Ernest Beaux created Chanel No. 5 in 1921 as part of a suite of nine fragrances he presented to Coco Chanel. Depending on which story you believe, No. 5 was an accident when too much of a particular aldehyde was added to a scent or was a deliberate attempt to replicate Coco’s modern and blatant use of synthetic materials — think of her ropes of faux pearls.
As is true of many perfumes, No. 5 contains more than one type of aldehyde. Aldehydes provide sparkle and can boost the dispersion of some notes. When you get a strong hit of aldehydes right away from a fragrance, chances are that you’re smelling an “aliphatic” aldehyde. Although some people think of a dose of aliphatic aldehydes as “perfume-y” and old fashioned, when Beaux made it the signature of No. 5 (and No. 22), it was revolutionary.
Osmoz describes No. 5 as having top notes of aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, and neroli; a heart of jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, and orris; and a base of vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, and amber.
No. 5 has a clean bottle and a rim of black around the box’s edges, and No. 5’s advertising campaigns over the years have been genius, featuring everyone from Catherine Deneuve, Ali McGraw, Claudia Schiffer, Jean Shrimpton, and Carole Bouquet to, most recently, Nicole Kidman.
Chanel No. 5 is ladylike but personal and could go just about anywhere, any time of the day or night. It’s not an astonishingly beautiful fragrance, but it’s easy and lovely. Is it worth all the hype?
The Eau de Parfum is $80 for 50 ml at Chanel and is available at department stores in Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum, and Parfum.