Concocted in 1921 by Russian-born French nose Ernest Beaux, N°5 stood out for its complexity and the use of over 80 ingredients – at a time when fashion houses were producing perfumes with singular floral notes.
Today, it is undoubtedly the most famous women’s scent in the world. Or as the mademoiselle would put it: “A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.”
Did you know that a 30ml bottle of Chanel N°5 contains –among others blend of ingredients – the oils of a thousand Pegomas jasmine flowers?
Like any bona fide icon, N°5 has mastered the art of reinvention. It counts five existing iterations under its belt, each staying true to its essence as a modern fresh scent that evokes the innate power of an independent, multi-faceted woman that Gabrielle Chanel herself championed.
But its iconic status goes beyond being the quintessential fragrance of the maison: the perfume’s far-reaching influence spans the world of beauty, pop culture, arts and high jewellery.
Consider how its packaging had been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the ’50s and how Andy Warhol immortalised N°5 as screen prints for his seminal Ads series in 1985, considered today some of his most collectible works.
A complex scent through and through, N°5 is made using over 80 ingredients.
Ahead, we continue to count the ways how N°5 lives on to be one of the most enduring icons of Chanel, a century after its birth.
IT DEFIED NOT ONLY HOW PERFUMES SHOULD SMELL LIKE, BUT ALSO BE PACKAGED
Created in 1921 by perfumer Ernest Beaux for the brand, Chanel N°5 was revolutionary for boldly using aldehydes to create an abstract, almost mysterious blend at a time when most scents were made up of a single floral note – trust Gabrielle Chanel to drive across how the modern woman is multifaceted.
The original N°5 bottle (left) versus the bottle from a 2015 limited-edition release (right).
Its original bottle in contrast was minimalist and utilitarian: a flat shape similar to that of a hip flask so that it could be carried about easily and to best show off its amber hue.
That this simplicity in design has remained largely constant – through the decades, its size and lines have only been refined and made more geometric – attests to how progressive it was.
Fun fact: All nine of the prints in Warhol’s series on the fragrance depicted just the flacon and the brand’s name.
CONSIDER IT A SYMBOL OF MODERN, UNAPOLOGETIC FEMININITY
Marilyn Monroe famously said she wore Chanel N°5 to bed “because it’s the truth”.
You can thank Marilyn Monroe for establishing Chanel N°5 as a scent for liberated women in popular consciousness when she infamously said in a 1960 magazine interview that she wore nothing but a few drops of it to bed.
More than 20 years before that in 1937 though, Coco Chanel herself would kick off the legacy of strong, individualistic women being associated with and representing the fragrance by becoming the first female designer to front the ad for her own concoction.
Coco Chanel posing for the ad campaign of N°5 at the Ritz Paris.
Others that would follow include Ali McGraw (1966), Catherine Deneuve (1972), Nicole Kidman (2006) and, the latest, Marion Cotillard last year.
IT MOVES WITH THE TIMES WITHOUT LOSING ITS ESSENCE
How many other fragrances have stayed as fashionable for as long a time? To date, just five interpretations of Chanel N°5 exist: the original parfum – indulgently heady with its unique blend of May rose and jasmine from Grasse; the lighter, woodier eau de toilette with nuances of vetiver and sandalwood; the eau de parfum created by Jacques Polge in 1986 that’s a pleasing, powdery revival of the OG with a base of vanilla; the soft yet radiant Eau Premiere from 2008 (think the parfum made modern with white musk and ylang ylang); and the 2016 L’Eau – the freshest in the family.
Over the decades, this statement scent has been reimagined and released in new forms including the N°5 eau de toilette, the N°5 eau de parfum, and the N°5 eau premiere which is a more modern take on the OG.
IT’S AN EXPRESSION OF BEAUTY FOR JEWELLERY DESIGNERS
Earlier this year, Chanel’s jewellery division captured the inspiring beauty of N°5 in an ultimate homage. It released a one-of-a-kind not-for-sale haute jewellery piece dubbed ‘The 55.55 Necklace’ which takes permanent residence at the high jewellery atelier at 18 Place Vendome.
Bedecked with a whopping 764 diamonds, the necklace’s centrepiece is the namesake 55.55-carat emerald-shaped diamond that was cut in – wait for it – the shape of the N°5 bottle.
To follow up, Chanel released a commercial fine jewellery line aptly named Eternal N°5 in May, with designs that revolve around the numeral five.