I don’t know quite what I was expecting upon arriving at the Chanel No. 5 in A New Light exhibit, which was nestled chicly in New York’s trendy Meatpacking District, May 7-17th. Perhaps something more along the lines of a perfume bar where I could learn about the delicate ingredients that make up this iconic fragrance. Or better yet, an information panel where industry leaders would educate me about the impact that Gabriella “Coco” Chanel has had on the industry overall; and how that impact was further undergirded by this ever so eponymous fragrance. I was prepared for a number of theatrical displays, this was Chanel after all. However, what I experienced surpassed all that I could ever imagine, and could only be best described as nothing short of a sensory overload.
With whiffs of Chanel No. 5 wafting through the air and a faint French whisper of Chanel speaking through the misty perfumed haze, we experienced five phases of the fragrance. How befitting the sultry scent and it’s numeral moniker.
The first experience of the exhibit launched us onto four other interactive Chanel-themed displays. We were escorted into a large open space containing two shallow ponds ladened with glass bottoms and covered with flower holograms. Jasmine and rose, which are the essential scents of the classic fragrance, were evenly dispersed throughout the vivid hologram. With a flick of the wrist above the water the holographic flowers parted to reveal secret messages and facts about the scent’s origins. Each message alluded to the immensely detailed measures that both chemist Ernest Beaux and Chanel had to take before perfecting and bottling the scent for final approval.
The second experience in the exhibit was called “Cultivation.” As we proceeded forward using every fragment of the five senses, there were several other complementary displays used to allow the visitor to experience the traditional perfume.
Composition & Abstraction
The next two sections were suitably named. Composition being a series of light beams projected into a darkened room. Abstraction represented the interruption in the projection of the beams that created musical notes throughout the space which represented the different fragrant “note” levels of the scent.
The final phase was finished off with an abstract display of art in a life-size wall cut-out of the well-recognized Chanel bottle. Stepping into the walk-in silhouette enveloped us in a foggy mist of what could only be described as a surreal culmination of everything that this exhibit offered.
Leaving the installation was reminiscent of exiting a fantastical dream. At the conclusion of the exhibit tour, we were given the opportunity to create and mail out customized Chanel postcards to a select recipient, anywhere in the world. We also created pieces of art, received samples, and viewed historical film reels about the birth of the Chanel brand. The experience was a fashionista’s dream come true.