KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Ekphrastic CNF/  
Prose Poem: 858 words

5 by (N°) 5

by Heidi Czerwiec there is no man capable of launching a Chanel No. 5.

—Edmond Roudnitska, “Where Are We Going?” (Nov. 1967)

Chapter N° 1: Origin Story, or The Scented Déjeuner (1920)

The invitation to the fashionable café on the Riviera near Grasse contained the curious request to attend in stylish attire, but otherwise unperfumed. When her guests arrived, she seated them at a charming table au plein air—elegantly decorated, but bare of flowers—nearest the promenade. They were surprised and delighted when their diminutive hostess spritzed each of them with a new perfume she was testing, oddly named only by number. Soon, sun- and wine-warmed, the scent hovered among them, expanded to envelop passers-by—enchanted, they stopped in their tracks, turned back to track its source. What is that fragrance? Where can I find it?

An aperitif of sparkling aldehydes, followed by rose and jasmine served on a bed of sandalwood, and concluded with a light dollop of creamy vanilla.

	They hadn’t known such
hunger for this smell until,
	devoured, it filled them.

It launched on the fifth day of the fifth month. To thank her garden party, she gifted them a precious bottle each. Her friend Misia confessed, It was like a winning lottery ticket.

Chapter N° 2: Sacre Cinq (5/5/1922)

Cinq similar to sacre: the cinqfoil roses above Aubazine convent where she spent her unmothered girlhood. The five wounds made in an incarnate god; the five sorrows of his fleshed mother. The body’s five senses. The pentacle made by DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man; the number of Man. Mademoiselle Chanel, fascinated by Madame Blavatsky’s theosophy, its individualized mysticism, made five her lucky number.

Chapter N° 3: Iconic (1960)

Interviewer: What do you wear to bed?
Marilyn Monroe: Only five drops of Chanel N° 5.

Because of Marilyn, the Hollywood icon, we thought of Chanel N° 5, the perfume icon, thought its boxy bottle and classic aldehydes a contrast to her curves and bottle blonde. Composed in the Roaring Twenties, the scent allowed Coco to strike a balance between purity and decadence, its formula a sort of autobiography of her convent school’s crisp, soapy aldehydes and the innocence of vanilla wherein dwelled the virginal Gabrielle, the luxurious rose soliflores of the ladies she admired and aspired to be, and the indolic jasmine and civet of the demimondes and mistresses of which she was one, all enflasked in a whiskey decanter like that favored by a lover she dubbed “Boy.” An instant success with the New Woman, it survived by exclusivity, desire its sole advertisement, until tainted by Coco’s unsavory association with the fishy Vichy government. To stave off bad exposure for treasonous activities, she surrendered free bottles to American GIs, the scent the ultimate French souvenir for soldiers’ sweethearts Stateside, good exposure that couldn’t be bought.

Because of Marilyn suggesting the image of herself naked as the day she was born, the star’s sultriness scrubbed Chanel’s image clean as a baby. Marilyn’s boudoir-wear of just five drops of N° 5—naked throat (left, right), naked cleavage, naked wrists (left, right)—left imaginations reeling at the idea of clean-scrubbed Norma Jean transformed into a new woman and scented for her famous lovers. Thus, the two icons forever fused.

Because of Marilyn, and like Marilyn, Chanel N° 5 is a cultural artifact so instantly identifiable, both she and it appear in Andy Warhol’s pop-art prints: Marilyn’s smile like silk; Chanel’s screen of scent.

And yet, because of Marilyn, the best advertising campaign has failed Chanel—everyone’s grandmother and mother wore it, a tainted association which deflates its sex appeal. Despite deliberately restricted advertising that nonetheless fanned demand, by 1990 more money was spent to promote it than any other brand. No ad campaign could save it: not Catherine Deneuve, not Nicole Kidman, not Brad Pitt could recapture that Hollywood glamor of Marilyn. Not even Marilyn, again the image of Chanel thanks to digital manipulation in the new millennium. An icon too iconic—a five-pointed star

	collapsing into 
itself—a sex supernova 

Chapter N° 4: False Idols (2016)

Especially in vintage form, N° 5 is one of the most faked fragrances on eBay. Counterfeit labels printed unembossed and affixed askew, looking askance, begging the question. Missing manufacturing information, unpapered and therefore unpedigreed. Bottles unsealed and spilled, filled with the weaker eau de cologne or just eau de colored eau. Oh well—no guarantees with vintage juice, they shrug. The bold don’t bother to hide it, brag on Google, bottled in Hong Kong, sent from Russia, with love.

Chapter N° 5: (1990, 1991)

I went to prom with the same boy, a boy I loved and favored for a lover, for two years. The first time, I wore black satin overlaid with black lace. The second time, I wore red satin, gathered and draped as though wrapped in a just-got-laid bedsheet. Both times, I wore Chanel N° 5, borrowed from my mother’s boudoir since my own everyday scent, Anaïs Anaïs—despite evoking a favorite eroticist—seemed too candy-sweet. The Chanel smelled stately, grown-up, untouchable.

	I wanted the boy
to touch me, wrap me in his sheets;
	he never did.



Publisher’s Note:

The epigraph above is from an academic paper, Où Allons-Nous? (“Where Are We Going?”), presented in 1967 by legendary master perfumer and author Edmond Roudnitska at the Academie d’Osmologie et de Dermologie.

Heidi Czerwiec
Issue 6, Fall 2016

is a poet and essayist, and poetry editor of North Dakota Quarterly. She is the author of two recent chapbooks—A Is For A-ké, The Chinese Monster and Sweet/Crude: A Bakken Boom Cycle—and of the forthcoming collection Maternal Imagination; as well as the editor of North Dakota Is Everywhere: An Anthology of Contemporary North Dakota Poets. She lives in Minneapolis.

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