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Exactly A Hundred Years Ago Today, On May 5, 1921, Coco Chanel Launched Its Renowned And Everlasting Perfume, Chanel No.5

26th February 2021

Five Drops of Chanel No 5: The Perfume That Transcends Time. 

On this exact day a hundred years ago, on May 5, 1921, French fashion designer Coco Chanel launched its renowned and everlasting perfume, Chanel No.5. 

The scent, created to encapsulate the free-spirited and carefree roaring 20s and to immortalize the frivolous and lively flappers of the decade, was the first modern perfume and revolutionized the way fragrances are created and marketed.

This success was unforeseen for the young Coco Chanel because her childhood was far from the glamorous opulence that she would later come to experience and be known for.

Born to an impoverished family, she was handed over to a Christian orphanage at the age of 12 by her father after her mother died.

Surrounded by strict and uncompromising nuns, she found solace in the mundane and developed an attachment to the number 5. 

The number stones embellishing the path to the cathedral that she daily attended for prayer were arranged in fives, and she came to associate it with purity and with the pristine and immaculate manifestation of an idea or a thing.

In keeping with her affinity to the number, she decided to include it in the perfume bottle’s design, believing it to be an omen of good luck.

She also launched the infamous fragrance on the 5th of May 1921 and picked the fifth sample displayed by Ernest Beaux, the Chemist, and perfumer who created the scent. 

The number appeared recurrently in her career, as she released 5 perfumes in the 1920s and owned five boutiques at Rue Cambon in Paris when her fame peaked in 1935.

Notably, 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.” 

But although she was superstitious, Coco Chanel was too sharp-witted to rely only on serendipity, and she scrupulously chose a more simplistic approach to the bottle’s design, favouring a sexy, smooth, and sleek style reminiscent of a whiskey bottle instead of the ostentatious and flashy vials of brands such as Lalique and Baccarat. 

Her artistic vision turned out to be a massive success and bolstered the perfume’s iconic status, resulting in the shape of the bottle remaining unchanged since 1924. 

In the mid-1980s, Andy Warhol used his pop arts to produce a series of ads celebrating the design.

But the iconic nature of Coco Chanel’s creation went beyond just the bottle’s design, with as much thoughtfulness and creativity being put into developing the scent of the perfume.

Women were confined to only two perfume options before the inception of Chanel No 5. 

Noble and stylish women favoured scents that featured the essence of a single flower, while those of lower social standings, courtesans, and prostitutes were known for more offensive and less subtle scents that made use of a concentrated amount of Jasmine and musk.

Consequently, when Coco Chanel was introduced to Earnest Beaux by her then-lover Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov of Russia (infamous for the killing of Rasputin), they endeavored to create a fragrance that all women could wear.

As a result, Beaux opted for a bold and polished scent and used the rose and jasmine base of the Rallet No 1 which he further distilled to create a purer version. 

He also incorporated a derivative of Jasmine called Jasophore. 

In addition, the perfume included notes of orris root, iris root, and natural musk.

Beaux pioneered the use of aldehydes in the perfume industry as well; these compounds enhanced and amplified the aromas of the fragrance. 

However, some tales state that the inclusion of this ingredient was a mistake made by an assistant. 

Even so, this blunder paid off, as both Coco Chanel and the rest of the world fell in love with the scent.

Although the perfume was well sought after, Chanel No 5 was only limited to Coco Chanel’s store in Paris and very exclusive retail stores, but in 1934, the brand was commercialized worldwide. 

Nevertheless, the fragrance is forever linked to the alluring glamour of the Golden Age of Cinema thanks to Marilyn Monroe famously claiming that she only wore “five drops of Chanel No. 5” to bed.

This glowing endorsement led to a massive increase in sales in the 1950s. 

Henceforth, the brand continued to embrace its synonymy with sexy splendour and has teamed up with Hollywood stars beginning with Catherine Deneuve in 1970 and continuing with notable names such as Nicole Kidman, Audrey Tautou, Gisele Bündchen, and in recent times Lily-Rose, the daughter of Johnny Depp. 

Even better, Brad Pitt was chosen to be the first male ambassador of the brand in 2012. 

However, the success of the brand is not as organic and spontaneous as it may seem, but rather the result of millions of dollars spent by the company on advertising campaigns.

For example, in 2013, it reportedly cost Chanel about £18 million to create the 150-second ad for which Nicole Kidman received a $3.7 million payment.

Overall, it has been reported that Chanel has invested between $20 – $25 million every year since 2011 on advertisements and publicity.

Although the fragrance is quite pricey, it is still amongst the bestselling perfumes in the world. 

In fact, women everywhere are drawn to what it represents, from the liveliness and vivaciousness of Josephine Baker and the flappers of 20s Paris to the luscious sensuality of Marilyn Monroe and the classic beauty of Nicole Kidman, they strive to emulate the scent’s timelessness.

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