Celebrating 100 years of an icon

Words: Grace Gargini

From its ground-breaking scent to the outline of the instantly recognisable bottle, CHANEL N°5 is widely regarded as one of the most famous products of all time. It’s a symbol for luxury fragrance and its stardom reaches beyond the world of fragrance and beauty, infusing the stories of great artists, actors, and musicians, but also our everyday moments. To put it simply: it’s a cultural icon. And now, to mark its 100th year of celebrity, you can be part of its epic journey at Selfridges.


Join us with CHANEL as we celebrate 100 years of N°5 with a new, 16-piece limited-edition collection inspired by everyday objects, available here online and at Selfridges London, where our Corner Shop space has transformed into a one-of-a-kind N°5 experience, which will be hosting a series of exclusive events exploring the fragrance’s story – both past, present and future.


Here, we explore the Factory 5 space, delve into the collection and hear from fragrance and beauty experts about N°5’s cultural significance and how the iconic scent has transformed the ordinary in their lives.


Please note: we have now sold out of CHANEL Factory 5 online, but you can still purchase the collection at the Corner Shop space at Selfridges London until 2nd August.

N°5 THE BODY OIL (available at Selfridges London)


Discover a new way to experience N°5 in our one-of-a-kind space.

One hundred years ago, an icon was born. Gabrielle Chanel’s N°5 broke boundaries, challenged stereotypes and perfectly captured the modern 20th-century woman. And it’s still as revolutionary today. To celebrate its centenary, we invite you to the Corner Shop space at Selfridges London, where N°5 fans can get the chance to step inside an immersive factory experience to see the legendary fragrance undergo a transformation like no other…


Here, you can discover the CHANEL Factory 5 collection – 16 limited-edition products inspired by everyday objects with N°5 as its sole ingredient. The ‘production site’ resembles an ultra-modern factory, bringing the history of the world’s most iconic fragrance into the future.


Find out more about the CHANEL Factory 5 collection, right here.


Everyday objects, reimagined.

In homage to the simple laboratory bottle that Gabrielle Chanel picked for her N°5 back in 1921 – and as a nod to Pop Art, which transforms everyday objects into works of art – functional, unassuming objects have been reinvented to take on new meaning, from a paint pot filled with N°5 The Shower Gel to a tea tin concealing N°5 The Bath Tablets. Other standouts set to reach cult status are the nourishing N°5 The Body Cream, the incredibly chic N°5 The Soap and the N°5 Mystery Box filled with four N°5 surprise treats.



By taking popular consumer items out of their context and dressing them up in the aesthetics of N°5, we return to CHANEL’s first creative gesture: that of transforming a functional object into a desirable luxury item. That’s what CHANEL FACTORY 5 is all about: offering the experience of luxury in everyday life.


– Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur, Chanel’s Head of Global Creative Resources Fragrance and Beauty.

N°5 THE BODY OIL (available at Selfridges London)


Ahead of their specially curated events in store (more on that below), we talk exclusively with fragrance and beauty experts Sali Hughes and Jo Fairley on their personal experiences with the iconic fragrance.

Sali Hughes

Beauty Journalist & Author

“It’s been said that when perfumer Ernest Beaux presented Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel with five perfumes, she didn’t so much choose N°5 as recognise it immediately as hers. And this is precisely how I too felt some 33 years ago, when I first misted their co-creation onto my wrists. It was an experience akin to hearing a new song and somehow already knowing the words. I understood instantly that this utterly beautiful and unfussily bottled amber liquid was to be my signature scent – then, now, always.


In 1921, fragrances were usually literal – immediately identifiable as rose, jasmine, musk, iris and so on. N°5 avoided straightforward classification by using synthetic aldehyde molecules that were innovative, mysterious, undefinable and rebellious (just as CHANEL revered fabrics like jersey that were frowned upon by snobs, she adored then-undervalued aldehydes and made them CHANEL’s enduring olfactory trademark).


It’s this special ambiguity that makes N°5 seem as absolutely right when I’m wearing jeans, trainers and an oversized blazer, as it is impeccably appropriate against a tailored dress and heels. Its commanding presence bolsters me in formal, professional settings, providing the invisible backbone I need to walk taller. On an altogether different day, its soft, powdery heart may provide cosy comfort. On another, its sparkling top notes and cut-glass precision offer high glamour with an unspoken but undeniable dash of sexiness.


N°5 is my longest relationship, my faithful companion and partner in crime. I lost my virginity in N°5. We went clubbing together, built my career side by side. I always knew I’d marry in N°5, and I did. The chic, unapologetic but unobtrusive, slight fizzy fragrance has scented my almost every major life moment since I was a teenager. My eldest son didn’t know it at the time, but his first ever sniff of the world was laced with the N°5 I’d veiled on that morning. When it really matters, I reach unfailingly for that simple, most elegant crystal flacon and spritz.


I used to hesitate when people asked to name my all-time favourite fragrance. To name N°5 felt a little like a music journalist citing The Beatles as their favourite band, or an art critic naming the Mona Lisa as the painting they admired most. Over the years, I outgrew the impulse to be contrary and now celebrate N°5 as often and as widely as I can. Because some artworks are named the best because they simply are the best. N°5’s very existence has not only inspired every master perfumer, it’s acted as muse to creatives across the arts, from Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol, to Baz Luhrmann and Jean-Paul Goude. N°5 isn’t just a perfume, it is modern perfumery. To wear it now feels as forward-thinking, sophisticated and as subversive as it did in 1921.


Happy birthday, N°5. What a life we’ve lived together. Here’s to our certain future.”

Jo Fairley

Author & Founder of The Perfume Society

“I am standing in a field in the South of France, in the rising heat of a morning baked by sun. On the lightest breeze, there is an intoxicating drift of jasmine in the air. It is a pinch-me moment. I am experiencing the CHANEL jasmine harvest, watching while exotically scented blooms are plucked from rows of plants in the middle of a field given over to growing ingredients for CHANEL’s legendary perfumes, including, of course, CHANEL N°5.


Timing, I learn, is everything. Blooming overnight – the flowers open after dark, when the sun sets and the temperature drops – a constellation of teensy star-shaped flowers dots the dark-green bushes with a fresh crop. By lunchtime, the harvest’s over, till the next day, and the flowers are en route to becoming pure jasmine absolute – one of the perfume world’s priciest ingredients.


This isn’t my first wow-I-love-my-job CHANEL moment, though. One May, a couple of years previously, I’d travelled to the same ‘flower farm’ to watch the May harvest of Rosa centifolia. Equally precious, that other fragrance pillar of No5, picked by the same team. How incredible to be able to bury my nose in a vat of roses, breathing the damp, humid, tea rose scent of a flower that, when bottled, would later adorn the neck of a woman somewhere. How extraordinary to be able to watch the process, as these ingredients were transformed into precious jasmine and rose absolute, later to be decanted into those famous faceted crystal bottles. The stoppers, secured by baudruchage – the technique using fine, black thread that is still hand-tied – seals each precious bottle of parfum.


It’s a cliché, but N°5  is a scent that’s meant so much to me my whole life. CHANEL N°5 parfum isn’t ‘my’ CHANEL N°5, though – I am devoted, instead, to the CHANEL No5 L’Eau. This crystalline creation by in-house perfumer, Olivier Polge, was, serendipitously, launched the summer I had a ‘big birthday’ celebration. I wore it all weekend, and with every airy spritz I am reminded of the sun-drenched joy of time with friends (coincidentally, appropriately) in France.


Of course, it isn’t easy to visit France at the moment. And an invitation to the CHANEL rose and jasmine fields isn’t something that money can buy. But via the Factory 5 Collection, and the events I’m hosting at Selfridges, I hope to share the story of this amazing fragrance from field to flacon. Together, we can close our eyes, breathe in the scent of No5 and travel (in our minds) to the fragrant corner of Provence where it all begins. Such is perfume’s astonishing power.”


Feeling inspired? Join Sali Hughes, Jo Fairley, Caroline Issa and Sarah Jossel and Lesley Thomas for a number of exclusive events at Selfridges London. They’ll share their experiences with N°5 over the years, take a peek behind the curtain of how it’s made, and guide you through the iconic N°5 fragrance wardrobe.