top of page

Step Back Into 1921 With Chanel N°5; The Beginning of Modern Perfumery

A quintessential perfume for bold and bright nights. By Shubhangi Thakur

Among many revolutionized stories, the creation of Chanel N°5 remains one of the most iconic moments. You don't have to be a perfume aficionado to know about Chanel N°5. Its legacy is unquestionable! Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the lionized creator of Chanel, was always passionate about fashion and high-profile romances. Such passion and romance led to the creation of Chanel N°5 on May 21, 1921, a symbolic date in modern perfumery. The history of this perfume tells the truth of French glamour. With a sense of covetousness, forever modernity, and freshness, this perfume has endured the test of time.

Photo: Haaretz

Chanel N°5's story of the beginning, historical ties, and unapologetic luxury has been marking its trail of limpid beauty for over a century. It epitomizes the famous literary work by Françoise Sagan, that said, "The warmth, dizziness, and the taste of our first kisses continued for long moments." So, before we continue to indulge more in Chanel N°5's glamorous glorification, get ready to step back into 1921 and dive into the story of its beginning.

Photo: Pinterest

The story of Chanel N°5 began with Coco Chanel's one romantic day in the South of France with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, an exiled Russian nobleman. On this day, she met Ernest Beaux, a fine Russian-French perfumer. The meeting of two artistic minds led to the formation of the classic and timeless tales of Chanel N°5. While she was working on this fragrance with him, Chanel wanted to create a scent that should "smell like a woman, not like a rose." With the idea of sparking the liberated feminine spirits of the 1920s, Chanel challenged Ernest Beaux to create "a woman's perfume with a woman's scent. Several samples were created for this scent; some overdosed with chemicals, and some faced the scarcity of flavours until Chanel stumbled upon its 5th sample, which formed the legendary name, Chanel N°5.

Photo- Forbes

Fragrances aren't just for the rich and pretty but for the memories. So, it's believed Chanel wanted to magnify the essence of her mother's fresh laundry. Some say the scent of soap and freshly scrubbed skin stayed with her for many years. Whatever the reason, Chanel's true obsession with number five led to the launch of this perfume on the fifth date of the fifth month in 1921. Chanel's fifth formula was infused with the freshness of notes such as vanilla, jasmine, may rose, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, and aldehydes for that perfectly "clean" scent.

When Chanel worked with the mistresses, she complained about their smell, the stink of musk, and body odour. Later, Tilar Mazzeo, the renowned author of The Secret of Chanel N°5, described the perfume by saying, "Chanel could balance in her own mind, her childhood, and then this luxurious life as a mistress."

This intervention in the history of perfume was an amalgamation of raw ingredients such as ylang-ylang from Madagascar and Mayotte and Jasmine from Grasse in France. Chanel took the world by storm when they introduced an aroma of sensual vanilla scent and embraced the clean floral notes. Coco knew she had introduced a revolutionary fragrance for the coming generations.

Photo- Etsy

Chanel N°5 created a fantasy world of opulence whose popularity returns to Marilyn Monroe. She said, "A few drops of Chanel N°5 was all I wore to bed". The accompanying slogan of Chanel N°5, "You know me, and you don't," truly justifies the feminine sophistication and reputation.

Its design was inspired by the clean rectangular lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles, which were designed by Gabrielle Chanel herself. The dreams and desires for this esteemed label continued to evolve, and so did its design, which featured small, rounded shoulders. It was exclusively sold in a few Chanel boutiques. Its chic whiskey-inspired bottle had a modern design with tints of past celebrations.

So, if we could describe this undisputable perfume, we would call it 'sensuality in a bottle.' The main idea of this world's most famous perfume was power, femininity, and rareness. This is one of the reasons why it's now widely used as a training tool for amateur perfumers and trainees.


Photo: My Perfume Shop

Built to signify the cultural meanings and vintage era, this perfume has marked a democratic luxury with European glamour and sophistication. Chanel N°5's leap into modern perfumery raised the industry's bar a century ago and continues to do so. It's rightly said that Chanel's perspective about sexuality and women empowerment was ahead of its time because N°5 truly resonated with her ideology.

The label has always been known for telling stories of Coco's aura, and so today, N°5 is branded as a way of life. It undoubtedly attained popularity that could reach all age groups and continues to do so till now. Be it a teenage Instagram influencer, a classic perfume lover, or a female of modernity, Chanel N°5 has effortlessly maintained its indelible reputation.


bottom of page