If you told my 15-year-old self that I would one day be able to sniff out a Chanel perfume on the busiest of streets, she would completely believe you because at 15 even if I didn't know much about fashion or beauty – I definitely did know Chanel Nº 5. I've used Nº 5 since 2016 but every little sniff of the fragrance transports me to different memories – sometimes it smells like my first Christmas away from home, other times it smells like my grandmother's closet. I always associate the notes with memory but often they also make me think of different textures – sometimes that's leather, other times it is brand new cashmere. With a floral bouquet of ylang-ylang, bergamot, lily-of-the-valley and base notes of amber, vanilla and patchouli, it won't take much for this perfume to send any wearer on a trip down memory lane.
In 1921, Gabrielle Chanel partnered with perfumer Ernest Beaux to create her brand's first fragrance, and after some trial and error with several notes, the fifth composition made the cut – and also named itself. At the time it was the first perfume to be named after a couturier, and one of the first to consist of a high amount of aldehydes which was extremely unique since most perfumers chose different flowers as the centre of a fragrance. The original formula comprised of 80 ingredients including rose, sandalwood and jasmine, but in 1986, Jacques Polge, the brand's nose (Head Perfumer) from1978 to 2015, reinterpreted his predecessor's formula to compose a fuller version of the fragrance, one which we all know today as N°5: the eau de parfum.
"I wanted an artificial perfume. That's right, artificial, like a dress; meaning manufactured. I am a designer of couture. I want a perfume that is a composition."
- GABRIELLE CHANEL
Today the legendary fragrance is available as the traditional eau de parfum, eau de toilette, in a range of bath and body care products, deodorant, and even hair mist. In fact, Chanel have expanded the Nº5 fragrance into another new, contemporary perfume. In 2016, perfumer Olivier Polge (son of Jacques Polge) followed his father's footsteps and at the house's request rewrote a new fragrance composition inspired by Nº5, which today is known as Nº5 L'Eau and is personified by the youngest of the house ambassadors – Lily-Rose Depp.
Over the century, Nº5 has had quite a few iconic campaigns both in print and now on film. In the 1950s, when asked what she wore to bed (by the way – supremely inappropriate question, no?), Marilyn Monroe had been quoted saying "just a few drops of Nº5". A few years after said quote was printed, she posed at her Beverly Hills home for Modern Screen, Monroe is seen wrapped in blankets and in every single image, there's a bottle of Chanel Nº5 –that shoot, even though it was never published, would have been a marketing campaign in itself, even without any brand affiliation. Skipping a few decades forward, today the brand has published multiple print and digital campaigns for their signature fragrance with muses like Catherine Deneuve, Gisele Bündchen, and Marion Cotillard at the forefront.
By far one of the most unique retail experiences I've had was Chanel's Fragrance Consultation. I spent 20 minutes with an in-store consultant who took me through different fragrance notes and oils, had me describe them as textures, memories, and on occasion let me guess the notes. After our little guessing game, the consultant asked me questions about myself, my work, my lifestyle and helped me find a fragrance that best suited the notes I gravitated towards and also complimented my personality (it was the Coromandel from their Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection if you're wondering). The service is completely free (although I would encourage you to purchase even the smallest thing as a thank-you for the consultant's time!), so if you're looking for a unique birthday or anniversary present for someone, a bespoke fragrance consultation is the way to go!
Watch the film celebrating 100 years of Chanel Nº5 below.