How Chanel No.5 was born

Coco Chanel launched her eponymous No.5 perfume in 1921. A year before, so the legend goes, she challenged French-Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux to create a scent that would make its wearer “smell like a woman, and not like a rose.”

The result was a mixture of 80 natural and synthetic ingredients. Beaux presented her with a numbered series of perfume samples to choose from.

She picked the fifth. The blend subverted the notion of fragrances as a symbol of high social class, instead pushing the idea that women could be multiple things: natural and artificial, provocative and pure.

“It was what I was waiting for,” Chanel said. “A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.”

It was also one of the biggest and most successful branding exercises in the history of fashion. By placing her name conspicuously on every bottle and advertisement for her perfumes, Chanel forever linked them to the house’s identity.

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