It seems that the history of CHANEL N°5 began at the very moment when Gabrielle Chanel learned of the death of her love Boy Capel, in December 1919.
Arthur Capel, known as 'Boy', held a central place in the history of Gabrielle Chanel. In his company, she became an avid reader and once he’d disappeared from her life, she pursued her lingering love for him through the books he’d asked her to read. This bereavement would fuel an intuition, and Gabrielle Chanel would sublimate it through the creation of her first perfume: CHANEL N°5. It was born of emptiness and of absence, closely linked to Gabrielle Chanel's destiny, reminiscence of a love that was violently interrupted but that she would cherish all her life. By sublimating bereavement in creation, Chanel indulged in an eternal perfume.
August 1920. While Gabrielle Chanel was mourning the death of Boy Capel, Misia and her husband José Maria Sert, persuaded her to accompany them to Venice. This voyage of discovery of the City of the Doges was both salutary and initiatory. Flamboyant and mysterious the many facets of the “Serenissimo” immediately seduced her as she made this city one of her favorite destinations and a continual source of inspiration.
A major transit point for trade and relations between East and West, Venice has played a major role throughout the history of the introduction of perfumes into Europe. Venetian merchants wanted to venture ever further along the routes to the East, as illustrated by Marco Polo, who reached China via the Silk Road in 1275. He recounted this voyage in his "Books of the Marvels of the World", which notably describes the refinement of Eastern civilizations. And it was in the City of the Doges that the first European treaty on perfumery was drafted in 1555.
Gabrielle Chanel met the perfumer Ernest Beaux in Grasse. This Frenchman worked as perfumer to the Court of the Tsar in Russia. Gabrielle Chanel entrusted him the task of creating her first perfume. Together, they invented “a woman's perfume, with the scent of a woman”, as she liked to call it.
Created like a haute couture dress, CHANEL N°5 was the first perfume to stand out as an abstraction: it went against the fashionable fragrances of that time, which more often than not evoked only one figurative scent such as rose, jasmine or lilac, no dominant note could be distinguished from among the eighty ingredients that composed it. Ernest Beaux mixed natural essences with synthetic products, aldehydes, which exalted all their freshness. This was one of the secrets of the audacious and innovative fragrance, which evoked a mysterious flower.