From Publishers Weekly
Mazzeo's (The Widow Cliquot) cloying and repetitive history of Chanel No. 5 finds the perfume's phenomenal success to have occurred in spite of its creator's efforts. Mazzeo reveals that the now instantly recognizable scent of heavy jasmine, rose, and musk combined with a good dose of "unblemished whiteness" produced by synthetic aldehydes was not actually invented by Coco Chanel in 1920, at the height of her fashion fame. In fact, she and her lover at the time, dispossessed Russian aristocrat Dmitri Pavlovich, recreated the scent from a perfume that had originally been fashioned for a Romanov dynasty celebration in 1914, le Bouquet de Catherine. According to Mazzeo, the newly fashioned Chanel No. 5 (Coco's lucky number) embodied the saintly mysteries of her childhood orphanage at Aubazine, the heady sensuality of her early career as a demimondaine, and the bracing clean lines of her modern design. A woman "should smell like a woman and not like a flower," she famously declared. In this fascinating story, Mazzeo depicts painstakingly how signing away her rights to the industrialist Wertheimer brothers in 1924 prompted perfume sales to soar worldwide, especially when the brothers were able to remove production to New Jersey during WWII. (Nov.) (c)
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In this “biography of a scent,” Mazzeo (The Widow Clicquot, 2008), painstakingly follows the scattered breadcrumb trail left by the illustrious Chanel No. 5 (somewhere in the world, a bottle is sold every 30 seconds). So doing, she takes readers all over France, to the U.S,, Germany, and Imperial Russia, to explain the far-flung origins and unprecedented success of the perfume the author calls a “cultural monument.” In something akin to revealing the man behind the curtain in Oz, Mazzeo carefully uncovers the revered designer Coco Chanel’s complicated relationship with her creation, at once very personal yet belonging to women the world over, and exposes the tenuous (and, during WW II, downright scandalous) business partnership she maintained with her colleagues at Les Parfums Chanel. Readers may find themselves wishing the volume came accompanied by the endlessly described fragrance in its enigmatic art-deco bottle, but this is one case where historical fact eclipses the legend and lore of the object itself—there’s much, much more than meets the nose to discover in these pages. --Annie Bostrom