In Grasse, France, there lies a field of roses that bloom only for the month of May. The “rose de Mai” has a posh calling card: It’s the heart of Chanel No. 5, created by Ernest Beaux in 1921.
What is the enduring appeal of Chanel No. 5?
“It was the first couture fragrance. No. 5 mixes flowers in a way that you do not recognize anything. There is mystery, and mystery is very important for seduction.”
When did you first come across No. 5?
“When I was learning how to be a nose. There was a period when, like a painter, you learn a job by imitating ancient works. I tried to redo the big and very famous perfumes, and I remember that I had some difficulty reproducing No. 5. I now know why.”
What attracted you to fragrance?
“Fragrance is a way of expressing and saying things without choosing words or images. It says things that you couldn’t say in any other way.”
What inspires you?
“For Coco, my inspiration came from my first impression of Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment. With Chance, marketing wanted a perfume for younger people, which I didn’t think was a good idea because young people don’t have money. Instead, I [created] Chanel’s youngest perfume.”
Chanel No. 5 Eau de Parfum Spray ($368 for 30 mL).
How has fragrance evolved?
“The principles have not changed. You try to do the best you can; each fragrance has to be different from what Chanel already has, and it has to be different from what is already on the market. These principles were true at the time, and they are still true today.”