The Fragrance of Fame: The Star-Studded History of Chanel N°5 - Beauty
The Fragrance of Fame: The Star-Studded History of Chanel N°5

The Fragrance of Fame: The Star-Studded History of Chanel N°5

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Since its first incarnation in 1921, CHANEL N°5 threw habits and conventions to the wind. From a woman’s nighttime myth that took years to unravel, to a multi-million dollar production for a two-minute film, this is the story behind the scent’s century of celebrity.

Even if you’ve never owned or tried the CHANEL N°5—as ridiculous as that may sound for a modern woman—you surely know what it means to own and wear the scent. That is how you know something has crossed iconic status. More than just the scent itself, women have latched onto the history, emotion, and the overall character CHANEL has built through its portfolio of campaigns. It has defined what it means to “smell like a woman”, and it didn’t come by happenstance—well, not entirely.

CHANEL N°5 throughout the years

Simultaneously carrying the feeling of sexiness and purity with its unrivaled freshness, the N°5 is a feminine scent through and through. Its legacy has been built by the words and support of a multitude of superstars throughout the decades. These stories would ultimately form how women see the perfume until today. However, this allure wouldn’t take shape if it weren’t for the memorable campaigns and spontaneous moments the N°5 has had with prominent women across generations. From sex appeal to sophistication, this is the how the CHANEL N°5 became the undeniable fragrance of fame.

Gabrielle Chanel Makes History

In an age where print advertising was filled with seemingly ubiquitous models and vivid artist interpretations of a product’s persona, having celebrity endorsements wasn’t commonplace. Creatives rolled up their sleeves to craft the next iconic print ad through stunning color and imagery. However, none would be as bold as Gabrielle Chanel herself when it came to product promotion.

In promoting her own fragrance, the CHANEL N°5, Gabrielle Chanel decided that she will be the one to grace the spotlight

In promoting her own fragrance, the CHANEL N°5, she decided that she will be the one to grace the spotlight—a decision unheard of during that time. As the first woman to be the face of her own brand, Gabrielle Chanel instantly set the N°5 apart from other perfumes. So, on one fateful day in 1932, Gabrielle Chanel leaned up against a fireplace in a suite at the Ritz, posed in front of François Kollar’s camera, and the rest was history.

From the Lips of Marilyn Monroe

Arguably the definition of superstar itself, Marilyn Monroe rests at the upper echelon of fame and femininity. To have any association with her would be divine, and for CHANEL during the 1950s, they found themselves deep in the personal life of the Hollywood blonde in the most unexpected of ways.

On April 7, 1952, then 26-year old Marilyn Monroe starred in her first cover of LIFE Magazine. In the cover story, she utters a quote now etched in the minds of every beauty historian forever. “Once this fellow says, ‘Marilyn, what do you wear to bed?’ So I said I only wear Chanel No. 5,” Marilyn recalls.

Marilyn Monroe rests at the upper echelon of fame and femininity.

It was a recollection by Marilyn of some previous interview, so the details of it is shrouded in mystery. However, just a year later in 1953 during a photo shoot with Bob Beerman for Modern Screen Magazine, Marilyn recreates this nighttime scene by posing in her bed nude with a bottle of N°5 right beside her—a visual follow-up to her previously-published quote. Then, in an interview for Marie Claire Magazine in 1960, Monroe finally utters the beloved scent on tape, legitimizing her previous statement and consecrating the fragrance as an icon:

“You know they ask you questions like, just an example, ‘What do you wear to bed? Do you wear a pajama top? The bottom of pajamas? Or the nightgown?’ So I said Chanel No. 5, because it’s the truth. And yet, I don’t want to say nude, but it’s the truth.”

Marilyn Monroe, in an interview for Marie Claire Magazine, 1960

Silver Screen Beauties

Following the entry of the N°5 into every woman’s streams of consciousness after its blockbuster endorsement by Hollywood’s hottest star, the era of brand ambassadors for CHANEL took off. In the 1960s, Jacques Helleu, Artistic Director for CHANEL Fragrances up until 2007, chose some of the most gorgeous women in the world and called upon the biggest names in photography and film to capture their beauty for advertising campaigns that would go down in history.

Having celebrities personifying a fragrance was unheard of at the time. CHANEL not only made it happen, but paved the way to make it the norm today. Some of the greatest actresses throughout the decades, including Ali MacGraw, Lauren Hutton, Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet and Nicole Kidman became faces of the N°5 throughout the decades. One by one, they posed for famous photographers such as Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, and Dominique Issermann, and filmed under the guidance of renowned directors like Helmut Newton, Ridley Scott and Baz Luhrmann. From the roster, one etched in recent memory is the cinematic thrill and allure of No. 5 the Film by Baz Luhrmann starring Nicole Kidman, released in 2004. It is still regarded today as the most expensive ad produced, but carries the same weight in cultural impact as it did in budget. 

Continuing the legend of the N°5 is Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur, Head of Global Creative Resources Fragrance and Beauty Division for CHANEL, and Fine Jewelry and Watches Division since 2013. By choosing actress Marion Cotillard and director Johan Renck in 2020, he asserts its absolute modernity once more and further perpetuates the fantasy of this legendary fragrance.

Undoubtedly, the N°5 lives alongside the cultural appreciation of the arts and entertainment through its adoration from stars across generations. Today, a century after it first rested on the nightstands of women’s bedrooms, the N°5 rests as a true icon of femininity, transcending celebrity into posterity.

Commemorate a century of the N°5 with Chanel by visiting their official website. Shop the N°5 through the Rustan’s the Beauty Source online store.