By Stacey Cervellino
“I want to give women an artificial perfume,” said Chanel. “Yes, I really do mean artificial, like a dress, something that has been made. I don’t want any rose or lily of the valley, I want a perfume that is a composition.” When Coco Chanel and Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux created Chanel No.5, in 1921, they were not only capturing the creative spirit of the roaring 20’s, they were making history. Chanel No.5 is one of the most celebrated and recognized perfumes of 20th and 21st century and one of the first perfumes to use a high concentration of aldehydes to create its unforgettable scent. Immortalized by Andy Warhol, worn by Marilyn Monroe, and given new life by the Baz Lurhman ad-campaign staring Nicole Kidman, Chanel No.5 epitomizes the fiercely independent, creative, and innovative spirit of Coco Chanel.
Synonymous with the opening of her first store on 31 rue Cambon in Paris, Coco Chanel and Ernest Beaux launched No.5. The fragrance was supposedly inspired by Beaux’s trip to the Arctic Circle and the smell of water at midnight. He created 10 scents and asked Coco Chanel to choose her favorite, and she chose number 5, looking for a scent that was as abstract as it was unique. In another story, she named the fragrance for the 5th day of the 5th month of the year. The original art deco designed bottle from the 20’s has maintained its classic simplicity over the years. It’s smell is a mixture of Vetiver, Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine, Neroli, and Aldehydes.
In 1924 the Society des Parfums Chanel was founded, and Coco Chanel was on her way to becoming a powerful businesswoman and a trendsetter. She was an original in every way, creating her fragrances to represent independent, original, and daring, women giving them a sense of femininity and luxury. She did it all with the eye of a perfectionist and the soul of an artist.
Between 1922 and 1930 Coco Chanel created several new perfumes: No.22, named for the year it was created and the Rue Cambon Collection which includes: Gardenia, Cuir de Russie and Bois des Eles. Jacques Polge later redesigned these fragrances in 1983. Gardenia is created from nature, Cuir de Russie contains leather and fruity notes, and Bois des Eles was the first woody and floral scent for women and is said to have been inspired by a Tchaikovsky piece that Beaux had seen performed in Moscow.
1955 Pour Monsieur was created to be the “Chanel No.5” for men and quickly became a classic. The formula of Neroli, Cardamom, Sandalwood, Lemon, Cedar wood and Oak moss is said to have remained unchanged since it’s inception in 1955 but some sources say that the scent has been updated in recent years.
On August 19th 1970, Chanel No.19 was introduced. Named for Coco Chanel’s birth-date, No.19 was created as an exclusive perfume, meant only for Coco herself and select friends. She was 87 years old when No.19 was launched.
After Coco Chanel’s death in 1974, Henri Robert created Cristalle, a fresh energetic fragrance inspired by the mysterious healing powers of crystals and the potential they hold for the possibility of seeing the future and tapping into the unconscious.
Antaeus, a warm, woody fragrance with notes of Sage, Patchouli and Labdanu, launched in 1981 and is named after Antaeus, the son of the Greek Goddess of the Earth, Gaeia and God of the Sea, Poseidon.
1984 Jacques Polge, the new “nose” of Chanel brought us Coco, inspired by Coco Chanel and her baroque sense of style-particularly her apartment in Paris. Coco is a rich, lush perfume with notes of Bulgarian Rose, leather, vanilla, orange blossom and Indian Jasmine.
Egoiste, a woody, spicy fragrance with vanilla and sandalwood notes, was launched in 1990. The fragrance was originally launched in the USA as a limited edition called ‘Bois Noir’ in 1987. You may remember the cryptic (and award-winning) ad campaign for Egoiste, which left me with the unsettling feeling that this men’s cologne drove women mad. Ah, to be French.
Allure launched in 1999. Allure is “cut like a diamond with 6 facets which overlap, with no single note dominating.” With the launch of Allure came Allure Homme (for men) and Allure Sensuelle, a warmer version of its predecessor.
2001 gave us an updated version of Coco, Coco Mademoiselle; flirty version of the original, for the 20-soemthing set. And 2002 gave us Chance. Chance combines white musk with pink pepper, hyacinth, jasmine, and citrus to create a stunning fragrance. Chance, like Coco Mademoiselle, targets a younger market-young, daring women who have life before them, filled with exciting encounters, spiked with the element of the unknown…of chance…As a risk task and trendsetter, I think Coco Chanel would be proud of the direction Chanel fragrance has taken to embrace a new generation of Chanel devotees.