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Chanel N°5: Do you know the history behind this iconic perfume?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

“Luxurious, modern and fresh”, that is how Coco Chanel wanted women to smell in 1920, when she started working with creating fragrances and taking perfumes to another level. The perfect description of one of the most iconic perfumes in history is, to this day, exactly how Coco expected, clean and feminine and for over 100 years being one of the top selling fragrances in the world. Get to know the history behind Chanel N°5!

Born in Saumur, Gabrielle Chanel (1883-1971), better known as Coco Chanel, was a french fashion designer and a pioneer figure in the fashion industry. Opening her first shop in Paris in 1910, Coco started getting recognized for her style and got popular among other artists. Later, she decided that developing a perfume scent should be the next step of her brand. 

Creation of an iconic scent

The scientists had discovered in the beginning of the 1900´s that isolated chemicals, called aldehydes, could create artificial smells and accentuate the notes, creating a totally different fragrance. Using these products in the composition created a revolution in the art of perfumery.

Aldehydes can give the fragrance an artificial and powerful smell and that’s truly what Coco wanted the whole time. The designer wanted women to smell like women, not like flowers, but fresh and sexy. She also wanted the smell to last longer than the natural fragrances, like flowers or citric smells that were good and popular, but they would not last on the skin.  

In 1920, Coco started her research to find the best way to enter the perfume industry. Then she met Ernest Beaux, a perfumer that had worked with the Russian royal family and lived in Grasse, the center of the perfume industry. Beaux accepted the challenge and several months later, came up with 10 samples, labeled from 1 to 5 and from 20 to 24.

Coco chose the sample number 5 amongst the others not only because it was her favorite smell, but also because of the mysticism around the number: it was the designer´s lucky number. One year later, in 1921, Coco and Beaux started producing bottles of the perfume and promoting it. Chanel N°5 was the world´s first abstract fragrance, adding layers of complexity that revolutionized the market of single-note scents.


In order to celebrate the success of the new formula and new departament in Chanel’s brand, Coco invited Ernest Beaux and friends to have dinner at a famous restaurant and decided to spray the perfume around their table. All women that stopped by to ask about the scent got a free sample of the perfume and were encouraged to buy the whole bottle at the Chanel store.

It was Coco´s clever marketing that got her brand extremely popular and made her perfume to be one of the best selling fragrances for years. The marketing around N°5 got Coco herself to be photographed at The Ritz in Paris for the first advertisement campaign for the fragrance, in 1937.

But Gabrielle Chanel wasn ‘t the only face to represent the perfume throughout the years, many celebrities starred campaigns for Chanel N°5, for example: Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Kidman, Gisele Bündchen and the first men to represent such a feminine scent, Brad Pitt.

In 1952, at the peak of her stardom, Marilyn Monroe was asked by a journalist what she wore to bed and her answer was simple: “Chanel N°5”.This was the most iconic response she could ever give, it changed the history of the perfume that was now, more than ever, represented by a woman that had the image Coco always expected her fragrance to have – feminine, luxurious, modern and sexy.

Nowadays – 103 years after the creation

Chanel N°5 is still one of the most popular perfumes in 2024, proving that Coco and Ernest Beaux´s creation is timeless and many generations have been affected by its smell. Some changes to the formula had to be made.  In this day and age, Chanel sells different concentrations of the fragrance in their stores.

Eau de Parfum is the best selling format nowadays, although this formula is a bit different than the one made in 1921. In order to create a more voluminous, fuller version of the iconic scent, the french perfumer Jacques Polge reinterpreted the fragrance in 1986. According to Chanel´s website “this floral bouquet, composed around May rose and jasmine, features bright citrus top notes. Aldehydes create a unique presence, while the smooth touch of bourbon vanilla yields an incredibly sensual sillage”.

The Parfum is the closest to the original fragrance created by Mademoiselle Chanel and it is still available to shop, with prices varying from $150 to $370 depending on the size of the bottle. The other concentrations are L’eau, Eau Première and Eau de Toilette.

The famous brand also launched different products aside from just colognes. On their website you can find self-care products, such as body cream, body oil, hair mist, hand cream, fresh lotion, body lotion, in-shower gel, bath soap bar and deodorant, all products containing the iconic fragrance and the “essence of femininity”.

Coco Chanel died in 1971, but she remains in history by being so ahead of her time and creating a fragrance that lasted over a century, capturing the formula to the feminine eternal. Her brand is still one of the most respected in the fashion business!

The article above was edited by Larissa Buzon.

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Amanda Gdikian

Casper Libero '26

Journalism student at Cásper Líbero. Passionate about music, movies and pop culture.