Painting the Town Red with Chanel NO 5

Chanel No 5 tram trundles through Milan
By Aileen C. O’Reilly
May 2020 marks the 99th anniversary of the launch of the most iconic perfume ever created.  Chanel No. 5 was launched by Coco Chanel in her rue Cambon boutique in May 1921 and nothing in the world of high end fashion was ever quite the same again.
Fast forward several decades to December 2018 when a fairytale marriage featuring those famously interlinked double C’s took place in Milan and I was invited to join the unbelievable blood red after party….
Although shuttered and silenced in recent months by the Covid pandemic – except for the heart-rending voice of Andrea Bocelli ,rising on the warming Spring air in the Piazza del Duomo – the piazzas of Milan, are the enduring beating heart of high end fashion, iconic art such as de Vinci’s Last Supper and high powered finance.
This metropolis of the stunning northern Lombardy region is the natural pre ordained address for such multi million dollar brands as Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Gucci, Fendi, Tom Ford, Hermes, Miu Miu and Michael Kors among others, it reverberates with the sound of Vespas, is awash with stunning art, a predominance of cool people in designer shades and the heady scent of money.

This “union” was taking place on hallowed ground.The fashion cognoscenti sighed as the city’s opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II became home to the new Chanel beauty boutique. The first standalone store of the world for the famous beauty brand had arrived in Milan.

Just another designer brand swinging open its doors to the fashion elite? Milan doesn’t “just” do anything darling – in the December following their arrival in town Chanel commandeered the heart of Milan and painted the town red….literally.

Two weeks prior to Christmas I was stunned to receive a last minute invitation to spend Christmas in the Italian fashion capital. Chanel were launching a red glass limited edition flacon of their iconic No. 5 fragrance. Rumour had it that a heavily scented invite had even been sent to the graveside of Marilyn Monroe who was famed for wearing it and nothing else to bed.  This was a once in a lifetime calling – grabbing my L. B. D. and requisite multi strands of pearls I hit the airport. Upon arrival in the city it was obvious that Christmas was in full glittering swing. I know this because I had a bird’s eye view of the 12 meter tall Christmas tree located in the heart of the lofty light strewn Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The tree was a breathtaking spectacle, decorated with 1,000 Swarovski crystals, a silver tree topper, and over 36,000 bright white lights – and I got to view it from my 7 Star guest suite whose private balcony opened into the galleria.
Yes, before you ask, I pinched myself repeatedly  for the duration of this trip!!  Dolce & Gabbana, eschewing the serious face of haute couture fashion, had ridiculously cute puppet filled moving displays filling no less than seven of the large exterior windows of the famous V. E. II galleria ,while the giant projection of the Christmas Calendar in Piazza del Duomo proved to be a huge festive draw. For the entire month of December up to Christmas Eve the Southern Porticoes Building became a huge 1200 m2 screen (60 x 20 metres high) that projected a video offering a contemporary take on the traditional advent calendar.
We strolled, as in a dream through the piazzas only to find a giant red Chanel N°5 bottle holding centre stage in the Piazza della Scala, drenching the surrounding facades with its red glow as the sun set on the sea of Christmas shoppers and excited tourists from every corner of the globe.
This was the beginning of The Chanel Experience. It is a memory in coronavirus times to look back on dreamlike. Out of the floodlit red dusk a vintage tram painted the iconic red of Chanel snaked through the crowds and opened its doors to welcome passengers within its plush red, No. 5 scented interior.
A large spot-lit ruby red bottle of No. 5 held our rapt attention as we started to move and guides gave us a potted history of  Coco’s fashion odyssey.
Our red scented tram car finally delivered us at the foot of the giant (2.5 metre high) red Chanel No. 5 flacon from where we strolled into the Galleria and met the waiting staff in the distinctive black and white decorated store.  Spread over two storeys, it offers customers the opportunity to  find their ideal fragrance or make-up products thanks to accurate “beauty counselling” plus full make-up sessions. The first storey is the ideal spot to enjoy a moment of relaxation (and inhalation) thanks to the Beauty Lounge offering customised skin care treatments and the chance to sample  the Les Exclusifs perfume collection, with over 16 different fragrances recalling Coco Chael’s favourite aromas.
When we finally prepared to leave each of us was handed a Chanel shopping bag inside of which nestled a 100ml red glass flacon of pure perfume.
I still maintain I must have either done something terribly good in my previous life.. or, more likely,  something deliciously awful that Mademoiselle Chanel uproariously approved of…


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