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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Deconstructing: Chanel No. 5

Launched nearly a century ago, this fragrance is still a hot favourite. 

Chanel N°5. Courtesy Chanel
Chanel N°5. Courtesy Chanel

Few fragrances have captured the imagination like Chanel N°5. Nearly 100 years after its launch, it is still one of the world’s bestselling and best-known scents.

The perfume was created in 1921 by Ernest Beaux, perfumer to the tsars, at the behest of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who wanted to create “a woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent”. She was the first couturier to create her own fragrance and boldly claimed that “a woman should wear perfume wherever she would like to be kissed”.

A revolutionary fragrance, it shunned the traditional florals and musks of the day. Instead, Beaux composed a bouquet of more than 80 scents, with no single dominant note. The mixture included jasmine, rose, Haitian vetiver, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, orange blossom, essence of neroli oil, Brazilian tonka beans and, for the first time, aldehydes, which added further layers of complexity. He presented Chanel with 10 samples; she liked the fifth and, as this was also her lucky number, it kept its name.

The bottle design also represented a new approach. It was modelled on a simple laboratory flacon – simple, pure, austere, timeless and an antithesis to the fussy bottles of the time.

Virtually unchanged since 1924, the small box of glass has been declared a design classic by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It is rumoured that a bottle of Chanel N°5 is now sold every 30 seconds. It has been associated with a number of glamorous women, including Catherine Deneuve, Candice Bergen, Lauren Hutton and Audrey Tautou, but its inherent sensuality was perhaps best immortalised by Marilyn Monroe who, when asked by a journalist what she wore to bed, provocatively quipped “Chanel N°5”.

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