Moment in Time: The Mystery of Chanel No. 5 | Part I
“A perfume such as had never before been made – a woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent.”― Coco Chanel
Original 1950's Chanel No.5 Bottle
The story of the legendary Chanel No. 5 has been told time and time again, but the mystery behind the scent and the name of the perfume remains and will probably never be solved. There are three different versions about the origin of the scent and several hypotheses about the meaning behind the innovative name of No. 5.
The tale began in 1920 when Mademoiselle Chanel’s Russian lover at the time, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, introduced her to Ernest Beaux, the perfumer to the tsars. Born in Moscow, Beaux started working as a laboratory assistant at Rallet – the leader soap and perfume manufacturers in Russia, and suppliers to the Imperial Court. By the age of 26 he was the company’s technical director and held the position for 10 years.
In 1919, after serving in the First World War and then being commissioned by the British to join the White Russian Army as a counter-intelligence office, he arrived to Southern France. There he started working at the La Bocca laboratories, founded by some of his former colleagues from Rallet. That is where Chanel No. 5 was created. In a speech, cited in “Coco Chanel The Legend and The Life” by Justine Picardie, Beaux gave in 1946 he remembers:
“I've been asked some questions about the subject of the creation of No.5. When did I create it? In 1920 exactly, upon my return from the war. I had been part of the campaign in a Northern region of Europe, above the Arctic Circle, during the midnight sun, where the lakes and rivers exuded a perfume of extreme freshness. I retained this note and recreated it, not without difficulty, for the first aldehydes I was able to find were unstable and unreliable. Why this name? Mademoiselle Chanel, who had a very fashionable couture house, asked me for some perfumes for it. I came to present my creations, two series: No 1-5 and 20-24. She chose a few, one of which was No. 5. “What should it be called?” I asked. Mademoiselle Chanel replied, “I’m presenting my dress collection on the 5th of May, the fifth month of the year; let’s leave the name Chanel No.5.” This number would bring her luck.”
Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and her lover the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich
P.S. Check out these gorgeous vintage Chanel earrings I discovered!