance on the stairs before her arrival.
The fragrance muse of art
The fragrance became the muse of art for several avant-garde artists. In 1938 Salvador Dali, following a long stay at the designer’s La Pausa home, developedThe Essence of Dalí. Here he depicted the Chanel N°5 bottle with its two long and ironic moustaches, a clear reference to his friend Duchamp and the iconic Mona Lisa. Since 1959, Chanel N°5 has been on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
It was followed by Andy Warhol who, in the 1980s, dedicated his nine silkscreens to the perfume, and with him, Baz Luhrmann, Ridley Scott, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Jean-Paul Goude also made it the protagonist of their art. A timeless companion of Carole Bouquet, Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillardeand the unforgettable Marilyn Monroe, who made perfume her first ally.
Gabrielle Chanel, a free woman
Gabrielle Chanel, an emancipated, instinctive, visionary, avant-garde, art-loving and above all free woman, was born on 19 August 1883 in the French town of Saumur. She spent most of her childhood in the Sacré Coeur monastic orphanage in Aubazine, the place where she grew up and the source of inspiration for what was to become the future fashion icon. The austerity and architecture of the orphanage are indeed recurring elements in her style.
Prior to her first steps into fashion, she began working as a saleswoman at Maison Grampaure in Moulin and as a singer in a café. She was still a young 18-year old when she took the nickname Coco for one of her performances of “Qui qu’a vu Coco?”. She later devoted herself to creating hats, which were immediately loved by the Frenchelite. In 1920 he opened his first boutique in Paris on Rue de Cambon, definitively beginning his greatest project: ‘Enough of all these colours. I will dress women in black.”
Fun fact: the rare and seductive red Chanel N°5
In 1941, Coco Chanel put on sale, exclusively in her first boutique on Rue de Cambon, an unusual edition of Chanel N°5: the one with the red label. It was in fact a rare line dedicated to the most devoted collectors. It included fragrances that have now disappeared as Chanel N°1.
The series lasted only a few years, until the end of the war. But the red fragrance has recently returned to the scene; since 2018, it has been on the market as a limited edition. Ruby-coloured Chanel N°5, with an unusual deep red Baccarat glass bottle. It embodies the freedom, audacity, passion and strength of a self-created woman who wanted to value women in life. “What other colour but red, the colour of life, of blood, to combine with the strength of N°5, symbol of a visionary spirit?” [Coco Chanel].
@Stiledesign. Reproduction reserved
You might also be interested in: