Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Real Thing- Chanel No. 5



Just like all luxury items, perfume is an indulgence that adds pleasure to one’s daily life. It is not essential, as one could certainly live without a few sprays of their favourite fragrance each morning. As Christopher Berry cleverly puts, “ Everything necessary is needed not everything that is needed is thought necessary” Yet, despite its non-necessity, perfume continues to be greatly successful in all cultures, and has been known to generate more income for fashion companies than their principal product. The reason why perfume is so successful is mainly due to its accessibility. They provide customers, some of who cannot afford the authentic Prada dress, or Gucci shoes, to have a taste of the real thing without severely damaging their bank balance.

This essay will focus on one perfume in particular, one of the best selling perfumes in history; Chanel No. 5. It will discuss what makes this particular fragrance so successful, and will also compare and contrast a fake Chanel perfume with the real one.

Chanel No.5 was created for Coco Chanel by French perfumer Earnest Beaux. It was made in 1921, when Chanel’s career was taking off as she emerged as the new queen of fashion. The fragrance was unlike any other of that time as perfumes normally consisted of only one flower scent, but Chanel No.5 was made up of over 50 different ingredients. Therefore it was original and unique, and a success right from the beginning. Kita Autstin says, “ No. 5’s composition is heavily made with jasmine, which was at that time the most expensive perfume oil in the world, due to the fact that Coco wanted make the costliest perfume in the world. Another important ingredient was synthetic floral aldehydes, which it was the first perfume in the world to us in such great quantities’. Additionally, Chanel always had a feel for what was modern; therefore the shape of her fragrance bottle also reflected her taste for the future. In comparison to all the other perfume bottles of that time, Chanel’s bottle was simple and uncomplicated. Many of the others were extremely ornate and came in all different shapes and sizes. The bottle shape for Chanel no.5 was created from a quick sketch made up of a basic rectangle and square lid. Below is a diagram of the evolution of the perfume bottle. As demonstrated, there are the elements of change throughout the years, yet the overall aesthetics of the bottle remained rather consistent.

The name “Chanel No. 5” was born when Earnest Beaux placed twenty-five different fragrances in front of Mdm. Chanel. She consequently chose the fifth perfume in line.

Therefore, in analysing the design choices of Chanel, by making her bottle an exciting new shape, as well as devising a ground- breaking scent and a memorable (yet simple) title, there is little wonder why the perfume was such a hit. However, there was one other element that added to the success of Chanel No. 5 - Its media attention. Marylyn Monroe was the perfume’s biggest fan, and Chanel made sure everyone was aware of this. Soon after its release Marlin Monroe became the face for the fragrance as she was famously quoted saying, “All I wear to bed is a few drops of Chanel No. 5.” Undoubtedly the power of advertising had a great impact on the success, therefore adding all the wise business and design choices together made Chanel the biggest selling perfume in History to this day.

There are, however, less glamorous sides to creating the world’s most sought after perfume. Counterfeits have taken over many areas of the fashion business and the perfume department is no different. Maria Ricapito from Harper’s Bazaar says, ‘As fashion counterfeiting is increasingly driven underground, fragrance is the latest front in the fight against fakes’. One must consider that perfume is a multi million dollar business, which means the black market has been growing to satisfy the rising demand.

The competition for No.5 within the faux perfume industry are also lines from the Chanel brand; Coco Mademoiselle and Coco Chance. Besides these two fragrances, Hugo Boss and Nina Ricci “Nina” come in close behind. Still, counterfeiting is no matter to be taken lightly, Harvard graduate Zacharey Pollinger states, “The international sales of counterfeit goods comprise a $600 billion industry representing between 5-7% of total world trade.” This quote supports the fact that the industry is growing and, more over, it is not stopping.

As primary research, I went on a quest to find real Chanel No. 5 as well as the fake, and to compare/ contrast the differences. Not surprisingly, the hunt for the real thing was very simple and straightforward. I visited Galleries Lafayette and was welcomed by a warm and spacious atmosphere. The Chanel counter was clear and I could spot it immediately from across the large and busy room. As I approached the counter a sales assistant was smiling at me a few minutes later asking if she could help. I asked for some samples, asked a few questions and said goodbye, with a comfortable feeling and a classic smell on my arm.

The experience of the fake perfume, however, was quite different. I had heard that the place to get any fake goods is the infamous Barbes metro station in the 18th arrondisment in Paris. This was only my second time visiting the area, so I was more or less uncomfortable from the moment I stepped out of the metro doors. As I came out, I noticed a large riot coming towards me, as flyers were simultaneously being waved in my face, leaving me very flustered and anxious. As I crossed the street I saw a large sign which said “PARFUM 5€” Thus, I headed straight towards it and briskly asked the man standing in front of the stack of perfumes if he has Chanel No.5. His eyes lit up as he confirmed and pointed to a bottle in the middle of the stack. I told him I’d buy it, with the intention of getting away as quickly as possible. He handed me a bottle which looked nothing like Chanel. I questioned his offer and repeated in a clearer voice “Chanel. No 5, s’il vous plait” He nodded his head in agreement and sprayed this strange perfume on my wrist. It smelt similar to No.5 gone stale, but some thing was not right about the peculiar smell. Next, he handed me a bottle titled, ‘The fifth hour’ and said proudly, “The French version.” This was exactly what I had been looking for, so I handed him the 5euros and quickly caught the fastest metro out of there.

The reason why I explain the two different experiences is to analyse the different elements that define the real thing vs. the fake. Luxury is not only about a product; it is about the treatment one receives when purchasing. It is also about the environment, the atmosphere and the overall experience given when one is being sold an authentic product. The famous Brazilian temple of Luxury, Daslu, understands the importance of true luxurious treatment, “Inside, shoppers are pampered like royalty by armies of tanned salesgirls called "Dasluzetes" who pepper their conversations with phrases in English and silent servants in black maids' outfits with white lace collars and cuffs.” This example may be excessive, however, it supports the point that comfort and quality of treatment certainly play a large part in the ‘real’ experience. For the case of the fake goods, the environment is cramped, uncomfortable and often dirty. This affects the buyers experience and hinders the overall pleasure, thus also affecting the perception of the good.

In analysing the design elements of the two perfume bottles, the main difference can be seen in the packaging. The wrapping of Chanel No. 5 was immaculate; the plastic film was tidy and the cardboard box was obviously of high standards as it was thick and slightly textured. The packaging of The Fifth Hour was quite the opposite. The film wrap was loose and badly glued. The cardboard of the box seemed thin and breakable. The bottle of The Fifth Hour was also very plain (like Chanel) yet it lacked design and workmanship.

The smells of the two perfumes were also quite different. No.5 smells musky and heavy- it exudes elegance. The Fifth Hour, on the other hand, smells sour and although the smell may resemble the real thing, there is obviously something off. Another vital factor that separates the real from the fake is that fact that Chanel will stay on clothing or skin for an entire day, sometimes more. The Fifth Hour almost completely vanishes within twenty minutes of applying.

To go in further detail, there are actually dangers of counterfeit perfume. Unlike a handbag or a pair of shoes, perfume comes in direct contact with the skin, thus it is vital that the ingredients are safe. However, is not usually the case with fake perfumes. Maria Ricopito explains, “Fake have been found to contain contaminated alcohol, antifreeze, urine, and harmful bacteria.” She explains the body absorbs fragrance and in some way digests it, hence the ingredient used in these fake perfumes can be harmful to ones health. There have been numerous reports of bad rashes appearing on the skin and other types of allergic reactions.

In conclusion, Chanel No.5 has attained great success throughout its long years, and the counterfeit market has not let this gone unnoticed. They steal the fragrance and concept of No.5 to lure people in search for a good bargin; people who are many times unaware of its dangers. Luckily, however, the increasing perfume sales of the black market have not affected Chanel headquarters success, as the real thing is still sold every thirty seconds around the world.


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