Learn more about the creation of the brand’s standout scents
Maison Chanel holds a special place in the hearts of perfume obsessives – that much is clear. Its inimitable founder Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was not only keen to break boundaries in her design work, indeed her disruptive, forward-thinking spirit extended to the fragrance world. As such, more than a century since the brand released its first composition, Chanel Blanket perfumes are still today perceived by many as the pinnacle of luxury scent.
An olfactory icon, N°5 requires no introduction. Radical to the nth degree, its bottle design broke tradition with its clean lines and rounded corners. The scent is capped with an emerald-cut stopper – a shape reminiscent of the Place Vendôme, a sight visible from Gabrielle’s Hôtel Ritz Paris suite balcony.
Created by Ernest Beaux in 1921, the scent revolutionised traditional approaches towards perfumery. Seeking “a woman’s fragrance that smells like a woman”, Gabrielle bypassed the idea that a scent had to be wedded to the scent of a single flower. Instead, she requested “an artificial fragrance like a dress, something crafted”, a composition that had been carefully designed. “I am a seamstress. I don’t want rose or lily-of-the-valley, I want a composed fragrance,” she explained. Painstakingly superstitious, it is said that Gabrielle named the scent after the fifth sample that was presented to her, as she thought of the number 5 as her lucky charm.
Gloriously aldehydic, N°5 has a lovely powdery violet quality to it. Exuding magnetism, it is heady and intoxicating, but with a fresh line of jasmine running through to provide clarity.
Launched one year after N°5 in 1922, N°22 is a variation of its predecessor, possessing a splendidly smooth soapiness. It was part of the original line-up from which Gabrielle picked out N°5 as the brand’s first perfume launch. An unctuous celebration of aldehydes, it has a similar white flower base, setting itself apart with rose, tuberose and a hint of lilac.
Directly inspired by the camellia flower, in 1925 Gardénia paid tribute to one of the maison’s emblems. The camellia had always been present in Gabrielle’s design work – worn in buttonholes, pinned to hat brims, and immortalised in jewellery – making it the perfect floral muse, despite it bearing no scent. Another of Ernest’s many creations, Gardénia is fresh and luxurious, featuring accents of jasmine and orange blossom.
Bois des Iles
Created in 1928, Bois des Iles is warm and sensual, with an enchanting energy that is inspired by the heady frenzy of Roaring 20s jazz clubs. With notes of New Caledonia sandalwood, ylang-ylang and tonka bean, the scent has a gorgeous spiciness, evocative of undiscovered, remote lands.
The last fragrance launched and worn by Gabrielle Chanel, N°19 pays tribute to her birth date: 19 August 1883. Unfazed by protestations by those around her, in 1970 the brand’s founder asked Henri Robert for a composition with a personality equal in strength to that of N°5. Fulfilling her request, he created a composition which blended the intensely verdant galbanum with soft, powdery notes of iris pallida upon a church-like woody backbone.
A decadent ambery composition created by Jacques Polge, Coco, launched in 1984, symbolises Gabrielle’s multi-faceted outlook on life. Her propensity for all things baroque starkly contrasted her understated fashion designs. Opening with Sicilian Mandarin, the scent nods to her fascinating personality with sophisticated touches of clove and sandalwood.
Fresh and clear, the immensely popular Coco Mademoiselle was released in 2001. Another of Jacques Polge’s creations, orange and bergamot provide a citrusy vibrancy, pairing beautifully with accords of rose and jasmine.
The first Chanel fragrance to be presented in a round bottle, Chance Eau de Toilette was introduced in 2003, again created by Jacques Polge. The scent is floral and delicate, with jasmine and hyacinth as its frontrunners, but these notes are complimented with an underlying pink pepper spiciness and an enticing gourmand core.
As it goes, only Gabrielle’s close friends had the privilege of referring to her by her nickname Coco, otherwise, the brand’s founder was addressed as Madamoiselle by her seamstresses. Released in 2017, her namesake scent is crisp and floral, defined by jasmine and ylang ylang, with a citrus depth – thanks to orange blossom and a touch of grapefruit.
Released last year, Le Lion was directly inspired by Gabrielle’s star sign. Exuding protective power, Chanel’s majestic motif is alluded to via Olivier Polge’s distinctive amber elixir. Creamy and lived-in, Le Lion owes its leathery earthiness to a beautiful blend of sandalwood, vanilla and raw patchouli – the olfactive equivalent of an illicit library romp.
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