Chanel No. 5
is one of the best known perfumes
in the world. It was the first fragrance from Parisian couturier
, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel
According to one story of the creation of Chanel No. 5, Coco Chanel commissioned the renowned perfumer Ernest Beaux
to make six
perfumes for her choosing. They were labelled No. 1, No. 2, etc. through No. 6. (Breaux himself, q.v., relates a slightly different version of the story). It was bottle No. 5 that was to Chanel's liking and became the chosen formula. The number "5" was also her lucky number.
At the time of its inception, the most expensive perfume oil was jasmine due to the expensive distilling process. Chanel wanted to create the most expensive perfume in the world, and as such No. 5 relies heavily on jasmine.
Chanel introduced it first to some of her friends on May 5, 1921. Initially, it was given to preferred clients for free at her boutique. The fitting rooms in her boutique were also scented with No. 5. This strategy is practiced today by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch with their own signature perfumes and colognes.
In 1924, Pierre Wertheimer partnered Coco Chanel in her perfume business. He owned 70%, Coco owned 10%, and her friend Bader owned 20%. Chanel agreed to owning such a small amount in exchange for having complete control over the product. Today, the Wertheimer family still runs the perfume business.
"I want to give women an artificial perfume," said Chanel. "Yes, I really do mean artificial, like a dress, something that has been made. I don't want any rose or lily of the valley, I want a perfume that is a composition."
No. 5 is famous for being the first perfume to heavily rely on synthetic floral aldehydes
as a top note
. Before synthetics, perfume either had to be applied heavily or frequently so that the fragrance would last.
Chanel applied the French aesthetic theory that "ugly" placed next to "beautiful", by contrast, makes the beautiful object appear more so. In this era almost all perfumes were floral and "pretty" - designed to enhance a woman's beauty with more beauty. Instead of the scent of flowers, Coco wanted a perfume that "reflects my personality, something abstract and unique". She believed that a perfume should serve to spotlight a woman's natural beauty using contrast - i.e. the artificial perfume would make the woman's natural beauty more evident.
Chanel No. 5 is classified as a floral-aldehyde. Its top notes
include ylang ylang
and aldehydes; its mid notes May rose
; and its base notes sandalwood
Laboratory tests have shown that Chanel No. 5 contains secretions from the perineal glands of civet cats. Civet is a powerful fixative, making the scent last a long time. Animal rights groups such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals express concern that civet is harvested in a method cruel to animals. The Chanel company claims that, starting in 1998, natural civet has been replaced with a synthetic substitute.
- Sales increased in the 1950s, especially after the perfume was introduced in the United States. Movie star Marilyn Monroe's endorsement of the brand is said to have contributed to its popularity. In 1953, when asked what she wore in bed, Monroe famously replied, "Why, Chanel No. 5, of course." Chanel herself is quoted as saying, "A woman should wear fragrance wherever she expects to be kissed."
- Andy Warhol sealed Chanel No. 5's status as cultural icon when he made nine silk screens of the perfume, elevating it to Campbell Soup status. And in 1959 the packaging itself made it into the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Famous spokesmodels for the fragrance have included Marilyn Monroe, Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Estella Warren, Nicole Kidman, who in 2004 appeared opposite Rodrigo Santoro in a Baz Luhrmann-directed/Mandy Walker-filmed multi-million dollar commercial entitled No. 5 The Film.
- The first advertisement shown on British TV's Channel 5 was for Chanel No. 5.
- Film director Ridley Scott directed 3 TV commercials for the 'Share Your Fantasy' ad for Chanel No. 5; the most notable is the version with a woman lying beside a swimming pool which has been aired for decades since its 1979 introduction. Two other versions make use of the songs 'Sea of Love' and "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" from The Ink Spots.
- As part of his act, exhibition wrestler Gorgeous George would have the ring sprayed with disinfectant before a bout, a special mixture allegedly containing Chanel No. 5 -- although George claimed it was "Chanel No. 10," saying "why be half safe?"
- The scent is also used in the American idiomatic expression of suspicion, "Something smells here -- and it ain't Chanel No. 5!"
- The scent is even mentioned in RocketMan, when Fred Randall tries to sing the French version of "I've Got the Whole World in My Hands" to the audience on Earth with: "Je suis le papillon sur la table avec le Chanel No. 5 regardons..." Which is instead: "I am the butterfly on the table with Chanel No. 5 look at..."
- The scent is mentioned in the 1963 Paul Newman film Hud when Alma Brown (Patricia Neal) says to Hud Bannon (Newman) "Somebody in this car smells like Chanel No. 5. It’s not me, I can’t afford it."
- The name, cover art and artwork of the album Mina n° 0, by Mina, are designed after the famous perfume.
- In the movie Just Visiting, Tibo Malfet (Jean Reno) and his servant Andre (Christian Clavier) are learning how to use a modern bathroom and they are squeezing all kinds of cremes and bottles as if they are bathing soaps. Andre grabs a giant bottle of Chanel no5 and takes a drink swig off the bottle and says its marvelous then Tibo drinks it too and spits it out and comments "This is not wine you stupid peasant, its bathing oil for the bath" and pours 2000$ worth of perfume in the tub.
Also mentioned many times in the film "Breakfast on Pluto" based on a book by Patrick McCabe.