Saturday, December 19, 2009

And Now, A Nazi History Lesson

To talk about No. 19, one must talk about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, because it was Chanel No. 19, and not the far more famous Chanel No. 5, that was (allegedly, we'll get to that later) her personal perfume. Let's just get it out of the way: Gabby Chanel was not a good person. Many people aren't aware, but Gabby had mad Nazi connections. How do you think she stayed in the Hotel Ritz Paris (think the Ritz Carlton, but much, much nicer) during the entirety of World War II while maintaining two other apartments in Paris? I'll tell you: it was all paid for by her lover Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a Nazi officer and spy.

Chanel was even a collaborator in an operation planned by Walter Schellenberg, the Chief of Foreign Intelligence for Adolf Hitler. There's also a little bit of perfume-related intrigue. Chanel was always bitter that she only owned 10% of her perfume company, Chanel Parfums, while her manufacturers, the Jewish Wertheimer family, owned 70%. In 1940, Chanel attempted to use anti-semitic laws that forbade Jews from owning property to oust the Wertheimers, who had made Ms. Chanel's perfumes world-famous. This turned out to be the ultimate example of why biting the hand that feeds you is probably not a very good idea. The Wertheimers found a non-Jewish proxy to run the business in their name during the war, preventing Chanel from taking control, and today Alain and Gerard Wertheimer are the sole owners of the Chanel brand and the world's 65th richest men.

Alain and Gerard Wertheimer. Take that, Gabby!
Bottom line? Chanel may have been the hard-working, scrappy little orphan girl that you've read about in so many books and articles, but she was also arrested for being a Nazi agent. The signature scent of such a complex woman would not be Pink Sugar. And indeed, No. 19 is just as multifaceted as you would imagine. Honestly, knowing what I (and now you) know about Chanel, I initially felt kind of uncomfortable with No. 19. I did not particularly want to smell the prized, treasured scent of someone who I hold in very low esteem.

However, after a little more research, I learned that No. 19 was created by Henri Robert in 1971, which was the year of Chanel's death. All of those "Chanel's personal perfume" shenanigans are just a (very clever) marketing scheme. Now I don't have to feel bad about liking No. 19 as much as I do. Don't get too attached to it, though; No. 19 may already be on its way to being phased out, as the Eau de Parfum and Parfum formulations were discontinued in the US and UK in 2000.

No. 19 smells quite similar to No. 5, which means that it opens with aldehydes and smells mostly of sweet baby powder. They share many notes, including ylang-ylang and jasmine. There is some sort of hay-smelling note in No. 19 that is not found in No. 5. However, the most important distinction is the galbanum top note of No. 19, which adds a green sharpness (something like green apples) that makes No. 19 different, quirkier. I found an ad for No. 19 online that calls it "The Unexpected Chanel," and that is very apt. Its loveliness is unconventional and takes you by surprise. I also found one that labels No. 19 "The Outspoken Chanel," and while I wouldn't go that far, No. 19 certainly has more to say than, for example, Coco Mademoiselle.

For me No. 19 evokes someone like Kirsten Dunst; by no means a cookie-cutter beauty, she is nevertheless very appealing in an offbeat way. I like Kirsten Dunst, and so for her sake I will try to pretend that Spiderman 3 never happened. That movie was so bad that during the scene when Peter Parker punches MJ in the face, the entire movie theater started clapping. I looked all over the internets for a picture of that scene, but the best I could do was this picture of MJ right before the punch was thrown.

For the record, MJ, I did not clap.

Actually, there is one really nice scene in Spiderman 3, when MJ sings "I'm Through With Love," which was originally sung by Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot." It's interesting to hear a No. 19 interpret a classic No. 5's song.


  1. Very interesting story that demonstrates there is some justice (or as they say in French, "justice") in the world. I would like to see other stories like this one. This is definitely the thinking woman's beauty blog. And that includes thinking blond women.

  2. Very interesting review/history lesson - I can't say that I knew anything about Chanel's Nazi connection - I guess it's not a fact the Chanel house wishes to promote ;)
    I have a small mini of the No19 Parfum that I can't decide if I like or not, quirky and multi-faceted are certainly apt descriptions. I will definitely test it out again

  3. Stefanie- I'm so jealous of your Chanel parfums!! One thing to keep in mind is that the No 19 parfum won't necessarily smell much like the EDT, which is the only formulation they still have in the US. Let me know what you think after you test it again!

  4. That was absolutely a great story I also choose the Chanel no.5. Will certainly visit your site more often now.