”No. 5, now priced at about $260 an ounce.”
Each 30-milliliter bottle of Chanel No. 5 is packed with the essence of a thousand jasmine flowers, the fragrance of a dozen May roses from Grasse and a heaping dose of aldehydes, the molecules that early on gave the scent its modern edge.
With its rich golden hue, art deco–inspired bottle, and timeless, musky scent, Chanel No. 5 is the world’s bestselling perfume. Reverently known among industry insiders as le monstre—the monster—it is arguably the most coveted consumer luxury product of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Yet how did this pioneering celebrity fragrance, introduced in the early 1920s, eventually take on a life of its own, becoming a cultural monument celebrated by millions of devoted consumers?
The Secret of Chanel No. 5 is Tilar J. Mazzeo’s far-ranging and fascinating search beyond the stuff of legend to uncover the full story of No. 5′s creation, iconic status, and extraordinary success. Mazzeo goes back through time and deep into the life of Coco Chanel, the brilliant, controversial, and steel-willed businesswoman at the heart of the fragrance. She takes readers to the rose plantations and celebrated jasmine fields where the perfume begins and then to the laboratories and boardrooms where scent and sex are forever intertwined. And she travels to the heart of the Chanel empire: 31 Rue Cambon, Coco Chanel’s flagship boutique, where six decades ago American GIs stormed the counters to possess the magical elixir that captured the luxury and romance of Paris for their girls back home.
A blend of evocative history and thoughtful research, here is a glittering account of where art and sensuality mingle with dazzling entrepreneurship and desire: Chanel No. 5.
THE SECRET OF CHANEL NO. 5
The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume
By Tilar J. Mazzeo
Illustrated. 281 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.