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of the avant-garde – thought that the ancient school of perfumery still based on natural essences was hopelessly as outdated as the plumed and flowered hats she replaced with straw boaters.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.
Going back to Chanel N°5 story, Beaux’s genius was the use of aldehydes in his blends – he added an unprecedent one per cent in what was to become Chanel N°5. Did he produce the formula to Gabrielle Chanel specifications? Or had he already composed it for the company he worked for when Gabrielle sought him out? We don’t really know; Gabrielle was not above retro-engineering her life story when it suited her purposes. You're right, no flowers in Chanel N°5 just synthetic molecules and lots of chemistry.
Despite the breathless sales pitches, if 1% of what’s in your perfume bottle comes from a thing that was alive at some point - unless you bought a 100% natural perfume - you’re doing well, any more would cut into profits margins.
Natural materials are harder to source, crops don’t smell exactly the same from one year to another which makes natural perfumery an artistic challenge in every batch - something that to me, makes it more genuine. I love the art of listening those notes that come differently every time expressing the plants uniqueness giving to each perfume a singular personality.
The Alchemic Perfumes are my signature product; artisanal all-natural and organic creations made by an ancient alchemical process called Spagyric*. I create only eau de parfum as I believe organic perfumes should be luxurious and last longer.
Shonagh Walker wrote in Nourish magazine (volume 7 issue no6) ‘I didn’t think it would be possible to find a vegan fragrance with the same name as Madame Chanel’s offering that I liked even more, yet here we are. This stunning scent sparkles with fresh green notes, white lotus and earthy forest harmonies. It’s truly lush.’
Now there is a N⁰5 made out of plants. Like a haiku, Sonia Orts N⁰ 5 is a short three - line poem that uses sensory language to capture a feeling or image.