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.