Chanel N°5 – Origin and Legacy of a Love Affair

Chanel N°5 – Origin and Legacy of a Love Affair

“Chanel: It’s one of the pleasures of being a woman,” Catherine Deneuve affirms at the end of a 1973 Advertising Commercial. monologue. It’s as true now as it was then.

Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume launched by Parisian couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

So many words have been spoken and written about the perfume of the century, so many images have become famous. It has perfumed women, bewitched men and inspired artists. N°5 surrounds us. It is in our imagination.

Its bottle with pure lines and sharp edges has remained almost unchanged since 1921. The power of black on white has not weakened. Its name is a number: N°5, rich in symbols. It is both a beginning and an end.



No. 5 is synonymous with only one brand in the world—Chanel.

One word defines and sums up N°5: –  Mystery !

No.5 is a legend, signifying power, purity, and the mythical modernity brought forth by one woman, Gabrielle Chanel.

Embraced the world over by women in the know, decade after decade the fragrance is more than a perfume—it is the definition of style itself. Beautiful, famous muses have contributed to its myth, and artists have gravitated around it and nurtured it with their influences

coco chanel

coco chanel

Coco Chanel’s ( 1883-1971 ) life story has been told countless times in many different ways. But the latest is relayed through her most successful commodity, Chanel No. 5, which gave birth to the modern fragrance industry.

Jean-Louis Froment’s recent exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris revealed the artistic, timeless, iconic essence of N°5. ‘N°5 Culture Chanel’ is a beautiful and very fashionable tribute to Gabrielle Chanel’s infamous fashion house and its olfactory history.

poster chanel

The exhibition “No. 5 Culture Chanel,” travelled back to World War I–era Biarritz, Grasse, New York, Cap Martin and Venice, recalling how avant-garde artists like Picasso, Cocteau, Apollinaire, Picabia, Man Ray and Stravinsky influenced the visionary designer.

Gabrielle Chanel by Man Ray

Gabrielle Chanel by Man Ray

Through photographs, books, diverse objects and works by the artist friends of celebrated French fashion designer Gabriele “Coco” Chanel , who included , the show reveals the inspirations and influences that led to the creation of the iconic fragrance as well as her timeless fashion creations.


The Palais de Tokyo, Paris

Centred on the longstanding ties between CHANEL and the arts, N°5 CULTURE CHANEL, imagined by Jean-Louis Froment, reveals the artistic, timeless and iconic essence of the fragrance CHANEL N°5.

Built on a subtle interchange of correspondence, this exhibition elucidates CHANEL N°5 and showcases the connections it has to its era and its avant-garde movements.


The works of art, photographs, archives, books and diverse objects featured in the exhibition expose some of the multiple inspirations that fuelled the universe and imagination of Mademoiselle Chanel: whether it be her favourite places or creations of her artist, poet and musician friends such as Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Igor Stravinsky, Francis Picabia and Pierre Reverdy.

The raw, avant-garde museum space is transformed into a sleek white runway of glass cases, holding more than 200 works of art by Dalí, Picasso, Man Ray, Brancusi, and many more, striking a compelling balance between the past and present.


The two rows of outlining cases are filled with rare pieces of art, photographs, and archives that will dazzle the mind, helping one further see the unique era of its time, the imagination and the emotional memory of Mademoiselle Gabrielle Coco Chanel, and its cultural mystique of No. 5, within adventurous artistic forms.


All artworks, drawings, photographs, and archival objects are symmetrically incased in clear-lucite boxes, aligned in three separate rows—with the center row being the backbone of the exhibition, as stated by the curator, Jean-Louis Froment, the backbone being inkless books, only perforated outline images, opened to different pages, as if they were the secret codes to unlocking the mystery of Chanel No. 5.

“For me, N°5 is not a perfume, it’s a cultural object. It’s sustained by a profoundly inward adventure, which is the prerogative of great creators, and it’s also a modern creation that totally relies on an artistic adventure that’s historic.” ….  Jean-Louis Froment


Jean-Louis Froment


Seven of these bookcases were each dedicated to one of the seven base scents which together make up the compounded N°5.

The exhibition addressed, the associative memory aspect of an odour.

These drawers, housing a type of silver box, opened out to provide the visitor with a concentrated experience of the scent.

Flanking a huge bottle of N°5 on each side were tall perspex boxes which on approach, gently emitted the completed perfume, giving the visitor an opportunity to test out their newly acquired sensory knowledge

The Shelving was generously stocked with various books about the woman herself, artists who inspired her, her favourite places, anything alluding to the scent itself and its origin.

On each was a screen with a monochromatic representation of the scent by artist, Ange Leccia. A tablet computer was also available at each bookshelf which provided an interactive breakdown of each scent.

The mediatheque was surrounded by suitably stylish couches, encouraging visitors to linger and peruse the available media.

pap photo

To celebrate this très Français affair, all of Chanel’s gorgeous ambassadors from the past and present—such as Carole Bouquet, Audrey Tautou, Vanessa Paradis, Anna Mouglalis, Gaspard Ulliel, and Estella Warren—came to delight in the  opening even.

Guests that flew in from all over the world for this special night on May 3, along with film director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Chanel perfumers Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake.

Gardens always go hand in hand with perfume, and so a garden fittingly provides the introductory setting to this exhibition.


The Palais de Tokyo – Chanel exhibition entrance path.

This novel exhibition entrance concept, is a poetic evocation of N°5, seen through the eyes of Piet Oudolf who here signs his first project in France, using plants whose scents are used in the Chanel N0 5 formulae


The exhibition encompassed the history surrounding the creation of the iconic scent as well as the many influences on Chanel, addressing the artistic, aesthetic and historical environment which surrounded the designer and the Russian-French chemist Ernest Beaux who compounded the scent.

Since opening her studio in Amsterdam in the early 1990s, the leading graphic designer, Irma Boom, has created a large number of very unusual books, most of which have found their way into museum permanent collections.

On the occasion of the Palais de Tokyo exhibition, Dutch graphic designer Irma Boom has created a special volume with images referring to Chanel No. 5 (and the perfume’s iconic bottle, which premiered in 1924) and quotations by Coco Chanel and others, the publication’s embossed text printed white on white.


N°5 Culture Chanel Book.

Publisher’s description:

“In ‘No. 5 Culture Chanel,’ exhibition curator Jean-Louis Froment plays homage to the legendary Gabrielle Chanel and her most iconic fragrance. Designed to complement the exhibit ‘No. 5 Culture Chanel’ at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Froment’s tome traces Mademoiselle Chanel’s artistic influences and establishes Chanel No. 5’s integral role in the avant-garde art of the early 20th century.

Able to call Cocteau and Dalí friends, Gabrielle Chanel lived in the heart of Parisian modernist movements. The book reveals the intimate links between Mademoiselle Chanel’s fabled fragrance and the rising tide of cubist and surrealist art. Lavishly designed with stunning photographs and illustrations, this extremely luxurious volume offers a glimpse into both the storied Chanel house and the artistic landscape of Paris in the 1920s.

Photographs of Mademoiselle Chanel are displayed alongside the works of Modigliani and Picasso and the writings of Apollinaire and Proust.”



“She surrounded herself with famous men and she was often seen with Stravinsky, Picasso, Cocteau, Reverdy and Sert. These friendships mark one’s life, and bring it grandeur. However, one must be ready to embrace it.” – Maurice Sachs about Gabrielle Chanel , in 1956

coco chanel in 1913

It is thanks to the rich and constant dialogue with her artist, poet, writer and musician friends that Gabrielle Chanel was able to become a legend in her own right. Just like several of her friends, including Pablo Picasso, Mademoiselle Chanel invented a language that would very soon become that of modernity.

While Picasso, with Cubism deconstructed the pictorial space inherited from the Renaissance, Chanel redesigned the female silhouette and freed the body from all constraints, liberating movement, defining the line, creating an allure.

Leon Bakst

Femme au Chapeau – Leon Bakst

1910, Gabrielle Chanel opened her first hat shop at 21 rue Cambon in Paris.

Her simple and elegant wide-brimed hats contrasted with the complicated structures of her competitors.


Coco Chanel and her aunt Adrienne in front of her boutique in Deauville, 1913

Coco Chanel and her aunt Adrienne in front of her boutique in Deauville, 1913



Chanel hat from Les Modes catalogue 1912

In 1915 Guillaume Apollinaire dedicated the calligram poem “Reconnais-toi” to Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, the woman he was enamoured with, and who was one of his muses, wearing a Chanel made wide-brimmed hat.

Calligram to Pablo Picasso

Calligram to Pablo Picasso by Guillaume Apollinaire

It is worth nothing that the invention of the calligram is a movement towards abstraction: with the letters of the alphabet, Apollinaire drew the calligram featuring what the outspread words were referring to.

Was it a sign of the times that only a few years later Gabrielle Chanel would call her first perfume N°5, replacing the name by a number…?

picasso and his wife olga

Picasso and his wife Olga

On 18 May 1917, the “Parade” ballet premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. This one-act ballet whose musical score was composed by Erik Satie surprised the public with its deliberately avant-garde tone.

Serge Diaghilev who founded and directed the famous Ballets Russes asked the dancer Léonide Massine to choreograph the ballet and Jean Cocteau to pen the libretto, who was given carte blanche to decide who would work with him.

Cocteau chose Erik Satie to be in charge of music and Picasso to be in charge of the stage curtain, sets and costumes. In the preface of the programme, Guillaume Apollinaire mentioned the “alliance between painting and dance, between plastic art and body expression which is a sign of the advent of a more comprehensive art”.

Picasso + Olga

Picasso and Olga in front of the poster for the Ballet Parade

Close to avant-garde figures, Gabrielle Chanel frequented the main protagonists of the Dada movement in Paris, Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia.

Breaking with convention and blowing the minds of the petit bourgeois, Dada was a genuine laboratory from which new forms of poetic writing and fine arts would emerge and a precursor to Surrealism.

Salvidor Dalí's Grand Central Powder Room, circa 1937



Coco and Arthur Boy Capel

Arthur Capel, known as ‘Boy’, held a central place in the history of Gabrielle Chanel

Her relationship with Arthur Cappel, the true love of her life, that helped her expand her business activities

In 1913, she left Etienne Balsan, and joined hands with millionaire British industrialist Arthur Cappel, Balsan’s former best friend, with whom she fell in love, a relationship that was described as a true love relationship, out of the many affairs she had with men during her lifetime, but unfortunately ended up in tragedy, when Cappel died in car accident in December 1919.

Cappel provided her the financial backing to expand her business activities.

In 1913, Cappel sponsored the establishment of a millinery and women’s fashion house in Paris, that was followed by two additional boutiques in the coastal towns of Deauville in 1913 and Biarritz in 1916.

During World War I, she opened another large boutique on Rue de Cambon, opposite the Hotel Ritz, Paris.

The hats sold in her millinery shops were snapped up by women of the elitist society in Paris, and also worn by celebrated French actresses, that helped to establish her reputation.

In 1913, after opening her boutique at the resort town of Deauville, she observed the fashions of women who came to this resort town, and hated the way most of them dressed.

As an alternative she introduced women’s sports wear, at her new boutique in Deauville, based on simple designs and meant for casual wear.

The practical sportswear she introduced was a great success, and the Chanel’s shops developed a dedicated clientele.

The fabric she used for her clothing was unique and unusual, “Jersey,” which at that time was exclusively used for men’s underwear.

Chanel jersey_casual_wear_1917,_

Chanel jersey casual wear 1917

It is said that Chanel selected this material because of its low cost. However, the quality of the fabric, suited the intended purpose, as it draped well, and was ideal for Chanel’s simple and practical designs, that were often inspired by the designs of men’s wear, such as the uniforms introduced for working women when World War I broke out in 1914.

By the year 1915, Chanel’s simple and practical designs became popular throughout France, and Harper’s Bazaar mentioned that Chanel’s name was on the list of every buyer.

It is said that Chanel’s business was so successful that she was able to pay back Cappel in full, just four years after he set her up in business.

Boy Capel

Arthur “boy” Capel

In his company, she became an avid reader and once he’d disappeared from her life, she pursued her lingering love for him through the books he’d asked her to read

It seems that the history of CHANEL N°5 began at the very moment when Gabrielle Chanel learned of the death of her love Arthur Boy Capel, in December 1919.

This bereavement would fuel an intuition, and Gabrielle Chanel would sublimate it through the creation of her first perfume: CHANEL N°5.

It was born of emptiness and of absence, closely linked to Gabrielle Chanel’s destiny, reminiscence of a love that was violently interrupted but that she would cherish all her life.

By sublimating bereavement in creation, Chanel indulged in an eternal perfume.

Paul Eluard

Paul Eluard – Absences

In August 1920, while Gabrielle Chanel was mourning the death of Boy Capel, Misia Sert and her husband José Maria persuaded her to accompany them to Venice.

This voyage of discovery of the City of the Doges was both salutary and initiatory. Flamboyant and mysterious the many facets of the “Serenissimo” immediately seduced her as she made this city one of her favorite destinations and a continual source of inspiration.

A major transit point for trade and relations between East and West, Venice has played a major role throughout the history of the introduction of perfumes into Europe.

Venetian merchants wanted to venture ever further along the routes to the East, as illustrated by Marco Polo, who reached China via the Silk Road in 1275.

He recounted this voyage in his “Books of the Marvels of the World”, which notably describes the refinement of Eastern civilizations.

And it was in the City of the Doges that the first European treaty on perfumery was drafted in 1555.


Noble Secrets of the Art of Perfumery – Giovanni Ventura Rossetti
Books of the Marvels of the World – Marco Polo

1920 Coco_Chanel

Coco Chanel @ 1920

The year is 1920. Gabrielle Chanel already possesses the grammar of her fashion, which makes her style.

The future perfume had to keep up with the pace of her couture creations, take the same rhythm: incisive and irreversible.

After the death of Arthur Cappel in 1919, Chanel was introduced to the Russian exile Grand Duke Dmitri, with whom she started a relationship.

Dmitri was 30, Gabrielle was 8 years older than him: she fascinated him, he seduced her.

It was through him that she met Ernest Beaux, a perfume maker, whose father had worked for the Czar of Russia.

Gabrielle Chanel and Dmitri Palovitch 1920

Gabrielle Chanel and Dmitri Palovitch 1920

Their relationship only lasted for one year , but they remained close friends until his death in 1942.

Through Dimitri’s influence , Gabrielle delved with delight into Russian history and culture.

chanel sur la palge

During a stay on the French Riviera in Grasse, with Misia Sert and the Grand Duke, she met a Russian perfumer: Ernest Beaux.

This Frenchman worked as perfumer to the Court of the Tsar in Russia.

Around this time Beaux was working on new formula for an essence, for a French perfume manufacturer Francois Coty.

Gabrielle Chanel entrusted him the task of creating her first perfume. Together, they invented “a woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman”, as she liked to call it.

Traditionally, fragrance worn by women had adhered to two basic categories –  “Respectable” women favored the pure essence of a single garden flower. Sexually provocative perfumes heavy with animal musk or jasmine were associated with women of the demi-monde, prostitutes or courtesans.

Chanel felt the time was right for the debut of a scent that would epitomize the modern flapper that would speak to the liberated spirit of the 1920s.


About the perfumer Ernest Beaux (1881–1961).

The chemical formula for the fragrance was compounded by Russian-French chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux.

The idea for the development of a distinctly modern fragrance had been on Chanel’s mind for some time when her lover, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, introduced her to Ernest Beaux on the French Riviera in early 1920.

Portrait of Ernest Beaux

Portrait of Ernest Beaux

Beaux was the master perfumer at A. Rallet and Company, where he had been employed since 1898. The company was the official perfumer to the Russian royal family, and “the imperial palace at St. Petersburg was a famously perfumed court.”

The favorite scent of the Czarina Alexandra, composed specifically for her by Rallet in Moscow, had been an eau de cologne opulent with rose and jasmine named Rallet O-DE-KOLON No.1 Vesovoi.

In 1912, Beaux created a men’s eau de cologne, Le Bouquet de Napoleon, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, a decisive battle in the Napoleonic Wars.

The success of this men’s fragrance inspired Beaux to create a feminine counterpart, whose jumping off point was the chemical composition of aldehydic multiflores in Houbigant’s immensely popular Quelques Fleurs (1912).

He experimented and manipulated the aldehydes in Quelques Fleurs, resulting in a fragrance he christened Le Bouquet de Catherine. The scent was intended to inaugurate another celebration in 1913, the 300th anniversary of the Romanoff dynasty. The debut of this new perfume proved ill-timed. World War I was approaching, and the czarina and the perfume’s namesake, the Empress Catherine, had both been German-born.

A marketing misfortune that invoked unpopular associations, combined with the fact that Le Bouquet de Catherine was enormously expensive, made it a commercial failure.

An attempt to re-brand the perfume, as Rallet No. 1 was unsuccessful, and the outbreak of World War I in 1914 effectively prevented public acceptance of the brand.

Beaux, who had affiliated himself with the Allies and the White Russian army, had spent 1917–19 as a lieutenant stationed far north, in the last arctic outpost of the continent, Arkangelsk, at Mudyug Island Prison where he interrogated Bolshevik prisoners.

The polar ice, frigid seascape, and whiteness of the snowy terrain sparked his desire to capture the crisp fragrance of this landscape into a new perfume compound.

Beaux perfected what was to become Chanel No. 5 over several months in the late summer and autumn of 1920.

He worked from the rose and jasmine base of Rallet No. 1. altering it to make it cleaner, more daring, reminiscent of the pristine polar freshness he had inhabited during his war years.

He experimented with modern synthetics, adding his own invention “Rose E. B” and notes derived from a new jasmine source, a commercial ingredient called Jasophore.

The revamped, complex formula also ramped up the quantities of orris-iris-root and natural musks.

The revolutionary key was Beaux’s use of aldehydes.

User's manual Synthetic Perfumes

User’s Manual – Synthetic Perfumes

chanel formulae

Aldehydes are organic compounds of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. They are manipulated in the laboratory at crucial stages of chemical reaction whereby the process arrests and isolates the scent. When used creatively, aldehydes act as “seasonings,” an aroma booster.

Beaux’s student, Constantin Weriguine, said the aldehyde Beaux used had the clean note of the arctic, “a melting winter note.”

Legend has it that this wondrous concoction was the inadvertent result of a laboratory mishap. A laboratory assistant, mistaking a full strength mixture for a ten percent dilution, had jolted the compound with a dose of aldehyde in quantity never before used.

Ernest Beaux mixed natural essences with synthetic products, aldehydes, which exalted all their freshness. This was one of the secrets of the audacious and innovative fragrance, which evoked a mysterious flower.

Alone, they smell aggressive, greasy, and sometimes rancid. But they are a wonderful foil for flowers: they have a magical effect on them. N°5, a joyful, avant-garde, dazzlingly powerful perfume, ushered in a new olfactive genre: floral aldehydes.


In 1921 Beaux, the perfumer presented 24 samples and she chose number five, which was her lucky number.

Beaux prepared ten glass vials for Chanel’s inspection. Numbered 1–5 then 20–24, the gap presented the core May rose, jasmine and aldehydes in two complementary series, each group a variation of the compound.

“Number five. Yes,” Chanel said later, “that is what I was waiting for. A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.”

N°5 inaugurated the language of numbers in perfumes.

After the success of Chanel No. 5, Ernest Beaux created other perfumes for Chanel, such as Cuir de Russie in 1925, Gardenia in 1925 and Bois des Isles in 1926.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel had a wonderful taste for luxury: in the way she conducted her life, in clothes and hats she created, in jewelry, in furniture she surrounded herself with. But she was also known for her extraordinary sense of smell and her love for perfume.

“When someone offers me a flower, I can smell the hands that picked them,” she said. “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”

These words of a French poet Paul Valery would become one of her famous slogans. She believed that the droplets of perfume applied behind the ear, on the back of a wrist and in the hollow of a shoulder, were a must for any elegant woman.

In the early 1920’s Coco Chanel was not the only couturier to express interest in making their own perfume. However, no one had ever dared to move away from the floral scents before Chanel. The smell of one flower was a widely common preference.

Other samples were later developed and sold, like Chanel No. 22, but No. 5 had the It factor and was the first of its kind to blend various scents—it contained more than 80 different notes—to create an “abstract fragrance.”

According to Chanel, the formula used to produce No. 5 has changed little since its creation, except for the necessary exclusion of natural civet and certain nitro-musks.

No. 5 in its original 1921 formulation is preserved in the archives of the Osmothèque, donated to the collection by perfumer Jacques Polge on behalf of Chanel.


Iconography of N°5

no. 5

At the age of twelve, Chanel was handed over to the care of nuns, and for the next six years spent a stark, disciplined existence in a convent orphanage, Aubazine, founded by Cistercians in the twelfth century.

From her earliest days at Aubazine, the number five had potent associations for Chanel. For Chanel, the number five was especially esteemed as signifying the pure embodiment of a thing, its spirit, its mystic meaning.

The paths that led Chanel to the cathedral for daily prayer were laid out in circular patterns repeating the number five.

Her affinity for the number five co-mingled with the abbey gardens, and by extension the lush surrounding hillsides abounding with cistus, a five-petal rose.

Five is the number symbolizing union, man and the universe. It is also the number of perfection. But most of all, the number 5 is dedicated to the human. The 5 senses, 5 five fingers and 5 limbs that are the signature of his nature. And Gabrielle Chanel made it her favorite number

Chanel told her master perfumer, Ernest Beaux, whom she had commissioned to develop a fragrance with modern innovations: “I present my dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year and so we will let this sample number five keep the name it has already, it will bring good luck.”

Chanel may have believed in lucky numbers, but she was deeply modernist and was always moved by forward-thinking artists and intellectuals.

Created like a haute couture dress, Chanel N°5 was the first perfume to stand out as an abstraction: it went against the fashionable fragrances of that time, which more often than not evoked only one figurative scent such as rose, jasmine or lilac, no dominant note could be distinguished from among the eighty ingredients that composed it.


Catalogue of Chanel Perfumes

The perfume catalogue of 1924 followed the same aesthetic principles, two black lines framing the cover, but also the pages.

Lines, grids, frames, the modern spirit took hold of all forms of media. The ideal of an abstraction that flirted with the principles of refinement, and played on a simple geometry whose extremely contemporary elegance obscured radicalness, spread to architecture and the daily environment as well as painting, typography, going so far as to inspire geometric lines and motifs in fashion


When Mademoiselle Chanel launched her first perfume in 1921, she chose a rather sober name for it: N°5, an ID number, a laboratory denomination, a figure that she had chosen as her lucky number from very early on.

It was a revolution in the perfume world which at that time loved poetic titles… On a white label, resembling those of schoolchildren or pharmacists, one could read: N°5, CHANEL, PARIS, on three lines.

The radical aesthetics of this label were not unrelated to those of the small leaflets that members of Dada were producing at that time.

These leaflets, known as ‘papillons Dada’ (Dada butterflies) were very short texts, most often signed by Tristan Tzara and printed on small pieces of white or coloured paper.


Dada Flyer – Tristan Tzara


The No 5 Manifesto

“… she substituted the use of perfumes with recognisable fragrances with that of a perfume with an indefinable fragrance. There are some eighty ingredients that make up N°5, and although it might have the freshness of a garden, nothing can change the fact that the fragrance of this garden is unknown. That is how she made history in the world of perfume: N°5 had the surprising character of an abstract creation.” –

Edmonde Charles-Roux, L’irreguliere ou Mon itineraire Chanel, Editors Grasset et Fasquelle, 2009


Case for the Chanel No. 5 Perfume Bottle

The early 20th century saw the triumph of abstraction and cubism proposed a renewed vision of space.

Picasso’s Cubist collages and the ‘galley proof’ technique used by Marcel Proust at that time to correct his manuscripts, were quite similar from a visual art point of view.

The first packaging of the CHANEL N°5 bottle was also a collage. It was a coarse-grained paper case, gummed and highlighted in black with a rigour that revealed an unusual sort of daring in the world of perfume.

Gabrielle Chanel made this very innovative perfume a manifesto by adorning it with the most modern thing that existed: a collage that was Cubist in spirit…

5, this number that Gabrielle Chanel chose as her lucky charm, passed from one element to another within her world.

But in 1920-21, this number 5 was also present for a great number of artists, some of whom were close to Chanel.

igor stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

She hosted Igor Stravinsky and all his family in Bel Respiro, her villa in Garches, from autumn 1920 for about two years.

There, he composed a collection of short pieces for children called “The Five Fingers”. Creative osmosis?

the 5 fingers

The Five Fingers – Igor Stravinsky

This piece of sheet music dates from 1921, the year CHANEL N°5 was launched…


Design of the N0 5 Bottle


The beveled square bottle, equal parts whisky flask and Bauhaus architecture, was the antidote to the flamboyant Baccarat crystal vessels popular then.

Even its lab-inspired name was a deconstruction of all things gilded and gimmicky, elements Chanel abhorred.

chanel no 5 bottle

Chanel envisioned a design that would be an antidote for the over-elaborate, precious fussiness of the crystal fragrance bottles then in fashion popularized by Lalique and Baccarat. Her bottle would be “pure transparency …an invisible bottle.”

It is generally considered that the bottle design was inspired by the rectangular beveled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles, which, outfitted in a leather traveling case, were favored by her lover, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Some say it was the whiskey decanter he used that she admired and wished to reproduce in “exquisite, expensive, delicate glass.”

The first bottle produced in 1919 differed from the Chanel No.5 bottle known today.

The original container had small, delicate, rounded shoulders and was sold only in Chanel boutiques to select clients.

In 1924, when “Parfums Chanel” incorporated, the glass proved too thin to sustain shipping and distribution. This is the point in time when the only significant design change took place. The bottle was modified with square, faceted corners.

In a marketing brochure issued in 1924, “Parfums Chanel” described the vessel, which contained the fragrance: “the perfection of the product forbids dressing it in the customary artifices. Why rely on the art of the glass maker …Mademoiselle is proud to present simple bottles adorned only by …precious teardrops of perfume of incomparable quality, unique in composition, revealing the artistic personality of their creator.”

No 5 History Bottle

Chronological evolution of bottle design.

Unlike the bottle, which has remained the same since redesigned in 1924, the stopper has gone through numerous modifications.

The original stopper was a small glass plug. The octagonal stopper, which became a brand signature, was instituted in 1924 when the bottle shape was changed.

The 1950s gave the stopper a bevel cut and a larger, thicker silhouette. In the 1970s the stopper became even more prominent, but in 1986 it was re-proportioned so it size was more harmonious with the scale of the bottle.

The “pocket flacon” devised to be carried in the purse was introduced in 1934.

The price point and container size were developed to appeal to a broader customer base. It represented an aspirational purchase, to appease the desire for a taste of exclusivity in those who found the cost of the larger bottle prohibitive.

The bottle, over decades, has itself become an identifiable cultural artifact, so much so that Andy Warhol chose to commemorate its iconic status in the mid-1980s with his pop-art, silk-screen titled “Ads: Chanel.”

warhol posters chanel



Chanel – Andy Warhol



Perfume Bottle Chanel No. 5


The Double C’s logo

On the black wax seal of the neck of the 1921 bottle, Gabrielle Chanel placed a ‘C’, the first letter of her surname, a capital ‘C’ that she also wrote inside the cover of the books in her collection.

This remarkably simple monogram stood out like a sign of recognition. And it is hard not to compare the monogram of Catherine de’ Medici, formed by a double ‘C’, to that chosen by Chanel.

An interesting coincidence, this monogram undoubtedly reveals Gabrielle Chanel’s fascination for this queen.


Red Morocco Leather Binding

This ‘C’, which she would turn into a monogram by doubling it and that would become her logo, recalls the rounded curves of the interlacing that was to be found in the stained glass windows of the collegiate church of Aubazine, a fundamental place in the aesthetics of CHANEL.





Advertisement for Chanel No. 5 perfume

Was it by intuition or intelligence, when in 1921 on smelling the fragrance from a bottle claiming to contain Ernest Beaux’s fifth proposal, that Mademoiselle Chanel knew it contained a legend?

A legend which would largely contribute to the making of her own, for she knew better than anybody else how to invent herself and would generously urge other women do the same.

A highly symbolic gesture – in turn she handed them the bottle, offering her perfume to the wide world, this number 5 which she decided to embody herself in front of François Kollar’s camera lens in 1937, for the first American publicity campaign in Harper’s Bazaar.

Other women would follow suit expressing that eternal femininity N°5 seemed to have pierced to reveal the mystery within.


The Essence of Dali – Philippe Halsman

Always in search of elegance, comfort and freedom of movement, Gabrielle Chanel considered fashion to be an architectural endeavour whose success depended on the right proportions.

This focus on proportions was consistent with a working drawing ideal that was typical of her generation and expressed in modernist architecture, as immortalised by photographer Berenice Abbott in the United States.

This big-city almost futuristic architecture is often seen in ad campaigns for CHANEL N°5.

Gabrelle Chanel

Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel – Berenice Abbot

As opposed to fashion, Gabrielle imposed a style, timeless in essence. Her approach to women’s image reflected the idea of eternal beauty.

It was important to express a type of femininity that did not depend on beauty standards linked to a particular period of history, but once again on the right proportions.

This archetype of an ideal woman is echoed in a number of works of art, from ancient Greek statues to our times


Battle for Control

Chanel launched her perfume on the 5th day of the 5th month (May) of the year 1921, and called her perfume “Chanel No. 5” after her superstitious belief that No. 5 was her lucky number.

The perfume was marketed by her in the signature rectangular shaped Art Deco bottle that was manufactured according to her own specifications.

The perfume was well received by women of the high society and became very popular.

Coco Chanel was not prepared to such a scale of commercial success. It was more than she could handle.

After scoring an initial success with the perfume, Chanel was now looking desperately for partners to mass produce and market the new product.

The business alliance with the brothers Pierre and Paul Wertheimer, the owners of Les Perfumeries Bourjois was made for the production and distribution of Chanel Number 5.

In 1924, Chanel made an agreement with the Wertheimer brothers, Pierre and Paul, directors of the eminent perfume house Bourjois since 1917, creating a corporate entity, “Parfums Chanel.”

The Wertheimers agreed to provide full financing for production, marketing and distribution of Chanel No. 5.

The Wertheimers would receive a seventy percent share of the company, and Théophile Bader, founder of the Paris department store, Galeries Lafayette, would receive twenty percent ( finders fee ) and Coco would receive the remaining 10%

Bader had been instrumental in brokering the business connection by introducing Chanel to Pierre Wertheimer at the Longchamps races in 1922.

coco and pierre wiethemer

coco and pierre wiethemer

For ten percent of the stock, Chanel licensed her name to “Parfums Chanel” and removed herself from involvement in all business operations.

Displeased with the arrangement, Chanel worked for more than twenty years to gain full control of “Parfums Chanel.”

She proclaimed that Pierre Wertheimer was “the bandit who screwed me.”

Feeling she had been cheated, Chanel filed lawsuit after lawsuit, trying to get more control and more of the profits.

By 1928, according to Axel Madsen in the biography ”Chanel: A Woman of Her Own,” the Wertheimers had a lawyer on their staff who dealt solely with Chanel.

coco chanel n 1936 by Boris Lipnitzki when she was 53 years old

53 year old coco chanel in 1936 by Boris Lipnitzki.

11936 camellias in her hair, baroque cuffs, glittering beside a Venetian statue of a Moor

1936 camellias in her hair, baroque cuffs, glittering beside a Venetian statue of a Moor

chanel-shot-by-horst in 1937

chanel in 1937


coco chanel and pierre wertheimer

When the Nazis arrived in Paris in 1940, Pierre and his brother, Paul, fled to New York.

They sent an American emissary, H. Gregory Thomas, back to France with a mission: to get the formula for No. 5 and the main ingredients (essential oils of jasmine and tuberose) from Grasse.

Thomas also helped Pierre’s son Jacques escape to New York.

Chanel, then in her 50’s, closed her fashion business but continued to live across the street at the Hotel Ritz, a Nazi headquarters.


Gabrielle Chanel at the Ritz, Paris

World War II brought with it the Nazi seizure of all Jewish owned property and business enterprises, providing Chanel with the opportunity to gain the full monetary fortune generated by “Parfums Chanel” and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5.

The directors of “Parfums Chanel,” the Wertheimers, were Jewish, and Chanel used her position as an “Aryan” to petition German officials to legalize her right to sole ownership.

On May 5, 1941, Chanel wrote to the government administrator charged with ruling on the disposition of Jewish financial assets.

Her grounds for proprietary ownership were based on the claim that “Parfums Chanel” “is still the property of Jews” and had been legally “abandoned” by the owners.

“I have, an indisputable right of priority …the profits that I have received from my creations since the foundation of this business …are disproportionate …[and] you can help to repair in part the prejudices I have suffered in the course of these seventeen years.”


She soon began a romance with a young Nazi officer named Hans Gunther von Dincklage.

Believing she could wrest control of her company from the Wertheimers, Chanel attempted to declare the company abandoned.

chanel and von dinklage

Chanel was not aware that the Wertheimers, anticipating the forthcoming Nazi mandates against Jews had, in May 1940, legally turned control of “Parfums Chanel” over to a Christian, French businessman and industrialist Felix Amiot.

They bought almost 50 percent of an airplane propeller company run by Félix Amiot.

It worked: the Germans left Les Parfums Chanel alone

At the end of World War II, Amiot turned “Parfums Chanel” back into the hands of the Wertheimers.

Helping the Wertheimers ”saved his little neck” from the revenge-seeking Allies.

Chanel, meanwhile, was arrested by French Resistance forces.

chanel and churchill

She was released the next day, allegedly thanks to the help of Churchill, a friend of Chanel’s ex-beau, the Duke of Westminster.

She fled to Switzerland, where she continued to menace the Wertheimers, her wartime plot having failed.

By the mid-1940s, the worldwide sale of Chanel No. 5 amounted to nine million dollars annually; some two hundred forty million dollars a year in twenty-first century valuation.

The monetary stakes were high and Chanel was determined to wrest control of “Parfums Chanel” from the Wertheimers.

Chanel’s plan was to destroy customer confidence in the brand, tarnish the image, crippling its marketing and distribution.

She let it be known that Chanel No.5 was no longer the original fragrance as created by “Mademoiselle Chanel,” it was no longer being compounded according to her standards and what was now being offered to the public was an inferior product, one she could no longer endorse.

Further, Chanel announced she would be making available an authentic Chanel No. 5, to be named “Mademoiselle Chanel No.5,” offered to a group of select clients.

She also filed a suit in France that charged that Les Parfums Chanel made an inferior product and demanded that ownership and rights be returned to her.

Chanel possibly was unaware that the Wertheimers, who had fled from France to New York in 1940, had instituted a process whereby the quality of Chanel No. 5 would not be compromised.

In America the Wertheimers had recruited H. Gregory Thomas as European emissary for “Parfums Chanel.”

Thomas’s mission was to establish the mechanisms required to maintain the quality of the Chanel products, particularly its most profitable fragrance, Chanel No. 5.

Thomas worked to ensure that the supply of key components, the oils of jasmine and tuberose, sourced exclusively in the French town of Grasse, remain uninterrupted by warfare.

Thomas was later promoted to position as president of Chanel US, a distinction he held for thirty-two years.

Chanel escalated her game plan by instigating a lawsuit against “Parfums Chanel” and the Wertheimers.

The legal battle garnered wide publicity.

The New York Times reported on June 3, 1946: … “The suit asks that the French parent concern [Les Parfums Chanel] be ordered to cease manufacture and sale of all products bearing the name and restore to her the ownership and sole rights over the products, formulas and manufacturing process,” on grounds of “’inferior quality.’”

The Wertheimers were cognizant of Chanel’s far from exemplary social entanglements and conduct during the Nazi occupation.

The progress of legal proceedings would of necessity lead to revelations best kept from public scrutiny.

Forbes magazine summarized the Wertheimer’s dilemma: [it is Pierre Wertheimer’s worry] how “a legal fight might illuminate Chanel’s wartime activities and wreck her image—and his business.”

Chanel-at the Ritz Hotel, paris

Chanel-at the Ritz Hotel, paris

On 17 May 1947, Chanel received wartime profits of Chanel No. 5 in an amount equivalent to some nine million dollars in twenty-first century valuation, and in the future her share would be two percent of all Chanel No. 5 sales worldwide.

The financial benefit to her would be enormous. Her earnings would be in the vicinity of twenty-five million dollars a year, making her at the time one of the richest women in the world.

In 1953, as No. 5 sales began to lag, Pierre Wertheimer paid a visit to the then-70-year-old Chanel at the Beau Rivage hotel in Lausanne.

The Wertheimer family renegotiated the 1924 deal: rather than 10 percent of all French sales of No. 5, Chanel would have 2 percent of world sales, and the right to produce her own scents , without the numeral 5.  She never did.

Within a few days, she was back on the rue Cambon in Paris, planning her relaunch of Chanel couture. But when her first collection was roundly dismissed (”A Fiasco!” one British paper said), she met with Wertheimer again.

”You know, I want to go on, go on and win,” she told him, according to Madsen. ”You’re right,” he said. ”You’re right to go on.”

Pierre then negotiated his final deal with Chanel: the family would pay for the fashion house’s rue Cambon headquarters, her personal expenses and her taxes for the rest of her life in return for control of her name for perfume and fashion.

As Chanel had no heirs, upon her death the family would receive her perfume royalty payments, too.

A few years later, the Wertheimers bought from the Bader family the remaining 20 percent of the house

picardie book cover



Advertising and Marketing

Aside from the intellectual, heady exhibition, there was a screening room where one can see all the past Chanel No. 5 TV commercials, which bring back arresting memories, especially that directed by Ridley Scott from circa 1980s, a commercial that encompasses elegance, power, luxury, and sex appeal and which still feels timeless today.

“Chanel No. 5. Share the fantasy”


1920s and 1930s

Chanel’s initial marketing strategy was to generate a buzz around her new fragrance by hosting what was essentially a promotional event.

She invited a group of elite friends to dine with her in an elegant restaurant in Grasse where she surprised and delighted her guests by spraying them with Chanel No. 5.

The official launch place and date of Chanel No. 5 was in her rue Cambon boutique in the fifth month of the year, on the fifth day of the month: May 5, 1921.

Chanel’s mystical obsession with the number five again proved to be her lucky charm.

She infused the shop’s dressing rooms with the scent, and gifted a select few of her high society friends with bottles.

The success of Chanel No. 5 was immediate and phenomenal. Chanel’s friend, Misia Sert, exclaimed: “It was like a winning lottery ticket.”

“Parfums Chanel,” was the corporate entity established in 1924 to run all aspects of the fragrance business, the production, marketing and distribution.

Chanel felt it was time to liberate the sale of Chanel No. 5 from the restricted confines of her boutiques and release it to the world.

The first target area was the United States, concentrating on New York City, the cultural and commercial center of America with the clientele for luxury goods.

The inaugural marketing was discreet and deliberately restricted.

The first ad appeared in The New York Times on December 16, 1924.

It was a small print ad for “Parfums Chanel” announcing the Chanel line of fragrances now available at Bonwit Teller, an upscale department store.

The ad was unremarkable, all the bottles appearing indistinguishable from one and other, displaying all the Chanel perfumes available, #9, #11, #22, and the centerpiece of the line, #5.

This presentation of the product line was the extent of the advertising campaign in the 1920s and appeared only intermittently.

In America, the sale of Chanel No. 5 was a word-of-mouth phenomenon, promoted from perfume counters at high-end department stores by enthusiastic sales staff.

The strategy in Europe was no less restrained.

The Galeries Lafayette, a notable department store, was the first retailer of the fragrance in Paris.

In France itself, Chanel No. 5 was not advertised at all until the 1940s.

The first real marketing blitz was planned for 1934–35.

The first truly solo advertisement of Chanel No. 5, as the most important Chanel perfume, comparable to her legend as a couturiere, ran in The New York Times on June 10, 1934.



Chanel N°5 Elixir sensuel


In the early 1940s, when the industry trend was to increase brand exposure, “Parfums Chanel” took a contrary track and actually decreased advertising.

In 1939 and 1940, ads had been significant. By 1941, they had been cut back dramatically so that there was almost no print advertising.

The directors of “Parfums Chanel” may have felt the expenditure was not needed.

Sales of fragrance had flourished during the years of World War II.

Perfume sales in the United States from 1940–45 had increased tenfold, Chanel No. 5 flourished.


It was during the war years that the directors of “Parfums Chanel” came up with an innovative marketing idea.

The intent to expand the sale to a middle-class customer had been instituted in 1934 with the introduction of the pocket flacon.

The plan was now to extend the market by selling the perfume at military post exchanges, the PX.

It was a risky move that may have hurt the exclusive status of the brand, but they went ahead and this marketing plan proved viable. It did not destroy the cachet of the brand, instead it came to epitomize a world of luxury and romance, a souvenir the soldier coveted for his sweetheart back home.

At war’s end and the defeat of Nazism, Chanel’s collaboration with the enemy during wartime menaced her with the exposure of her treasonous activities.

In an attempt at damage control, she placed a sign in the window of her rue Cambon boutique, announcing a give-away—bottles of Chanel No. 5 were free to any and all American GIs for the asking.

Soldiers waited in long lines to take a bottle of Paris luxe back home, and “would have been outraged if the French police had touched a hair on her head.”



In the 1950s the glamour of Chanel No. 5 was reignited by the celebrity of Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe’s unsolicited endorsement of the fragrance provided invaluable publicity.

In a 1954 interview, when asked what she wore to bed, the movie star provocatively responded: “five drops of Chanel No. 5.”

marilyn monroe 1955

Ed Feingersh’s photo of Marilyn in 1955

Marilyn Monroe’s spur-of-the-moment statement sounds obvious.

So are the pictures of her embracing a bottle of N°5. A miracle of grace and sensuality, in the image of what N°5 brings women: more soul.



In the 1960s the glossy magazines, the high-fashion bibles such as Vogue and Bazaar, presented Chanel No. 5 as the required accessory to every woman’s femininity.

Print advertising was staid and conservative in both visuals and text, eschewing the energy and quirky aesthetic of the burgeoning youth culture.

Two catch phrases alternated as ad copy: “Every woman alive wants Chanel No. 5” and “Every woman alive loves Chanel No. 5.”


1970s and 1980s

“During the 1960s the ads had diminished the allure of Chanel No. 5, identifying it with a scent for sweet, proper co-eds whose style bibles were teen-age fashion magazines.

In the 1970s the brand name needed re-vitalization.

For the first time in its long history it ran the risk of being labeled as mass market and passé.

The fragrance was removed from drug stores and similar outlets.

Outside advertising agencies were dropped.

The remaking was re-imagined by Jacques Helleu, the artistic director for “Parfums Chanel.”


Catherine Deneuve – Richard Avedon

Helleu chose French actress Catherine Deneuve for the new face of Chanel.

This image of classic, if not timeless beauty, was what Richard Avedon gave Catherine Deneuve who in the 1970s embodied Chanel N°5 in the United States.

The print ads showcased the iconic sculpture of the bottle. Television commercials were inventive mini-films with production values of surreal fantasy and seduction.

Directed by Ridley Scott in the 1970s and 1980s, they “played on the same visual imagery, with the same silhouette of the bottle,”

Under Helleu’s control the vision to return Chanel to the days of movie glamour and sophistication was realized.


1990s through 2013

In the 1990s, more money was reportedly spent advertising Chanel No. 5 than was spent for the promotion of any other fragrance brand.

Carole Bouquet was the face of Chanel No. 5 during this decade.

It has been estimated, as of 2011, that between $20 to $25 million is spent annually on marketing for Chanel No. 5.

In 2003, actress Nicole Kidman was enlisted to represent the fragrance.

Film director Baz Luhrmann was brought in to conceive and direct a new advertising campaign featuring Kidman. Luhrmann described his concept for what he titled “No. 5 The Film”:

“What I can make you is a 2 minute trailer…for a film that has actually never been made, not about Chanel No.5 but Chanel No. 5 is the touchstone.”

Lurhrmann’s film was shown on television and in movie theatres in both a two-minute length and a thirty-second version.

The project had cost 18 million English pounds; Kidman was paid 3.7 million dollars for her work.

Audrey Tautou is the current face of Chanel No. 5.

It was announced in May 2012 that Brad Pitt would be the first male to advertise Chanel No. 5 in the history of the fragrance. ”

The global push will span across several platforms including television and print and has been directed by Atonement’s Joe Wright.”



About Coco Chanel


Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971) was a French fashion designer and founder of the Chanel brand.

She was the only fashion designer to appear on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Gabrielle Bonheur Coco Chanel, was a pioneering French fashion designer who became the undisputed queen of haute couture in the 20th century, radically changing the attitude of women around the world towards their mode of dressing, freeing them from the tight corsets of the period that restricted their movement, and introducing casual, practical clothing appropriate for the occasion, consisting of loose-fitting, simple and comfortable garments, that borrowed fabrics and attitudes from men’s fashion.

Chanel’s revolutionary career coincided with the period of modernism, when phenomenal changes were taking place in the field of design, art, literature and music.

She was an integral part of this modernistic movement, and hence became closely associated with the artistic protagonists of the period, such as Diaghilev, Picasso, Stravinsky and Cocteau.

Along with Paul Poiret, Chanel was credited with liberating women from the constraints of the “corseted silhouette” and popularizing the acceptance of a sportive, casual chic as the feminine standard in the post-World War I era.

A prolific fashion creator, Chanel’s influence extended beyond couture clothing.

Her design aesthetic was realized in jewelry, handbags, and fragrance.

Her signature scent, Chanel No. 5, has become an iconic product.

Gabrielle Chanel

Gabrielle Chanel reading a newspaper at Royallieu

Chanel was known for her lifelong determination, ambition, and energy which she applied to her professional and social life.

She achieved both success as a businesswoman and social prominence thanks to the connections she made through her work. These included many artists and craftspeople to whom she became a patron.

However, Chanel’s highly competitive, opportunistic personality led her to make questionable life choices which have generated controversy around her reputation, particularly her behaviour during the German occupation of France in World War II.

coco chanel quote

Chanel, who was the second daughter of the traveling salesman Albert Chanel and Jeanne Devolle, was born on August 19, 1883, in the small city of Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, in France.

Her parents married after her birth in 1883, and she had five siblings, an elder sister, a younger sister and four younger brothers.

Her mother died of tuberculosis in 1895, when she was 12 years old.

Her father left the family immediately afterwards, to look for work to raise the children.

Chanel was entrusted to the care of a Roman Catholic orphanage at Aubazine, where she spent almost seven years.

During this period she had her education at the orphanage convent, up to 1900, and later at boarding school in Moulins, until 1902.

While at the orphanage, the nuns taught her the trade of a seamstress, a form of vocational training that would help her to lead an independent life in the future.

Little was it realized at that time, that the training given by the Catholic nuns of the orphanage to Chanel, had laid the foundation of a worldwide movement that was going to change the way women dressed in the 20th century, relegating the traditional conservative forms of dressing to the dustbin.

After Chanel attained 18 years of age, she left the orphanage and took up work as a clerk in the “Au Sans Pareil” hosiery shop, at Moulins, from 1902 to 1904.

She then worked as a cafe-concert singer in Moulins and Vichy, until 1908.

This period was crucial, as it marked the turning point in her life, being introduced to the rich and powerful in society, which in turn opened new opportunities for her to bring out her inborn talent as a fashion designer.

Chanel was first introduced and fell in love with the French playboy and millionaire Etienne Balsan, who lavished on her expensive dresses and jewelry made of diamonds and pearls.

It was also during this period, that she earned her nick name “Coco” after two of her hit songs, she usually sang as a cabaret singer.

One song was titled “ko ko ri ko” and the other “Quiqu qua vu Coco?”

She lived with Etienne Balsan from 1908 to 1909 at Chateau de Royalieu and in Paris.

While living with Etienne Balsan, she had enough free time, and to keep herself busy she began designing hats as a hobby.

The Balsan apartment in Paris was a place where his circle of elitist hunting friends met regularly, and usually Balsan’s friends were accompanied by their mistresses for such occasions.

This gave Chanel the opportunity to sell her decorative hats to the fashionable women of the high society of Paris.

During this period Chanel also made friends with most of Balsan’s friends, and particularly with Arthur Cappel, a wealthy English businessman based in Paris.

Balsan then helped her to open a millinery and apparel shop on the ground floor of his apartment in Paris in 1909, the beginnings of what later would become one of the greatest fashion empires in the world.

By the year 1919 she had scored more successes and her clientele had expanded to other countries around the world.

She then relocated her couture house in Paris to 31, Rue Cambon, which eventually became the headquarters of the expanding network of boutiques of the House of Chanel, and still remains so today.

During her career as a fashion designer, Chanel to some extent succeeded in packaging and marketing her own personal attitudes and styles, that made her an arbiter of women’s tastes during the 20th century.

By using her slim boyish figure accentuated by her short cropped hair, and sporting the simple dresses designed by her she projected herself as a role model of the modern working woman, pursuing an active lifestyle and financial independence, worthy of emulation by other women.

She designed simple and comfortable clothing and introduced relaxed fashions such as short skirts, pants for women, collarless jackets and the famous “little black dresses” that was compared to the versatile Model T Ford motor cars, by the American Vogue Magazine in 1926.

The legendary Chanel suit an elegant creation composed of a well-fitted knee-length skirt and trim, box-like collarless jacket, with bias edging and brass buttons was introduced in 1925, and was worn with large costume pearl necklaces.

Unlike other houses of haute couture Chanel’s designs were noted for their staying power and hardly changed from year to year or even from one generation to the next.

Chanel’s most revolutionary creation was undoubtedly the LBD (Little Black Dress), the “Ford” of dresses, similar to the “Model T” Ford car, built on a production line for the masses, and was designed to be worn by any woman, any time of the day, morning, evening or even as cocktail wear.

The black dress was previously associated only with mourning, until Chanel showed women that black was not only chic but elegant, and could be worn at any time of the day.

The original design of the LBD showed a long-sleeved, slim-hipped dress, gathered low at the waist and reaching just below the knee.

The concept of the LBD and its underlying structure remained the same for the rest of her life, and she only altered the fabric, or added sequins or chiffon trains.

In 1924, Chanel launched the first costume jewelry collection, that Harper’s Bazaar described as “one of the most revolutionary designs of our time.”

In this collection she often combined imitation jewels with real jewels. Among the traditional Chanel accessories were multiple strands of pearls, and gold chains and quilted handbags with shoulder straps made of gold chain.

A unique pair of pearl earrings whose centerpiece was a black pearl in one and white pearl in the other was also among the collection.

She also opened a boutique especially for accessories in Paris.

Chanel who was considered a key player of the modernistic movement of the early 20th century was held in high regard by protagonists of the movement in the field of art, literature and music, such as Picasso, Diaghilev, Cocteau and Stravinsky.

In 1920, Chanel was introduced by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev to the world famous composer Igor Stravinsky, who had fled the 1917 Bolshevik revolution of Russia.

Chanel was magnanimous enough to extend an invitation for Igor Stravinsky and his family to reside with her in her apartment in Paris, which the composer readily accepted.

It was rumored that during this temporary stay, Chanel had an affair with Igor Stravisky.

She contributed her services for promoting the arts, by designing costumes for the ballet “Russes” and for Jean Cocteau’s play “Orphee,” “Antigone,” in 1923 and “Oedipus Rex” in 1937.

Cocteau was reported to have once said of Chanel that “she has, by a kind of miracle, worked in fashion according to rules that would seem to have value only for painters, musicians and poets.”

Chanel’s support of artists was clearly brought to the fore, when Sergei Diaghilev died almost penniless in Venice, Chanel met his funeral expenses to give him a befitting burial.

Chanel also designed film costumes for several movies, including Renoir’s La Regle de Jeu.

In 1931, Chanel was hired by Samuel Goldwin for one million dollars, to dress his stars, that included Katherine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Gloria Swanson.

The dresses in the films “Tonight or Never” starring Gloria Swanson, “Palmy Days” starring Jean Harlow, and “The Greeks Had A Word For It” starring Ina Claire, were styled by Chanel.

Her contract for costume designing, however lasted only for a short time, partly because some of the Hollywood starlets refused her services, and partly because she felt she had to return to Paris immediately in order to keep her business alive during the hard days of the depression, when other couture houses were closing down.

However, after World War II, when she re-entered the fashion world in 1954, her clothing became very popular in the United States, and Chanel was embraced by the Hollywood starlets, During the 1950s and 1960s,

Chanel spent much of her time working for various Hollywood studios, dressing actresses like Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor and Anne Baxter.

In 1925, Chanel join hands with Vera Bate Lombardi, the daughter of Adolphus Cambridge, the Ist Marquess of Cambridge and the Duke of Teck.

Chanel established the “English look” for her designs based on Lombardi’s persona, and appointed Lombardi as her liaison officer to introduce the House of Chanel and its products to European royal families.

Lombardi introduced Chanel to many aristocratic families of Europe, including her uncle the 2nd Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, and her cousin the Duke of Windsor.

This saw the beginning of another relationship by Chanel with the Duke of Westminster, that nearly ended up in marriage with the Duke, who was said to be one of the richest men in Europe, at that time.

Eventually, when the marriage did not take place, she was reported to have commented as follows:- “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

In 1927 she opened her first boutique in London’s Tony Mayfair district, giving Londoners the opportunity of purchasing her creations directly from her stores.

The British fashion press acclaimed the opening of the boutique, and the “British Vogue” paid a glowing tribute to Chanel :- “Looks designed for sports graduate to country day-dressing and then arrive in town, and Chanel’s country tweeds have just completed the course. She pins a white pique gardenia to the neck. Her “lingerie touches” are copied everywhere – piping, bands of contrasts, ruffles and jabots. She initiates fake jewelry, to be worn everywhere, even on the beach.”

Chanel loved the wearing styles of the Scottish, and inspired by this she created her first tweed suits in 1928.

Chanel’s enormous success with costume jewelry most of which were designed by herself, had been taken note of by genuine jewelry manufactures and dealers, and others associated with the jewelry industry, such as the diamond and colored stone dealers, who had been having a very lean time during the depression that started in 1929 and continued into the 1930s.

Her success with costume jewelry also impressed the International Guild of Diamond Merchants, which was now studying various strategies to give a new lease of life to the badly battered diamond industry.

It was in pursuance of this goal that a team from the International Guild of Diamond Merchants had approached the legendary “queen of haute couture” in Paris, and negotiated with her a deal, to design a sparkling collection of fine jewelry using diamonds and platinum, that would bring the most dazzling of precious stones back to center stage, and thus help the luxury industry out of the economic crisis.

Chanel, exhibiting her usual trait of accepting challenges, responded favorably to the call of the International Guild, and together with Paul Iribe, the multi-talented, graphic, textile, jewelry, stage and advertising designer, with whom she shared two years of her life, set about creating the collection, that eventually saw the light of day in November 1932.

The duo based their fine jewelry collection on three themes, knots or bows, stars and feathers. Each piece of jewelry was remarkable not only for its delicate setting and the discrete clasp, but also for its interchangeability, such as a necklace that could be converted into a brooch or a bracelet, or a pendant that could be transformed into a pin.

The stunning collection of fine jewelry was exhibited for two weeks in November 1932, at Chanel’s private apartment in Paris, at 29, Rue du Faubourg-St. Honore.

The exhibition became very popular among the elite of Paris, and was directly responsible for De Beers stocks rising 20 points on the London Stock Exchange, just two days after its opening.

Special features of Chanel’s fine jewelry. Her famous quotation, “diamonds have the greatest value in the smallest volume.”

The diamonds used in the jewelry were cut in unusual shapes such as triangles, hexagons and trapezoids, and varied in size from very small to very large.

The stones were set in invisible settings, causing the diamonds to be exposed fully, maximizing their dazzling effect.

She said she promoted fake glass jewelry during the boom period of the early 1920s, “because they were devoid of arrogance in an epoch of too easy luxe,” but now she was promoting precious gems because they had “the greatest value in the smallest volume, and answered a hunger for authenticity and real value in a world where times were hard.”

Some of the masterpieces created by Chanel and Iribe in 1932, include, the three-rowed diamond bow necklace; the six-rowed diamond comet necklace; the diamond tiara surmounted by a diamond-studded star; the Bague Comete, a star-motif ring; the Collier Fontaine, a 405-diamond necklace with two pendants, one of which could be converted to a brooch; and the Bracelet Franges.

Chanel’s revolutionary career coincided with the period of modernism, when phenomenal changes were taking place in the field of design, art, literature and music.

She was an integral part of this modernistic movement, and hence became closely associated with the artistic protagonists of the period, such as Diaghilev, Picasso, Stravinsky and Cocteau.

She was the owner of several factories, that included textile factories, garment manufacturing factories, costume jewelry manufacturing, perfume manufacturing etc. that employed over 4,000 workers.

She employed most of the Russian emigrants who fled Russia after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and thus provided a life-line for their survival in an alien country.

She is reported to have owned , numerous buildings throughout France and particularly in Paris.

Gabrielle Coco Chanel sporting the modern Chanel look in the 1930’s

Chanel makes her permanent home in Hotel Ritz after the death of Paul Iribe

After the death of Paul Iribe, a good friend, lover and partner, Chanel left her apartment in Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore, and entered the Hotel Ritz, where she made her permanent home, until her death in 1971.

In 1939, when France declared war on Germany, Chanel closed all her boutiques and factories, except for one shop at No. 31, Rue Cambon, where she sold only perfumes and accessories.

Most of the other couturiers left the country, but Chanel continued to remain in Paris, still living in her suite at Hotel Ritz.

In 1940, France was occupied by Adolph Hitler’s forces and the Nazis made Hotel Ritz, their French headquarters.

It was then that Chanel was accused of having an affair with Hans Gunther Von Dincklage, a German officer and Nazi spy, who granted her permission to continue to remain in the hotel. I

n 1943, German intelligence attempted to make use of Chanel’s professional partner Lombardi, to contact her relative Sir Winston Churchill, probably as part of a secret peace mission, but the plan never materialized as Lombardi refused to leave Rome and come to Paris, as requested by Chanel.

After the liberation of France, Chanel was arrested immediately, and charged with abetting the Germans.

However, either Sir Winston Churchill or the British Royal family, or both intervened on her behalf, and she was released.

Escaping from official prosecution was one thing, but escaping from the wrath of the French people was an entirely different thing.

The French people meted out punishment to French women, who collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation.

Thus after the war, Chanel was clearly a target of the French people, and she was forced to flee to Switzerland where she took up temporary residence.

Chanel returns to France in 1954

After the war ended most of the couture houses that left the country returned to France, and attempted to re-establish their businesses, as the war-torn country was being rebuilt.

Chanel’s absence from France created a vacuum in the world of fashion designing, that was difficult to fill, obviously due to the dominant position held by her prior to the war.

But, this was felt not in France, but in the United States and Britain, where she had a large following and clientele.

In fact, when Chanel closed down her fashion empire just before the invasion of France by Germany, her faithful U.S. clients voiced their protests, which was conveyed to the French Government.

However, in France her image suffered irreparable damage due to her involvement with the Nazis, which was subsequently reflected in the low demand for her products after her return to France.

Chanel, who was now 71 years old, returned to France in 1954, and found that her rival Christian Dior, now dominated the couture market.

Chanel was compelled to re-approach her former partner Pierre not only for business advice, but also financial support.

Pierre had total confidence in Chanel’s abilities, and eventually the two of them decided to join hands together, to re-launch the Chanel label and their line of products once again, filling a void that was ever prevalent after the end of the war.

However, Pierre gained complete rights to all products stamped with the name “Chanel.”

For a start Chanel re-introduced her former products that gained worldwide popularity.

In jersey and tweed, with its collarless jacket and slim skirt, the popularity of the Chanel suit was given a boost by Jackie Kennedy, who often wore it.

In February 1955, she re-introduced the famous Chanel chain-handled quilted leather bags, that previously shook the fashion world, and once again became very popular, that she had to decline many orders, because of the time taken to painstakingly manufacture each bag, by her skilled artisans.

The Chanel suit goes with the Chanel quilted chain-handle bag as part of the integrated Chanel look.

In the same year, she also introduced her first “eau de toilette” for men, under the brand name “Pour Monsieur” sometimes also marketed as “A Gentleman’s Cologne.”

Chanel’s products did not have much success in France, but was much applauded by the British and the Americans, who became her faithful customers.

In 1957, Chanel’s spring collection, received the Fashion Oscar, at the annual Fashion Awards in Dallas.

The fashion world also applauded her as the “most influential designer of the 20th century.”

From the year 1966 to 1969, Chanel designed the uniforms for Olympic Airways flight attendants. Olympic Airways that was owned by the Greek shipping- magnate Aristotle Onassis, was at that time one of the most luxurious air carriers in the world.

After Chanel’s rise to the top of the fashion world, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, she was again contracted by various Hollywood studios in the 1950s and 1960s to dress up their female stars, like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Anne Baxter.

She continued to produce internationally acclaimed collections, and in the year 1970, she introduced a new perfume, that was marketed as “No. 19” after her date of birth, August 19, 1883.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel died of a heart attack in Paris, on January 10, 1971, aged 87 years, in her private suite at the Hotel Ritz.

At the time of her death, she was still working and designing, and her posthumous spring collection, marketed after her death, enjoyed considerable success.

Her death ended an era of revolutionary fashion designing, that liberated and emancipated women around the world, and has become a classic model, from which modern fashion designers, still draw their inspiration from.

Chanel was buried in Lausanne, Switzerland, and in keeping with her strong belief in astrological symbols and lucky numbers, her tombstone is carved with stone lion heads, representing her birth sign, Leo, to which she attributed much of her success in life

coco chanel

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