The world’s most iconic perfume, Chanel No.5, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
Like all of Coco Chanel’s memorable creations, No.5 broke with the traditions of the time to establish a new norm. In 1921, ‘soliflores’ perfumes, or fragrances that smell like a single flower, were the industry standard. Coco Chanel wanted to stretch the boundaries of perfumery and create a scent that could not be attributed to any one thing in nature.
As she told her perfumer, Ernest Beaux, No.5 should be ‘an artificial fragrance like a dress, something crafted’. The result was a revolution in perfumery that blended more than 80 scents, including jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood and May rose, with an unprecedented amount of aldehydes, the organic compounds that amplify a fragrance’s olfactory profile.
The minimal, square bottle, with a clean graphic label, was also starkly different from the more flamboyant perfume phials of the period. The timelessness of the bottle design is evidenced by how little it has changed since 1921, altering just four times, each with only slight adjustments to cap size or label font. Its enduring appeal is yet another testament to the genius of Coco Chanel.
Chanel is unveiling a variety initiatives to commemorate this momentous event in its history. To celebrate the ultimate ‘celebrity’ of the perfume world, the brand released a short film called Celebrity, starring Marion Cotillard (the face of Chanel No.5), ballet dancer Marie-Agnès Gillot, Chinese fashion media icon Hung Huang, psychologist Laurie Santos, former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, and dance star Lil Buck. The film saw this eclectic array of famous faces discussing the impact of celebrity – its role in shaping our culture, its influence on psychology, and its effect on future generations.
Other initiatives include the Chanel Factory 5, a series of pop-up spaces around the world that will launch from the 29 June. It’s sure to be an exciting year for the brand, with more announcements to come – watch this space.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2021 issue of Wallpaper* (W*267), available to download
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Mary Cleary is a writer based in London and New York. Previously beauty & grooming editor at Wallpaper*, she is now a contributing editor, alongside writing for various publications on all aspects of culture.
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