No 3.


‘No,’ said the girl in the perfumery department, ‘I’m afraid I don’t quite see it…’

‘I’m sure you’ve got it … how can I describe it? It smells something like freshly dug earth, like withered flowers.’

‘Unless you mean Chanel No. 3.’


‘It’s not being made any more. You might find a bottle in a little shop that had some old stock. I’m afraid we can’t help you.’

~ D’entre les Mortes, by Boileau & Narcejac.

Fiona, my resident scent expert, observes that freshly dug earth and withered flowers might actually be something you could blend into an attractive perfume, but perhaps not as a dominant note. Also, Boileau, Narcejac and I were all unaware of the famous story about Coco Chanel and No 5, but Fiona explains that Coco was offered five prototypes for her perfume, and chose number 5, deciding on a whim to name it that. So Chanel No. 3 consisted of a single prototype bottle, unlike to turn up in “a little shop that had some old stock.”

Now Fiona is off to bid for some vintage Coty’s Emeraude.

14 Responses to “No 3.”

  1. When I was a little kid, Chanel No. 5 was the middle-aged woman’s perfume. You couldn’t get away from it in my ’60s downtown. In the department store one day headed for the elevators, I saw Chanel No. 19 (or something like that), and thought, “there’s another old-lady perfume?”.

  2. Hey now! Don’t be disrespectin’ two Chanel classics. They might have been around for yonks but they’re both beautiful fragrances. Shame on you sir! ;)

  3. C’mon, this was in the ’60s, and you have to admit it was pervasive then. You wouldn’t smell it at a Woolworth’s, but step into a Hale’s or Macy’s and a cloud of Chanel would waft by almost as you entered. It’s not really offensive at all, now, more of a nostalgic scent. Nowadays, if I smell someone using Obsession I loudly muse to myself, “Gee aren’t the ’80s over yet?” I have an ex-girlfriend who used that scent waaaay past its heyday. She may still use it for all I know, I haven't seen her in about 5 years.

  4. Fiona and I aren’t quite old enough to remember the smell of the 60s — or at least, I don’t recall anything except the pong I created mixing Uhu glue and red paint as a tot.

    It makes sense though that the hero tries to reconstruct Madeleine’s smell, though — since her name recalls Proust, the idea of invoking her by scent is a natural one.

  5. yup–scent is a visceral one

    those Frankfurt school types who chastised Hollywood for colonizing our dreams ought to have gone after the perfumers… I have a deep existential crisis on the metro about once a month, every time I catch a whiff of the mass-produced Sunflowers perfume that I associate with an ex-girlfriend I used to live with… that’s pretty much all I remember about her, actually

    just imagine if Hitchcock had filmed Vertigo in Smell-O-Vision… it’d be even more perfect than it already is!

  6. It’d be worth it for the scratch n sniff card with “freshly dug earth and decaying flowers” on it. So many great aromas in this film — the flower shop, Ernie’s restaurant, the stables, the nun…

  7. Christopher Says:

    I can picture it!..I mean smell it!…I love earthy odors myself..I actualy blend my own Cologne in a Scent shop here..Frankensence-Myrrh-Cedarwood..and a touch of Baby’s Breath to bring it all for the Camels,I smell like a Caravan making its way up from the Land of Ur over the fertile Crescent and down into the land of Canaan…

  8. anagramsci,
    Ain’t it the truth. I bought a new dresser when I had a girlfriend nearly 30 years ago, and to this day the smell of cedar reminds me of her. Scent memory is a powerful thing.

  9. Our cat Izzy smelled of Farley’s Rusks. Our current cat Tasha does too, but only a little, and only sometimes. Why do Siamese cats smell of Rusks?

  10. I’m not up on GB processed food, about the only thing I know is Weetabix, which looks damn well like the same thing Jeff Goldblum ate in The Tall Guy. As for cats, I can’t be around them long enough to notice. The same girlfriend who cedar reminded me of, cat piss reminds me of because the lady she boarded with had something like five cats. I wonder if I should send her a facebook message, saying “thinking of you, I just smelled cat piss today”.

  11. Christopher Says:

    While looking at fotos from the 1800s to early 1900s of lovely ladys ..natural,actresses..St. Bernadette was one of them..I got to wondering how they must have smelled in those times..In a time when people didn’t bathe as regular.I could imagine an a most intoxicating aroma of just enough natural body odor and a touch of some earthy flowery perfume to create just the right scent..sent from God.My mouth commenced to water for the long passed and unatainable..
    ..The Indians in Mexico and New Mexico burn a Cedar-Pinion Inscense..You can buy it in shops..It can be a tad overpowering,but it will sure take you back to places in ancient times..that you may have visited..

  12. Probably good for exorcisms. And I bet handy for reminding you of those wooden horses you saw in a past life.

  13. Kim Beeman Says:

    I’m not quite sure where best to post this…
    Last fall this column recklessly offered a copy of La Fin du Jour for the asking. I just saw the film (at the film archive here in Berkeley, CA) — it was magnificent and haunting (or should I say dark and marvelous?) — and your offer popped up in a web search.
    Is there a chance of sending a copy my way? I would gratefully provide postage and any morsel in kind from my own cellar, perhaps some early Renoir, Yves Allegret, Feyder?
    Let me know and I’ll provide details etc. With thanks…

  14. Well, this is as good a place as any to ask! Yes, I’ll happily ship you a copy — it won’t compare to your big screen experience, being as it’s a rip from a 1980s VHS off-air recording, but at least you’ll own the film.

    A trade for Allegret or Feyder sounds more than generous. I shall be in touch via email.

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