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

The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume - Tilar J. Mazzeo This was an interesting book that I found pretty much by serendipity. I learned one or two things along the way not only about Chanel (the lady and the perfume) but also about the perfume industry itself. This book does two things. One, it provides a biography of Coco Chanel, the fashion designer of humble beginnings who went on to launch a fashion brand and created a perfume (with some help from some friends) that is now known the world over. Two, it is a history of Chanel No. 5, a perfume that is as iconic now as Coca-Cola. When you ask women to identify what they think is the world's most seductive perfume, the answer will be Chanel No 5. The perfume pretty much went on to have a life of its own and away from its creator. However, Coco Chanel spent a lot of her life struggling with her relationship with the perfume, a scent that was based off specific memories of her and a philosophy or belief of what made a seductive woman. The book takes us from the beginning of the century through the First World War to the Roaring 20s and the Depression and on to the start of the 21st century. So not only do you get a picture of the perfume, the brand, and the industry, but you also get a pretty good overview of the history and events of the time. These events-- wars, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, various new regulations over time over certain substances used in perfumes-- all played or continue to play a hand in shaping the perfume we know today. Sure, Chanel No. 5 has changed (pretty slightly) over the years from the first bottles. The achievement is in the fact that it is pretty close to that scent that came out at the beginning of the century. We learn how the perfume was not advertised initially; it was a word of mouth phenomenon.It picked up steam to the point that during World War II, soldiers in France, first the Germans, then the liberating Allies, all lined up at Rue Cambon to buy a bottle for the women in their lives. Coco Chanel does not always come out as a nice lady. She did make what many would see as some poor decisions, especially during World War II in relation to her business partners (who were Jewish). She did also make some fairly savvy decisions as well. After all, she did create Chanel No. 5, and she made a fortune on it. Readers who enjoy the book genre of microhistories will probably enjoy this book. The pacing is pretty good. At times it reads like a novel, and the technical parts where the process describing perfume making in the book are pretty accessible. I found myself learning a thing or two that I did not know before, and for me, that is always a good thing to say about a book.