A stylized portrait of a flapper of the
Roaring Twenties and to Chanel No.5,
by French artist Sem, 1921
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. There are three different versions about the origin of the scent and several hypotheses about the meaning behind the innovative name of No. 5.
Misia, however, has her own version of the origin of the scent adding another layer to the mystery of Chanel No.5. The muse’s magical fairy tale begins with her claim that she has met Lucien Daudet, secretary to the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III. Daudet was a man devoted to the Empress and her beauty, possessed by her scent – Violettes Imperiales. “Just imagine, Misia,” he said one day, “I discovered an astonishing beauty formula among the letters of our dear empress. The faith she had in it is my biggest guarantee of its effectiveness. But you’d better read this document and tell me as a friend, since we’re alone, if it wouldn’t be possible to sell this lost formula to some cosmetics house – without revealing the name of the illustrious person who used it to keep her beauty alive.”
The vague dramatic narrative is a part of an unpublished chapter of Misia’s memoir, which begins with the words: “Coco always had a genius for discovering the essence of something gigantic in the most minuscule idea suggested to her. If the grain of sand you offered her had some interesting quality, she could turn it into gold. I should like to give an example that is almost miraculous.”
The hazy story continues with Misia buying the formula for six thousand francs and giving it to Mademoiselle Chanel to launch the first Chanel eau de toilette based on it. She even takes credit for the infamous bottle of the perfume. “Painstakingly, we experimented with a very severe bottle, ultra-simple, almost pharmaceutical, weeks later, L’Eau Chanel made its appearance. It succeeded far beyond our wildest hopes. It was unbelievable, almost as if we had won first prize in a lottery! “Why don’t you really go in for perfumes?” I said to Coco.”
Misia continues, “At that moment Mademoiselle Chanel, who at first considered the eau de toilette a plaything, had the genius to see the future possibilities of this new idea. And from the start her perfumes were so successful the Chanel No.5, No.22 and Bois des lles were soon in demand on all five continents. And that is how the sorceress, with a flick of her wrist, started with the miniscule idea The Secret of the Medicis had given me and created an industry of such importance, that one by one, all the fashion houses followed her path. Thanks to her, they managed to balance their budgets during the years when they were threatened with bankruptcy.”
Not to anyone’s surprise, when Mademoiselle Chanel read this chapter of Misia’s memoir she demanded it to be withdrawn from the book. It will never be clear whether the Secret of the Medicis really existed and whether Misia really had such an important role in the legend of Chanel and therefore in the fashion industry as a whole.
The mystery of the scent remains unsolved for generations to search the truth about its origin.
|The evolution of the Chanel No.5 bottle, from 1921 to 1986|
Did you know …There’s a legend that the design of the clean geometric bottle of No.5 was inspired by the silhouette of Palace Vendôme, which Mademoiselle Chanel and Dmitri could see from their suit at the Ritz.