NO.5 ~ Chanel No.5



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.




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.




  1. I love Chanel N0 5, I have to say, and actually prefer the newer versions to the vintage musky thing; there is more sparkle. I love how you reach back in time with this one…..I can actually imagine the conversation in the bathtub being real and the perfume having that impact…

    Have you read the book by Tilar Mazzeo?

    • Ginza thank you for stopping by and reading my review. I too love the new Chanel No.5 Eau Premiere and the No.5 Elixir Sensuel. Yes I have read Tilar Mazzeo’s book on the history of No.5. That was my inspiration for the phone conversation in my review based on Coco Chanel’s first testing of the perfume in Cannes. I am by the way always thrilled when such a fine writer as you stops by my blog. Thank you!

  2. I love how you weaved the historical trajectory through time into the story, because no. 5 really IS such an icon. I can appreciate its beauty with a great deal of pleasure – on everyone else but me, where it turns to ashes and cinders and unspeakable horrors. Oh, well. I have no. 19. I’m not complaining. Thank you for (yet another!) incredible review.

    • I wonder why it turns to ash on your skin? But at least you can enjoy it when it walks past you on someone else. And No.19 is utterly amazing! Thanks for your kind comments.

  3. Classic story for a classic scent… I LOVE THIS.

    • I think you have a vintage bottle somewhere don’t you? “wink”


    • I thought of you and your love of Chanel several times while trying to compose my thoughts on this legendary fragrance. Love Love Love to you too Marie.

  5. Oh, how I enjoyed reading this! This is surely the best review of No5 I have ever read.
    I went straight to my collection and applied No5 extrait in your honor. Thank you, Lanier!

    • Dear sweet Birgit, the best you have ever read? Oh my goodness what a lovely complement. I am so very flattered. Thank you thank you so much! I bet you smell lovely in your No.5.

  6. Genius.

  7. What a touching, lovely review of a true beauty.

  8. Yours is the best perfume blog, Lanier. I always enjoy your exquisite tales.

  9. […] via NO.5 ~ Chanel No.5 | SCENTS MEMORY. […]

  10. Love this! You got me at “Barbarians.” And then again at “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.” 🙂

    • Oh gee thanks haefennasiel! It is true, they will always be beautiful young women to me.

  11. The last line gave me goosebumps. Merci, Lanier…

    • A little goosebump from time to time is a good thing. Cheers!

  12. Pulling out the No. 5 now. I always love your stories, Lanier! They never fail to make me laugh, gasp, and feel happier. Thank you!

  13. we have a bottle in the boudoir – wore it all around the world for the last fancy gig in manhattan.


    • Ah…that makes me sigh too. Hugs to Team Gloria!

      • a big MGM sweep of the arms and a hug back, darling.

  14. Fragrant prose by my favorite nose. It’s true. Good. Golly. I also can’t stop thinking about the gorgeous bathtub. It’s my dream bathtub, I do believe. I still have my aunt’s bottle of Chanel No.5. It was a high school graduation gift. I remember my splash. The month was May. The stars were out. Giddy, I felt. I recognized its power immediately. It’s still the perfect twilight fragrance.
    (I also loved your last line: “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.”

  15. Bravo! Loved this, Lanier! I always have a bottle of Chanel No.5 in my room. There are occasions when nothing else will do. It’s a classic. I feel very secure and confident when I wear it. 😉

  16. Dearest Lanier
    This is an epic and gorgeous review for a perfume with the exact same qualities.
    Your form and style here are, quite simply, as bright and sparkling as the aldehydes at No. 5’s unforgettable opening.
    The only sorry note in this wonderful piece is the horrible truth that those young women who adore ‘Miss Dior Cherie’ will find it no longer exists… it has assumed the title Miss Dior and the true perfume, like an unwanted dowager duchess, has been dumped to one side with the appellation ‘Originale’.
    How I hope that for all the experimetation with ‘Eau premieres’ and the like Chanel will be loyal to the Queen of its collection and, indeed, 20th Century perfumery, and keep No. 5 where it belongs…. at No. 1, pole position.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  17. Dear Lanier,
    I came across this post on fragrantica and it struck me as thorough and unique, very unusual way to write about scents. I greatly enjoy reading your blog and hope a book is in your plans…is it? The idea of revealing fragrances through stories is a good one. As for Number 5, I strangely resemble your characters Jackie and Tiffany. First time I tried it, the perfume scared me. There was nothing else I could compare it to and in my little library of smells this one registered as artificial and not suitable for skin. Luckily, my best friend worked at Chanel and she convinced me that over time a woman can grow into number 5. Which I have. I hope this is growing up, not growing old) I am 27 now. A few weeks ago I was shopping with a younger girl, 21 and she said, “I don’t get Number 5.” And I smiled and said, “Give it time.” Lovely post and wonderful blog, thank you very much.
    Best of luck,

    • Evgeniya,
      I love your story! No.5 is all about time in so many ways. Thank you so much for stoping in and taking the time to share your tale of No.5 . It is after all so much a part of my story. Sorry to say no book in the works, maybe someday!

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