The Evolution of Chanel No 5

Chanel No. 5 was born in 1920 and was originally created as a limited edition of only 100 bottles to give as holiday gifts for customers of the Chanel boutique. But first there was a guerrilla marketing launch when to celebrate the invention of the scene, Coco Chanel made up a party at a fashionable restaurant in Cannes. Throughout the evening, the story goes, she sneakily sprayed the air with the scent which created a lot of interest with the passing fashionable customers of the restaurant. At first, she claimed that the 100 bottles were the only ones but from late 1920 bottles had started to appear on the shelves of her boutique and were snapped up by eager customers. It was so popular that it was then released to the public in 1922 and has gone on to maintain its position as a much-loved global best seller.

Originally Chanel No. 5 was available in three strengths – Extrait Parfum/Perfume, Eay de Toilette in 1928 and Eau de Cologne in 1939. A parfum spray was introduced in 1958 and the iconic black and gold cologne sprays were also introduced in the same year.

Up until 1924 Chanel No.5 was only available to clients of Chanel boutiques and there was no marketing.

This cartoon, by the satirist Sem, was not actually advertising for No.5 but is one of the first pictures of the bottle.

Chanel was quite clear in her head about the type of bottle she wanted and one story says that it was modelled on a whisky decanter. Several perfume companies at the time had started to introduce sleek bottles but the majority of perfumes were still sold in ornate containers. The sleek, slightly masculine, lines of the bottle seems perfect for the scent and is a world away from the flowery perfumes that were popular in the early part of the C20.

Although the bottle hasn’t changed much in the intervening decades the changes that have been made can help collectors date the bottles.

The original 1920s bottle was gently curved at the edges and a utilitarian square glass plug for a stopper. It also had thin walls and a small label.

By 1924 a redesign was necessary as the thin glass of the original bottle was found to be too delicate for distribution. The corners of the new design were faceted and squared and the signature octagonal stopper was first introduced.

The new design was produced at the Cristalleries de Saint Louis.

1924 also saw Chanel form a partnership – Les Parfums Chanel – with the intention of taking the perfumes to an international marketing and bring it to the mainstream.

Interestingly the advertisements of this time feature around a dozen Chanel perfumes – all in the same bottles and all numbered – Chanel No.1, Chanel No.2, Chanel No.5, Chanel No.7, Chanel No.11, Chanel No.14, Chanel No. 20, Chanel No. 21, Chanel No.22, Chanel No. 27

The first advert for Chanel perfumes was on December 16th 1924 in the New York Times and advertising was, initially, reserved for the American market.

1929-32, due to the Great Depression, saw advertising budgets slashed and very few adverts appear at this time.

One change of this period was that Chanel started focusing on their pocket flacon versions of their perfumes (although they had been around since 1928). These were cheaper and advertising focused on these rather than the larger, more expensive, bottles.

By 1934 Chanel No. 5 was recognised as the signature Chanel perfume and the other numbered perfumes were not mentioned (as much) in advertising.

The first advert which only shows No. 5 was June 10 1934, again in the New York Times.

Sales of No. 5 boomed during the war years. In France, German soldiers queued for hours for a bottle to take back to loved ones as a souvenir. In America, new factories were opened to supply eager customers and a very exciting tale of smuggling was enacted to ensure a supply of contraband jasmine from Grasse.

Again advertising was reduced and, indeed, in 1943-1944 there is not a single advert on record for Chanel perfumes. This was quite unusual as most firms stepped up their advertising, at least in the US, during the war years.

What Chanel did do, however, was to negotiate the distribution of Chanel No. 5 through the US Army – where it was sold tax-free. It was sold alongside other necessities and it was really this that transformed Chanel No. 5 from just being a luxury product to being a cultural symbol representing all that had been lost during the war.

Perfume sales in the US increased ten times during the years 1940-1945 and Chanel No. 5 was a large part of this market.

By the 1950s the stopper is still thick rectangular and emerald cut but narrower than before.

The shoulders of the bottle are now notched.

Between 1921-1951 the small O (used in number) used in any perfume beginning with No. will have a dot underneath it. After 1951 this is not used any longer.

The 1970s bottle is slightly different with a fatter neck than before. The stopper reaches the peak of its thickness.

Between 1970-87 all pure parfums have the word perfume underneath the fragrance name. After 1987 this changes to parfum.

The bottle again saw changes in 1986 when it became taller and the stopper is simplified but still rectangular. The label is medium sized in relation to the size of the bottle.

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