November 8, 2010
Mlle.'s Nazi sympathies is known to some, but who knew that the most beloved perfume, the every essence of 'All that is French' was manufactured in New Jersey? Hoboken?
"Chanel No. 5, the perfume synonymous with Francophile luxury and celebrity decadence, was not always — oo la la! — from France.
While World War II raged in Europe, the perfume factory was moved to, of all places, New Jersey, according to a new book, "The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume ."
It was a horrifying turn of events for designer Coco Chanel. Her chic cologne was being made in the Garden State, although the materials were smuggled in from France.
"It is monstrous," Chanel had sniffed, according to the book's author, Tilar Mazzeo. "They produced it in Hoboken!"
Mazzeo unravels the mystery behind the world's most engaging scent, tracing its inception to its creator's humble origins and chronicling its rise to fame on the décolletages of Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Nicole Kidman and Scarlett Johansson. Even Marlon Brando was reportedly a wearer of the women's fragrance.
"It's a kind of Frankenstein myth," Mazzeo told The Post. "It's a story of what happens when someone creates something that becomes so big that it defines her life."
It's nothing to sneeze at. Chanel No. 5 — at $400 an ounce — is more than a just a luxury item, it has represented a way of life for 90 years.
"Perfume, it's the most important thing," Coco Chanel insisted.
Smells had always been important to Chanel, who was a charity-case orphan in a small French village. The gardens, the incense-filled churches and hand-made tallow soap all inspired her.
When she had moved up the social ladder from cabaret girl to clothing designer, she drew on these elements to create the most revered perfume of all time.
With the help of perfumer Ernest Beaux, Chanel combined the "high" aroma of roses, associated with the well-to-do, and the "low" smell of jasmine, linked to brothels.
Chanel said she sought to make a "perfume like nothing else. A woman's perfume, with the scent of a woman."
In 1920, she achieved her goal, making the most expensive perfume of its time, blending flowers from Grasse, France, where a pound of jasmine now goes for $33,000.
But it's the secret ingredient that made it truly special. Beaux added recently discovered synthetic molecules called aldehydes, now used in detergents and room fresheners. The "clean" air smell gave the perfume its je ne sais quoi.
Less than a decade later, Chanel sold 90 percent of her stake in the perfume, a decision that would haunt her until death.
But the story of Chanel's success took a dark turn. While the perfume's new owners moved production to America to escape the Nazis, she became a Nazi sympathizer, shacking up with an SS officer during the French occupation.
By then, the perfume's legend overshadowed its creator's politics. Chanel No. 5 had become something intangible, a scent for a real woman." – SOURCE: Susannah Callahan, NY Post
– Michelyn Camen, Editor-in-Chief
Editor's Note If you would like to learn more about the artists and writers under Nazi Occupied France, I suggest you read The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation by Frederick Spotts