The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Date: November 2010
Duration: 8 hours 1 minutes
Every minute, someone buys an Art Deco-inspired, amber-hued bottle of Chanel No. 5'to the tune of more than half a million bottles a year. Considering that nearly ninety years have passed since No. 5's creation, this statistic alone makes a compelling case for the perfume's stature as the world's most famous. However, its cultural impact might be even more staggering than its business success: Andy Warhol's silk-screened version of bottle helped to make its image iconic; Mitch Ryder's "Devil in a Blue Dress" famously wore it; and, when Marilyn Monroe was asked what she wore to bed, she replied, with more than a hint of flirtation: "Why, Chanel No. 5 of course." Adding to the perfume's prestige, some of the most glamorous actresses of our age, including Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Kidman, and Audrey Tautou, have been its official face.
We all know the story of Coco Chanel, but how much do we actually know about her signature perfume'a fragrance that has enjoyed remarkable success for nearly a century?
The Secret of Chanel No. 5 is the story of Tilar J. Mazzeo's far-ranging and often quixotic search to discover the answer'and of the fascinating detours into the history of perfume that come from asking the question: What is the secret behind No. 5's creation, iconic status, and extraordinary success? Does the secret rest, as some experts believe, in the celebrated jasmine fields that line the back roads of the south of France, or in the delicate, proprietary roses that Chanel grows in Grasse? Does Aubazine'the Cistercian convent and childhood home of Coco (then known as Gabrielle Bonheur) 'hold the answer in its scrubbed cleanliness and austere architecture? Is it simply brilliant marketing, Madison Avenue style? Could it just be a simple matter of organic chemistry, the neurology of smell, and the inherent connections between scent and sex? Or does it all come back to a memorable moment during the Second World War when this one French perfume came to symbolize for a generation of soldiers and their girls back home all the luxury and romance that had been lost for so many and for so long?
Blending strong personal narrative with thoughtful research, The Secret of Chanel No. 5 takes the reader on a journey of discovery into the legend of this iconic perfume and, along the way, untangles something about our own relationship to luxury and sensual pleasure. Taking alternately historical, personal, scientific, and commercial approaches to solve the riddle of Chanel No. 5's unprecedented popularity, this is an intimate and engaging account of what it means to explore the multi-faceted nature of any cultural icon, and of the narrative power of luxury itself.