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


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.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Jun 9, 2016

Newly-minted college graduates on the job hunt. We’ll look at who’s hiring, starting salaries, and strategies for landing that first job.

Jun 9, 2016

Europe, India and China, are taking on American tech giants over privacy, monopolies, and more. We’ll look at the global technology pushback against the U.S.A.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Jessica Valenti: ‘Objectification Is About Dehumanizing People’
Wednesday, Jun 8, 2016

“There is some power in laying claim to the word victim.” — Jessica Valenti on the Stanford sexual assault case, and the importance of language.

More »
Why The ‘Roots’ Remake Matters (And What Stays The Same)
Tuesday, Jun 7, 2016

The recent remake of “Roots” on the History Channel makes important changes, Morehouse College’s Stephane Dunn argues. But it also holds true to the original story.

More »
Former Trump Advisor Roger Stone: ‘Trump’s Going To Be The Next President’
Monday, Jun 6, 2016

Longtime political consultant Roger Stone apologizes for his “two martini tweets,” even as he predicts Donald Trump will be the next U.S. president.

More »