• Words by Sonia

Do you know how Chanel N°5 was made?

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

When Gabrielle Chanel asked Ernest Beaux to come up with a fragrance for her couture house, she told him two things:

‘A woman must smell like a woman, not like a rose’ – this was a dig at her arch-rival of the time Paul Poiret a couturier whose logo was a rose and whose perfume line, the first ever to be launched by a couturier was named Les Parfum de Rosine after one of his daughters.

Her perfume should smell as clean as soap-scrubbed skin of her friend the famous courtesan Emilienne d’Alençon.

Chanel – a keen follower of the avant-garde – thought that the ancient school of perfumery still based on natural essences was hopelessly as outdated as the plumed and flowered hats she replaced with straw boaters. Fortunately, Ernest Beaux has a trick on his sleeve, a synthetic material he’d already been playing around with…

Since the late 19th century chemistry had made giants steps providing perfumers with synthetic material that were cheaper, with a stronger and invariable scent. Availability of natural raw materials was an issue after the first World Ward and its aftermath which gave birth to the new synthetic perfumery. Furthermore, it’s not just a matter of price or convenience - glamourous, exotic and irreplaceable as natural essences may be, it is to synthetic that we owe the existence of modern perfumery and its industry.