The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume

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Overview

With its rich golden hue, art deco?inspired bottle, and timeless, musky scent, Chanel No. 5 is the world?s bestselling perfume and arguably the most coveted luxury product of the twentieth century. In The Secret of Chanel No. 5, Tilar J. Mazzeo offers a fascinating account of No. 5?s creation, its rise to iconic status, and the legacy of its extraordinary success. Mazzeo delves deeply into the life of Coco Chanel, the brilliant, controversial, and steel-willed businesswoman at the heart of the fragrance. She ...

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The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume

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Overview

With its rich golden hue, art deco–inspired bottle, and timeless, musky scent, Chanel No. 5 is the world’s bestselling perfume and arguably the most coveted luxury product of the twentieth century. In The Secret of Chanel No. 5, Tilar J. Mazzeo offers a fascinating account of No. 5’s creation, its rise to iconic status, and the legacy of its extraordinary success. Mazzeo delves deeply into the life of Coco Chanel, the brilliant, controversial, and steel-willed businesswoman at the heart of the fragrance. She walks the rose plantations and jasmine fields where the perfume’s life begins, and travels to 31 Rue Cambon, the center of the Chanel empire. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In a world saturated with perfume aromas, Chanel No. 5 stands out. For nine decades, this celebrated fragrance has maintained its popularity even against thousands of more recent competitors. In fact, this iconic scent remains the world's bestselling perfume: According to Chanel, a bottle is purchased every 55 seconds. Tilar J. Mazzeo's The Secret of Chanel No. 5 unwraps the package of its captivating history and elusive appeal. Intimate and elegant.

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
Mazzeo's (English, Colby Coll.; The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It) "unauthorized biography of a scent" unearths the roots of the creation and fame of Coco Chanel's famous perfume, which still polls as the "most seductive scent" almost 90 years after it went on the market. Although Coco Chanel serves as a lens for the book, readers get a look at the explosion of the French perfume industry after World War I, the importance of American consumerism in skyrocketing perfume sales, and Chanel No. 5's place in 20th-century history. Mazzeo's lush prose covers relevant aspects of Coco Chanel's life, from the stark beauty of the orphanage where she was raised to the glamour and luxury of her adulthood, to the scents that wove through her life and shaped the development of her signature perfume. However, the book never bogs down in the details—despite the extensive research showcased in the bibliography—and a smooth pacing keeps it moving along at a fast clip. VERDICT This work is definitely recommended to lovers of 20th-century cultural history, Coco Chanel, and, of course, the world's best-selling perfume.—Crystal Goldman, San Jose St. Univ. Lib., CA
Kirkus Reviews

The bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot (2008) turns her attention to the world's most iconic perfume and the fascinating woman behind it.

Much has already been written about Coco Chanel, and with good reason—not only because of her undeniable legacy, but also because of a life story usually viewed through the lens of 19th-century bildungsroman novels. Abandoned by her parents to a convent, she was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, a mistress to the French aristocracy and an acquaintance of ruined Russian royalty—all while building the greatest fashion empire in the world. Chanel No. 5, her signature fragrance, was only a tiny part of this remarkable life. However, in the skilled hands of cultural historian Mazzeo (English/Colby Coll.), it becomes a magnificent window through which to understand her and her milieu.The author argues that the scent was the crown of Chanel's career and that it weaves together many of the obscure pieces of her life in an intriguing way—from the passion for cleanliness that she inherited from the nuns that raised her to the seductive musks she picked up in the dressing rooms as a burlesque dancer to the almost forgotten Moscow perfumer that she learned about from a lover exiled on the Riviera. Chanel No. 5, "the scent of beautiful extravagance," is also a perfect example of Chanel's remarkable business sense. In explaining how decisions like using a simple apothecary bottle in place of a more ornate design or giving out samples to friends at a pre-launch party paved the road for the perfume's market dominance, Mazzeo illuminates the greater success of the Chanel line as a whole.

Impeccable research and crafting make a seemingly narrow topic feel infinitely important.

New York Times Book Review
“[Mazzeo] explores interconnections between designer and perfume, teasing out the relationship with delicacy.”
Wall Street Journal
“Engaging.”
Booklist
“This is one case where historical fact eclipses the legend and lore of the object itself—there’s much, much more than meets the nose to discover in these pages.”
Chandler Burr
“Mazzeo has written an account of the rarest of things-an international olfactory icon-that fairly rushes off the pages. Here is the life of one of the 20th century’s most interesting and deeply complicated women, a fascinating cultural history, and the story of an extraordinary perfume.”
Michael Tonello
“The true brilliance of The Secret of Chanel No. 5 is Tilar Mazzeo’s ability to take a subject one would never have thought possible to think very deeply about and then cover it so captivatingly. Who knew that such a tiny bottle housed so many secrets?”
Karen Karbo
“Anyone who’s ever dawdled in front of a perfume counter will love Tilar Mazzeo’s fascinating history of the perfume known simply as No. 5; her rich and witty account is as compelling as the fragrance itself. ”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061791017
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/9/2010
  • Pages: 281
  • Sales rank: 404,518
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Tilar J. Mazzeo

Tilar J. Mazzeo is a cultural historian and biographer, and a passionate student of wine and food culture. An assistant professor at Colby College in Maine, she divides her time between the California wine country and New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 26, 2010

    Business meets history meets novel

    Tilar Mazzeo has a rare talent to bring business history to life. She definitely goes through a thorough research for each of her books, and at the same time bring it to life in a novel like writing.

    This book is great for anyone who think they know about Chanel, luxury business, marketing, or simply love and relationship. You know more about the business, but also the person behind Chanel.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Well written for fans of perfume and the culture that brought it to us

    Well written historical view of perfume and culture around it. You have to be into fashion and cultural history to really get into this. I decided to read it after seeing a couple of the Chanel movies (if you liked 'Coco and Igor' you may like this, too).

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2011

    Could not put it down!! Excellent.

    I have been a fan of Tilar Mazzeo since I read The Widow Clicquot. She has this magnificent skill of mixing history, business and romance.
    Once you start a Mazzeo book, it is hard to put it down.
    She also completes the package by always having great design on her books.
    Can-t wait till Ritz at War comes out. :))

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 5, 2012

    Great History book

    great read history for non academics.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    Would this be appropriate for a 14 yr old?

    Just wondering about the content here.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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