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Chanel No. 5: The World's Best Selling Perfume
Although there are more designer perfumes than ever, many come and go on the market with the lifespan of a mayfly. There have been very, very few perfumes who have been consistent top sellers for decades. Created by Gabrielle Coco Chanel in 1921, it has taken a twist on the basic, delightful scent of jasmine and hasn't stopped since. It was reported to be Marilyn Monroe's top perfume, especially with her revelation in an interview, "All I wear to bed are two drops of Chanel No.5."
What's In There?
To this day, the Chanel Company will not disclose what the formula is for Chanel No. 5. Under laboratory tests, this best selling perfume seems to be made of six essential oils and a fixative of the musk from civet cats. This is harvested in an inhumane way. In order to keep the best selling perfume from dropping out of sight because of animal rights activists, the Chanel Company has admitted that civet is used in Chanel No.5. In 1998, they also announced that they had found a good enough synthetic replacement for real civet musk.
A perfume is a symphony of scent, made up what perfumers call "notes". The top notes are what the perfume first smells like. These smells quickly fade, letting the middle notes take over. The middle notes tend to be the harmony to a perfume. But the longest lasting impression of a perfume is made up of the base notes. These are usually all made up of essential oils.
In the world's best selling perfume, the top notes are of ylang ylang and neroli, the middle notes of May rose and jasmine. There's nothing too unusual there. These are all flowery scents – the neroli quite orangey – considered standards in women's perfumes. But the base notes use much more masculine scents of sandalwood, vetiver and vanilla. Vanilla is known to be an aphrodisiac to men and is now a staple in many best selling perfumes.
But it’s the addition of sandalwood and vetiver that really was made Chanel No.5 so distinctive and revolutionary (well, revolutionary for perfume, anyway). In 1921, it all women's perfumes were made from the essential oils of flowers, with perhaps some ambergris, too. All women were expected to smell like flowers.
Sandalwood is aptly named, with a complex, woody scent usually associated with men. Sandalwood has also been used in religious rituals in Asia for centuries, so there was the bit of the sacred associated with the scent. Chanel No.5 is a very complex, multi-dimensional scent, much like women themselves. This nod to women's masculine side is perhaps one reason why it is the world's best selling perfume.