Ernest Beaux on Chanel No 5 and Scent of Snow

No 5 chanel

In his wonderful memoirs Souvenirs et Parfums Constantin Weriguine, a Russian emigre perfumer who worked with Ernest Beaux at Chanel shares some fascinating tidbits not just about the perfume industry of his time, but also about Ernest Beaux himself. Beaux was a man who admired Napoleon Bonaparte, searched for raspberry nuances in rose oils he used in Chanel products and had a tremendous passion for his art. Re-reading Souvenirs et Parfums on the plane last week, I noted down a passage, in which Weriguine shares a speech given by Beaux in 1946 about fragrance, chemistry and inspiration for Chanel No 5.

“’I’ve been asked some questions about the subject of the creation of No. 5. When did I create it? In 1920 exactly [launched in 1921], upon my return from the war. I had been part of the campaign in a northern region of Europe, above the arctic circle, during the midnight sun, where the lakes and rivers exuded a perfume of extreme freshness. I retained this note and recreated it, not without difficulty, for the first aldehydes I was able to find were unstable and unreliable. Why this name? Mlle Chanel, who had a very fashionable couture house, asked me for some perfumes for it. I came to present my creations, two series: Nos. 1-5 and 20-24. She chose a few, one of which was No. 5. “What should it be called?” I asked. Mlle Chanel replied, “I’m presenting my dress collection on the 5th of May, fifth month of the year; let’s leave the name No. 5.” This number would bring her luck.’” (Translation from French comes from a post on the old version of the Perfume Addicts forum, which no longer seems active. Update: here is however an active link, Perfume Addicts.)

Weriguine worked under Beaux’s direction for over three decades, and he created Mais Oui, Ramage, Glamour and Soir de Paris for Bourjois. From the accounts of people who knew him, he was a quiet and gentle man, who loved sharing his knowledge. I cannot recommend his memoirs highly enough, if you read either Russian or French. While they are out of print, it is still possible to find them at the used bookstores.

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20 Comments

  • Davana: What a treat to discover this quote on your blog. Actually, I ‘ve been searching for this book for ages! In which store did you get your copy ? May 23, 2009 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Sveta: Ah, as someone who grew up in Siberia, I know that scent of cold earth and snow so well. I’m getting nostalgic. Off to go sniff my Chanel No 5! May 23, 2009 at 3:16pm Reply

  • Kirk: Yes, I am interested in obtaining a copy of this book, but it would have to be in French for me. I do love reading the stories behind the such wonderful creations… May 24, 2009 at 3:19am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Davana, try bookfinder.com (specify French.) Also, I see it from time to time on Ebay. If you read Russian, I recall that a livejournal blogger has published the whole book on her LJ. I cannot find the link right now, as this computer does not have any of my bookmarks, but if you are interested, I can search later. May 24, 2009 at 10:03am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Sveta, I wish I have traveled there! Perhaps, someday… May 24, 2009 at 10:04am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Kirk, I would try those two sources named aboved (in reply to Davana.) Also, if you put Weriguine into google, you can come across a few paragraphs quoted from his book in “The Complete Technology Book on Herbal Perfumes & Cosmetics” By H. Panda, page 53-55. It is available for free viewing on Google Book Search.

    I will let you know if I ever see a copy in French. May 24, 2009 at 10:12am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Angie, oh, yes, Weriguine was definitely white Russian. He escaped Moscow before the revolution and had little affection for the Bolshevik regime (to put it mildly.) His memoirs offer some wonderful descriptions of his family’s estates, grand celebrations and scents that were associated with them. May 24, 2009 at 10:16am Reply

  • angie Cox: He admired Napoleon ..well a Russiam emigre I suppose he was a white Russian ? May 24, 2009 at 6:42am Reply

  • Yellowcedar: Knowing the history to some northern inspirations, I have a new respect for Chanel No. 5… from a northern gal. May 24, 2009 at 12:32pm Reply

  • AromaX: Dear Victoria,
    Thank you for the interesting post. When the book of Constantin Weriguine was put on LJ I was too busy. But now, after reading your post, I anticipate some interesting and inspiring reading… May 24, 2009 at 1:18pm Reply

  • perfumeaddict: The Perfume Addicts forum does still exist, and we die-hard perfume lovers do chat there daily. And the archives do contain a wealth of information about vintage perfumes. Thanks for the mention. May 24, 2009 at 4:54pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Yellowcedar, I love learning about the inspiration for the famous perfumes as well as other works of art. It is so fascinating! May 24, 2009 at 5:02pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Max, I know that you will find it inspiring and exciting. I almost feel envious of you still facing hours reading this fascinating book for the first time. I remember that I read it on the train for the first time, and I was so engrossed in it that I missed my stop! 🙂 May 24, 2009 at 5:05pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Paula, thank you very much for an update! I had an old link, it seems, but I just updated the links in the post (as well as on my link pages.) Thank you for keeping it going. May 24, 2009 at 5:08pm Reply

  • Lavanya: Sounds like a great read! But I don’t speak/read French/Russian..:( May 26, 2009 at 2:29pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Lavanya, I also wish that it were available in English, it is one of the best books on perfume and perfumers. May 27, 2009 at 4:23pm Reply

  • francesca: Congratulations on your FiFi award for Scents of Cities: Kiev! 🙂 Bravo! May 28, 2009 at 5:08am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Francesca, thank you very much! June 2, 2009 at 2:32pm Reply

  • sally: channel 5 is good. but i rather have a natural fragrance. i learned how to make vanilla perfume from this site. it was easy to make.
    http://organic-oil.blogspot.com/2009/06/organic-vanilla-perfume-and-fragrance.html June 19, 2009 at 12:38am Reply

  • Charlotte: Just Bought a bnib vintage ramage, info is sparse , but I only found Henri Robert listed as the creator, nothing bout the perfume on neither of them on wiki,à bit strange and actually Seems this Is more reliable 🙂 October 17, 2012 at 6:50am Reply

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