It was the beginning of the twenties and traces of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s troubled past have seeped into the empire that she’s become. With successful boutiques, a lavish villa and a luxury car to her name, you could say she was a phenomenon couturier, the belle of the Parisian elite.
Mademoiselle Coco was the epitome of a modern woman, who rose from ambition characterized by her orphaned childhood in Aubazine to a clever businesswoman who achieved house-name status in French fashion circles.
Always thinking ahead, she then thought of riding the new trend among fashion houses – that of commissioning a perfume for her clients. There was no doubt she wanted her signature scent to imbue cleanliness and freshness – exactly like the smell of soap and freshly scrubbed skin, something she’s always been fascinated about. She wanted a “woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent.”
With notable perfumers from left to right, Coco had a hard time choosing the one who would create the right mix of femininity in a bottle. Up until a holiday on the Cote d’Azur with her lover, Grand Duke Dimtri Pavlovich, she learned of a sophisticated perfumer named Ernest Beaux, a celebrity in his own right.
Ernest Beaux had lived close by the centre of the perfume industry, Grasse, and had worked for the Russian royal family in the past. When he learned about Coco’s quest, he did not hesitate to take on this challenge.
After months of experimentation, Beaux presented 10 samples, numbered from one to five and 20 to 24, to Coco. She picked sample number 5. Rumor has it that this infamous concoction was the result of a laboratory mistake of an additional dose of aldehyde, an organic compound formed by the oxidation of alcohols. Regardless of an error, Beaux surpassed Coco’s expectation and created a wonderful multi-note mix of jasmine, Mai rose, sandalwood, and vanilla. It was exactly what she wanted – “A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume with the scent of a woman.” In fact, it took him several months to perfect the iconic Chanel No 5.
With the creation of her signature scent coupled with ingenious marketing tricks, Coco Chanel celebrated the launch of this revolutionized perfume with her friends at a popular restaurant on the French Riviera. She decided to spray the perfume around the table. With a bottle shaped like a whisky decanter, a black and white box, and the luxury label’s famous logo added to the mix, Chanel No 5 became an instant hit among the women, as they were instantly enchanted by its fresh, clean and feminine scent. Since then and ninety years later, Chanel No 5 still remains to be the world’s most iconic perfume.
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