English Version | Chanel Nº5, a classical genre

30 May 2021
By Vogue Portugal

How many notes does a classic need to be a hit? We can't know for sure (it's Chanel's best kept secret), but the symphony is No. 5.

How many notes does a classic need to be a hit? We can't know for sure (it's Chanel's best kept secret), but the symphony is No. 5.

Timeless, unforgettable and, who could tell, inseparable. Thinking about music and perfumes - in this case, the perfume par excellence - has more similarities than it may seem at first glance. Starting with the ability that both have in awakening sensations and memories (after all, who has never associated a melody with a person, or an aroma with a place?) and ending with the notes, this most striking similarity that serves as a fuse for an analogy that manages to be as perceptive as it is poetic.

Both a song and a fragrance are created from a composition of notes - in one case musical, in the other olfactory - and, when the formula is brilliant, it manages to go beyond the time when they are born to become iconic over decades, delighting generations and overcoming age groups to become eternity-defying successes. And never, ever, one-hit wonders; simply classics that we want to revisit on vinyl, mp3 or streaming; in eau de parfum or eau de toilette, in spritz or essence format. Classics that tear up musical genres and bring freshness, audacity, novelty, evolution - revolution. It is a fact, both can be remastered: re-released with a new sound, in a new packaging or seasonal version, reinterpreted by some artists or honored in new formats... what distinguishes them, what makes them unique is that they never lose the essence that made them legendary.

This is the case with the enigmatic Chanel Nº5, the perfume created in 1921 by Gabrielle Chanel in partnership with Ernest Beaux, the perfumer of the Czars. The fragrance arrives 2021 with 100 years of a life full of conquests and admirers, and with as much or more relevance as the one that it enjoyed when it appeared. At the time, it threw away customs and conventions, and continued Coco's avant-garde philosophy, conquering not just the wardrobe, but the sense of smell. Her spirit remained the one that made her Fashion so desirable: simple, but refined; revolutionary not only in its composition (the notes of jasmine, ylang-ylang and rose, stars but without shading any of the others, make up the melody that we recognize at first chord), but on several fronts - such as having been the first perfume imagined by a woman for women. Contemporary to Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism, it sees itself as their olfactory counterpart, because it broke codes and rewrote odors in an abstract collage of aromas. And no one was indifferent to it: Marilyn Monroe helped add to the myth by confessing that a few drops of its secret formula was all she wore in bed; Andy Warhol immortalized it in one of his paintings, establishing him as a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. Other renowned artists also succumbed to Chanel's magic No. 5: Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Jean-Paul Goude. All of them were inspired, in one way or another, by the aesthetics of what was the first perfume to be advertised on television and which, since then, has never lost its visual allure. Its “muses” only added seductive power: Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman and, more recently, Marion Cotillard are just some of the female faces that have confessed themselves as fragrance ambassadors, channeling the spirit of modernity and feminine power that it has always been the hallmark of Chanel's ex-libris. A rare and powerful perfume, impossible to place in time, and whose notes we want to play over and over again, because it is the notes that make up what we are - even if what we are, or want to be, changes from day to day.

This association is not at all strange, because Chanel's connection to music is widely known. After all, before becoming a recognized designer, the creator wanted to be a singer: she was part of the choir at the orphanage where she spent her childhood and her nickname, Coco, comes from the popular song Qui qu'a vu Coco?, which she sang time after time in La Rotonde, in Moulins, before embarking on womenswear. Her reverent circle of friends refined her taste, without ever restraining her passion for melodies, even influencing her designs - first creating hats, then imagining the most elegant and visionary clothes. And what the music gave her, Chanel returned: she bought a grand piano, her first major eccentricity, to hear her friends Poulenc, Satie, Auric and Misia play; funded Igor Stravinsky's unforgettable Rites of Spring, a mix of opera and ballet made specifically for the Parisian 1913 season of the Ballets Russes, and lent her home to the Russian composer as an artistic residence over the course of a year, declaring that “the little that I know about music, I owe it to him ”; she listened to a blues melody in the car, which she loved, the French accent so loaded that the original lyrics were barely noticeable; she frequented jazz clubs, traveled to concerts outside the country just to see artists like Johnny Halliday and The Beatles.

In the end, the notes that make up her playlist are as eclectic as those of her Chanel No. 5; this one, as eclectic as her creativity. This one, called Nº5 because the aroma sample with the same number was mademoiselle's favorite… But as far as perfumery classics are concerned, it is Nº1. Debatable? Hardly. This is the only aspect that does not fit in with music comparison, where there is always the potential for dividing opinions; not here. Even a century after its birth, No. 5 remains, and will continue to be, No. 1.

Originally published on Vogue Portugal's The Music Issue, from june 2021.Full stories and credits on the print issue.

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