Back in the 1920s, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel felt it was time to create a ‘woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent’: a perfume that truly epitomised the liberated, free-spirited ‘flapper’ of the day. Her answer was Chanel No. 5 - a sparkling, almost champagne-like scent composed by her master fragrancer Ernest Beaux, which was chosen out of 25 numbered samples simply because the number five had always brought luck to Chanel.
Nearly 100 years on, there’s no denying that No. 5 has become one of the most iconic fragrances of all time, no doubt helped by Marilyn Monroe’s infamous assertion that she wore the perfume to bed. In this time, the formula for the instantly recognisable scent has barely been altered – why mess with perfection, after all? – but now the Chanel No. 5 we know and love is under threat thanks to proposals for a new railway line.
French rail network SNCF plans to create a £5.5 billion high-speed railway line to cut down travel time from Marseilles to Nice by one hour along the Riviera, which is one of the country’s most congested travel areas outside Paris. The proposed route (complete with railway viaduct) however, would pass through Chanel’s flower field in the Provencal city of Grasse.
Chanel has described the field as ‘indispensable to the creation of Chanel perfumes,’ as it is home to the May roses and jasmine flowers that give No. 5 its incomparable scent: it is thought that every bottle of the fragrance requires 12 May roses and 1,000 jasmine flowers. In an open letter to the planners, the perfume house asserted that should the move go ahead, they would be compelled to leave the region, arguing that ‘the construction of a viaduct and the regular passage of high-speed trains over these fields of flowers would force Chanel to cease supporting its artisanal activities in the region.’
Should the perfume house be forced to find a new home, it’s likely that our beloved fragrance would smell different, due to variations in the flowers used, or could go out of production all together.
Time to start stockpiling?