It’s 1921 and I’m in a room with 38-year-old Gabrielle Chanel, looking impeccable in an ensemble comprising a well-fitted blazer, pencil skirt and beret. She shakes her head and purses her lips in dissatisfaction with a litany of “nos”, and gestures for me to move on. In this virtual reality world, I have successfully followed cues in three separate rooms, and used my hands in this alternate universe to swipe on bottles labelled No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, only to be repeatedly admonished. I’m playing the role of Ernest Beaux, a charismatic Russian-French perfumer asked by Gabrielle to create an iconic fragrance that is “artificial like a dress”
In the final room, I see the golden No. 5 bottle gleaming from a distance. I reach out and grab it—in real life, I am comically gesticulating into thin air—and finally earn her approval. As we celebrate our win, a whiff of No. 5 swirls in front of me; a powerful and recognisable scent of style. I remove my VR glasses and observe as the others in the room do the same, chattering in awe at the experience as we step out, disappearing into a storied gallery dedicated to all things No. 5. There are archival images, a man dipping testers into the biggest bottle of No. 5 I’ve ever seen, and a trio of skillful ladies showing off the craft of baudruchage, a gesture of stamping and sealing the bottle mastered by only nine women in the world.
Le Grand Numéro de Chanel is a whimsical interactive museum that will indulge your senses. Holding a fragrance exhibition for the first time, the maison wants its visitors to discover their scents in a fresh way by transporting us into a world that is completely immersive and is a unique sensory reset. A marching band plays as you walk through those doors before you emerge into a colossal square, a carnival-like space dressed in ornate gold ornaments and twinkling lights from above. There is a bar serving refreshments in the middle of it, while dancers take to raised platforms to display graceful moves.
Le Grand Numéro de Chanel is an emotional journey, an opportunity to discover every facet of a fragrance and the role it plays
Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur, head of global creative resources for fragrance & beauty, fine jewellery & watches, explains that Le Grand Numéro de Chanel is an emotional journey and an opportunity to discover every facet of a fragrance and the role it plays. The five rooms at the exhibition—No. 5, Chance, Bleu de Chanel, Coco Mademoiselle and Les Exclusifs de Chanel—are distinctly different but equally experiential.
Chance is modelled after a backstage cabaret, where people are auditioning for their chance to perform. Get your make-up touched up when you enter, watch as a magician performs his tricks, and try your luck at the gambling tables, whether at the wheel of fortune or roulette—while standing to win little trinkets from Chanel. The signature men’s scent, Bleu de Chanel, is housed in a space full of twinkling skyscrapers, where select clues will grant you entry to an exclusive speakeasy, essentially a sophisticated fragrance bar.
Waltz into Les Exclusifs de Chanel, where you are invited to the private viewing of 18 moving works of art. It is veritably a place for wandering and self-discovery, with fragrance stands all over the room for you to inhale and connect with each scent. Before returning to reality, be the director of your own heroine story in the Coco Mademoiselle room. Its control centre is a series of towering chess pieces, where you can get a palm reading or enter the correct code to dispense a fragrance sample. Gabrielle’s adventurous spirit is the heart behind this unprecedented olfactory oeuvre, so embrace the experience—a few hours is all you need to change the way you interact with a fragrance for good.