The secret of Chanel No. 5 by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The intimate history of the world’s most famous perfume.
[Whoever wants to know the science behind famous perfumes, this is a good starter.]
Coco Before Chanel No. 5
Gabrielle Chanel(Coco Chanel) has a peasant's roots went deep into the earth of provincial southwestern France. Mother died when Coco Chanel was just 12 years old and her father soon, left her along with her two sisters at an orphanage Aubazine. During their time at the orphanage, Coco Chanel and other girls were assigned to read and reread the story of St. Etienne‘s story of exemplary life and unrelenting dullness of his good deeds is crushing. The saintly Etienne however had a keen sense of aesthetics at a moment when Western culture’s ideas about beauty and proportion were in radical transition.
For the children who lived there, it was a youth of hard work and strict discipline and fortunately for the future prospects of the young Gabrielle, much of it focused on clothing. There was nothing luxurious about it, however Days were spent washing laundry and mending and it was here that she learned to sew. However it was a desperately unhappy childhood; Aubazine was a word throughout her life that Coco Chanel would never speak. She surrounded it in silence and mystery and it remained a guarded and shameful secret.
Coco Chanel once later said that fashion was architecture and the architecture she meant was based on this convent home with its brutally clean lines and the stark beauty of simple contrasts. It was at the heart of Coco Chanel’s aesthetics - her obsession with purity and minimalism. It would shape the dresses she designed and the way she lived. it would shape Chanel No. 5 her great olfactory creation, no less profoundly.
Standing amid the scene of Coco Chanel’s childhood, the power of Aubazine is obvious. It possesses a striking and silent kind of beauty. Everywhere in the world of Aubazine, there were scents and symbols and reminders of the importance of perfume. St. Bernard of Clairvaux who founded the Cistercian movement, made a point of encouraging his monks to give perfume and anointment a central role in prayer and in rituals of purification. Someone got the idea that this contemplation would be even more effective if it were combined with time spent simultaneously sniffing the aromas of the local jasmine, lavender and roses.
Etienne has made a mission of planting richly scented flower everywhere in the empty ravines and wastes around his abbeys. They were the bracing scents of order and severity. Everywhere at Aubazine was the aroma of sheets boiled in copper pots sweetened with dried roots of iris and the aromas of ironing. There was the scent from linen cupboards lined with pungent rosewood and verbena. There was the smell of raw tallow soap on children’s skin and ruthlessly scoured little bodies. It was the scent of everything that was clean. Aubazine was a secret code of smell and in the years to come it would be at the heart of everything she would find beautiful.
The number five at Aubazine, though was always considered special. It was the number of an essentially human kind of destiny. Or, that, at least was the idea of the monks who funded Coco Chanle’s childhood abbey and they built its entire structure on the power of this special number. For Cistercian architecture that flourished in Europe during Crusades, the number five was central. Cistercian cathedrals, churches and abbeys are built on measures... which equal more or less the golden ration of Pythagoras. It is the ration of both the five-pointed star and the human form.
Coco Chanel understood the power of this number long before the nuns introduced the children to the esoteric symbolism of the abbey’s architecture and its spiritual meaning in their lessons. The number five, she believed profoundly in its magic and its beauty. Those Cistercian nuns had raised their orphan charges to revere the power of symbols and spirit. In this ancient branch of the Catholic faith, it was a special number. - the number of quintessence: the pure and perfect embodiment of a thing’s essence. It was also, in a material universe of earth, water, wind, and fire, that other thing - ether, spirit - something mysteriously and untouchably beautiful. She also already knew that the number five was about women in particular. From the beginning, the number five and its perfect proportions were tangled up with the secret sensuality of their allure - and with symbolism of flowers.
An education in the senses
Roses and jasmine were scents that told two very different olfactory stories about the women who wore them. The traditional scents for women’s perfume roses were discreetly and quietly lovely. Respectful women could wear them without hesitation, and until the second decade of the twentieth century, floral perfumes came in just one style, the style known today as soliflores. These soliflores were perfumes that captured aroma of a single flower and they were meant to be representational.
It wasn’t until 1912 that the perfume house of Houbigant launched the first true multiflore fragrance, a scent known simply as Quelques Fleurs. It was the scent of an invented and imagined and lovely floral creation. It becomes an instant sensation and the idea behind it -the idea of the essential abstraction - was one that Coco Chanel found utterly fascinating.
As Coco Chanel quickly learned, the essentials of appreciating a fine fragrance begin with this art of blending aromas. Those who make perfumes talk about those scents in terms of accords and scent families and this language is key to gaining a connoisseur's appreciation for the art of perfume. Accords are a group of scents that blend naturally and provocatively together and in blending transform each other. They are fragrance within a fragrance, the building block of a complex perfume and these accords are how experts define the different fragrance families.
When Cleopatra famously set sail to meet Mark Anthony, the perfumed herself with sandalwood and filled the air with an incense of cinnamon, myrrh and frankincense. At the end of the 19th century perfumers added to the warn, spicy aroma of those oriental ambers - another set of fragrance notes, another accord, based around animal muck and orchid scents of vanilla.
At the time when Coco Chanel was learning about perfume, Aime Guerlain’s ‘ferociously modern’ scent Jicky was considered the ultimate oriental. In fact, for many admires it still is. Invented in 1899, Jicky was the first fragrance to use the then -exotic scent of patchouli, to which Guerlain added the aroma of vanilla (combine natural and synthetic essences). According to folklore, the classic oriental perfume Shalimar - Jicky’s only rival as an oriental ‘reference’ perfume- was invented in the 1920 when Jacques Guerlain wondered what the perfume would smell like if he added an even larger dose of vanilla. The result was pure magic. On the market today, familiar mass-market oriental perfumes include CK’s Obsession, & YSL’s Opium. Oriental perfume meant to capture the scent of the East.
The perfumes known as leathers were also a modern innovation in perfume-making. the scent in fact have no leather in them, and they depend on the late 19th century discovery of the scent materials known as quinolines. It was the smell of the rare leathers used at the imperial courts to wrap precious jewels. Familiar staples today include perfumes such as Dior’s Fahrenheit and Lancome’s Cuir.
Then there is the scent of chypre - history’s first international bestseller, the only rival in the long history of perfume-making to compare with Chanel No.5. The world’s oldest perfume family and Aphrodite’s scent sensation, it was popular until the mid-18th century when it mysteriously fell out of fashion. There are still the essential notes of the family of fragrance known to perfumers as a chypre. Today, the family includes fragrance such as Esteee Lauder's Knowing and Dior's Miss Dior.
After all, like the scent of fougere fragrances, Quelques Fleurs and these new multi-flowers that followed in the course of the next decade were wonderfully conceptual. In order to create these effects - transforming the real emotive perfumery - they turned to something else completely modern: the science of scent creation. The perfumer behind the Quelques Fleurs was Robert Bienaime who was a revolutionary and used largely unknown material known as aldehydes. The combination allowed for the artistic creation of a scent that was powerfully original.
Coco Chanel wanted to create a signature perfume. She said, “The perfume many women use is not mysterious. Women are not flowers. Why should they want to smell like flowers? I want to give women an artificial perfume and should smell like a woman and not like a flower”. Smell was always the keenest of her senses and to explain the intensity of how she lived with the scent, she would claim, “In the lily of the valley they sell on the 1st of May, I can smell the hands of the kid who picked it”.
The Prince and the perfumer
For Coco Chanel, precision was a religion. When she decided on something, she followed her idea to the end. In order to bring it off, and succeed she brought everything into play. Once she began to be interested in perfumery, she wanted to learn everything about them - their formula, fabrication, and so forth. Naturally she sought the best advice.
After the first world, the south of France in 1920 was known as crazy years. Women sunbathed on the beaches wearing ropes of pearls, and the Bohemian rich staggered tipsy from extravagant party. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of those times, ‘it was a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure”.
Throughout France in the years that followed, refugee princesses worked as seamstresses and the handful of royal men lucky enough to have been at that moment in history somewhere far from St.Petersburg now took the job as salesmen. Coco Chanel took one of the exiled princes as her new lover. His name was Dmitri Pavlovich and he was among the grand dukes of Russia and a cousin to the last czar, Nicholas II - who has been murdered along with nearly all Dmitri’s family in the revolution. Like Coco, Dmitri had been raised an orphan.
Due to incidents happened in czar family; Dmitri might someday inherit the imperial throne. All that talk of inheriting an empire ended in 1916 when Dmirti was 25. Horrified by the power of the ‘mad monk’ - Grigori Rasputin - over the czarina and by the whispered talk of a palace revolt. The prince (Dmitri) and the duke were horrified and they resolved to take action. First they poisoned Rasputin with wine dosed with massive quantities of Cyanide. When he failed to die, the prince shot him. According to the gruesome legend, Rasputin survived another three gunshots in the back and when the bullets too seemed eerily ineffective, the young men finally drowned him beneath the ice of the city’s frozen river. When Dmitri’s role in the murder was discovered, the enraged czarina exiled him out of Russia. This resulted in, Dmirit not being killed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution in which revolutionist killed all czar and czarina , princess and princesses.
The past Dmitri remembered was filled with every imaginable luxury and always with the richness of perfume. There was one perfume, Dmitri remembered piercingly: an eau de cologne with the rich notes of rose and jasmine. Made in Moscow by the firm of A. Rallet and Company and it was known as Rallet O-De-Kolon No.1 Vesovoi or simply Rallet No. 1 perfume. It had been royal favorite and the czarian cherished it especially.
Coco Chanel told him of the smells and all those sensations that she wanted a scent to capture. In return, he told her of that scent he above all remembered, the Rallet No. 1 and connected her with the royal perfumer -Ernet Beaux - who also forced to flee due to the effect of the revolution. Coco Chanel had asked Ernest Beaux that summer to create for her the signature perfume she was imagining and she wanted a sultry freshness, which he accepted with reluctance.
Ernest Beaux had joined the firm’s of Rallet as a young man in Moscow in 1898. he possessed a dazzling talent, Erner’s first blockbuster fragrance, a men’s cologne called le Bouquet de Napoleon - Napoleon’s Bouquet - hit the international market in 1912. Encouraged by the popularity of the perfume, company urged him to create a new women’s perfume in time for the celebration of the three-hundred-year anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in 1913. le Bouquet de Catherine was a perfume that he invented and it became simply Rallet No. 1
Based upon the Rallet No. 1, Ernest Beaux created 10 perfumes for Coco Chanel to select from. Each of these small glass vials containing 10 samples of the perfume a new fragrance innovation based on the core scents of May Rose, jasmine and those daring new fragrance molecules known as aldehydes. According to legend, in one of the vials a careless laboratory assistant had accidentally added a massive overdose of this last and still largely undiscovered ingredient, confusing a 10 percent dilution for the pure, full-strength material. Coco Chanel picked this vials and named it as Chanel No. 5 where five was her mystic number from her Aubazine days. And the day she select to announce new perfumes, are usually on the 5th day of the 5th month of the year.
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of materials that are used to make perfume - scents inspired by flowers; scents inspired by other parts of plants, such as their roots, barks, and resins; and the scents inspired by the smells of animals. Chanel No. 5 - one of history’s most famously sexy perfume - uses them all in generous doses.
Scents inspired by flowers
Roses and jasmines may not seem likely to smell like sweat and bodies, but to think otherwise would be wrong. As scientists who study the sexiness of perform explains, “Many classical ingredients of natural origins reminiscent of human body orders”. Among most inherently sensual have always been the scents of jasmine, orange blossom, honeysuckle, tuberose, and ylang-ylang, flowers that chemically speaking, have particularly high propositions of the scent molecule known as an indole. These indoles are the smell of something sweet and fleshy and just a little bit dirty.
Scents inspired by plants:
The same is true of those delicious plant resins: “several ingredients of incense resembles scents of the human body”, one expert reminds us. When the perfumer Paul Jellinek was writing the standard text book on the science of fragrance chemistry; he testing on traditional incenses showed that myrrh and frankincense had identifiable notes of armpit odor; a common plat source known as storax was the scent of skin; and the coveted resinous gum known as labdanum has ‘the smell of head hair’. When any of them were added to a simple, fruity eau de cologne, people consistently rated the perfume as more sexy. With its fragrant central notes of labdanum and storax, Aphrodite’s perfume was an erotic bestseller for a reason.
Scents inspired by animal:
The perfume materials that have the most direct connection to the smell of sex, however are the traditional musks. Smelled on their own, the scent is often overpowering and even revolting. Yet used in small proportions and blended with other fragrance, these materials, with their strange and unsavory origins, have been among the most prized ingredients in perfume industry. They come primarily from the private parts of some very unlucky fellow creatures whose glands and sexual excretions have been harvested. Natural musk - musk proper - comes from the male musk deer, an animal native to China and Southeast Asia and the fluid stored in a small sac in his nether regions during the rutting season has been the object of a lucrative international trade for centuries. The word musk comes from the Sanskrit word, ‘muska’ which translates simply as testicle.
But aldehyde is just a part of what makes Chanel No.5 special, despite the importance given to them in the legend. Long after they have faded - because aldehyde fades quickly - there is a rich depth of musks and florals in the perfume that is strikingly sensual.
To balance the severity in Chanel No. 5, Ernest added even greater amounts of the exquisite jasmine from the perfume capital of Grasse, opulent and honeyed enough to leave the senses swimming. He warned Coco Chanel that a perfume with this much jasmine, would be fabulously expensive. She simply told him that, in that case, he should add even more. She wanted the most extravagant perfume in the world.
The basic structure of the human brain means that scent and sensuality are hopelessly and wonderfully caught up together in a network of desire. This was at the heart of Coco Chanel’s relationship to No. 5 perfume.
Today, a pound of jasmine absolute sells for more than $30,000. It was already fabulously expensive in the 1930s. Nearly 350 pounds of jasmine - over a half-million flowers - go into a pound of jasmine concrete and in each small , thirty-milliliter bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume, is the essence of more than a thousand jasmine flowers and the bouquet of a dozen roses.
January 17, 2011
The secret of Chanel No. 5 by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The secret of Chanel No. 5 by Tilar J. Mazzeo