Chanel: Her Life, Her World, and the Woman Behind the Legend She Herself Created

Edmonde Charles-Roux, translated by Nancy Amphoux
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Bee Wilson writes:

Before Coco Chanel, as Edmonde Charles-Roux writes in her 1975 biography, women (and men) who wore perfume were generally forced to choose between various floral concoctions – heliotrope, gardenia, violets – none of which lasted well. ‘Therefore you had to be overperfumed at the beginning of the evening if you wanted to be scented at all a few hours later.’ Charles-Roux thinks this explains the ‘outrageously perfumed men and women’ who crop up in Edwardian memoirs. You might arrive at a party reeking of lily of the valley and leave it reeking of sweat. . . . Chanel told Ernest Beaux, the perfumer who laboured with his test tubes on seven or eight samples before she was happy, that she wanted no ‘hints of roses’ in Chanel No 5. She wanted, she declared, ‘a perfume that is composed. It’s a paradox. On a woman, a natural flower scent smells artificial. Perhaps a natural perfume must be created artificially.’ The pharmaceutical rectangular bottle – in stark contrast to the baroque, cupid-plastered flasks then fashionable – continued the abstract quality. ‘It was no longer the container that aroused desire,’ Charles-Roux writes, ‘but its contents.’

(LRB 7 January 2010)

Published by MacLehose Press
04 June 2009
Paperback
ISBN: 9781906694241