Chanel Short Stories: No. 5

For the third of our exclusive short stories with award-winning author Amanda Lee Koe, she brings the sparkling memory of Coco Chanel's No. 5 fragrance to life

chanel short stories

Illustration by 160 Works; Animation by Charlotte Yap

In the third part of our exclusive short story series with award-winning writer Amanda Lee Koe, we delve into one of Gabrielle Chanel’s most enduring inventions: Chanel No. 5.

Legend has it that when Ernest Beaux, the master perfumer and creator of the iconic No. 5 scent, presented samples of the scents for Mademoiselle’s approval, she immediately chose the fifth vial, saying, “I present my dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year and so we will let this sample number five keep the name it has already, it will bring good luck.” And so, a legend in the world of fragrance was born.

Inspired by the trailblazing spirit of Gabrielle Chanel, Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore has collaborated exclusively with award-winning writer Amanda Lee Koe on a six-part short story series exploring key themes in the fashion icon’s life: her style, her daring, her loves, her friendships, her beauty and her obsession with the mystical. Catch up with all our short stories here.

chanel short stories

Five was nothing more
—AND NOTHING LESS—
than your lucky number.
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Fate is never forced, we are all assigned names and numbers.
From far away enough, the spangled criss-crossings of our singularities are visible to an omnipotent eye that belongs to nobody and everyone and the stars.
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GABRIELLE CHANEL,
BORN UNDER THE SIGN OF LEO,
the stars said,
THE FIFTH HOUSE OF THE ZODIAC,
RULED BY THE SUN!
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—You left nothing to luck. That did not in any way mean that you did not believe in it. Far from it: you held out your hands to planetary charts, numerology, four-leaf clover. If Coco the poseuse was to become Coco the couturier she needed every element on her side, no cutting corners, or else—
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—else she might have been left to languish forever in a provincial beuglant, where she had begged to be taken on as an extra, standing in a chorus line behind the lead singer, in a poor imitation of the grand revues of Paris, waiting for a lieutenant to notice her, as she sang Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro or Ko Ko Ri Ko.
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If the men were bored and wanted you onstage again, they would tap the floor with their heels, calling Coco, Coco, and you would be obliged to take the stage, whereupon you would click your heels five times as you belted out the song in your reedy voice, hoping not to be booed off.
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If you were lucky, they took you out for sorbets.
If you were lucky, they threw roses at you.
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MAKE ME A SCENT THAT SMELLS LIKE A WOMAN,
Coco the couturier said,
NOT A ROSE.
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The perfumer brought you eau de parfum samples marked 1 – 5, and 20 – 24.
Without running the samples by your nose first, you clicked your fingers for No. 5.
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THE 5TH SAMPLE IS CIVET MUSK AND YLANG YLANG,
the perfumer said,
AND PATCHOULI AND OAK MOSS,
but you were no longer listening.
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What would Mlle Chanel call her maiden foray into scent?
Guerlain had MITSOUKO and Caron had VIOLETTE PRÉCIEUSE.
Perhaps something that would catch the imagination of the ladies?
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You knew better.
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CHANEL NO.5
made its society debut
ON THE 5TH OF MAY.
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A woman’s perfume, sold in a masculine bottle with clean, bevelled edges. Your assistants worried it was not feminine enough. You waved them away. The glass bottles were shaped for Boy Capel’s decanters; the amber liquid looked like his whisky. Simplicity would stand the test of time, would reflect the light in your stars.
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WHAT DO YOU WEAR IN BED,
the papers asked Marilyn Monroe years and years later.
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WHAT DO I WEAR IN BED,
Marilyn said,
WHY, CHANEL NO. 5, OF COURSE!

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