In 1921, Coco Chanel asked perfumer Ernest Beaux to create something that "smells like woman." The resulting elixir would become the world's most iconic fragrance. An instant sales success when it was born, Chanel No. 5 remains the grande dame of perfume sales to this day, with a bottle sold worldwide every 30 seconds. The simple, rectangular bottle - representing Coco Chanel's "less is more" philosophy - is a classic too, and in 1959 won a place for the scent in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
A Star is Born
The creation of No. 5 debuted a brand-new kind of perfume to the world. Perfumer Ernest Beaux, while developing samples for Chanel's approval, created and used for the first time a synthetic component called aldehydes. The man-made element has a complex scent which, while not found in nature, is pleasant and recognizable to the nose. It is often described as the smell of laundry that has been dried outside on a cool day. The heavy dose of aldehydes in No. 5, along with more familiar florals, is what gives the perfume its opening burst of crispness and sparkle.
What Becomes a Legend Most
No. 5 has been the fragrance of choice of many legendary celebrities over the years, including Marilyn Monroe, who famously stated that she wore nothing else to bed. Today, Hollywood's brightest stars continue to choose Chanel No. 5, no doubt attracted by the brand's sophistication and womanly glamour. Eva Mendes, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Alba, Celine Dion and Claudia Schiffer are all reportedly fans.
What It Smells Like
Amazingly for such a strongly-branded fragrance, No. 5 is a scent that can smell radically different from one woman to another. A highly complex blend of aldehydes and florals - including rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, lily of the valley and iris - layered over a warm, woody base of vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber and patchouli - this perfume satisfies Chanel's request that No. 5 smell like a "composition" rather than any single flower. However well-blended, though, No. 5 can react in surprising ways when exposed to body chemistry. One woman may love Chanel No. 5 for its powdery florals and fresh soap smell, while another is wrinkling her nose at its harsh chemical and musk tang. With this perfume, you pay your money, you take your chances - but we recommend getting a sample before you buy.
Where and When to Wear It
As a mature floral-aldehyde, Chanel No. 5 is well-suited to daytime wear. Just apply with caution, as the scent is very concentrated.