Cutting-edge with the revolutionary N°5

di Marika Gervasio

4' di lettura

«Be what you are, wear what you want.» Coco Chanel’s great belief also extended to her concept of beauty.

It all started in 1921 with a perfume. It was called N°5 and would become one of the best-selling and most timeless fragrances in history. It was created by Gabrielle and perfumer Ernest Beaux, born in Moscow to French parents in 1881. At 7 he joined Rallet, the first French perfumery in Russia, which supplied the court of the Tsars with perfumes, cosmetics and toiletry products. After the 1917 Russian Revolution Beaux returned to France and settled in La Bocca, near Grasse, the cradle of French perfume-making. Mademoiselle Chanel first met him in his laboratory, among the test tubes and stills that would produce her future fragrances. This universe of rigour and inspiration intrigued her immediately. Beaux told her about his research into aldehydes, extremely volatile synthetic compounds used in small quantities to add a touch of lightness to the floral notes. A revolution at the time.


At this point Coco shared her ambition. First of all, a perfume like no other. A perfume that exuded “goodness”; that resembled her, with many different and contradictory facets. In short, “a perfume for women that smelled of women.” In 1921 Beaux presented Gabrielle with various samples. It is said that Mademoiselle Chanel chose the fifth of these - hence the name No. 5 (although 5 was also her lucky number) - getting him to add copious quantities of Grasse jasmine, the most luxurious of raw materials. The resulting scent was extremely innovative, produced artificially using synthetic molecules, and contrasted with the single-flower perfumes that were fashionable at the time, so much so that industry professionals agreed to divide fragrances into two eras: before and after No. 5.

In 1924 Gabrielle Chanel went into business with brothers Paul and Pierre Wertheimer and founded Societé des Parfums Chanel, which began marketing not only perfumes but also make-up and skincare products. For Chanel make-up meant, first and foremost, lipstick: “As the eyes are the windows to the soul, why can’t we admit that the mouth is the interpreter of the heart.” Coco, who loved the brightness of scarlet, created an intense shade of red and as early as 1926 launched her first range of lipsticks. Demanding in all that she did, Gabrielle’s own personal lipstick was prepared with a hint of blue and she powdered it to increase its hold. “Her” shade would be reproduced in 1974 under the name Rouge de Chanel and we can see it today in the Gabrielle 444 shade of Rouge Coco and the Passion 104 shade of Rouge Allure.

In 1924 there were already lipsticks in silver boxes protected by a gunmetal grey-coloured lid. The famous Chanel square-shaped lipstick was launched in 1949, a simple black lacquered box emphasised in 1950 by a central gold ring. In 1954 she created a velvety stick housed in a rectangular tube that was the exact reproduction of a N°5 atomiser. This lipstick was designed to accompany women at all times: Coco even reserved a special leather nook for it in the quilted 2.55 bag.

Always at the cutting-edge, not just with fashion but also with her innovations, in 1927 Mademoiselle launched the first skincare line, emphasising her belief that: “Beauty is not just a question of age, beauty is something to be conquered.” Chanel products were formulated according to her directives and included a firming tonic for face and body, a “glacial lotion”, an anti-wrinkle gel and a hand cream. Her first beauty catalogue was dated 1 May 1929.

The packaging was extremely simple and understated, simple white bottles with a black lid, a colour code still used for the packaging of Chanel products today. But that’s not all. Blessed with a great sense of practicality, Mademoiselle decided to create “travel sizes” of her products for women who, like her, travelled a lot.

With her revolutionary spirit she brought great changes to fashion, freeing women from rigid and restrictive clothing. She did likewise in the world of beauty: at a time when women protected themselves from the sun with hats and umbrellas, Mademoiselle loved to expose her face to the rays and the fresh air to improve her complexion. In this era a photo of her sunning her face caused quite a stir. This inclination soon led to the creation of the first sun products.

Since 1921 Chanel’s range of cutting-edge beauty products has continued to expand. This is also true in Italy, where it recently opened its fourth Chanel Fragrance & Beauty boutique in the centre of Rome, to follow those in Florence, Venice and Milan. In reality it is a reopening of the historic boutique at 98 Via del Babuino, a 350 m2 site which brings together the two worlds of the maison, fashion and beauty. Meanwhile, in Paris it has just opened its brand new boutique entirely dedicated to the world of beauty on the Champs-Élysées. Chanel currently has 131 beauty boutiques across the world.

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