Chanel No. 5 turns 100

Marilyn Monroe once famously said that she wore it to bed – and nothing else.

Marilyn Monroe once famously said that she wore it to bed – and nothing else. Other goddesses have represented it, including Nicole Kidman, Gisele Bündchen and Marion Cotillard – as has at least one god, Brad Pitt. Now the retail world, including Bloomingdale’s fall catalog, is paying tribute to a fragrance it calls “avant-garde, groundbreaking and iconic” as it turns the big 100.

We’re talking, of course, about Chanel No. 5, perhaps the ultimate in classic perfumes, with one bottle reportedly sold every 30 seconds. The brainchild of couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and her “nose,” chemist/perfumier Ernest Beaux, No. 5 is a felicitous amalgam of florals – rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, lily of the valley and iris – layered over a warm, woody base of vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber and patchouli and accented with aldehyde compounds. It was created at a time when respectable women wore a single floral scent while more sophisticated creations were left to the demimonde. But Chanel wanted the flapper – the new, independent woman – to have a fragrance that announced her singularity.

Steeped in Roman Catholic mysticism during her convent-school days, Chanel named it for her favorite number – a symbol of circular perfection – and gave it a clear, sleek bottle so that nothing would detract from its essence.

Dab it on before a night out in the big city – or just for the heck of it. (And for goodness sake, skip its kid sister, the citrusy Chanel L’Eau, a pale imitation of the original.)

The result is a fragrance – crisp, yummy, utterly delicious – that has been described as heady but that can also be light and elusive, depending on the wearer.

In other words, No. 5 remains something of a mystery. And don’t we all deserve one of those?

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