What’s That Smell?

Coco Chanel was once quoted saying; “A woman who does not wear perfume has no future.”

Whilst I would never be that harsh in my judgement of a woman who strolled past without wafting of various bouquets, perfume is a luxury which I deem a valuable investment.

I am the eldest of five children; four of whom are female.

Growing up, we each were exposed to the same environment and influences but it always struck me as interesting how our tastes in fashion, past times, music, food and scent differed.

I was part of ‘that’ generation that bought and owned ‘Curious’ by Britney Spears and ‘Paris’ by Paris Hilton. I know, my teenage years were a difficult time.

Thankfully, someone recognised my plight and sought to save me from the domain of celebrity endorsements and attempted to show me the light.

One Christmas, I ventured into the sitting room to find that Saint Nicholas had answered the unasked questions of my sisters and I.

His response? Coco Mademoiselle, Chance and No. 5.

Chanel Perfumes

Chanel Coco MademoiselleCoco Mademoiselle was first created in 2001 and has top notes of orange, mandarin orange, orange blossom and bergamot; middle notes are mimose, jasmine, turkish rose and ylang-ylang; base notes are tonka bean, patchouli, opoponax, vanilla, vetiver and white musk.

Chanel - ChanceChance was first created in 2003 and interestingly is the only Chanel perfume which is not in rectangular housing.

Why? The circular packaging is deemed to reference a wheel of fortune.

There are pink pepper, lemon and pine apple in the top notes. The heart encompasses hyacinth, jasmine and iris, while the base is composed of amber, patchouli, vetiver and white musk.

Chanel No. 5Finally, Chanel No. 5 is possibly the most famous of all perfumes.

Coco Chanel asked perfumer Ernest Beaux to create a scent which “smells like a woman”. It was also a condition that each of the over seventy ingredients could not be individually distinguished, it was to be a composition and one free of dominating floral tones.

Thus, Beaux convinced Mademoiselle Chanel that an employment of  the synthetic component aldehydes would be the most successful method to produce such a scent.

Within the fragrance the top notes are composed of aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, neroli and ylang-ylang, the heart of jasmine, rose, lily of the valley and iris, while the base is created of vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber and patchouli.

Ernest Beaux manufactured two versions of the scent; numbered one to five and twenty to twenty four. Mademoiselle Chanel selected version number five and thus it’s name was decided.

Chanel was notoriously suspicious and released the perfume on the fifth day of the fifth month in 1921.

That aforementioned Christmas, it was I who received Coco Mademoiselle, Natasha who was gifted with No. 5 and Niamh who opened a wrapped-up bottle of Chance.

Whilst Coco Mademoiselle has grew to be my signature scent (along with Thierry Mugler’s ‘Angel’), Niamh prefers the warm spicy scent of Prada to Chance whilst Natasha has probably used Chanel No. 5 once, feeling it was too mature of a scent, favouring Vera Wang’s ‘Princess’.

The perfume’s historic and celebrity legacy has little influence on Natasha’s ‘nose’.

At the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, an exhibition is currently underway to offer an insight into the science, inspiration and innovation behind Chanel’s most signature scent. Having begun on May 5th (the date the perfume was launched) Culture Chanel No. 5 finishes on June 5th.

Mademoiselle Chanel was meticulous with the scent she emitted; “Every morning a young assistant would spray No. 5 in the entrance to the building of her empire, on the Rue Cambon in Paris, a moment before Mademoiselle Chanel walked in, having been warned of her imminent arrival by the porter of the Ritz. The perfume still lingers around the mirrored staircase and in her apartment. Incidentally, she sprayed No. 5 onto the live coals in her fireplace.”

Is perfume just another commercial luxury which we have bought into?

Does the fragrance you choose translate into some meaning about your character or person?

Written by

Sinéad Burke is an academic and a writer with an obsessive interest in fashion, education and 'Extraordinary Women'. She is an ambassador for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Women's Council of Ireland.