I was thirteen when I first read that Marilyn Monroe only wore Chanel No. 5 to bed – nothing else. I immediately added the perfume to my Christmas list, and when I unwrapped it on Christmas Day, I was fairly disappointed. It smelled musky and pungent, it smelled dated… and after several more sniffs, it smelled like my Grammy. Grammy’s signature scent for as long as I could remember was Chanel No. 5, and I didn’t know it until that day.
I love Chanel. I’m fascinated by Coco and believe whole-heartedly that her contribution to not only fashion, but the women’s movement in general, is something to admire. She rose from nothing and created an empire and name for herself the world over – there are very few people who don’t recognize the name Chanel.
On my bureau I have my bottles of No. 5 and Coco Mademoiselle, the latter being what I consider my “nighttime” scent. Mademoiselle is sweet and fragrant, and makes me feel sexy and sophisticated, which says a lot for someone who still can’t walk properly in heels. Every once in awhile I try to rock No. 5, but I just can’t. It makes me feel anything but sexy and reminds me of pearls, and heavily-make-up faces of wealthy women from my Grammy’s generation – or more specifically, Marilyn Monroe’s generation had her life not been cut short. I feel like I’m not old enough to wear it yet, so the bottle just sits there collecting dust. I’ve had it for two decades now, and still I won’t part with it, because I hope someday I’ll be ready for it.
If you look up “classic” fragrances for women, No. 5 is always at the top of a list, alongside Guerlain’s Shalimar (both of these scents were launched in the 1920s), Joy by Jean Patou (1930’), Youth Dew by Estée Lauder (1950s – and my mother’s signature scent), and Opium by Yves Saint Laurent (1970s) – but who from our generation is actually wearing these perfumes? Are these the same women who are wearing pearl necklaces and have their nails manicured in the “classic” French style? More importantly, why does something “classic” have to feel so old and dated?
I can walk into a room and if someone is wearing Chanel, any scent by Chanel, I will recognize it instantly – now that’s love and admiration. However, for now, and maybe even for the next decade or more, my No. 5 will stay put on my bureau as I wait to grow up a wee bit more. When that day comes, I’ll also run out and buy my first strand of pearls to match… and I’ll learn how to walk in heels while I’m at it.