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Ernest Beaux
Ernest Beaux (1881–1961)

Ernest Beaux (7 December [O.S. 25 November] 1881 – 9 June 1961) was a Russian-born French perfumer who is best known for creating Chanel No. 5, which is perhaps the world's most famous perfume.

Family background

Born in Moscow, Ernest Beaux was the son of Edouard Hyppolite Beaux (1835–1899) and Augustine Wilgemina Misfeld (1843–1906), second wife of Edouard Hyppolite Beaux (1835–1899), who was originally from Lille, France. Ernest Beaux's grandmother, Jeanne-Cléophée Beaux (1810–1882), had come to Russia at the beginning of the 1840s. Édouard-Hyppolyte was her son with Jean Joseph Messinger (1810–1848).

Edouard Francois Beaux (1862–?), Ernest Beaux's half-brother by his father's first wife, Adelaide Fiurth (1842–1879), began as a clerk with the Moscow trading house of Muir and Mirrielees. He joined A. Rallet & Co., ultimately becoming a member of the board and Deputy Administrator.

Career

Ernest Beaux was born in Moscow, Russia, the brother of Edouard Beaux, who worked for Alphonse Rallet & Co. of Moscow, then the foremost Russian perfume house and purveyor to the Imperial courts. In 1898, A. Rallet and Company, with approximately 1500 employees and 675 products, was sold to the French perfume house Chiris of La Bocca.

Ernest completed his primary education that same year, and from 1898–1900 apprenticed as laboratory technician in the soap works of Rallet. After his obligatory two years of military service in France, he returned to Moscow in 1902, where he started his perfumery training at Rallet under the guidance of their technical director, A. Lemercier. He finished his perfumery education in 1907, earned a promotion to senior perfumer, and was elected to the board of directors.

In 1912 Russia celebrated the centennial of the Battle of Borodino, the turning point in Napoleon's Russian ambitions. For this celebration Ernest Beaux created the fragrance "Bouquet de Napoleon," a floral Eau de Cologne, for Rallet. It proved to be a major commercial success.

The following year, 1913, marked the tercentenary of the founding of the Romanov dynasty. To follow up on his "Bouquet de Napoleon" success, Ernest Beaux created a now-lost fragrance, the "Bouquet de Catherine", honoring Catherine the Great. This fragrance is not to be confused with a fragrance from Brocard, Rallet's chief competitor in Russia called "The Empress's Favorite Bouquet", which later evolved into the Soviet version, "Red Moscow."

Bouquet de Catherine was not a marketing success, perhaps due to Catherine the Great's German heritage at a time of rising tensions between Russia and Germany which would lead, in 1914, to World War I. While born and raised in Russia, Ernest Beaux's French heritage brought him into the French army. While it was generally expected that this war would last no more than a few months, he was not released from military service until 1919, having by this time seen service in the infantry fighting against Germany and then as an intelligence officer and interrogator at an Allied prison camp at the Kola Peninsula at the Murmansk Oblast during the Russian Civil War.

While serving in the French military, Ernest Beaux's perfumer colleagues at Rallet fled during Russia's October Revolution to La Bocca, France, to continue working with Chiris. In 1918 he was working as a counter-intelligence officer on the Anglo/French concentration camp of Mudyug island, interrogating Bolsheviks captured by the White Russian and Allied armies. In 1919 Ernest Beaux, released now from the army, settled in Paris but continued to have a relationship with the former Rallet employees at La Boca.

CHANEL No5 parfum
Chanel No. 5

In 1912, Ernest Beaux married Iraïde de Schoenaich (1881–1961), who gave birth to their son, Edouard (1913–1993), the following year. During the Russian Civil War, Iraïde escaped from Russia through Finland with her infant son. They reached France by sea following a dangerous two-month-long voyage, during which time Iraïde fell deeply in love with another man. Ernest divorced her and took custody of their son, while Iraïde moved to Nice to work with her lover. Ernest later married Yvonne Girodon (1893–1980), with whom he had a daughter, Madeleine.

Coco Chanel and the N°5

At that time, Joseph Robert was the chief perfumer at Chiris. With little prospect of being promoted under him, Ernest Beaux tried to use his contacts to the emigrated Russian nobility to get new projects. In 1920, with the help of the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia (1891–1941), a companion of Coco Chanel (1883–1971), he arranged a meeting in Cannes late in the summer of 1920, where he presented his current and former works to Mlle. Chanel. Chanel chose the "No. 5" as a Christmas present for her best clients. When Ernest Beaux asked her how she wanted to name that scent, she replied: "I always launch my collection on the 5th day of the 5th months, so the number 5 seems to bring me luck – therefore, I will name it 'Nº 5'".

Initially only 100 flacons of Chanel Nº 5 were produced, which she gave away on Christmas 1921 for free to her best clients. However, soon the demand was such that she decided to launch the perfume officially for sale in her shops in 1922. That year she also launched a second fragrance from the two numbered series of bottles that Beaux had presented her, which were numbered one through five, and twenty through twenty-four: Chanel Nº 22, the bottle no. 22 from the second series. However, since this didn't do as well as Nº 5, it was withdrawn and only relaunched in 1926.

Ernest Beaux left Chiris in 1922 to head a sales agency for his friend Eugene Charabot in Paris. However, Chanel Nº 5 did so well that Bader and Wertheimer, owners of Galeries Lafayette, bought the rights to it from Coco Chanel on April 4, 1924, and founded Parfums Chanel, for which they hired Ernest Beaux as chief perfumer. In his new function Ernest Beaux created many famous perfumes until he retired in 1954; his successor as chief perfumer of Perfumes Chanel was Henri Robert.

Death and funeral

Ernest Beaux died in his Paris apartment on 9 June 1961, aged 79. The church in which his funeral was held was completely decorated in roses.

Selected works

  • 1913 – Bouquet de Napoleon, Rallet
  • 1914 – Bouquet de Catherine, Rallet
  • 1920 – Le Gardenia, Rallet
  • 1921 – No. 5, Chanel
  • 1926 – No. 22, Chanel
  • 1924 – Cuir de Russie, Chanel
  • 1925 – Gardénia, Chanel
  • 1926 – Bois des Îles, Chanel
  • 1929 – Soir de Paris, Bourjois
  • 1936 – Kobako, Bourjois
  • 1955 – Premier Muguet, Bourjois

Many of Ernest Beaux’s perfumes are preserved in their original formulation at the Osmothèque in Versailles, where they may be accessed by the public.

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