Words: Emily Venables
In 1921, the world of perfumery changed forever when Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel released her debut fragrance; Chanel No. 5. This scent was so unique in itself it was considered nothing less than a revelation and so began a rich and interesting history of fragrances from Chanel. Today, as part of our ‘Behind the Scents’ series, we’re taking a look at the evolution of Chanel perfume and the creative minds behind the prestigious collection.
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, a French fashion designer, founded her namesake brand in 1910. She garnered great success by designing female clothing that was not just stylish and beautiful but also comforting. She liberated women from the constraints of corsets and introduced the world to chic, casual clothing. She was also widely accredited for introducing the world to ‘The Little Black Dress’ – thank you very much, Coco!
In the early 1920s, Coco commissioned Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux to create a scent that smelt like a woman, not of flowers, and he presented her with a sample of 10 fragrances. Coco selected number 5, and that day Chanel No. 5 was born.
Chanel No. 5 was an instant success, and today is arguable the most iconic perfume in the world. The exquisite scent is a blend of jasmine, rose, vanilla and sandalwood which is instantly recognisable. It is believed to have also paved the way for the use of aldehydes in fragrances as No. 5 contained a far higher concentration than ever before. Whether this was intentional or an error remains a mystery, but regardless, the formulation has gone down in history for more than one reason!
In 1960 Marilyn Monroe was asked in an interview what she wore to bed, and she simply responded, “Well, Chanel No. 5, of course!”
Beyond Chanel No. 5
In 1953, Henri Robert took over from Ernest Beaux as chief perfumer for Chanel and remained with the fashion house until 1978. Under his command, Chanel’s first male fragrance Chanel Pour Monsieur was released in 1955 and he was also the creative mind behind Chanel No. 19. This white floral and complex green scent was initially intended just for close friends and clients but after Chanel’s death in 1971 the scent was released to the world and so began a new wave of creativity for the brand.
In 1979 Jacques Polge became Chanel’s third perfumer and his first creation was the decadent Coco in 1984. He followed this accomplishment with a range of fragrances which would each enjoy their own success including Allure in 1996 and the renowned Coco Mademoiselle in 2001 noted for its long-lasting elegance and powerful presence.
In 2013, Olivier Polge took the reins from his father as the master in-house perfumer at Chanel. Since then, he has worked on and developed several fragrances for Chanel including the best-selling Chanel No. 5 L’eau - an adaptation of the original classic which boasts ultra-feminine notes perfect for the modern women. In 2017, Olivier unveiled Chanel’s first brand new fragrance in 15 years; Gabriele Chanel.
Decades after Coco’s death, her legacy is still as important today as it was in the 1920s. We have no doubt the already outstanding portfolio of fragrances will continue to grow, and we can’t wait to see what is next in the Chanel story.
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