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Photo: Bailey, Unsplash

The allure of the scent – and of the brand, which has been iconic for generations – lies in its understatement. In terms of its bottle design and label, Chanel N°5 is a luxury item of stunning simplicity. By contrast, the scent itself is opulent, irresistible – even revolutionary. Chanel N°5 is all you need to make an impression. As Marilyn Monroe said, in what is probably the most famous reference to the perfume: “At night, I wear a few drops of Chanel N°5 – and nothing else.” The perfume was first presented to the discerning noses of the world on 5 May 1921. Fashion designer Coco Chanel habitually released her collections on the fifth of May; she considered five her lucky number. As such, even the date became part of the perfume’s legend.

However, the fashion designer originally had no intention of offering women a scent to go with their stylish clothes. She only changed her mind when she met Ernest Beaux in Cannes, who had made a name for himself as a parfumier in Moscow before the Russian Revolution and had returned to his home country of France following the upheaval. Coco commissioned Beaux to create a scent as a Christmas present for her customers. She had initially planned to limit the gift to just 100 bottles. When demand for the scent continued to rise, the perfume was made commercially available in 1922. Ernest Beaux had prepared ten samples in his laboratory in Cannes; the version that Coco Chanel liked best was labelled number five. Last year, French actress Marion Cotillard danced on the moon in an advert for Chanel. Now, to celebrate the iconic perfume’s anniversary, the French fashion house is exploring the history of N°5 in a new edition of the Inside Chanel video series with 32 chapters.

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