Chanel N°5

I just arrived at New York’s JFK International airport. I have a four-hour layover until my flight to Tel Aviv. So, the first thing I did was look for the closest Duty Free store. I must replenish my supply of Chanel N°5.

*   *   *

The first whiff I ever took of Chanel N°5 was at the perfume counter at Bamberger’s at the Nanuet Mall. Just one inhalation was all it took. I was hooked. It was a seductive aphrodisiac. I wanted to smell that way. I wanted – I want! – to be that way.

Chanel…the name itself conjures up a unique image. The fragrance, in its clean, crisp white box with neatly printed black writing and trim, whispers intoxicatingly. Then there are the clothes and accessories that murmur a promise of chic glamour. Classic styling – with long, lean, straight lines and glossy strands of pearls – demurely, but directly, announce a sophisticated presence. Then comes the make up and skincare that hint at a silky, smooth, flawless and decidedly feminine beauty.  (Sigh…)

They say you can’t control who (or what) you fall in love with, but imagine my shock and distress upon learning that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was an anti-Semite. An orphan from a convent, Chanel clawed her way from the bottom to the top of French society. She unabashedly and unapologetically became a Parisian mistress to rich and powerful European men (married or otherwise); choosing to remain single and childless her entire adult life. Chanel was only married and committed to building a fashion empire, and would let no one – especially not Jewish businessmen – tread on her turf. So, during World War II, Coco cozied up to influential Nazi officials (she was known to be a “Nazi Collaborator”) and purred her way to safety and security.

I imagine that many women – especially the wronged wives – envied or even hated Chanel. I myself am forced to critically question her values and morals. Yet, I also feel compelled to acknowledge the self-confidence, tenacity, and cunning skills she undoubtedly possessed – and actively used – to create an image and a name with such tremendous recognition and staying power.

It bothers me that I’m inexplicably drawn to Chanel (and Paris) when I know that Coco (and France) consistently betrayed the Jewish people…I want to sever all ties with them and anything related to them, but I just can’t. Chanel N°5 has taken me prisoner.

*   *   *

There’s been a commercial on TV lately with old black and white footage, where Marilyn Monroe was asked, “What do you wear to bed?” She responded, “CHANEL N°5.” With her famous looks and her well-known voice, she felt uncomfortable telling the world that she sleeps naked.

*   *   *

I don’t know when my love affair with Chanel actually began, but it still endures. I wear it to bed too. Just ask my husband…

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