Liquid treasure: Chanel unveils Collection N°5
With a landmark high jewellery collection marking the centenary of N°5, Chanel’s Patrice Leguéreau finds a sparkling expression for the maison’s pioneering spirit
In Paris, visitors to Olivier Polge’s office and laboratories would be hard-pressed to truffle out the original recipe to Chanel’s epochal N°5 perfume. The brand’s house perfumer, whose work has won awards and who inherited the post from his father Jacques Polge in 2013, keeps the prized archival document hidden from view, under lock and key. “I have the 1921 formula, handwritten by Ernest Beaux, in the safe,” he says. “Part of my job each and every day is to preserve N°5.”
Polge’s conservationist efforts extend to the fragrance’s naturally derived ingredients, which in the south of France are harvested seasonally and count, “citruses at the beginning of the year, then orange blossoms, roses in May, jasmine in September, ylang-ylang several times a year. It requires constant vigilance; [it’s] a job that is rooted in history”. Much like its traditional production, N°5 will forever form part of the heritage brand’s biography; at Chanel, the fragrance has also galvanised innovation, as it did recently when Polge joined a research trip to Grasse, mapped out by Patrice Leguéreau.
Since 2019, Leguéreau has been directing the work of Chanel’s exemplary Fine Jewellery Creation Studio. It was when he was tasked with producing Chanel gems celebrating the 100th anniversary of N°5 that Leguéreau, who in previous collections delved into Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s fascination with Imperial Russia or her trips to Venice, set out to learn about the perfume’s many-faceted legacy. “I really wanted to open my mind,” he tells me, via video call from the brand’s Place Vendôme premises. “I didn’t want it to be just a tribute. I conceived this collection as an immersive experience.”
Looking at architecture, film and photography among other disciplines, Leguéreau reconsidered the many artistic projects N°5 has inspired since its inception. Chanel’s hero scent has been muse to artists such as Andy Warhol who, more than six decades after its debut, portrayed it in 1985 bi-colour screenprints. Elsewhere, Leguéreau established affinities between his own métier and that of the perfumer, both professions that create from highly-valued raw materials, their work calibrated to directly touch skin. Both are also fields that the house’s founder innovated within, breaking with tradition in favour of modernity. Chanel herself followed the 1921 launch of her architecturally-bottled, numbered scent with Bijoux des Diamants, her 1932 high jewellery collection fashioned from platinum and icy diamonds.
All this gave shape to Leguéreau Collection N°5, unveiled this spring as the first high jewellery collection dedicated to fragrance. It’s a landmark offering: the total number of designs stands at 123 pieces. Leguéreau says: “The theme, N°5 deserves a big and large collection like this.” Reflecting upon creating his Collection N°5, he today likens the process to a journey. “All inspiration comes from the bottle and what is inside the bottle,” he explains.
To thematically further group his designs, Leguéreau distilled the essence of N°5 into five elements, in turn taking cues from the fragrance’s flacon, its olfactory notes and the effect it leaves once sprayed. Take, for example the flacon’s crystal stopper: originally chosen in tribute to bird's eye views of Place Vendôme, the stopper’s octagonal shape has now inspired carved rock crystal plus onyx, pearls, diamonds and yellow sapphire-set designs that are geometric in shape. Next, the flacon itself has been recreated from white diamonds, yellow sapphires and yellow diamonds. It’s a theme that reaches its apex with the 55.55 necklace: its heart note is a newsworthy custom-cut diamond totalling 55.55 carats. Five, the number reappears throughout this collection, including in bull’s eye position of a circular diamond brooch. Leguéreau paid tribute to the perfume’s key olfactory notes, a floral triptych of jasmine, may rose and ylang-ylang that inspired fanciful creations such as pink sapphire-dusted petals. White diamond jasmine flowers blooms along his Grasse Jasmine necklace.
The most abstract exploration of N°5 is perhaps a segment imagining the scent’s sillage, the term used to describe the trail of scent on skin once a perfume has been sprayed. For pieces that dot, veil and enrobe skin like liquid perfume, Leguéreau ingeniously devised cloud-like formations of diamonds, elsewhere, he arranged garnets, rubies, yellow sapphires and pink or red spinels in gradients of colours, their hues lightening in intensity, much like an olfactory cloud.