I have smelled Chanel No. 5 in department stores numerous times; it’s beautiful and classic, (my coworkers all say it smells granny, their loss) but I never feel like I need to own a bottle because it is so widely available – If it were an animal, it belongs to “Least Concern” category on the endangered species list, there’s simply no urgency for me to get one. However, this might change soon…
During my 15-hour-long flight to Hong Kong I exhausted the very few movies that interested me and subsequently made me browse the international movie category. The one that immediately caught my attention was the French movie “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” (2009). It was actually a very well made and thoughtful drama, focusing on the brief and life-changing adulterous affair of Coco Chanel and the struggling Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, who was already a married man and a father of four when they first met.
Dotted cleverly in the movie are snippets showing Coco Chanel as a talented designer who can see much further than a common pedestrian, a ruthless and iron-fisted businesswoman who demands nothing but perfection from her sales, workers and collaborators, and a flawed, wealthy woman who gets whatever she wants. Of course, there’s a scene showing the birth of the Chanel No. 5 perfume – “I don’t want to smell like a rose, I want to smell like woman,” she tells her perfumer.
There is a chilling scene in the movie (spoiler) showing Coco Chanel gifting the newly created Chanel No. 5 perfume to Igor Stravinsky’s wife, Katarina. Katarina is sick and dying and she knows that her husband and Coco are having an affair. She thanks Coco for the perfume, and immediately asks her if she ever feels guilty for destroying her family. Without much second-thought, she says no. You could say Coco Chanel has broken a family apart, but at the same time she helps create Stravinsky’s shining career. (The movie ends with a short but devastating scene of Coco and Igor in their senior years remembering each other. *tears*)
A common object can become an uncommon souvenir when you have learned the story behind it and a popular perfume can become very special when you know the history behind it.