“A woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent”
In the words of Chanel N°5 founder: Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel
“I only wear Chanel No 5”
Marilyn Monroe, when asked what she wore to bed.
Founded in 1921, Chanel No 5 is the undisputed world’s most popular and iconic perfume. The already successful businesswoman, Coco Chanel, was looking for inspiration to launch a scent that captured the spirit of a liberated woman. She found the answer in Ernest Beaux, a Russian-born French perfumer and commissioned him to develop a new fragrance. After months of steadfast crafting, he presented her 10 samples, numbering 1 to 5 and 20 to 24. For Chanel, the number five held special place in her heart, it signified the pure embodiment of a thing, its spirit, its magic. It is said that she had a strict convent upbringing during her early years and the path leading to the cathedral for daily prayers were in a circular fashion repeating the number five. Perhaps this or perhaps as told by her, “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”, she chose vial no 5 from the 10 samples presented to her. At age 38, Chanel launched the iconic fragrance ‘Chanel No. 5’. The perfume is a complex composition of aldehydes and florals – including rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, lily of the valley and iris – layered over a warm, woody base of vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber and patchouli and has seen changes in composition over the years.
For history aficionados, management leaders, and those interested in legal jurisprudence, the story of Chanel No. 5, offers them all that they need to write a good case study. Beneath the notes of the perfume lies a story, the story of the battle for ownership of the brand. In 1924, Coco Chanel got into an agreement with French businessmen brothers Pierre Wertheimer and Paul Wertheimer and created Parfums Chanel, a corporate entity to expand the distribution of her fragrance business. According to the agreement, the Wertheimers owned seventy percent share and agreed to provide full financing for production, marketing and distribution of Chanel No. 5, Théophile Bader who brokered the deal was given a twenty percent share and Coco Chanel who licensed her name to Parfums Chanel received ten percent of the stock and removed herself from involvement in business operations. This coming together later turned out to be an unholy alliance. It is said that Coco Chanel developed antisemitic views while the Wertheimers were Jewish French businessmen and Bader too was Jewish. She was displeased with the arrangement and in 1935, instigated a lawsuit against the Wertheimers, which was not successful. Then the World War II started, and the Nazis were capturing all Jewish properties and establishments. Seizing the opportunity, in 1941 Coco Chanel petitioned as an “Aryan” to German officials to legalize her right to sole ownership of Parfums Chanel. However, Chanel was unaware that the Wertheimers had legally turned control of Parfums Chanel to a Christian, French businessman and industrialist Felix Amiot who after the end of the war returned Parfums Chanel to the Wertheimers. Anyways, the story does have a positive ending, though I must refrain from using the words happy ending, the Wertheimers and Chanel came to an amicable monetary settlement, so much so that, at one point in time, she was projected as one of the richest women in the world. The Chanel No 5 is currently owned by the subsequent generations of the Wertheimers family.
As on date, many famous personalities, mostly women have represented the No. 1 feminine of fragrances. For the first time in the history of No. 5, in 2012 a man represented Chanel No.5, it was none other than the Hollywood actor Brad Pitt. The year 2021 marks the 100 years of Chanel No 5 in making and congratulation to that and looking forward to seeing many more years of the scented poetry being uncorked from the exquisite bottle.