5 Iconic Cosmetics


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Chanel No. 5
Bottles of Chanel No. 5 on exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bottles of Chanel No. 5 on exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Associated Press/Hiroko Masuike

Marilyn Monroe once declared, famously, that the only thing she wore to bed was Chanel No. 5 [source: Steinhauer]. The perfume's bottle has proved so iconic that Andy Warhol used it as a subject for his work in the 1950s. And though the scent's been around since 1921, sales show no sign of slowing: Every 55 seconds, a bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold somewhere in the world [source: Frankel].

Chanel No. 5 is the result of a meeting between Coco Chanel and perfumer Ernest Beaux. Previously, Chanel had shown little interest in getting into the perfume business. At the time, perfume was very frilly, with none of the sophistication and modernity that Chanel brought to fashion; flower-heavy scents with twee names were sold in ornate bottles. But Beaux had revolutionary techniques to share with Chanel. Rather than using the natural scent of one flower to create a perfume, Beaux created a formula that included aldehydes, or synthetic ingredients. In 2008, current Chanel perfumer Jacques Polge compared aldehydes to adding lemon juice to strawberries -- they bring out the essence of the main ingredient while allowing the scent to last all day [source: Frankel]. The main ingredients in Chanel No. 5 are jasmine and rose, and to ensure that this iconic perfume never runs out of its source materials, the company has signed contracts with small producers who work exclusively on producing the absolute best.

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