Martine Belfort, nearly asleep as she soaked in her tub, barely opened one eye at the offensive jangling urgency of the contraption on her vanity. Why she ever had installed a telephone in her bathroom escaped her for the moment.
“Juju hold it up to my ear.”
The maid did as she was told.
“Allo? Allo Martine are you there?” It was Cecile Duvall her dearest source of gossip and most distrusted friend.
“Cecile? Are you back in Paris already? I thought you were in Cannes?”
“I am ma chère but I simply had to call you at once. The most amazing thing happened tonight at dinner.”
Martine closed her eyes and sank to her chin in the tub and nodded to Juju to turn on the hot tap to warm her up.
“Oh do tell, who is your infatuation this time, a duke or some American millionaire?”
“It is Coco Chanel!”
Martine shot up in the tub both eyes wide open. “You are having an affair with Chanel?”
“No no! Silly pet, I have news about her.”
“Oh I never liked that woman! What happened? Did she stay out in the sun too long and burned to a crisp? Is she dead?”
“No, nothing like that my goodness what an imagination you have Martine. She was dining in the same restaurant as I tonight and I kept noticing a commotion at her table. People going over and bumping about and hovering over her, well, there seemed such a lot of excitement. Soon the entire restaurant was abuzz.”
“A buzz about what Cecile, get to the point.”
“Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and I went over and said hello. You know to sniff around and see what on earth could be so fascinating. Coco gave me a cool smile. She knows we are friends you and I and well, she was very cool but cordial. I kissed her cheek and then it happened.”
Mon dieu! What? What happened?”
“She must have spilled a whole bottle of perfume on the table cloth, and herself as well.”
“Common as dirt, that woman?”
“No Martine you don’t understand, she smelled amazing, and unlike anything I have ever smelled. It was so, so… SEXY! I was about to ask her what it was when the Grand Duchess Zina Vladimirovich and a few other Russian ladies interrupted me to ask her the exact same question.”
Martine looked over at her vanity packed with Patou, Guerlain Caron and Coty.
“Coco said it was just something she found in Grasse and that she couldn’t remember exactly where. Then she asked us did we like it? Did we think she should try and get more? Then suddenly it all clicked in my head. She is launching a perfume. It was a set up. She had perfumed the table like a trap. And my dear it worked, we all fell into it. I simply have to have it. Nothing else smells like it. Nothing!”
“Don’t be ridiculous Cecile, I doubt very much that Mademoiselle Chanel would dare to go up against all those big men and there giant perfume houses. And if she does she will be ruined.” She nearly snorted, “I for one would never wear it.
Martine Belfort had only one bottle of perfume on her vanity. Chanel No.5. All the smart women of Paris agreed that nothing other than No.5 would do.
1920 FLAPPER BY B.J.MOON
Sergeant Beau Henson stood for a very long time on the sidewalk at East Mountain Street looking up at the handsome Spanish revival house where she lived. This beautiful peaceful street in Glendale California was a million miles away from the horrors of Remagen and the battle where he lost his best buddy Jack Markgraf. A soft breeze ruffled his hair and reminded him to put his cap back on. He was in full uniform and befitted his duty to his friend.
Marjorie Markgraf answered the door she was wearing a sundress and her hair was the color of corn silk. She looked much younger than twenty six. She invited him in as if she had known him for years. They had Iced Tea and talked for a long time about Jack, and what he was like before the war. Marjorie asked Beau about his life and if he was married. She was sitting on the chair he knew had been Jacks favorite. In war you learn everything about your buddies’ lives back home down to who they first kissed, their favorite radio show to the name of their dog. Finally Marjorie asked how it happened and if Beau was with him. He told her the best lie he could. That Jack didn’t suffer. Then he told her a bit of the truth, that he was with him when he died.
“When we were in Pairs in 44’ there was just one thing he had to do. He had to get this for you.”
He took a little travel worn package out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“Jack said you always talked about going to Paris together someday and buying a bottle. We stood together in the rain all day in a line of G.I.s on the Rue Cambon so he could buy it and bring it home as a surprise. I saved it for you….”
Marjorie carefully opened the package; it was the first time she cried since the day the letter came from the Army telling her Jack would not come home.
She never opened the bottle but kept it next to Jack’s photograph on her vanity.
It was there on her dresser, all alone and forgotten. There in that naked bedroom with no paintings on the walls, just an unmade bed, some shoe boxes and purses stacked by the door and a phone off the hook on the carpet by the bed.
Some happier years before back on Doheny Drive she said it was all she slept in and there were those photographs to prove it. She wrapped sensuously in sheets with the bottle on the nightstand each adding heat to the legend of the other.
Now she was cold and wrapped in a blanked in the back of an ambulance. The bottle of Chanel No.5 sitting on her dresser would be tossed out or possibly snatched as souvenir buy some policeman and taken home to his wife. In any case it was there, on the dresser when she died.
“Chanel No.5… I don’t get it.” Jackie Belfort said to her girlfriend as she reached for the tester of Coco Mademoiselle at the Macy’s perfume counter inspected it and then handed it to her friend Tiffany Markgraf.
“It smells ‘Old Lady’” she said. “I just don’t see what the big deal is. So what if Marilyn Monroe wore it.”
“I know” said Tiffany, “It smells soapy, just like Palmolive! Ewww!” She put down the bottle of Coco Mademoiselle and picked up a bottle of No.5.
Jackie grabbed the No.5 from Tiffany and fingered the beveled edge. “It is a pretty bottle…..My great Grandmother wore it all the time. She said she even bought the first bottle when it came out. She said she was best friends with Coco Chanel. Can you imagine?”
“No kidding? How funny, my granny had a bottle next to a picture of my grandpa. But she never wore it. I can understand why. Not even Brad Pitt could get me to wear it.” She spritzed a generous spray onto the Chanel tester paper. “Ugh… Old Lady is right.”
“Oh My God, Tiffany have you smelled Miss Dior Cherie? Yummy!” She snapped her bubble gum.
“Oh My God! It is so sweet and fruity! I just love sweet and fruity, don’t you? And it has POPCORN too! Have you tried that new Jessica Simpson perfume?”
Oh My God, No! Let’s go to Saphora and find it!
As soon as they were gone the woman behind the counter who wasn’t much older than Jackie and Tiffany turned to the woman next to her.
The old lady is a survivor and for good reason. She is a classic for the ages and one that is often misunderstood by those who have no sense of history or what real perfume means and smells like. It may even be that she is for some an acquired taste like avocados or escargot. In other words some people have to grow up to grow into it. By that I don’t mean that it has anything to do with how old you are, on the contrary there are those who love this perfume from a very early age. I think it has to do more with where your nose is in its journey thought the worlds of Perfume.
What ever the case may be for you and Chanel No.5, love it or hate it, the perfume is something to be admired for its place in the history of perfume, for the woman who commissioned its creation and for the man Ernest Beaux who created it.
Of course it is all about the Aldehydes in the opening. This is the popping of the cork of the Dom Perignon of Aldehydes. It is fizzing white and glorious as it catapults the cork of Neroli, ylang ylang, lemon and bergamot across the room to ricochet off the walls and unleash the legendary florals at its heart.
In the heart notes the three floral sisters of Iris, lily of the valley, and rose are the frame for the most famous jasmine in the world. The star of the show, the Grasse jasmine picked at dawn just for Chanel. A luxurious and earthy orris root brings a dark and sexy touch to the center notes in No.5, This is pure adult glamour that speaks in soft full tones of elegance and pure sophisticated style and grace. The dry down is a creative and brilliant blending of Oakmoss, sandalwood, amber rich and glowing in the late stages. Also a very Parisian bit of sexy skank comes to play in the form of Civet. I always love a bit of animalic frolic in my florals. It keeps it real for me. Real in the sense of the classic French perfumes of the past and that a little naughty makes a good time even better. There is a touch of patchouli, musk, vanilla and vetiver down here too but the major factor is how the Civet plays with the Oakmoss, amber and the fading glory of the florals. It is really spectacular and I can see when I compare it from opening to fade-out to other perfumes that survive in some form from before 1921 how revolutionary and special Chanel No.5 was and still is.
The women, the “Old Ladies” if you will, who first wore it, were the most exciting and free generation of women in two thousand years. They sent their beau’s off to die in the trenches of the Great War. Those in America of the 48 states and in Great Britain won the vote. With the help of Chanel they cut their hair and threw away the corsets, rolled down their stockings and raised their skirts to scandalous heights. They smoked and drank with the men, danced shocking dances like the Black Bottom, the Shimmy Shake and the Tango. They went to work and left the home in ways and numbers they never had before. They kept their families together and going forward thought the Great Depression and then sent their husbands and sons to die in World War II. They were the foundation of womanhood for the 20th Century and the mothers of feminism. Those were the women who first wore Chanel No.5 and made it a legend.
There are women I know who tell me that Chanel No.5 is the only perfume they can wear. And when you come to know and understand the complexity and brilliance of No.5 it is easy to understand that statement. It is also a perfume I grew up smelling on the women in my family. When I smell it today I don’t see the old women they have become but the beautiful young women they were and always will be in my heart.
CHANEL NO.5 FIVE PLATINUM STARS *****