When asked in 1954 what she wore to sleep, Marilyn Monroe famously purred, “What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel No.5, of course.” Her infamous answer made her the poster girl for Chanel No.5 and paved the way for celebrity endorsements of fragrances. Chanel No.5 is a classic perfume that is groundbreaking in its creation and in its marketing. Just when you think it has used all the tricks of the trade, it pulled another rabbit out of its hat. It just announced Brad Pitt as the first man to be the face of a woman’s fragrance. Suddenly Chanel No.5 is infamous again. And in way, hip again. Styled by Karl Lagardel, Brad is shooting the advertisement in London for its launch toward end of this year.
Coco Chanel once famously said, “A woman without a perfume is a woman without a future.” So she created the most celebrated and top-selling perfume. At its peak, a bottle was sold every 30 seconds. And its bottle was immortalised by Andy Warhol. When Coco created Chanel No.5 with Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux in 1921, they were not only capturing the creative spirit of the roaring 20’s, they were making history. “I want to give women an artificial perfume,” said Chanel. “Yes, I really do mean artificial, like a dress, something that has been made. I don’t want any rose or lily of the valley, I want a perfume that is a composition.”
Advertising had little to do with the perfume’s first few decades of success. In the 70s, when Jacques Helleu got involved in its marketing, Chanel No.5 found it’s footing with spokesperson Catherine Deneuve. In the 80′s, Ridley Scott created a bold new visual language of sun-tanned wealth that was perfect for the time. Then the brand was given new life by the Baz Luhrmann cinematic ad-campaign staring Nicole Kidman. Until Brad takes over, it is now represented by Audrey Tautou, who starred in the luscious brand film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, as well as the feature film ‘Coco Before Chanel’. In its 90 years, Chanel No.5 can claim it has the most beautiful and fiercely independent women on this planet as its ambassadors. Now it can claim ownership of the most sexy man.
When Chanel first decided to create a perfume in 1920, she was only the third fashion designer to even attempt it. The most successful fragrances at that time were created by dedicated perfumers like Jacques Guerlain and François Coty. Coco took it upon herself to study the art and science of the perfume industry, which was just beginning to incorporate the revolutionary synthetic scents being distilled in scientific labs. She visited Grasse, home to the French perfume industry and the highest-quality Rose and Jasmine flowers. There, she was introduced to Beaux, a master perfumer living nearby, who had previously created scents for the Imperial Court of Russia.
By then, Coco had already made a name for herself on the Paris couture scene. Her strikingly modern, unadorned style was a shock to the frilly and pompous French elite. When she turned her attention towards fragrance, her intentions were equally rebellious. Every respectable woman in Paris was wearing a perfume based on one flower, like Rose or Gardenia. Coco’s idea was to combine these proper, respectable scents with the heavier, muskier scents that prostitutes and courtesans were wearing. In addition to this mixture, Beaux added an entirely new ingredient he was experimenting with, called aldehydes. The fresh and invigorating smell of the aldehydes represented the Arctic snows to Beaux.
For Chanel, the aldehydes reminded her of fresh-scrubbed skin and linens from her childhood at the Aubazine convent orphanage, the smell of clean. The new synthetic also has the incredible effect of magnifying the other notes, similar to the way salt magnifies flavor in food. After months of work, Beaux finally presented eight bottles to Chanel, numbered one through five, and twenty through twenty-four. After sampling each one, legend has it Chanel said without hesitation, “Number Five. Yes, that is what I was waiting for. A perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.”