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 "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 woman 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 woman may love Chanel No. 5 for its powdery florals and fresh soap smell, while another is wrinkling her 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 take on this 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

Where and When to Wear It

As a mature floral-aldehyde, Chanel No. 5 is well-suited to daytime wear. Just apply with caution, as the scent is very concentrated.

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