Synopses & Reviews
The unauthorized biography of the world's most famous, seductive, and successful perfume
With its rich golden hue, art deco-inspired bottle, and timeless, musky scent, Chanel No. 5 is the world's bestselling perfume. Reverently known among industry insiders as le monstre—the monster—it is arguably the most coveted consumer luxury product of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Yet how did this pioneering celebrity fragrance, introduced in the early 1920s, eventually take on a life of its own, becoming a cultural monument celebrated by millions of devoted consumers?
The Secret of Chanel No. 5 is Tilar J. Mazzeo's far-ranging and fascinating search beyond the stuff of legend to uncover the full story of No. 5's creation, iconic status, and extraordinary success. Mazzeo goes back through time and deep into the life of Coco Chanel, the brilliant, controversial, and steel-willed businesswoman at the heart of the fragrance. She takes readers to the rose plantations and celebrated jasmine fields where the perfume begins and then to the laboratories and boardrooms where scent and sex are forever intertwined. And she travels to the heart of the Chanel empire: 31 Rue Cambon, Coco Chanel's flagship boutique, where six decades ago American GIs stormed the counters to possess the magical elixir that captured the luxury and romance of Paris for their girls back home.
A blend of evocative history and thoughtful research, here is a glittering account of where art and sensuality mingle with dazzling entrepreneurship and desire: Chanel No. 5.
"Mazzeo's (The Widow Cliquot) cloying and repetitive history of Chanel No. 5 finds the perfume's phenomenal success to have occurred in spite of its creator's efforts. Mazzeo reveals that the now instantly recognizable scent of heavy jasmine, rose, and musk combined with a good dose of 'unblemished whiteness' produced by synthetic aldehydes was not actually invented by Coco Chanel in 1920, at the height of her fashion fame. In fact, she and her lover at the time, dispossessed Russian aristocrat Dmitri Pavlovich, recreated the scent from a perfume that had originally been fashioned for a Romanov dynasty celebration in 1914, le Bouquet de Catherine. According to Mazzeo, the newly fashioned Chanel No. 5 (Coco's lucky number) embodied the saintly mysteries of her childhood orphanage at Aubazine, the heady sensuality of her early career as a demimondaine, and the bracing clean lines of her modern design. A woman 'should smell like a woman and not like a flower,' she famously declared. In this fascinating story, Mazzeo depicts painstakingly how signing away her rights to the industrialist Wertheimer brothers in 1924 prompted perfume sales to soar worldwide, especially when the brothers were able to remove production to New Jersey during WWII. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“Who knew that such a tiny bottle housed so many secrets?” —Michael Tonello, author of Bringing Home the Birkin
Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of the New York Times bestseller The Widow Clicquot (an Amazon Best of the Month book in October 2008) returns with a captivating history of the worlds most famous, seductive, and popular perfume: Chanel No. 5. Mazzeos sweeping story of the iconic scent (known as “le monstre” in the fragrance industry) stretches from Coco Chanels early success to the rise of the seminal fragrance during the 1950s to the confirmation of its bestseller status in todays crowded perfume market.
“Here is the life of one of the 20th centurys most interesting and deeply complicated women, a fascinating cultural history, and the story of an extraordinary perfume.” —Chandler Burr, New York Times scent critic and author of The Perfect Scent
About the Author
Tilar J. Mazzeo is the author of numerous works of cultural history and biography, including the New York Times bestselling The Widow Clicquot, The Secret of Chanel No. 5, and nearly two dozen other books, articles, essays, and reviews on wine, travel, and the history of luxury. The Clara C. Piper Associate Professor of English at Colby College, she divides her time between coastal Maine, New York City, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.