Proving the Existence of Chanel No. 9
Chanel No. 9 is an odd cryptid of the fragrance world.
Dozens of people online vehemently insist they saw or smelled No. 9 as recently as the seventies and eighties. And yet… no photographs of the perfume exist. It can’t be found in any advertisements. There’s no preserved record of it on eBay.
So what is the truth?
In trying to answer this question, I’ve compiled every reference to Chanel No. 9 I could find. In this post I will provide these in their entirety and then analyze them, reviewing the timeline, similarities, and any notable differences. The references are sorted chronologically within a number of sub-categories.
The goal is to have an idea of how cohesive the cultural narrative of Chanel No. 9 is — whether everyone seems to remember a similar note pyramid and timeframe, or people’s experiences seem too scattered to be accurate — and to discover some definite first-hand evidence as to the existence of No. 9.
I’ve collected evidence from forums as well as books, historical advertisements, and other cultural artifacts. I then analyze these and draw conclusions regarding the question of No. 9’s existence.
This is a rather extensive report, far longer than I had intended it to be. Admittedly, it’s more of a casual research paper than a blog post. My goal is to thoroughly document all the main cultural beats and recollections that support the existence of Chanel No. 9 in one place. There was simply far more to document than I ever could have expected.
Having completed this analysis, I am confident that the evidence indicates Chanel No. 9 did exist, and that it was sold from 1924 to an uncertain date, when it was discontinued. Not only did it exist, but the scent was highly culturally relevant and generally known for decades after its release.
It is unclear when this discontinuation occurred, but the scent does not appear in any advertisements from the seventies and eighties, the time that many people today remember the scent from.
I then posit that the many cultural memories and recollections of No. 9 spanning all the way to the eighties that describe it as a relatively well-known scent are most likely legitimate. Chanel No. 9 continued to be frequently referenced in popular culture all the way from its conception through the seventies and eighties as a popular and influential perfume.
My theory is that the scent survived in the zeitgeist several decades after its likely discontinuation through resale, thrift, and mother-to-daughter passing down of bottles.
By the time you finish reading this (admittedly rather long) post, I’m confident you’ll agree with me that Chanel No. 9 did, in fact, exist, and remained relatively well-known for decades after its release. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and theories about what happened to it.
My grandmother used to wear something called “Chanel no. 9.” I am 100% sure it is NOT Chanel no. 19, or even Chanel no. 5. Apparently, according to my father who purchased the bottle for her in the 70s, the fragrance DID exist, but was discontinued.Basenotes user Paradelle, 2011
I know this is an old thread, but I wore Chanel No. 9 for years. I loved it. It was my signature scent. I don’t remember why or exactly when I stopped wearing it, but it was definitely from the late 70s to at least the early 80s.Basenotes user kshannon, 2011
My mother wore it also and I would love to have a bottle.Basenotes user joy parker, 2012
there was a Chanel No 9, i remember it when i was a teenager, and they did discontinue it.Basenotes user shellyk67, 2013
My older sister had a bottle of it in the late 1980s. I remember exactly how it smelled. She let me borrow it for my Senior picture. I’ll never forget it. 😀 It was almost a dead ringer for Cristalle, except with a slightly darker undertone. That’s probably why they discontinued it.Basenotes user TexasDiva, 2013
I remember Chanel No 9. It wasn’t as sweet as Chanel No 5 and I liked it better. Wasn’t into notes in those days so I can’t help there. I just remember it felt to me like a more sophisticated perfume.Basenotes user ScentFan, 2013
my mother has a bottle of No.9 given to her by my grandmother. At first I was thinking its no.19 faded but its not, and it does not smell like it either. I am wondering why it is so elusive? It has a greenish vibe of 19 but not as green, but much deeper and bitter compared to 19. The floral aspect and powderiness are also amplified with an almost soil like bitterness to it.Fragrantica user halalula1234, 2014
I wore Chanel #9 in high school (early 80’s) and I received so many compliments. I loved this fragrance so much that I saved my bottle and filled it with baby oil. It came in box-set with a black travel spray in the shape of a rectangle lipstick. Sadly, I cannot find this little travel gem, but, there might be hope when I go through my boxes my mother still has stored up in her garage attic. Let me know if you want me to share a pic of my bottle. A sales manager at Macy’s told me there are Chanel Boutiques that still sell Chanel #9 but, I have yet to find one. […] Sorry. I have not forgotten to take a picture of my bottle. I’ve been so busy trying to get ready for Christmas and working 12 hour days, its been impossible. I will get to it soon.Basenotes user KeepKaren, 2014
Note: the above user never did end up posting a picture of the bottle. The lipstick-shaped travel size perfume is indeed a Chanel product that existed. These bottles were typically sold filled with Chanel No. 5. It is unclear when the bottle was first released, but sellers on Etsy and eBay date their bottles to the 1950s.
it definitely existed because i’ve seen it….a sample of it anyway. it was after school one day, and teachers didnt stick around to supervise students left behind but not in the “after-school program.” so we were cutting up. i decided to rifle through my 4th grade teacher’s desk and i found two fragrance samples. i dont remember the other, but i definitely remember one being chanel no 9, which i’ve been searching for since then. it was similar to the vintage chanel no 5 but more powdery and a little floral. it was soooo beautiful.Basenotes user saraj, 2016
About 19 years ago I was living with a foster family and my foster mom definitely had Chanel No 9. I remember it distinctly, because I was shocked it wasn’t the popular Chanel no 5, and 9 was one of my favorite numbers. I fell in LOVE with the perfume. She only had a small bottle, but it was SO strong you didn’t need much. I’d always ask her if I could have a dab when I went in her room. hehe. […] I’ve read that it was a discontinued perfume from at least 50 years ago.Basenotes user MariG16, 2018
I used to wear Chanel No.9 in the 80s. It was vintage and very affordable.Basenotes user BurqueNegra, 2021
Of course, many forum users express skepticism as well. A few espouse the theory that, although the Chanel No. 9 so many people remember from the seventies and eighties doesn’t exist, there was likely a fragrance with that number produced much earlier for a brief period of time, which is now adding to the confusion. One Fragrantica user summarized the historical context of this theory of Chanel No. 9 rather succinctly:
There are quite a few legit long lost Chanel fragrances that existed before the 1950s, such as Glamour de Chanel, Ivoire de Chanel, Chanel No. 46…. And there are rare ragrances that Coco Chanel put out in red bottles when she broke off from Wertheimer, like ‘Mademoiselle Chanel No. 1″ and original “31 Rue Cambon.” But I can find no actual real evidence that a Chanel No. 9 existed, unless it’s one of the really early Chanel numbered fragrances which were quickly discontinued within a few years of their release. A lot of the people online who mention a Chanel No. 9 speak of it as being available in the 70s or even early 80s, and this is what I’m very skeptical of – I think these individuals are accidentally confusing it with No. 5 or No. 19. I have written to some of the people who have claimed online to have a Chanel No. 9 in a box somewhere that they remember getting in the 1970s or thereabouts, but no one has ever produced a photo. If you insist that it existed, then please snap a photo with your camera phone & post it here. If it really is No. 9 then I assume it’s a super old bottle from the 20s or 30s…Fragrantica user hadas, 2014
On Blogs and Websites
A few perfume blogs and websites claim Chanel No. 9 exists. Unfortunately, none of these provide any primary sources, but I will catalogue them here for the sake of thoroughness in documenting the community’s convictions about No. 9.
One such example is a vintage-perfume-dating eBay buying guide, which is no longer online, but which I was able to retreive through the Wayback Machine. The guide is written by blogger and antique dealer Grace from Cleopatra’s Boudoir. (She also runs Chanel Perfume Bottles, a second blog dedicated solely to Chanel.) In the eBay guide, Grace mentions Chanel No. 9 at the bottom of a list of Chanel perfumes, annotated “Found these scents but unknown dates,” alongside Chanel No. 7 and Chanel No. 1. On her Chanel blog, she writes of Chanel No. 9: “Discontinued, date unknown; still being sold in 1930.”
Perfume Intelligence, a website that describes itself as “a comprehensive illustrated Encyclopaedia of Perfume, claims to have all of the Chanel perfumes in its index. Chanel No. 9 is in its listings, but with less information than any other Chanel entry attached. In an alphabetical list split across two pages, their complete log of Chanel perfumes includes elusive numbers such as No. 1, No. 7, and No. 9. The entry for No. 9 includes no details and no release date, only its current status: discontinued.
There is one more relevant website I’ve read with useful information about Chanel No. 9. I’ll describe this one later in the Catalogs and Advertisements section, because a tip I found there led me to definitive vintage-print-ad proof that Chanel No. 9 did, in fact, exist.
Of the various types of cultural evidence here, fiction perhaps has the least weight of all in the proving of the existence (and popularity in its time) of Chanel No. 9. Still, the frequency of references to Chanel No. 9 in popular fiction over the ages reinforces the idea that the name and number of the perfume was fairly well-known.
Although it’s true that these authors might have just made up a random perfume number — this is fiction, after all — the realistic world each of these novels would make such a decision lack any worldbuilding basis. Therefore, I consider the sum of references to Chanel No. 9 in fiction — and there are a significant number of them — as a testament to the general cultural awareness of the scent as a concept.
As she started across the room, she stopped, pausing beside the dresser, taking up a bottle of Chanel No. 9.Jerry Ahem, The Doomsayer, 1981
Then Gabby Brent sailed past her on a cloud of Chanel No. 9.Jane Dentinger, Dead Pan, 1994
She crouches beside me and the air swims with Chanel No. 9, the fragrance she adopted after my father’s killing in bottle tops. She said it smelled expensive. It affects me like smelling salts.Aimee Liu, Face, 1995
The scent of her Chanel No. 9, borne by the wind, teased his nostrils.Barbara Collins, Too Many Tomcats and Other Feline Tales of Suspense, 2000
I breathed in her haunting scent, which lurked about her person underneath the mixed perfumes of Chanel No. 9 and a fragrant skin creme like a cherished memory, and fireworks went off in my head.D. W. Chong, Algernon Hent: My Life, Your Dimes, 2000
And you figure you only live once, why waste it with some doddering chemist who reeks of formaldehyde instead of Chanel No. 9, or 5, or whatever it is.John Sebastian Alexander, The Suicide Squad, 2003
Its glass-covered top was cluttered with her things — face powder, eye-liner, mascara, lipstick, nail enamel, puffs and brushes, and a bottle of Chanel No.9.Roger Croft, Bent Triangle, 2001
He leaned against her and thought she smelled of alcohol and a different perfume than he’d [sic] had on earlier, perhaps Chanel No. 9, which Arno realized he recognized because his mother wore it.J. Minter, Pass It On: An Insiders Novel, 2004
Morgan threw his napkin on the table and in two strides was standing next to her, savouring the subtle scent of Chanel No.9.Mark Frankel, Morgan, 2008
“We’re on channel nine — you know, like Chanel No. 9.” She beamed. “My idea.”Lisi Harrison, A Tale of Two Pretties, 2011
I took a deep breath and I could smell her Chanel No. 9 Italian style perfume.Kristen Washington, The Girls Who Have It All, 2011
(Considering it called Chanel Italian-style, I’m not counting that one for much, but it’s worth mentioning.)
He imagined her drinking a heavily mickied aperitif as she spritzed herself with cyanide-laced Chanel No. 9, the smell of bitter almond faintly lingering in her boudoir.Kellie Wells, Fat Girl, Terrestrial, 2012
Time found itself consumed with trying to find the source of the sweet, hypnotic fragrance that mysteriously radiated from a black-and-white-colored vial of pure and dark golden honey.
The fragrance was clean and pleasant, like fresh air right after a summer rain.
The sweet aroma that remained resembled that of a thousand fresh-cut roses had gathered and then placed in a single room for an unknown purpose.
Inevitably, the source of the fragrance was discovered and the mystery solved.
Time was amazed to find that the source was a pair of beautiful white high heels, encased in a gorgeous vial of dark golden honey, to which had been added a single drop of Chanel No. 9.John Thomas Qua, Poetic Beauty: An Abstract Encounter in Black, 2014
I just turned sixty, it’s the worst birthday I’ve had since Chanel discontinued Chanel No. 9.Anita Hughes, Rome in Love, 2015
An interesting note on this one: this is a novel set in modern times, cell phones and all. The sixty-year-old woman proclaiming Chanel No. 9 was discontinued in her lifetime implies the perfume was discontinued (in this fictional world) sometime after 1940.
The walker was evidently in her twenties. A beautiful woman, with blonde hair, red lipstick. Wearing Chanel No.9 no doubt, but I sensed something darker.Quagzlor, The Bathroom Door: (and One Other Story), 2017
“I’ve missed you too,” Nina whispered in her ear, taking in her [Nina’s mother’s] soft scent of her cologne Chanel No.9 as always.Melissa Mimi Ewell, Blackberry Cobbler, 2018
Tag had gotten home at seven o’clock in the morning smelling of Bushmills and Chanel No. 9.Elin Hilderbrand, The Perfect Couple, 2018
“What kind of perfume?”
“Chanel No. 9,” Samy said, poker-faced.
“What? What is Chanel No. 9? And how do you know what it smells like?”
Samy’s face broke into a smile. “I have no idea, dude. I’m kidding. I seen Chanel No. 9 in commercials, you think I know what it smells like –“Scot McEwen & Hof Williams, Camp Valor, 2018
He got a whiff of her Chanel No. 9 perfume as he kissed her on the neck.Brittani Williams, Cover Girl: Prized Possessions, 2019
And yet, he caught a whiff of Anahita’s Chanel No. 9, a glimpse of little Nina’s pink hair ribbons, a snatch of Nikku’s pubescent belly laugh.Susanne Pari, In the Time of Our History: A Novel, 2022
Mentions of Chanel No. 9 in nonfiction hold more weight in proving its existence than in fiction. The medium eliminates the possibility that the author simply made the perfume up, that it only exists in their fictional universe. Although not all of the included quotes here directly describe what Chanel No. 9 smells like, they prove a general cultural awareness of the scent and its nature that permeates everything from marketing to academia to religion. These are people who take the existence of the perfume for granted and have possibly smelled it themselves, or at least claim to know something of its qualities.
In Fragrance Writing
Arguably the most compelling nonfiction argument for its existence, books on perfumes don’t have much to say about Chanel No. 9. The scent is mentioned in exactly one such book:
Also offered for sale were the perfumes Chanel No.7. Chanel No.9, Chanel No. 11 and Chanel No.22. The prices ranged by size from a modestly expensive $4.50 to an astonishingly $175 for an impressively large bottle, the modern day equivalent of from $50 to nearly two thousand.Tilar J. Mazzeo, The Secret of Chanel No. 5, 2010
In Creative Nonfiction and Memoirs
Personal nonfiction mentioning Chanel No. 9 is something like a modern fragrance board recollection of the scent, captured historically from a previous era. These give credence to Chanel No. 9 as a scent people claim to have smelled in centuries past. The included excerpts indicate that Chanel No. 9 was a familiar and widely-known scent from the thirties through the eighties, and potentially through the nineties.
We were ushered to chairs inlaid with mother-of pearl while the tout’s ‘father’ launched into a well-polished spiel: what is sold in the West as French perfume, he claimed, is made at Grasse from a much diluted base of Egyptian oil, distilled from flowers grown in vast commercial crops in the Nile Valley. Once home in New Zealand, I could dilute his Chanel No. 9 or Opium base nine times with ethyl alcohol, and end up with French perfume.David Burton, A Mullet In Luxor, published in Sport Magazine Issue 8, Autumn 1992
This above quote is a reflection on childhood events, although a precise year is not given. The author describes photographs of Egypt in 1940 and then his trip to Egypt a “half century” later, making this potentially a reference to Chanel No. 9 made as recently as 1990. It is unclear whether the father in this quote brought this up as a specific example, or if the author is listing examples of perfumes he is very familiar with. In any case, it demonstrates that Chanel No. 9 was a popular scent on par with YSL’s Opium well after the twenties and thirties.
I loved the way she said “perfume.” She made it sound like it smelled, sweet and soft. Her favorite ones were Charlie, White Shoulders, and Chanel No. 9. I liked the White Shoulders, ’cause that’s what she wore the most. That other stuff gave me a headache whenever I got a whiff of it.Regina Louise, Somebody’s Someone: A Memoir, 2003
Here, Chanel No. 9 is mentioned alongside two perfumes known to exist and enjoy popularity through the seventies and eighties, Evyan’s White Shoulders and Revlon’s Charlie. The speaker is describing her mother’s perfumes. Author Regina Louise Kerr-Taylor was born in 1963, making it likely that these childhood memories took place in the seventies.
Her eyes followed me as I touched my grandmother’s expensive perfumes on her vanity table. I spritzed myself with Chanel No. 9…D’Arcy Fallon, So Late, So Soon: A Memoir, 2004
The above memoir is from the perspective of a young woman lwho flees her family past to live on Lighthouse Ranch in the mid-1970s. Here, it is implied that her grandmother owned Chanel No. 9, and that the author borrowed it in the seventies.
I was always obsessed with the Chanel No. 9 and Alexis Carrington. My fictituous persona was Natasha, a young Russian immigrant who took New York City by storm!Anonymous journal writer, Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic., edited by David Nadelberg, 2006
This is a retrospective note on childhood journals and documents, although an exact date is not given. Alexis Carrington is a character from the CW soap opera Dynasty, which aired from 1981 to 1989, making this a likely eighties recollection of No. 9.
I particularly loved the Arpege bottle, black with gold letters. Aunt Lee Lee would often quote the slogan “Every woman needs Arpege!” I remember Dior’s Intoxication, Caron’s Bellogia, Joy, the most expensive perfume in the world at the time, and more working-class bottles like the lapis blue Evening in Paris I had bought myself at Woolworth’s. Emeraude was Aunt Millie’s favorite, and my mother admired an English Penhaligons [sic] Carnation and of course Chanel No. 5 and No. 9. Aunt Lee Lee changed perfumes according to the season.Carole Dale, This Life and the Fireworks, 2009
What a detailed personal history of perfumes this passage is. I haven’t been able to ascertain the exact birthdate of the author, but she mentions her parents were married in 1936. The release dates of all the mentioned perfumes — at least, all the ones I can find, as I’m not certain what the Penhaligon’s Carnation and Dior Intoxication are — are in the late 1920s.
Perhaps the author meant Intoxication by d’Orsay, rather than by Dior, which was released in 1938.
California girls smelled of Chanel No. 9; Palauan girls smelled of nature.P. G. Bryan, The Fish and Rice Chronicles: My Extraordinary Adventures in Palau and Micronesia, 2011
This memoir describes events from 1967 to 1970, meaning the author was familiar with No. 9 as a popular scent by or before the sixties.
[…] the smell of burning pinton, oak and juniper wood permeating the pure air which, to a Chicano, smells better than Chanel Number 9, the expensive French perfume. […] “Well, my good man,” she says, “I’ll have you know it’s Chanel Number 9 and it costs $150.00 an ounce!”Medardo Gonzales, Mi Vida Loca: My Crazy Life: A Biographical and Historical Account of the Life of a Native New American in the Twentieth Century, 2019
The author of this last quote was born in 1933, and at this point in the memoir is describing the place of his birth and telling an old joke.
In Anti-Smoking Literature
Funnily enough, many of the non-fiction references to Chanel No. 9 appear in academic literature about smoking. Some half a dozen publications describe it as one of the marketing inspirations for naming Camel No. 9, a black-and-pink-packaged cigarette line designed to appeal to women, alongside songs like Love Potion No. 9 and phrases like “dressed to the nines.”
The name was described by RJR marketing executives as meant to evoke happiness – being “on cloud nine” – or the heights of style and fashion – being “dressed to the nines”. Others cited in media coverage of the launch thought it might also suggest luxury perfumes such as Chanel No 9, or romantic songs such as “Love Potion No 9”.David Simpson, USA: Camel for Women, From Tobacco Control [a peer-reviewed medical research journal published by BMJ], 2007
In fairness, some write-ups (such as this New York Times piece by Stuart Elliott, February 15, 2007) describe the cigarettes as inspired by Chanel No. 19, not No. 9. Nevertheless, at least a dozen sources cite the inspiration as No. 9. It also exactly matches the name given to the cigarette line.
In Religious Work
A number of books of sermons and religious essays mention Chanel No. 9 as a paragon of modern sweetness or of sin, a contemporary Balm of Gilead or a devilish excess:
Maybe it was the pebble in my Mary Janes. Or maybe it was the distinctive fragrance of cornflowers in the hot sun. Verdant. Earthy. Familiar, like the way my mother smells — of Chanel No. 9 and translucent dusting powder — before she goes out for the evening with my father.Cathleen Falsani, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, 2008
It is in the dark of night that we find ten bridesmaids on the night of a Jewish wedding, sleeping. Can you imagine? Ten bridesmaids with faces full of MAC makeup, eyeshadow by Sephora, Chanel No. 5, Chanel No. 9 — yes, they had them both!Dwight A. Moody, Sermons from the 2017 National Festival of Young Preachers, 2017
The pharmacy offers medication for sickness and disease but without the fragrant forgiveness of sins. What’s the substitute for the Balm of Gilead? Chanel No. 9?Doug Opalski, It Only Hurts When I Laugh, 2020
In Other Nonfiction
Miscellaneous biographical, academic, and government documents also mention Chanel No. 9.
…guitarist Keith Richard — one side being an inevitable remake of Spell, but the other was vintage Hawkins fodder, a delightful parady [sic] on Chanel No. 9 perfume that he called Armpit No. 6.Stuart Coleman, They Kept on Rockin’: Giants of Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1982
The items here are Keith Richard singles. Armpit #6 was originally recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1958, and later re-recorded by Keith Richard in 1979.
Created for a three-person show at the Queens Museum, Love Potion #9 was inspired by The Clovers’ 1959 hit single of the same name, a pop “novelty item” that became a Top 40 hit. The song is a commercial music example of the age-old, black vernacular, verbal paractice known as “signifyin’.” In it, the powers of love, hoodoo magic, and a popular French perfume (Chanel No. 9) are humorously cross-referenced.Judith Wilson, Down to the Crossroads: The Art of Alison Saar, From Callaloo [Black culture and arts journal published by the Johns Hopkins University Press] Volume 14, Issues 1-2, 1991; reprinted with permission from Third Text, No. 10, Spring 1990, London
The above quote references artist Alison Saar’s 1988 installation, Love Potion #9, as well as the song of the same name that inspired it. It claims that the 1959 song contains references to the perfume Chanel No. 9. The author, art historian Judith Wilson, provides no source for this claim besides her own experience and analysis of the song. If true, this indicates that Chanel No. 9 was still a well-known and popular perfume in 1959.
Wilson was born in 1952. Her interpretation of the cultural references of Love Potion #9 is based in her firsthand experience growing up when it was released. This lends weight to her implication that the perfume Chanel No. 9 was a well-known cultural motif in the fifties.
Between 1958’s Armpit #6 and 1959’s Love Potion #9, the music of the late fifties seems rife with cultural references to Chanel No. 9. The close proximity of these two pieces of musical evidence strengthens my conviction that the motif isn’t a coincidence.
I just want to point out that I agree with you about the fact that we are here to implement the law and sometimes there is problems. And God knows, at Air Resources Board, I didn’t want to touch colognes and hair sprays or consumer products. You start messing with a lady’s Chanel No. 9, you get into real problems.Mr. Bilbray, quoted from The Views of the Administration on Regulatory Reform: An Update: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee of Energy and Commerce House of Representatives. One Hundred Twelfth Congress, First Session, June 3, 2011
The Mr. Bilbray here is James Hubert Bilbray, a former Nevada Congressman born in 1938. His example of Chanel No. 9, while most likely not contemporary, indicates a familiarity with the perfume as a household name at some point during his life.
In Catalogs and Advertisements
Written third-party references are one thing. Apart from contemporary photographs, catalogs and newspaper advertisements are the visual proof perfume lovers hunger for in the search for Chanel No. 9.
One Chanel information site developed by a fan of the brand claims that Chanel No. 9 was mentioned in a lineup of fragrances in the first print Chanel ad. They say the following:
The inaugural marketing was discreet and deliberately restricted. The first ad appeared in The New York Times on 16 December 1924. It was a small print ad for “Parfums Chanel” announcing the Chanel line of fragrances now available at Bonwit Teller, an upscale department store. In the ad, all the bottles were indistinguishable from each another, displaying all the Chanel perfumes available, #9, #11, #22, and the centerpiece of the line, #5. This presentation of the product line was the extent of the advertising campaign in the 1920s and appeared only intermittently.Sang Jinlee’s Chanel fansite on Github
The website sites no sources for these claims, but I was intrigued. I hunted down a scan of the December 16, 1924 New York Times and pored through it for the ad.
And pore I did. I looked through all 52 pages of the day’s issue on the cleverly named TimesMachine, a tool for viewing old New York Times papers.
And there it was.
On page five of the New York Times issue of Tuesday, December 16, 1924:
There it is.
Indisputable proof of the existence of Chanel No. 9.
There’s no chance of that being a typo meaning No. 5, since that one is mentioned in the same line two items prior. And it also can’t be a misprint of No. 19, since that one didn’t come out until 1972.
In 1924, Chanel did indeed have a No. 9 for sale.
Not only that, but it also had a No. 7. Chanel perfumes No. 5, 11, and 22 are well-known compositions that exist to this day. No. 9 is the rare cryptid people sometimes claim to remember.
But No. 7? What is Chanel No. 7?
This lineup also matches Mazzeo’s quoted lineup from The Secret of Chanel No. 5 exactly down to the order, further legitimizing that claim: 5, 7, 9, 11, 22.
There were a few other leads for advertisements that looked promising. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, some publishers only allow Google Books to show brief search snippets of search books rather than a full page. Several such snippets appear to be proof of Chanel No. 9 advertisements dating to the seventies and eighties, but I haven’t yet found a way to get full page scans to know for sure.
Here’s something that looks like a Chanel No. 9 advertisement on page 15 of Volume 25, Issue 1 of Exclusively Yours, January 5, 1972:
Given the context of the time, however, I’m guessing this is actually a misprint or incorrect scan of an advertisement for Chanel No. 19. That fragrance came out in 1972 and was the first Chanel fragrance release in many years, which matches the description given in the snippet.
Another similar snipped I found is from page 76 of Volume 59, Issues 33-39 of The New Yorker. This snippet has even less information, merely mentioning Chanel No. 9 by name. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is also a misprint or scanning error that should read No. 19, and don’t consider it conclusive evidence that No. 9 was being advertised in the eighties:
These jumbled snippets aside, my search for a more recent ad mentioning Chanel No. 9 hit a dead end. It seems the perfume absolutely existed and was advertised in 1924, but there’s no conclusive ad evidence after that year that it remained in production.
A Brief Detour: Chanel No. 7
After seeing that New York Times ad, I had even more questions than before: namely, about this Chanel No. 7. This perfume has even fewer mentions on the Internet than the elusive Chanel No. 9. It appears to be another very early Chanel release, swiftly renamed or discontinued.
I haven’t found any forum discussions, ecommerce listings, or notes lists related to Chanel No. 7.
I did find a handful of mentions of Chanel No. 7, all of these in fiction books. As in the above section of fictional references to Chanel No. 9, although these are all realistic fiction and would have no reason to invent a new perfume, they are not necessarily proof that the actual fragrance existed. However, they are proof of the existence of the concept of Chanel No. 9 in the zeitgeist.
It’s entirely possible each of these authors is either intentionally making up a number instead of looking up a real perfume or else misremembering a different one, but I think the existence of the ad combined with the smattering of references in fiction proves that at least some people out there had heard of Chanel No. 7. In fact, I’d say this lends strength to the vast number of fictional references to Chanel No. 9 as proof of it as a perfume of which the general public was at least vaguely aware.
She took fifteen minutes with her makeup — made it invisible — and after applying the slightest touch of Chanel No. 7, she went down to the parking garage and climbed into the Jaguar.John Sandford, Certain Prey, 2004
…more movie stars, more pink and blue bathrobes, more tufted beds and Chanel No. 7…Judith Freeman, The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, 2007
Mum deodorant, V05 shampoo, Clinique hydrating face cream, Chanel No. 7, a hint of sweat.Henry Sutton, Get Me Out of Here, 2010
He suspected it was Chanel No 7, the perfume he liked when he was studying in London, Lola’s favorite.Vincent Egbuson, Zhero, 2015
It was here that 60 percent of all flavors and smells in America — including the never released Chanel No. 7, […] were designed, carefully tested, and then mass-produced for taste buds and quivering olfactory epithelia all across the universe.Reif Larsen, I am Radar: A Novel, 2015
He detected soft classical music and the distinct aroma of Chanel Number 7.David Beeson, The Baby Farm, 2017
Hints of Chanel No. 7 cling to their skin; Joanne’s favorite.Sophie Flynn, Keep Them Close, 2022
In Online Marketplaces
Links in forum posts suggest that once or twice, someone has listed an item for sale on eBay they claim is Chanel No. 9. Unfortunately, none of the product pages exist anymore, and The Wayback Machine doesn’t have an archive of any of them, so I can’t comment on these.
One place does claim to be selling something like Chanel No. 9. It’s an esoteric knock-off perfume oil ecommerce website called The Aroma Store.
The extremely plain HTML of the site strikes me as odd immediately. The site also features no descriptions, note pyramids, or reviews of any of the products it has for sale, nor any other indications of business trust. (Listen, I understand most knock-off-perfume-oil producers are going to be a little sketchy, but give me something to work with.)
The Chanel No. 9 perfume oil is no exception, with absolutely no description beyond the name:
A quick WhoIs domain lookup reveals the site was registered in 2004 and hasn’t been updated since January 6, 2020. I’d be tempted to try this if I knew anything about what it smelled like and saw any indication that this is a legitimate, active business.
I’ve reached out to the site owner asking for a description of what the Chanel No. 9 oil smells like and as of this writing have not received a response.
When it comes to buying something that calls itself No. 9 today, there’s one more possibility. It’s a long shot, but if you could swear you’ve seen a bottle of Chanel No. 9 recently, it’s possible you’re thinking of No. 9 Flower of Story, a perfume from Chinese company Story of Love Cosmetic Co.
The bottle and packaging of the product are incredibly similar to those of Chanel No. 5 — so much so that Chanel sued and won €83,108 in compensation. (Although the court supported the argument that the bottle was too similar, they supported the defendant regarding the outer box packaging being not distinct enough for its copying to be an infringement of intellectual property rights.)
If you think you’ve recently seen a modern Chanel bottle shape labeled No. 9, there’s your culprit.
As I discussed in the Nonfiction section, there is published work that states both 1958 single Armpit #6 and 1959 single Love Potion #9 allude to the Chanel No. 9 perfume.
Interestingly, there are a handful of references to Chanel No. 9 in contemporary music as well. I’m treating these similarly to the way I treat fiction: these aren’t proof that 9 exists, but they are proof that it exists in the culture, that people generally have heard of it.
Perhaps the most interesting one isn’t a song lyric itself, but one rapper’s backstory. Swedish rapper Deep Fried released his debut single, Chanel Girl, in 1994. Various musician biographies, both listed in Google Books and on websites like Shazam, claim “It was dedicated to the model in the perfume advert for Chanel No. 9.”
This is probably a widely-copied misstyping of Chanel No. 19, but every single rendition of the brief rapper bio mentions No. 9. It’s probable the rapper was thinking of a model in an advertisement for Chanel No. 19, but the possibility of a lost No. 9 ad from England, Sweden, or Barbados — countries where the rapper was born, grew up, and worked, respectively — is intriguing.
Otherwise, there are a handful of references to Chanel No. 9 in song lyrics:
Chanel number 9 for the booty, now you wanna stare?Junior Mafia feat. DJ S&S, Realms of Junior Mafia — Part II, 1995
Chanel №9, Chanel №5, well, you got ’em bothDrake & Future, Jumpman, 2015
It’s Chanel number 9Kid Ink, Gift Wrap, 2016
Bought her Chanel No. 9, now my girl smells like a peachFuture & Lil Uzi Vert, That’s it, 2020
There are also three songs called Chanel No. 9: by Shun Millions, Baby Jordan, and Joshua Zatarain.
(As an aside, Future seems to like writing about Chanel No. 9. Does he know something we don’t? Perhaps a re-release is in our, ahem, Future?)
The only definitive evidence of Chanel No. 9 being in production that I have found — the New York Times ad — dates to 1924. Beyond this date, it remains unclear when No. 9 was discontinued.
Culturally, however, the large number of references to the perfume in music, novels, memoirs, and art suggests that the perfume remained fairly well-known and influential throughout the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. Sure, perhaps some of these references are accidental, but I find it highly unlikely that all or even many of them are.
Compiling Scent Descriptors
Having collected numerous first-hand descriptions of Chanel No. 9, I set about compiling these. I want to know if there’s cohesion here: are people’s descriptions strikingly similar, or rather all over the place?
Note: I am exclusing the “smells like a peach” lyric of Future & Lil Uzi Vert’s That’s It from this compilation. It appears evident that the words were merely chosen to slant rhyme with the previous line’s end word, “release.”
Descriptions of Chanel No. 9 Pulled From the Compiled Sources
- “It was almost a dead ringer for Cristalle, except with a slightly darker undertone.”
- “It wasn’t as sweet as Chanel No 5 and I liked it better […] I just remember it felt to me like a more sophisticated perfume.”
- “it was similar to the vintage chanel no 5 but more powdery and a little floral.”
- “SO strong”
- “It has a greenish vibe of 19 but not as green, but much deeper and bitter compared to 19. The floral aspect and powderiness are also amplified with an almost soil like bitterness to it.”
- “smelled expensive”
- “It affects me like smelling salts.”
- “The fragrance was clean and pleasant, like fresh air right after a summer rain. The sweet aroma that remained resembled that of a thousand fresh-cut roses had gathered and then placed in a single room for an unknown purpose.”
- “gave me a headache”
- “…the distinctive fragrance of cornflowers in the hot sun. Verdant. Earthy.”
It’s a loose collection of notes, to be sure. But is there a cohesive story here? I think so.
Put together, all of these descriptions seem to agree Chanel No. 9 was powdery, floral, fresh, bitter-green, and a little earthy. Like Chanel No. 5, it featured soft, powdery, floral, and fresh accords. Like Chanel No. 19, it had a verdant green bitterness to it. Like Cristalle Eau de Parfum, it most likely had a heavy dose of oakmoss, all earthy and mossy, bitter like soil and wet like rain.
Based on these compiled descriptions, it seems that Chanel No. 9 was No. 5 made chypre. Less sweet than No. 5 but still full of soft powdery floral notes, it combined these with a heavy dose of rich, dark green oakmoss.
It sounds absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could smell it someday.
Comparison to Other Rare Chanels
A common argument against the existence of Chanel No. 9 is the fact that even rare and little-known Chanel perfumes have photographs of them and occasionally float across eBay. While this is true, there’s some survivorship bias to the statement. The perfumes that are very extremely rare or entirely lost will never surface in photographs because they are too rare; the slightly more common ones are just rare enough to occasionally be sold and photographed.
Advertisements prove that early perfumes like No. 7 and No. 9 did exist at some point; they’ve simply been lost to time. Bringing up other, rare-but-less-rare Chanel perfumes that have been more thoroughly documented in the modern day doesn’t disprove that fact.
We know Chanel No. 9 was in production in 1924, but don’t have any definitive proof beyond that point. So why is it that so many people claim to remember it from as recently as the seventies and eighties? Here are some possibilities.
The Grandmother Theory
This is my current theory to explain cultural memories of Chanel No. 9, which I’m affectionately dubbing the Grandmother Theory.
None of the recollections of No. 9 from forums clearly recall seeing the scent advertised or going out to buy it. The story usually starts with owning it or seeing that someone else owns it. Several of the forum recollections state that the perfume belonged to the writer’s older female relative — sister, mother, grandmother.
I believe that it is possible some or all of these recollections are genuine memories of Chanel No. 9, even though most of them are dated to the seventies or eighties. My personal theory is that these are memories of the original twenties Chanel No. 9 depicted in the New York Times advertisement, which had been bought by an older relative or a reseller before it had been discontinued.
Now, we don’t know when exactly No. 9 was discontinued. We do know, however, that Chanel ran very little advertising for its perfumes in the first ten to twenty years since its inception. The first significant marketing blitz was in 1934-1935. During this time, the first ad for an individual perfume (No. 5) rather than the Chanel lineup generally was released. It was a 1934 ad in the New York Times. Individual ads for Chanel No. 5 wouldn’t run in France until the 1940s.
All this is to say the early Chanel advertising record is extremely sparse. I think it’s reasonable to expect that No. 9 was discontinued by the seventies, when the number of individual perfume adverts released by Chanel finally picked up. (In fact, the major advertising campaign that cemented Chanel No. 5 as an elite classic in modern eyes only occurred in 1974).
Before the sixties and seventies, there are so few Chanel perfume advertisements that I can’t argue that the lack of a Chanel No. 9 advertisement after 1924 is proof of its discontinuation in the 1920s. Even when Chanel advertisements became commonplace, the vast majority of them were advertisements for Chanel No. 5, not for any other perfume in the lineup. (Consider the slogan appearing in the majority of vintage Chanel ads: “Every Woman Alive Wants Chanel No. 5.”)
It seems entirely possible to me that the scent remained in production until sometime in the thirties, forties, or even fifties or sixties.
These are purely conjectures, but I’d venture to say Chanel No. 9 was most likely discontinued either between 1939 (when Coco Chanel closed her shops due to World War II) and 1954 (when she reopened her couture house), or else after 1965, when Jacques Guy Wertheimer took over the Chanel perfume business and generally neglected and mismanaged it.
Both of these options make it very possible that many people continued to know and wear No. 9 through the seventies and eighties.
Even choosing a more conservative estimate of the perfume’s discontinuation date, the gap between the thirties and the seventies is not so long, only forty years; it wouldn’t be outrageously unusual for a woman in the seventies to wear a thirties perfume. It’s analogous to a woman today wearing a vintage perfume from the eighties. That isn’t something you see every day, sure, but we all probably know someone who owns and covets an eighties perfume formulation, perhaps resold to them or passed down by a friend or relative.
This is what I currently believe regarding Chanel No. 9. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the recollections of the perfume are fabricated, or misremembering a different perfume. But I think it’s very possible that people ran into the original No. 9 as recently as the eighties.
Likely Confusion Candidates
It really is possible that, as many are quick to suggest, people who claim to remember Chanel No. 9 are misremembering another scent. The most likely culprits are Chanel No. 19, Chanel No. 5 (a smudged 5 in Chanel font, some argue, can look like a 9), Cadolle No. 9, and one of a number of fragrances from Bond No. 9 New York.
However, some of the descriptions of scents above don’t at all match the fragrance profiles of any of these potential alternatives. Furthermore, many of them couldn’t be mistaken references to many of the above, because they were made before many of the above fragrances were released. Most notably, Chanel No. 9 — which, I’d argue, is the strongest candidate for being misremembered as No. 9 — wasn’t released until 1972, but there were dozens of cultural references to No. 9 in print before that date.
It is, of course, possible that everyone claiming to have smelled Chanel No. 9 in the seventies and eighties is misremembering.
In particular, I think of The Mandela Effect as a potential culprit. This experience of a widely shared false memory got its name from a group of people who insist they remember watching coverage of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. (Mandela died in 2013.)
Whatever the mechanism behind the error, it’s possible that many people share a false memory of having smelled Chanel No. 9, when really it was Chanel No. 19. I, for one, only discovered this whole mystery originally because I searched Google for “chanel no 9” when I’d meant to look for 19.
It’s an easy mistake to make. With Chanel No. 5 being arguably the most famous Chanel perfume by far, it stands to reason that the others are likely to be remembered as other single-digit numbers. It seems reasonable to assume that these numerical names are assigned in order — they are not — and thus that the others should surely be numbers that are close to five. The 9 in No. 19 is what makes it distinct from all of the other -teen numbers, so it makes sense that human memory prioritizes this part.
All this makes it far from impossible that a large number of people are simply misremembering Chanel No. 19.
A Smudged No. 5
Here is another theory commonly raised in discussions of Chanel No. 9: that those who claim to have seen it are misreading the label on a bottle of Chanel No. 5.
Now, I can see how a five might look like a nine, especially on an old, smudged, or tiny bottle. But are they really that similar? I don’t think so.
The Chanel label font isn’t some loopy hard-to-read cursive. The company font, called Couture, is made up of easy-to-read block letters, all in capitals, and similar numbers.
They’re so clear and easy to read that they make me think of the font on a conventional Snellen Chart:
Having considered the typography, I highly doubt that any more than a few people have misread a bottle of Chanel No. 5 as No. 9.
Even on tiny vintage mini bottles, the numbers are clear and easy to read. Here’s one from 1970, the supposed heyday of No. 5 bottles being misread as No. 9s:
Depending on the size of your screen, that image is likely close to life size, and yet you can most likely still clearly make out the No. 5 and differentiate it from a 9.
For that reason, I simply don’t give the smudged No. 5 theory much weight.
Enigmatic Status in Culture
Forum discussions capture today’s mystery around No. 9, but it isn’t clear how long the scent hasencapsulated such an elusive mystery in the eyes of the zeitgeist. How long has it been discontinued? How long have people talked in whispers about whether or not it exists?
It’s entirely possible that some of the prominence of Chanel No. 9 in fiction is a kind of cultural meme, a repetition of the number due to its existing mysterious reputation rather than due to a common familiarity with the scent itself. I’ve been treating cultural references to No. 9 as proof of a general awareness of the scent, but this might mean people were merely aware of the scent as a disappeared product and a mystery, rather than knowing how it smelled.
For instance, the contemporary song lyrics that mention Chanel No. 9 all do so merely to name-drop a product that’s extremely rare and ostensibly very expensive. It’s possible that earlier references to the scent were made in a similar tone, drawing on general cultural befuddlement rather than a true knowledge of the scent.
For as long as there has been perfume, there have been copycat fragrances, intellectual property infringement, and dupes. No. 9 Flower of Story is one contemporary example. It’s possible that some little-known historical copycat house produced counterfeit Chanel scents under the label of No. 9 as recently as the eighties. I have no evidence for this theory, but considering the existence of a fake Chanel under that number existed recently, it’s certainly a possibility to be considered.
I started this research project as a Chanel No. 9 skeptic. How could there possibly be a lost Chanel scent that so many people remember, but no one has thought to photograph?
After collecting and analyzing all of the above evidence, however, I’m a believer. The paper trail proves that Chanel No. 9 was in production in 1924. Ostensibly it was discontinued some time after. I still don’t have any clues as to when it was discontinued or why no one seems to have photos of it, but the product did exist as an early Chanel release.
As to people continuing to mention having smelled it as recently as forty or fifty years ago, there’s no way of ever knowing for sure, but I think it’s entirely possible these claims are truthful. It’s not terribly unusual for someone to wear a perfume that was discontinued some forty to sixty years prior. Sure, it’s not something you see every day, but between collectors, thrifters, and hand-me-downs, perfumes that old can still circulate.
I think there are a number of compelling theories that might explain a number of mistaken rememberings of Chanel No. 9, most notably the Mandela Effect. I do think it’s possible some of the things people recall are misremembered and not actually Chanel No. 9, but I’d believe it if they were all real, too.
As far as the notes and descriptions go, I’d say the ones I have collected here create a rather cohesive picture of Chanel No. 9 as a powdery floral chypre, semi-sweet and mossy. Considering the perfume fashions of the 1920s, this description makes perfect sense for a release between 1921 and 1924.
It is true that there are some minor discrepancies between the different smells people remember when they recall Chanel No. 9. One person focuses on the soft powder, while another focuses on the earthy bitterness, and so on. But I’d argue that’s inherent to the nature of perfume: the reviews for any scent will inevitably focus on vastly different notes based on skin chemistry, formulation, age, and more. Why should Chanel No. 9 be any different?
Consider, also, the significant age of the fragrance. If my theory is correct, the people wearing Chanel No. 9 in the seventies and eighties were potentially wearing a forty- and fifty-year-old fragrance. As any vintage perfume collector will tell you, fragrances of that age can lose their sharpness, can go off in many different ways, acquire weird new notes, or can get richer and darker like wine. Anything’s fair game when it comes to what an old perfume might smell like.
In this way, every discontinued perfume is lost to time: it will never smell the way it was supposed to smell when it was manufactured. The result is potentially an array of wildly different rare bottles of Chanel No. 9, vastly different depending on age, storage conditions, and formulation, none of which smell at all like they did when they were first manufactured.
As my boyfriend put it, it’s a bit of a Ship of Theseus situation. Can we say anyone alive today has really smelled Chanel No. 9 if every component of every individual bottle has slowly decomposed into something new? Is it still the same perfume?
Regardless, the evidence indicates that Chanel produced and advertised a perfume called No. 9 in 1924, which was discontinued at some unknown point afterward. Numerous cultural references through both fiction and nonfiction works make it clear that it was a popular and well-known scent throughout the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties (Unless all these dozens of authors had meant No. 5 of No.19 and all of their editors failed to catch the error).
So where has it gone? That remains a mystery. How such a well-known and culturally established scent practically disappeared into thin air is one of the most puzzling quirks of history I’ve ever come across.
I can only hope that someday we’ll see a bottle.
Do you believe in Chanel No. 9? Have you smelled it yourself? Let me know in a comment! I’m really interested to hear what people think about this.