Review of Chanel No. 5 Perfume: Is It Worth the Hype?

The world's most legendary fragrance.

chanel no 5 perfume

Star Donaldson/Design by Cristina Cianci

So, of course, you've heard of the perfume Chanel No. 5. But what is the history of it and more to the point—is this fragrance for you? Here's our review of the world's most iconic perfume.

History of Chanel No. 5

In 1921, Parisian fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel asked Russian perfumer to the czars Ernest Beaux to create something "that smells like a woman, not a flower bed."

There are lots of stories about the origin of this scent but my favorite goes like this: Beaux came up with several different scents and since Chanel was in the midst of a horrible headache, she instructed him to leave the bottles on the mantel. Minutes after he left, she sprang from the sofa and began sniffing the contents of the bottles. It seems that the fifth bottle caught her attention and bottle number five was chosen. Five was also her lucky number. True or not? No one really knows except Chanel herself.

The resulting elixir would become the world's most iconic fragrance. An instant sales success when it was born, Chanel No. 5 remains the grande dame of perfume sales to this day, with a bottle sold worldwide every 30 seconds. The simple, rectangular bottle—representing Coco Chanel's "less is more" philosophy—is a classic too, and in 1959 won a place for the scent in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

A Star Is Born

The creation of No. 5 debuted a brand-new kind of perfume to the world. Perfumer Ernest Beaux, while developing samples for Chanel's approval, created and used for the first time a synthetic component called aldehydes. The man-made element has a complex scent which, while not found in nature, is pleasant and recognizable to the nose. It is often described as the smell of laundry that has been dried outside on a cool day. The heavy dose of aldehydes in No. 5, along with more familiar florals, is what gives the perfume its opening burst of crispness and sparkle.

What Becomes a Legend Most

No. 5 has been the fragrance of choice for many legendary celebrities over the years, including Marilyn Monroe, who famously stated that she wore nothing else to bed. Today, Hollywood's brightest stars continue to choose Chanel No. 5, no doubt attracted by the brand's sophistication and womanly glamor. Eva Mendes, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Alba, Celine Dion, and Claudia Schiffer are all reportedly fans.

What It Smells Like

Amazingly, for such a strongly branded fragrance, No. 5 is a scent that can smell radically different from one person to another. A highly complex blend of aldehydes and florals—including rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, lily of the valley, and iris—layered over a warm, woody base of vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, and patchouli—this perfume satisfies Chanel's request that No. 5 smell like a "composition" rather than any single flower. However well blended, though, No. 5 can react in surprising ways when exposed to body chemistry. One may love Chanel No. 5 for its powdery florals and fresh soap smell, while another is wrinkling their nose at its harsh chemical-and-musk tang. With this perfume, you pay your money, you take your chances—but we recommend getting a sample before you buy.

A New Take on Chanel No. 5

Perfumer Olivier Polge (his father was Chanel's main perfumer for decades) came up with his own iteration of the iconic scent, which was launched in the fall of 2016. Chanel No. 5 L’Eau is a fresh, modern take on the classic perfume. 

chanel no 5 on white background

Star Donaldson/BYRDIE

Similar Perfumes

Like Chanel No. 5, Hermes Kelly Caleche ($173) is a floral aldehyde, with notes of bergamot, lemon, cypress, and orange blossom. For those who crave more citrus than No. 5 can offer, it's a good option. Lanvin Arpege ($60) is another aldehyde with elegant floral notes grounded in the more woody notes of sandalwood and musk (which makes it a slightly less feminine take on the classic).


Chanel No. 5 becomes slightlier woodier as it dries down—so expect the floral aroma to give way to some of the sultrier notes, like sandalwood and patchouli. Even when dry, the scent lasts up to eight hours.

Pros and Cons

As far as pros go, Chanel No. 5 is a classic. That means the bottle is gorgeous and the fragrance works on a range of people. It also feels luxe and elegant, but is wearable enough for daytime.

Con-wise, this is the best-selling perfume of all time—which means if you're looking for a unique scent, this might not be for you. Also, some reviewers have noted the scent feels a bit dated when compared to newer products on the market.

Scent Notes

The top notes of the scent are aldehydes, ylang-ylang, neroli, bergamot, and lemon, with middle notes of iris, jasmine, rose, orris root, and lily of the valley. The base notes are civet, sandalwood, amber, musk, moss, vetiver, vanilla, and patchouli.

How to Use

As a mature floral-aldehyde, Chanel No. 5 is well-suited to daytime wear. Just apply with caution, as the scent is very concentrated. Most experts will advise applying directly to pulse points—the wrists, behind the knees, and on the small of your neck—for everyday wear. We don't recommend applying over four sprays, as the scent does last a while and too much could prove overpowering.

The Best Seasons to Wear the Scent

Chanel No. 5 works both day or night and really any time of the year. That being said, the brand does have a more summery option. No. 5 L'eau ($146) features lemon, mandarin, and orange, along with floral notes of jasmine and rose.

But if it's the classic you're after, you can purchase Chanel No. 5 ($90 and up) at just about every major retailer, including Sephora, Ulta, and Macy's.

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