Chanel No. 5 has become one of the world's most popular fragrances. Chanel No. 5 was the first synthetic, or man-made, perfume. Instead of essential oils from nature, synthetic perfumes are made with an aldehyde, an organic compound that yields alcohol when reduced. Synthetic perfumes offer unique smells and more stable bases that make the products more concentrated and longer lasting.
The history of perfume dates back to the ancient civilizations. By the start of the twentieth century, natural essence perfumes were being sold in elaborately designed bottles at affordable prices by such French companies as Coty, D'Orsay, Guerlain, Lanvin, Lubin, Molinard, and Roger and Gallet. In early 1921 French fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883–1971) commissioned Russian perfume chemist Ernest Beaux, the former perfumer to the Russian royal family, to create several new fragrances. The best would be packaged and sold by La Maison Chanel, or the House of Chanel. Beaux presented Chanel with five new synthetic fragrances. Chanel tested each one and chose the fifth bottle. That is how Chanel No. 5 received its name.
In May 1921 the first simple, square-lined bottles of Chanel No. 5 were sold. The perfume was an immediate success, and by 1924 Chanel had an entire perfume division with Ernest Beaux as its technical director. By the twenty-first century a bottle of Chanel No. 5 sold every thirty seconds.
Madsen, Axel. Chanel: A Woman of Her Own. New York: Henry Holt, 1990.
Newman, Cathy. Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1998.