The Secret of Chanel No. 5 : The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume by Tilar J. Mazzeo, Harper Collins, RRP $39.99, ISBN 9780062048486, Available now.
I love perfume. I love books about perfume. I love reading about the science of perfume, how scents are made, where they come from, what they smell like, how perfume bottles are designed, how designers come up with a scent, the interwoven histories of perfumes and scents, and how they are marketed. I would love nothing more than a giant scratch and sniff book about scent.
So I was really excited to read The Secret of Chanel No. 5. Unfortunately though it did not live up to expectations. A good history of Coco Chanel and her perfume was ruined by a lack of direction in the narrative and an almost ridiculous amount of foreshadowing in the writing – please, author, we do not need “It would be a future that none of them could have ever imagined.”, “Someday she would create the perfect scent for those flappers… Someday, but not yet.” and similar over and over.
After all, this is a history. So most likely a reader is going to have a fairly good idea of how this will end. The narrative is generally chronological, so we start with a quick overview of Coco Chanel’s early years, then a more indepth look at the 1930s and 1940s, a slightly less indepth look at the 50s and 60s and then a quick step up to the present day. This is a perfectly good strategy, except Mazzeo jumps around just enough to derail it for the reader.
Overall, I got the impression that The Secret History of Chanel No. 5 really needed a good edit, and someone who wasn’t afraid to go back to the author and say “It’s good, but it’s not there yet.” It feels too rough, too rushed and one can’t help wondering if the upswing in interest in Coco Chanel, due to recent movies released about her life, may have something to do with that.
Plus, I know the scratch and sniff idea is a little impractical, but could we have more photos and pictures and illustrations next time? Ta.