She wore a few drops of Chanel N°5 and nothing else. That was the one line that turned the fragrance into legend. Although the perfume was launched in 1921, it was in 1952, when Marilyn Monroe was 26 years old and LIFE magazine featured her on their cover that the accompanying interview included the quote, “What do I wear to bed? A few drops of Chanel N°5 and nothing else.” Since then, the perfume has achieved iconic status, becoming a timeless classic.

Coco Chanel, (1883–1971), the French couturière who revolutionized fashion by applying men’s tailoring techniques to simple but sophisticated garments, encouraging women to get rid of their corseted confinement, applied her energy to creating a fragrance that broke away from the usual scents in fashion at the time. Usually the chosen perfumes were recognizable, fruity or floral, and uncomplicated.When Ernest Beaux produced perfume samples for Coco Chanel to try in 1921, she chose the fifth proposal that he presented, which is the same Chanel No. 5 fragrance that we know and love today. Coco went for a blend of essences that were no longer recognizable as one scent but a new fragrance that was unlike anything existing in nature. In his book Mon itinéraire Chanel, Edmonde Charles-Roux writes about Coco Chanel “… she substituted the use of perfumes with recognisable fragrances with that of a perfume with an indefinable fragrance. There are some eighty ingredients that make up N°5, and although it might have the freshness of a garden, nothing can change the fact that the fragrance of this garden is unknown. That is how she made history in the world of perfume: N°5 had the surprising character of an abstract creation.”

An abstract creation

It is eminently feminine, slightly powdery, with the main notes of rose, jasmin and lilac dancing in a chorus line with the other eighty components, no single one dominating any of the others. A bottle that looks just as modern today as it did ninety years ago, and the name just a number. Neither ingenue nor vamp, it’s a perfume for a woman, by a woman. “It’s the loss, it’s the absence, that gives way to creation” says Jean-Louis Froment, referring to the fact that Coco Chanel created this fragrance after the loss of her lover Boy Capel, “in her own paradoxical way, she gave a presence to the absence of her love, and this presence was materialized in the immateriality of a perfume.”

There has always been a strong link between the arts and Maison Chanel in general, and with Chanel N°5 in particular. The Palais de Tokyo is hosting an exhibition dedicated to exploring these cultural and artistic connections over time.  As part of their guest program, the curators have taken references from the world of Chanel, the favorite places she visited for inspiration and the group of friends she cherished, artists, poets and musicians like Cocteau, Picasso, Apollinaire, Stravinsky, Picabia, Reverdy. The fitting entrance to the exhibition is through a garden purpose built for the event. The senses are awakened and made ready to enjoy the works of art, photographs, archives, books and diverse objects featured. The connecting thread for the narrative is built around the interchange of correspondence on the subject of the fragrance.

 

No. 5 Culture Chanel

Exhibition through June 5

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

2 rue de la Manutention – 16th

Open noon to midnight daily except Tuesday

Free admission

www.palaisdetokyo.com

Website dedicated to the exhibition: 5-culture.chanel.com/fr/

Free olfactory workshops are open to adults and children by reservation:

www.5-culturechanel.ateliers.getaticket.com

Gallery

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