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The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  839 ratings  ·  124 reviews
“Who knew that such a tiny bottle housed so many secrets?” —Michael Tonello, author of Bringing Home the Birkin

Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of the New York Times bestseller The Widow Clicquot (an Amazon Best of the Month book in October 2008) returns with a captivating history of the world’s most famous, seductive, and popular perfume: Chanel No. 5. Mazzeo’s sweeping story of t
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 9th 2010 by Harper (first published November 1st 2010)
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3.48  · 
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 ·  839 ratings  ·  124 reviews

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A blend of evocative history and thoughtful research, here is a glittering account of where art and sensuality mingle with dazzling entrepreneurship and desire: Chanel No. 5.

When was the first time that you became aware of Chanel No. 5? I can't really remember. But I do remember my reaction when I first received it as a birthday gift. The first moment I smelled it, I was blown away. Really knocked off this planet. Suddenly all the hype around it made perfect sense. I remained in a
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
The reason I picked up The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume is that I really enjoyed Mazzeo's book The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.

One of the stories told in The Hotel on Place Vendome provides an insight into the life of Coco Chanel and a brief glimpse into the history of her famous perfume - both left me interested enough to want to read a little bit more about both subjects - even tho I am not impr
What a wishy-washy story for non-fic. The first 70 pages were kind of a recollection of some hazy dream. I just couldn't with this book. No concrete facts, dates, or story. I didn't like the organization of the book and it was incredibly repetitive. Yes, we get it Chanel No.5 is sexy and seductive, that was repeated at least every other page. I think this story overall would have been better served as historical fiction, that way the author gets the liberties to expand on the myth that is Chanel ...more
Apr 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The book was good. The Perfume, better.
Mary Ronan Drew
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
The perfume industry calls Chanel no 5 "le monstre" and rightly so. It is and has been for most of its 90 years the best-selling perfume in the world. Marilyn Monroe wore it (and nothing else) to bed. Andy Warhol made a silk screen of it along with Campbell soup.

So what's the secret? It's an unusually sophisticated perfume that, unlike many other luxury products, has not compromised over the years. What I wear today (you knew I wore Chanel No 5, of course) is pretty much what Chanel envisioned
Sarah Lachance
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I really wanted to love this book. I did learn about the stories behind Chanel No. 5 (and I say stories because much of this book remains speculative), my main issue with 'The Secret of Chanel No. 5' is with the writing style.

Mazzeo has a tendency to repeat phrases. For example, between pages 12 and 15, she makes reference to the idea that Coco Chanel had "not yet thought of" becoming a fashion or fragrance designer no less than seven times over the course of three pages. While I get the reason
Jan 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
Should really be 2.5 stars. A fascinating concept -- the biography of a scent, arguing that Chanel No. 5 is quite literally the distillation of the life, times, loves, fears, and memories of Coco Chanel and her heady 1920s années follees era -- pretty much ruined by atrocious writing, mindless repetitions, historical inaccuracies, factual contradictions, and other sins against nonfiction writing. This would have made a great New Yorker article, but there's clearly not enough information out ther ...more
Feb 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Was an incredibly interesting and informative read. Some of the concluding statements however left me, I guess, cringing, by the way they drew conclusion with no clear, hard and recorded evidence. So as a historical text I feel it was challenging because I was often left saying "based on what evidence?" But in the same breath, the author is very talented that she has created a novel looking at the truthful possibility of the rumors and scandals that were associated with Chanel No.5 making an int ...more
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Like a high school essay turned into a book. I learned nothing, and came away with a deep seated feeling of violation. Shame.
Narrative Muse
Read this if: You’re someone who can delight in couture and fine art.

The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume is a deep dive into the life of Coco Chanel and her famous perfume, No. 5. It’s a detailed account of the history of the scent and speculation as to why it remains the world’s most beloved fragrance. At times the writing is very repetitive and reads like a history lesson. But for those fascinated by women fashion designers, this is another read
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
The book reads like an overwritten book version of Behind The Music, the author tends to repeat herself a lot (as if she was getting paid by the word...or if she didn't trust her audience to read straight through and actually retain the information), and the writing is just plain klunky in some places. Although the book seems meticulously researched (at least there are a gazillion notes so one assumes), I never feel safe with the theses that she makes. Bottom line: Mme. Chanel doesn't seem to be ...more
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fantastic introduction to the science of scent! It focuses on the arguably most famous perfume in history. Called le monstre by industry insiders, Chanel No. 5 lived her own life; she freed herself from her creators. She became famous despite a basically non-existent marketing campaign, ridiculously expensive ingredients, and questionable political affiliations. And, yes, I am referring to the perfume as "she."

This book traces the twin trajectories of both Coco Chanel and her trademark perfume
Oct 01, 2010 rated it liked it
How did the Imperial Russian court and the revolution, cabaret clubs, a breakthrough in molecular chemistry, a convent in the South of France, the flower fields of Grasse, American GIs and German troops in World War II, contribute the to creation and worldwide popularity of this iconic fragrance? Mazzeo tells all in this fun slice of history.

Knowing there are more definitive biographies of Coco Chanel already written, Mazzeo wisely gives us just enough of her background to show how and why she d
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who are interested in Chanel and fragrance
Well, I do have to admit this is an enjoyable and fascinating read about Gabrielle Chanel. What I am enjoying the most about this book is how the perfume itself came into existence. Starting with the background of Gabrielle's youth(life in the convent) and then the serendipitous meetings with the cousin of the last Czar of Russia and the parfumer Ernest Beaux is compelling. The idea that it could be the ill fated perfume of the late czarina is remarkable!

I have had a fascination with flowers an
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
In addition to learning more about Coco Chanel's life, this is a good insight into a woman running her own business in a misogynistic world, and the walk through my old neighborhoods in Paris was really great.
Feb 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I liked the history of the times and the iconic perfume but the writing style was lackluster and several facts were repeated too much, unable to camouflage the lack of information available.
Dave  Johnson
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a fragrance lover, I am familiar with Chanel No. 5's gravitas, but didn't know the history. This book was fantastic at telling me things I didn't know about it. It has a really intriguing history with many twists and turns, and even has a WWII plot line. It's remarkable that it hasn't been turned into a movie--though I'm probably speaking too soon, here.

My grandmother wore Chanel No. 5, and I didn't even know this until after she passed away and I found a few bottles of it while going throug
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly enough, I did enjoy this book: maybe because I'd known next to nothing about the designer's biography, or maybe because I listened to the audio version of it while wearing the perfume, but somehow all those olfactory journeys to the rich gardens of Aubazine and the austere northern seashores actually worked for me. The success story was also quite interesting and infused with Coco's biography and character in just the right proportion.
Mary Rhodes
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bold Prose for a Worthy Bottle of Perfume

Since I have favored the fragrance for a half a century, to read the of origins, evolution, and controversies was entrancing. Mazzeo captures the evocative and sensual essence of Chanel Number 5, of Coco, and of the global and historic setting. The perfume is the resilient main character undeterred by mortals, nature, or society, and the author’s prose is as sexy and honest and fresh as her subject.
Lee Barry
Feb 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: _partial, culture
Only read while researching another topic, but very interesting in itself. There are many facets of the phenomenon in which it became.

It's interesting that the book is cataloged under Dewey as Technology. The science of the olfactory is, in fact, a science and technology, but is a small part of the book.
I chose the book to determine if there was new information available on Coco Chanel and her relationship with the perfume that has dominated worldwide sales for many decades.

Unfortunately, much of the material was already known to me via other means.
Further, I was disappointed as the book seemed somewhat rushed and condensed.

Robert Millard
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Great subject but written with tons of repetition. Constantly contradicts itself portraying coco as innovator and then explains how others before used same mixes or marketing. Book twice as long as it needed to be. In the end she is fascinating.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This was an interesting book even if it was somewhat repetitive.
Vaun Healey
Too much about nothing

If you like repetitious narrative, you may like this book. I found it boring. There was no juice or pulp.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Pretty dry reading. Skimmed through most of it.
Jan 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book that I found pretty much by serendipity. I learned one or two things along the way not only about Chanel (the lady and the perfume) but also about the perfume industry itself. This book does two things. One, it provides a biography of Coco Chanel, the fashion designer of humble beginnings who went on to launch a fashion brand and created a perfume (with some help from some friends) that is now known the world over. Two, it is a history of Chanel No. 5, a perfume that ...more
Neil Pierson
Apr 28, 2016 rated it liked it
The Preface of this book tells me that everything I "knew" about Chanel No. 5 is not true. Since I didn't know anything about it in the first place, I haven't been loaded down by a burden of misinformation, and the Preface boosted my self-esteem.

As I do for most things, I blame my wife for my ignorance of perfume. She dislikes wearing it. This denies me an easy out for birthdays and Christmas, but whatever.

She also dislikes second-hand perfume on other people. Especially me.

Oh, the book: Coco C
Adrian Chew
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Chanel No. 5 is the world’s best selling perfume- and has been for decades. It’s been so popular for so long, in fact, that it’s actually become a sort of cultural icon- a symbol of luxury, capable of being recognized by the bottle shape, even by those who have never smelled the juice inside. This book is the ‘biography’ of No. 5.

I have a great interest in perfume, so I had high hopes for this book. As I made my way through it, though, I kept feeling like I’d read it before. I hadn’t, but I had
Sam Still Reading
Aug 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: perfume and Chanel fans
Recommended to Sam Still Reading by: sale book
This book was another of my $5 sale books. I don’t wear this perfume (I prefer Bvlgari or Estee Lauder) nor am I a particular fan of Chanel cosmetics or fashion. Coco Chanel was an interesting character though and several beauty bloggers have read this book and enjoyed it, so I thought I should try it.

The first thing that hit me when I started reading this was the excessive amount of descriptive language – adjectives were dominating every page! I’m not sure if this improved or I just got used to
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Tilar J. Mazzeo is a cultural historian, biographer, and passionate student of wine and food culture. She divides her time among the California wine country, New York City, and Maine, where she is a professor of English at Colby College.

(from the author's website)
“We do not sell lipstick, we buy customers.” 0 likes
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