Course:History 104/ Chanel No.5

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History 104/Chanel No.5
HIST 104
Section: 99A
Instructor: Joy Dixon
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

1. History of Chanel
2. History of Perfumes
3. Perfume Trade
4. History of Chanel No.5 in technology and appearance design
5. Advertisement of Chanel No.5
6. References

1. Chanel No.5 History

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born in Saumur, France. When Chanel was twelve, bronchitis took her mother's life. Chanel's father sent his two sons to a farm to work as laborers and his three daughters to the convent of Aubazine. At the age of 18 Chanel had to move to a boarding house in the town of Moulins because she was too old to stay in the convent. Chanel learned to sew at the convent and was able to get a job as a seamstress. She also sang in a cabaret. This was when Chanel acquired the name "Coco", possibly originated from two famous songs, "Ko Ko Ri Ko", and "Qui qu'a vu Coco", or it was an allusion to the French word for kept woman, cocotte. At the age of 23, Chanel became the mistress of Balsan, a young French ex-cavalry officer and the wealthy textile heir. Chanel lived with Balsan for next three years at his chateau and was able to enjoy the rich life to the fullest. In 1908, Chanel started having an affair with one of Balsan's friend, Captain Arthur Edward 'Boy' Capel who financed Chanel's first shop. Chanel started designing hats while living with Balsan. After she became a licensed hat maker, she opened a boutique in Paris and named Chanel Modes in 1910. Chanel's business was continuously prosperous and she was able to acquire an entire building in one of the most fashionable districts in Paris in1918. Chanel was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, but she always remained single. In 1935, Chanel's company employed four thousand people. When World War II began, Chanel closed all of her shops because she thought that it was not a good time for fashion. Chanel also made a definitive claim of her political views. Chanel shared the anti-Semitism with Nazi-Germany. During the German occupation, Chanel stayed at the Hotel Ritz where upper echelon German military staff preferred to stay. Chanel used her position as an "Aryan" to appeal to German officials to strengthen the ownership of her company while the Nazi’s seized all Jewish owned property and business. Chanel had given the control of her perfume business to the Wertheimer brothers, but after seeing Chanel No.5's success, she tried to use her anti-sematic authority to gain control back of her company. This legal battle took many years, and continued even after the war had ended. Although Chanel came back to Paris in 1954, she moved to Switzerland in 1945. Chanel re-entered the fashion business against her famous and successful male competitors: Christian Dior, Chritobal Balenciaga, and Robert Piguet. Her new collection was not welcomed as much due to her damaged reputation by wartime socialization with Nazis. In 1971, the 87-year-old fashion designer was found dead at the Hotel Ritz where she lived for more than 30 years.

2. History of Perfumes

Perfumes have come in many different forms and have had many different uses in the past. Scents were available in the form of toilet waters, incense, dry powders, ointments, and oils. The ancient world used perfumes for the purposes of attraction, as an ingredient in foods at dinner parties, events, parades, to scent wines, and to make households smell pleasant. Scents were thought to have healing powers. Different cultures view the concept of fragrance differently. For example, the aboriginal people of Malay Peninsula associate scents with the means to communicate with spirits . Modes of application also differed: decorating oneself with herbs and flowers, drinking perfumes, and steaming oneself with scents. The ancient Greeks and Romans planted many different herbs, plants, and flowers in their gardens that they later used to make scented perfumes out of. Certain ingredients had to be imported from Arabia: cinnamon, cassia, aromatic resins such as myrrh and frankincense. The Kings and Queens of the world had teams of perfume makers working for them, creating many different scents. During the Renaissance perfumes were associated with wealth and class and very commonly used by all royalty. In the 16th to the 17th century perfume popularity reached its highest level in Europe. In the 18th and early 19th centuries sanitary reform began due to the Industrial Revolution and population and city growths. As personal hygiene increased, perfumes were no longer seen as a necessity, rather they entered the category of “frivolity”. The “olfactory revolution” was the movement to deodorize the world and its surroundings, as the absence of smell began to be associated with cleanliness . Different scents began to be associated with the different sexes in the 19th century. Fashion designer fragrances gained popularity in the 20th century . France dominated the designer fragrance world in the early 20th century. Grasse, a region in France, which was once known for its leather glove making industry, is now considered the world’s perfume center.

3. History of Perfume Trade

Some say scent was discovered in Mesopotamia, others that it originated in Arabia, which is still known as the ‘Land of Perfumes’ . Arabs and Persians originally had wider access to different spices, herbs, and other fragrances. In addition to trading them, many of these exotic materials were cultivated by the Muslims such that they could be successfully grown outside of their native climates. Two examples were jasmine and various citruses, which were thought to originate from South and Southeast Asia. Both of these ingredients remain important in modern perfumery . The first record of trade in perfume, in the form of incense, is in Genesis . Much of our knowledge of early Arab perfumes comes from a book of perfume recipes by Yakub al-Kindi (AD 803-870) called The Book of Perfume Chemistry and Distillation . In 7th century Persia, under the Abbasid caliphate who ruled until the thirteenth century, perfume making was refined into an art. The Persians traded with India, the East Indies and China. Returning Crusaders brought back Arab perfumes to the Christian world. We see in the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth bitterly complains, “All the perfumes of Arabia, could not wash her hands of the blood of the murdered King Duncan.” Eggs and floral perfumes were brought to Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries from Arabia through trade with the Islamic world and with the returning Crusaders. Those who traded for these were most often also involved in trade for spices and dyestuffs. Knowledge of perfumery came to Europe in the 14th century due partially to Arabic influences. But it was the Hungarians who ultimately introduced the first modern perfume, which was made by the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary in1370. It was composed of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution and was called Hungary Water . In the 16th century, Italian refinements were taken to France by Catherine de' Medici's personal perfumer, Rene le Florentine. The Florentine Medici family encouraged research into the medicinal properties of plants and Italian perfumers increased their production of scent compositions for the rich and mercantile classes. ‘Frangipani’ which is a powder of every known spice added to the orris root, with a touch of civet, became popular when Mercutio Frangipani, a learnedbotanist, sailed to the New World with Columbus. He found the flower Plumerta alba in Antigua and renamed them Frangipani. He distilled the flowers and made the perfume with hints of wine. Perfumers were also spice-sellers and alchemists, and perfume was bought from apothecaries. There were hundreds of therapeutic perfumes with many ingredients, which were burnt as incense. Paolo Feminis, a Milanese commercial traveller who eventually settled in Cologne, made the first eau de cologne in the 17th century. From there he sold his Aqua Mirabilis. Also, in early America, the first scents were colognes and scented water by French explorers in New France.

4. History of Chanel No.5 in technology and appearance design

Chanel No.5 refers to Gabrielle Chanel’s first perfume whose chemical formula was subject to effort by Ernest Beaux, a chemist with Russian-French origin (Mazzeo, 2011, p.45). Chanel No.5 formula has undergone minor variation since the perfume’s creation; indeed, the notable changes have been nitro-musks’ and natural civet’s exclusions (Mazzeo, 2011, p.45). Ideally, the perfume is characteristic of significant history with respect to its creation technology and chemistry, and its bottle design. The technological and chemical history of Chanel No.5 revolves around various fragrant oils, solvents, and fixatives, alongside the mixing techniques used to make the perfume (RSI, 2013, par9). The chemical history of Chanel No.5 drew its base from aldehyde’s revolution. The chemical history of Chanel No.5 started with Chanel’s inspection of samples prepared by Beaux (RSI, 2013, par11). The samples were in glasses with the labels 1 to 5, and 20 to 24; Chanel chose number 5, a woman scented perfume (RSI, 2013, par11). Early perfumes saw the use of both oil and alcohol based techniques. The oil-based techniques made use of such natural materials as lily, rose, and jasmine, alongside such synthetic materials as nitromusks and vanillin. The alcohol based techniques used both branched and straight chain aldehydes. The branched-chain aldehydes have the potential of producing a pleasant, strong smell, hence their widespread use in the production of Chanel No.5. Dilution and distillation methods have also been employed in the processing of Chanel No.5 (RSI, 2013, par12). The bottle design has been fundamental to the history of Chanel No.5. Chanel wanted to design a bottle that would offer an alternative for fragrance bottles that had drawn popularity from Baccarat and Lalique (RSI, 2013, par12). She opted for a pure transparent bottle, which drew substantial inspiration from the beveled lines that existed on her lover’s favourite Charvetbottles (Mazzeo, 2011, p.56). There exist significant variation between the current Chanel No.5 bottle and the bottle of 1919. The first bottle had minor, roundish shoulders; sales were only to specific clients, inside Chanel boutiques (Mazzeo, 2011, p.56). The major change of design happened in 1924 following the realization that the glass used in the containers was too thin for distribution and shipping. The bottle modified using squared and faceted corners. According to the 1923 marketing brochure, the fragrance drew its perfection as a product from the unique container. The bottle has not undergone significant changes since 1924, but the stopper has been subject to a number of modifications. From a glass plug, in 1924, the stopper has gone through the forms of an octagonal stopper, and a thick silhouette to the current prominent form (Mazzeo, 2011, p.58).

5. Advertisement of Chanel No.5

The iconic perfume Chanel No.5, created in 1921 has gone through ups and downs of marketing to maintain it’s luxurious allure. The 1930s saw years of print ads and sales in high-end department stores, rising sales and an ever-growing popularity in French and American civilians. In the following decade, advertisement was reduced significantly to enhance the exclusivity and elusiveness of the brand. This mystique was helped along further in the 50’s when celebrated actress Marilyn Monroe endorsed the perfume in an interview. When asked what she wore to bed, she provocatively responded “Five drops of Chanel No5.” As the glamour faded into the next ten years, Chanel pulled the scent from drugstores and other lower end outlets to once again raise it’s ambiguous charisma. Along the way, Chanel advertisers have had to adjust depending on the culture and time period they sell to. At its core in France, little advertisement is needed, the elegant boutiques it is sold from and the stylish upper class that uses it has been enough promotion. In the United States, however a middle ground has been established between being exclusive and still maintaining sales/profits, through alteration of ads and promotion. For example, after WW II, damage control ensued after the American fan base of Chanel was tainted due to its founder’s romantic involvement with a prominent Nazi leader. In an act of atonement she handed out free bottles to any American GI who wanted one. Men lined up to take a bottle as a souvenir back to loved ones back home which added to the aura of romance and charm surrounding the brand. After the war, her scent was so widely known that publicity started to arise at no cost to the company. Revered artists Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol included representations of the iconic No. 5 bottle in their work. More recently Chanel has had ad campaigns featuring celebrities that also possess the prestigious qualities portrayed in the perfume. Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman and Audrey Tautou. All were targeted because of their elegant look, classy appeal and glamorous lifestyles. In 2012, the first male was cast to represent the scent, Brad Pitt, perhaps to once again liven up the brand, or add a more rugged natural appeal to it compared to their previous starlet portrayal. Critics accused his representation as being a cliché and too melodramatic. Currently, Chanel has reverted to its old ties with Marilyn Monroe using photographs of the passed actress to accompany the classic bottle in various marketing strategies.


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