Happy 100th Birthday, Chanel No 5! The iconic scent celebrates a century

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A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every 30 seconds (Getty)
A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every 30 seconds (Getty)

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In 1921, French fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel launched her first, and now most iconic, perfume: Chanel No. 5.

A century on, and the perfume remains a staple of the style set for its highly feminine floral notes and signature chic bottle; one that takes pride of place on any dressing table.

Over the past 100 years, the perfume has attracted a legion of celebrity admirers. Marilyn Monroe even claimed that all she wore to bed was a few drops of Chanel No. 5, firmly cementing the perfume in the beauty history books.

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Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz, Celine Dion, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham are all said to be fans of the classic scent, too - and it’s not just celebrities but fragrance fans the world over who adore it, with a bottle sold every 30 seconds.

So what's the story behind Chanel No. 5 and why has it remained so beloved by beauty gurus a full 100 years after its debut? Read on for the fragrance facts...

How was Chanel No. 5 created?

In 1921, with a successful fashion house, and already owning several boutiques in Paris, Deauville and Biarritz as well as a villa in the south of France, Chanel decided to create a perfume that could represent the modern, career-driven woman.

Coco Chanel in the French seaside resort of Biarritz, circa 1928 (Getty)
Coco Chanel in the French seaside resort of Biarritz, circa 1928 (Getty)

To make the perfume, she enlisted the help of perfumer Ernest Beaux who had previously worked for the Russian royal family. He presented Chanel with 10 samples, labelled one to five and 20 to 24 - of course, she picked number five.

Chanel said of the choice later: “It was what I was waiting for. A perfume like nothing else. A woman's perfume, with the scent of a woman.”

The reason Chanel decided to keep the name as is was because she believed the number five would bring her good luck. She said: "I present my dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year and so we will let this sample number five keep the name it has already, it will bring good luck."

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Why has Chanel No. 5 become so iconic?

The scent largely leans towards floral notes, with ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, sandalwood and vanilla - a classic combination - but it was Chanel’s original marketing tactics that turned the perfume into the icon it is today.

The designer invited Beaux and several friends to an upmarket restaurant on the French Riviera to celebrate the perfume, and sprayed it around the table. Women passing by would ask what the fragrance was – so the designer knew she was onto something.

The chic bottle also contributed to its popularity, and was originally sold only in Chanel boutiques to select clients, before gaining wider appeal when it started to be advertised in fashion magazines in the 1930s.

Marilyn Monroe was said to be a fan of Chanel No. 5 (Getty)
Marilyn Monroe was said to be a fan of Chanel No. 5 (Getty)

In 1969, Chanel No. 5’s first scripted commercial was filmed by Richard Avedon in New York City. While it was only seconds long, at the time, it was the most expensive commercial ever made.

According to the Brand Key Fashion Brands Index, Chanel No. 5 has held a spot in the top 5 best selling perfumes ever since its release a century ago - so it seems its allure lives on.

Which celebrities have worn Chanel No. 5?

As well as Marilyn Monroe being an avid fan of the fragrance, other celebrity wearers are thought to include Cameron Diaz, Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicole Kidman, Eva Mendes, Celine Dion, Jessica Alba and Claudia Schiffer.

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Actresses Catherine Deneuve and Marion Cotillard have both been the face of the perfume over the years, too.

How has Chanel No. 5 been represented in pop culture?

In the enduring sitcom, Friends, it’s established in the first season of the show that Chanel No. 5 is Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) scent.

It was also known to be Blair Waldorf’s (Leighton Meester) go-to in 2010s teen drama, Gossip Girl.

Art-wise, the bottle joined the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1959 and Andy Warhol even used the bottle in his silkscreens in the 1960s.

Buy it: Chanel N°5 Eau de Parfum Spray | £62 from John Lewis & Partners

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