For some, the encounter with the world of fragrances was a sudden passion, for others a
slow falling in love. For Olivier Polge, 47 years old, the perfume is a family history. He only had
four years when his father Jacques became Chanel’s nose, the same role as in the 2013 is
passed into his hands. Today it is up to him the task of renew the magic of the brand with new
fragrances, but also that of to preserve a tradition that began in 1921 with the creation of the
first perfume wanted by Mademoiselle, the timeless Chanel N ° 5 which this year celebrates a
century of successes. In a chat that touches emotions and memories, the parfumeur créateur of
Chanel tells us about her vision of the most famous perfume in the world.
The world has changed in the last century. Yet the fragrance created by Gabrielle in 1921 still remains one of the most desired in the world. What is the secret of Chanel N ° 5?
In fact, I believe there is more than one secret. As Gabrielle Chanel said, “fashion passes, it
style remains”And the N ° 5, which was so extraordinarily new for the time, accurately expressed his style. She had asked an artificial fragrance, built like a haute couture dress. And the N ° 5 has such a complex construction that it allows everyone to find something absolutely personal among its notes, establishing a unique relationship between the perfume and the user. Each woman interprets it in a different way. Thus, over time, different variations have been created, because the perfume also changes according to how it is used. For the Parfum, two drops behind the ear are enough, but those who love to immerse themselves in a cloud can choose a formulation such as Chanel L’Eau, a lighter version that helped keep it modern.
Coco Chanel asked perfumer Ernest Beaux to create an elaborate fragrance. The idea of mixing more scents was avant-garde for the time, as was the use of aldehydes, a
artificial chemical compound that represented a novelty for perfumery. What makes it so
unmistakable Chanel N ° 5?
The fundamental raw materials are the jasmine, rose and ylang ylang. But the particularity of the
perfume, what made him so special immediately, is that they do not recognize each other separately. At the time it was customary to perfume oneself with a single floral note or by mixing two or three at the most. Such a composition complex it was an absolute novelty and became the main element around which the perfume revolved. The aldehydes, then, gave it that mysterious touch that cannot be deciphered.
Grasse jasmine – grown by the Mul family – used for Chanel N ° 5
The Grasse rose – grown by the Mul family – used for Chanel N ° 5
Ernest Beaux put together 80 ingredients to create the perfume Mademoiselle wanted.
Is it as complicated as it sounds?
Sure. The craftsmanship of the perfume is very complex. In his case, then, to make things even more difficult was the choice to use some of the most complex ingredients that exist. The flowers that Beaux selected to create this fragrance have many facets. It was certainly a difficult balance to fine-tune, but the aldehydes helped him find that note of freshness which added complexity and richness to the whole. The idea I got is that Beaux first created the base of the perfume and that the aldehydes were only added at the end. It was such a rich composition that it needed a boost of freshness. Exactly what he managed to obtain with the addition of aldehydes.
A concentrate of pink necessary for the creation of Chanel N ° 5
Is today’s Chanel N ° 5 formula still the original one?
We can say that it’s almost the same. We made sure it stayed as close as possible
to the original, but some changes were necessary from the point of view of processing. For
example, the citrus oils that we use today are filtered. We had to do some
change also from the point of view of origin of raw materials, as in the case of
sandalwood. At the time it came from India, now it comes from New Caledonia.
Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Extrait. In which of these versions we find today the
formula of 1921?
Among the various variations that we have developed over time, the most faithful formula to the original today is found in the version of Chanel N ° 5 l’Extrait, the most concentrated.
To preserve the original quality, the Maison Chanel has signed a collaboration with the
best flower producer from Grasse, the Mul family. How important are raw materials in a
perfume like Chanel N ° 5?
A lot, no doubt. If you compare the jasmine grown in Egypt with that
grown in France, for example, you immediately feel that the scent is not the same. The
soil in which a plant grows makes it different, modifies the external appearance but also the fragrance
some flowers. This is the reason why we carefully preserve the origin of the raw materials,
keeping the original ones as much as we can.
Jasmine grown by the Mul family in Grasse
The fragrances somehow reflect the olfactory culture of each country. I think of the Orientals,
or with chypre. Yet there are fragrances that have global success. There are
“smells” that everyone likes?
Difficult to answer. But I would say no, I don’t think there are any secret recipes for a successful perfume
universal. They exist today five variations of Chanel N ° 5. In addition to the Extrait which exactly reproduces the 1921 formula, there are the Eau de Toilette developed by Ernest Beaux in 1924, the Eau de Parfum created in 1986 by his father Jacques, the Eau Première born 22 years later .
In 2016 she also reinvented the legend, reformulating the N ° 5 to fine-tune
Chanel N ° 5 L’Eau. How was this creation born?
Olivier Polge in the Parfums laboratory in Grasse
In each of these declinations we find the same fundamental elements, recognizable in all the variants. I started from the quintessence of the original combination of raw materials to explore more new formulas airy, which expressed greater fluidity. The idea was to create something more casual. Keeping, however, the unmistakable combination of a dozen ingredients that make the scent of N ° 5 immediately recognizable: rose, jasmine, a touch of sandalwood and vanilla,ylang ylang. Starting from here, I played with the proportions to push one note rather than the other. But I also experimented with new extraction techniques that allow you to create new combinations, while maintaining a strong identity. There is always a part of research for those who do my job: you can create new perfumes when you have new raw materials. Today we have raw materials available that did not exist at the time of Ernest Beaux but which match perfectly with the soul of N ° 5.
Since working for Chanel she has created several fragrances for the maison, from Gabrielle to
new Le Lion for the Les Exclusifs collection. What perfume would Gabrielle use today
I’m sure he would love it testing perfumes he had never smelled, but I associate it so much with N ° 5 that I can’t imagine it with any other perfume. Chanel N ° 5 is still at the heart of the Chanel world aesthetic.
The linearity of the bottles, the purity of the image, the personality of the testimonials. This law also from the olfactory point of view?
It is certainly the heart of our brand and still tells a lot about us today. But it is not one
matter related to the ingredients. It’s not about using jasmine or other essences, that’s not what makes a Chanel perfume unmistakable. The spirit of the new Chanel fragrances I created has more to do with extraordinary complexity that characterizes Chanel N ° 5. This is why my creations never revolve around a single element, but are always one combination of different ingredients. The other particular aspect of Chanel perfumes is that they never refer to anything figurative, we always try to stay “abstract“.
Chanel N ° 5 and its bottle
The term abstract immediately refers to the world of art. You studied history
of art and is a music lover. A perfume creator is more like a painter or a
It is a profession that comes very close to music. In the end, a perfume is something
completely immaterial that works deeply with the imagination, just like music. Sounds float, just like fragrances. Also from the point of view of vocabulary, in perfumery there are many terms that recall the world of music. We often talk about Note, of agreements. The perfume contains something instinctive that I would certainly compare to music.
Gabrielle Chanel used to say that perfume is the extension of a dress, an invisible dress.
How would you define perfume?
I really like Gabrielle Chanel’s comparison of the perfume and fashion. They are both expressions
of creativity. Chanel was the first to understand that a designer could also express himself in one way
different, going beyond clothes. In the same way you build your style and express yours
personality with the way you dress, the world you move or talk in, even the scent you choose
manages to tell about yourself with the same force. Exactly as she did, telling herself with a perfume.