Behind the icon: Chanel n ° 5

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What makes an iconic product? This is the question we asked ourselves when publishing this year’s list of the 100 most iconic beauty products of all time. While every lipstick, mascara, hairspray, and hair wash on the list deserves its moment in the sun, there are a few key beauty icons that have earned their stories (legends?) Expanded upon in more detail. First of all: a mini story behind the Chanel n ° 5 perfume.


Maybe you’ve never worn Chanel n ° 5– but you know what it means to wear it. There is only one scent that telegraphs sophistication as quickly as this rich floral scent, which debuted 100 years ago. It was the first Chanel perfume; he had to make a statement. Gabrielle Chanel’s vision was that a woman’s scent was as important as her dress.

Made in concert with star perfumer Ernest Beaux, No.5 was seen as a break from the popular fragrances at the time, which were all simple, downright simplistic flower scents. Beaux was inspired by as far as the Arctic Circle. He wanted to give the scent freshness and light, and he did this by adding aldehydes, synthetic substances he looked for and which gave the scent an airy quality. They also have this fantastic ability to make all of the ingredients more complex and almost impossible to decipher. (Aldehydes would later become commonplace in perfumery and dominate the 1980s. Beaux was a revolutionary.) At the same time, Chanel herself was feeling daring, pushing Beaux to add more and more jasmine, one of the most valuable essences. The end result is an opulent, heady and completely modern floral.

And then, of course, there’s the bottle. In the 1920s, perfumes were whimsical, romantic and flowery little things. Chanel # 5 was spartan in comparison. It looked like a laboratory flask, with its geometric shape. Black capital letters. The name. No. 5? It was simply the fifth sample sent by Beaux, which Chanel approved. It didn’t hurt that Chanel felt the number 5 was especially lucky, and her sign, Leo, was the fifth sign of the zodiac. It was so different, so refreshing; it worked.

marilyn monroe with chanel no 5
Marilyn Monroe poses with a bottle of Chanel n ° 5.

Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Images

Public adoration for number 5 came to a head when actress Marilyn Monroe began to mention the bottle pictured on her nightstand. “You know they ask you questions like, ‘What are you wearing in bed? A pajama top? The pajama bottoms? Or the nightgown? So I said Chanel # 5, because it’s the truth, ”Monroe says in a recording obtained by Chanel. “And yet, I don’t mean naked. But it’s the truth. ”Monroe cemented number 5 as more than just a scent – it was now the scent of the world’s most beloved sex symbol.

Today, the century-old perfume is one of the new launches of fully modern look and feel. The current trend is for perfumes that combine synthetics with valuable natural products. And aesthetically, austere designs are the order of the day. Chanel and Beaux were ahead of their time, creating a revolution in a bottle.

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