Bon Anniversaire/ Happy Birthday Chanel No. 5

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Pictured: A Vintage Chanel No. 5 Perfume Bottle photo courtesy of the 100Fragrances Blogspot

Sacre bleu! Yesterday was the anniversaire of my beloved Coco Chanel’s perfume, Chanel No. 5. It wasn’t on my radar until I read about it in a Brandweek article. Brandweek, of all places, has a very nice article on what Chanel is doing to commemorate the fragrance. Apparently Chanel is partnering with Saks Fifth Avenue NYC to feature special window displays later this month. They have also created a new arts program at a city school, P.S. 5 (Ellen Lurie Elementary School), which will receive special funding for after-school art classes, supplies and trips. What a wonderful way to pass on Coco’s legacy! If only I was young enough to go to P.S. 5.

Pictured: Saks Fifth Avenue New York flies the Chanel flags to celebrate No. 5

Now, the whole idea of the anniversary of the fragrance gives me the opportunity to pass along some delicious myth-making stories I learned in Paris years ago on one of my trips. Officially, Chanel hired perfumer Ernest Beaux to create this fragrance for her 1921. But, I heard that it really wasn’t anything new. The reason being that apparently the beginnings of the Chanel No. 5 scent were from the Russian court in the early 19th century. You see, Chanel’s lover at the time she decided to start making perfumes was the Grand Duke Dmitri, a Russian prince who had been exiled by the Tsar for taking part in the murder of Rasputin. Because of his exile, Dmitri survived the Russian Revolution and was able to meet Coco Chanel later in Paris. He introduced her to many things Russian influencing her perfume and her fashions. The scent of Chanel No. 5 was actually a Russian Revolution survivor. If you follow Chanel designs as I do, you may recall that Chanel designed many Russian influenced blouses in the 1920s. Perhaps the real anniversary celebration for the scent should take place in Russia?

To celebrate the anniversary, Chanel has created a beautiful little film called “Train de Nuit” which I have embedded here. The film is available to enjoy and view for free, which makes it a lovely Recessionista treat for all Chanel lovers!

Nothing like a little fine escapist fare with Billie Holiday singing, “I’m a Fool to Want You” in the background. It’s nice to see a commercial elevated to such an art form.

Joyeux Anniversaire Coco!


Since 2008, Mary Hall has been the author of The Recessionista Blog, which is read by thousands of regular readers in over 160 countries. An internationally recognized expert on the art of the living the good life for less, she has been a commentator on local, national, and international radio and TV shows. Her advice has been featured in over 2,000 media outlets, including The New York Times, Reuters, Life & Style magazine, ABC News, NBC News and now The Huffington Post, among many others.


  1. positively present

    May 6, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Wow! So cool to see the old bottle. Thanks for posting this…I had no idea about the anniversary either!

  2. Leia

    May 6, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Found this on Wikipedia – does this mean that Coco thought No. 5 smelled “ugly” – ??

    “I want to give women an artificial perfume,” said Chanel. “Yes, I really do mean artificial, like a dress, something that has been made. I don’t want any rose or lily of the valley, I want a perfume that is a composition.” No. 5 is famous for being the first perfume to heavily rely on synthetic floral aldehydes as a top note. Before synthetics, perfume either had to be applied very heavily or frequently so that the fragrance would last.

    Chanel applied the French aesthetic theory that “ugly” placed next to “beautiful”, by contrast, makes the beautiful object appear more so. In this era almost all perfumes were floral and “pretty” – designed to enhance a woman’s beauty with more beauty. Instead of the scent of flowers, Coco wanted a perfume that “reflects my personality, something abstract and unique”. She thought that a perfume should serve to spotlight a woman’s natural beauty using contrast – i.e. the artificial perfume would make the woman’s natural beauty more evident.

  3. MH

    May 7, 2009 at 3:57 am

    Hi Leia,
    I think Chanel just meant that she wanted a perfume she could mass produce–she saw the potential of scent as another revenue stream for her business. By the standards of the times, it may have been ugly to chemically manufactur perfume, but that was want she wanted. She knew that was the future–and would make a scent that could be worn all day.