In 1920, following the successful launch of her couture house in Biarritz, France, and her subsequent move to Paris’s Rue Cambon, where she opened her flagship boutique, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel decided to create her first fragrance. She commissioned the French Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux to develop “a woman’s perfume, with a woman’s scent” — which, unlike most single-note options of the era, had a bold floral composition. Beaux imported exotic ingredients from around the world, concocting a mix of more than 80 different notes, including jasmine and May rose harvested from Grasse, France; ylang-ylang flowers from Madagascar; Brazilian tonka beans; and sandalwood. Months later, he presented Chanel with an array of aromatic vials, and she chose the one labeled five. When Beaux asked her what she’d call the perfume, she said, “I present my dress collections on May 5, the fifth day of the fifth month of the year, and so we will let it keep the number it has, and this number will bring it good luck.”
When it came to designing the bottle, Chanel sought the antithesis of the ornate pastel-hued offerings of her competitors. Thought to have been inspired by men’s toiletries and the whiskey decanter of a former lover — the English polo player Boy Capel, who died in a car accident in 1919 — she opted for an austere container that evoked the pharmaceutical vials found in apothecaries. Crafted from delicate glass, the original 1921 flacon’s cubic silhouette and transparency made it seem almost invisible — brilliantly showcasing the burnt amber tones of the perfume itself. The bottle was topped with a square glass stopper with two interlocking sans-serif C’s, marking the debut of Chanel’s now-iconic logo. In 1924, the stopper was redesigned as a bevel-cut octagon, but it has otherwise remained largely the same for the past century.
Now, to celebrate the opening this month of its first store in New York dedicated exclusively to watches and fine jewelry, the house has created a high jewelry necklace influenced by the No. 5 bottle’s design. The pendant, an emerald-cut 20.09-carat diamond dangling below a white-gold number five set with pavé diamonds, can be detached and worn as a ring. It draws upon the shape of the archival bottle’s stopper, as well as its inspiration: the aerial view of the octagonal Place Vendôme, which could be seen from Chanel’s suite at the Ritz, where she lived for 34 years. Suggestive and radiant, the jewels glisten around the neck, just like the traces of the perfume itself.
Photo assistant: Lucas Mathon