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Coco Chanel, No. 5 & History's Scent

The wild history of Chanel No. 5, queen of perfumes, and the life of Coco Chanel – from convents to Nazis to jasmine and rose petals.

Gabriel "Coco" Chanel in her studio above her Paris salon, April 21, 1954. (AP)

We see style as a signifier of a moment in time, a cultural era.  Same for artworks, for cuisine and changing tastes, for the music that reaches our ears.  What about scent?

For a big chunk of the last century, the single most celebrated creation in the scent world has come in a bottle labeled Chanel No. 5.

As a cultural artifact, it’s loaded.  With jasmine, rose petal, musk.  With Madison Avenue and Marilyn Monroe.  With orphanage, czarina, convent laundry, Moulin Rouge, Nazis, and American GIs coming home from war.

The story of Coco Chanel and Chanel No. 5.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Tilar Mazzeo, professor of English at Colby College and author of The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume. You can read an excerpt.

Tania Sanchez, perfume critic and co-author, with Luca Turin, of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.

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