In the early 1920s, after Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel created tweed jackets and quilted bags we still love and use today, she created another timeless piece: the iconic Chanel No.5 fragrance. She worked alongside perfumer Ernest Beaux to concoct a scent that felt revolutionary at the time.
"When Gabrielle Chanel was thinking up No.5, she wanted a very constructed fragrance," explained Olivier Polge, a current perfumer for Chanel. "She didn't want one flower to stick out. At that time, they were creating fragrances that were called 'Jasmine from South of France' or 'Lily of the Valley,' and she wanted to go a bit against that by including a palette. She wanted it to have the spirit of her craftsmanship on it."
So instead of one main note like many of the other fragrances of her time, Coco's version was a true blend of florals and musks. The original No.5 breaks down like this: the top notes are Comoro ylang-ylang and aldehydes, the heart features May rose and jasmine from Grasse, and the base is a woody mix of sandalwood accord and Bourbon vanilla.
There are several theories as to where the name "No.5" came from. One is that Coco chose the fifth sample Ernest presented to her, while others say five was her lucky number or a nod to her astrology sign, Leo (the fifth of the zodiac).
No.5 certainly made a splash when it came to the media. In 1937, Coco became the ambassador for No.5, and she was photographed at her suite in the Ritz for a campaign published in Harper's Bazaar. Muses range from French actress Catherine Deneuve to Nicole Kidman and currently Gisele Bündchen.
Its fans included some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood history. In 1954, a journalist asked Marilyn Monroe what she wore to bed, and she responded, "Just a few drops of No.5." Then in the 1960s, Andy Warhol painted a series of nine silkscreens inspired by the bottle.
Throughout the years, No.5 has been reinterpreted and reimagined into new forms including an Eau de Toilette Spray, an Eau de Parfum Spray, and an Eau Première version. The theme has mostly been to make it lighter and airier, and this September, it will get its most modern update yet. Chanel will be launching No.5 L'Eau, which you can read all about (and even see how it's made in France!) here.
To help you navigate the world of No.5 and determine which one is best for you or perhaps a chic gift for someone else, we broke down the history and unique scent of each.