A CHANEL olfactory ambassador throughout the world, N°5 has been continuously successful since its creation 100 years ago. Synonymous with luxury, elegance and a particular art of living, this golden-hued fragrance, housed in a bottle with architectural lines, has stood the test of time without ever losing its modernity. A radical creation in every way, the scent is Gabrielle Chanel’s olfactory twin, a reflection of her personality, and has become the quintessential fragrance. N°5 is an abstraction, an absolute invention, a fragrance that evokes an armful of flowers, without evoking a distinct one among them.
When Gabrielle Chanel and perfumer Ernest Beaux created N°5 100 years ago, they offered much more than a new fragrance: it was an olfactory revolution. In 1921, Beaux created N°5 in his laboratory in Grasse, a small town on the French Riviera and a major centre of French perfumery since the 17th Century. Gabrielle Chanel, a visionary fashion designer and the first couturier to give her name to a fragrance, rejected the idea that a perfume had to be directly associated with the scent of a single flower. Breaking with the tradition of the time, which favoured “soliflores” (or fragrances associated with a single flower), she asked Beaux for; “an artificial fragrance like a dress, something crafted. I am a seamstress. I don’t want rose or lily-of-the-valley, I want a composed fragrance.” She sought “a woman’s fragrance that smells like a woman”.
Beaux designed an unprecedented olfactory architecture for her, a bouquet of 80 scents whose precious notes (May rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood and more) were blended, for the first time in history, with aldehydes in proportions that exalted fragrances and thrust perfume-making into the modern era, making N°5 an abstract fragrance. Mademoiselle Chanel exhibited another bold stroke of genius when naming this unique creation. Unlike early 20th Century perfumers, she forsook a more poetic name for a simple registration number: five. It is said that the number stands for the fifth sample Beaux presented to her, but it is also the figure that Gabrielle Chanel —who was interested in signs and symbols— had chosen as her lucky charm and the date she presented her collections, usually on 5 February and 5 August.
Gabrielle Chanel chose simplicity itself for the design of the bottle, whose pure lines and near pharmaceutical radicality once again broke with tradition. Minimalist before its time, with clean lines and rounded corners, in 1924 the bottle was adapted for international distribution and mass production, taking the silhouette we know today. It is capped with an emerald-cut stopper whose shape recalls that of Place Vendôme, which Gabrielle Chanel could admire from the balcony of her suite at the Hôtel Ritz Paris. The label bearing the famous number is starkly graphic, expressing the aesthetics of a resolutely modernist era. N°5 excels at cultivating paradoxes: the bottle’s classic design contrasts with the visible richness of a golden-hued fragrance, the mere sight of which suggests a promise of voluptuousness.
This precious aldehyde bouquet has all the earmarks of luxury and rarity, ready to seduce women all over the world. In 1937, Mademoiselle Chanel, who made N°5 her signature, posed for photographer François Kollar in her apartment at the Ritz for an advertising campaign aimed at the United States. In 1959, N°5 entered New York’s Museum of Modern Art, becoming an icon. Marilyn Monroe, who confided that a few drops of N°5 were all she wore to bed, and Andy Warhol, who immortalised the bottle, confirm this unique fragrance’s extraordinary fame. A hundred years after its creation, its seductive power and modernity remain undiminished. While its innovative formula, closely guarded by each successive CHANEL nose, remains faithful to its original olfactory identity, N°5 has been reinvented over the years —particularly in 2016 with N°5 L’EAU, crafted by the Perfumer-Creator of the House, Olivier Polge.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the N°5 perfume, Patrice Leguéreau, Director of the CHANEL Fine Jewelry Creation Studio, has imagined the “Collection N°5”, the first High Jewellery collection ever to be dedicated to a perfume. From the bottle to the sillage, these hundred and twenty-three extraordinary pieces express the different facets of the N°5 perfume. Daring creativity, noble materials, and an accentuated femininity together with an intimate character and a powerful timelessness, the “Collection N°5” reflects the main features of the iconic perfume. Through the one hundred and twenty-three flexible and architectural pieces of jewellery, CHANEL offers its vision of the contrast between the graphic design of the bottle and the sensuality of the fragrance.