Walking into any Egyptian household – more specifically those of older Egyptian generations – one will surely find an aging bottle of Talat Khamsat (Three Fives) or Khamas Khamsat (Five Fives) perfume in a corner somewhere. These Egyptian eau de colognes can both be spotted and smelled from a distance, thanks to their very distinguishable vintage-like branding and their equally distinguishable – if not more so – smell that can immediately fill a room and seep through the nostrils.
Nationalistic origins: the creation of a perfume
The Three Fives (555) brand was founded in the mid-to-late-20th century and its famous line of perfumes is produced by the Chabrawishi Fragrance Factory which was established in 1924. Hamza El Chabrawishi was a well-known name back in his heyday, and his products were beloved nation-wide. His Three Fives line of products were so popular in fact, that even both King Farouk and President Abdel Nasser were fans.
After Abdel Nasser’s reign, Chabrawishi’s factory eventually transformed from a once family-owned business to a state-owned business. The product’s popularity never died down however, and it somehow evolved into a national product that has been alive and well for many a generation.
Following this product’s popularity, a later version of the perfume was created under the name Five Fives (55555). Although similar in more ways than one, and therefore commonly confused for each other, this eau de cologne is not part of Chabrawishi’s Three Fives brand and was created by Dr. Antoine Kedis who started his Five Fives brand in 1968. The brand started with a baby powder line and branched out to include various other products such as their eau de cologne and hair henna.
Granted these famous perfume bottles are not the only products associated with the older generation’s households, as there are a number of once go-to products that are now fragments of memories from our childhoods. Of such products are the Tiger Balm (pain relieving balm), Vicks (throat soothing balm or lozenge), and Rivo (aspirin-like medicine for headaches) – all of which were once staples in every Egyptian household, and some of which still are.
Perfume, antiseptic: a product popular for its multi-use
What is interesting to note however when it comes to both 555/55555 perfumes, is the fact that these originally cosmetic products has evolved into being categorized as a remedial products as well. For one reason or another, the 555 and 55555 perfumes were no longer only used as a perfume, but also as an antiseptic and even a remedy for fevers – if not more so the latter. In addition to that, they are also one of the few ‘older’ products that are still staples, and will most likely be found, in most of our grandparents’ households today.
Egyptian culture is known to have a history of self-care-related traditions – whether they be in the form of cosmetics-related self-care or remedial self-care. In fact, the importance of self-care in Egyptian culture dates all the way back to ancient times, where evidently the ancient Egyptians were known to use makeup as well as keep medicinal records. That being said, it is no wonder that this idea of the importance of self-care has been engraved in Egypt’s culture throughout the years, albeit having evolved and been transformed with the passing of time.
In that the 555/55555 Eau De Colognes have managed to somehow hit two birds with one stone with their multi-purpose use, they are perhaps the ultimate Egyptian self-care product in modern history. What once started as a popular perfume brand is now also a go-to antiseptic, perhaps in large part due to its high concentration of alcohol – which is evident in its strong fragrance.
As previously mentioned, the eau de colognes have a very distinct and strong smell and although it could have once been considered pleasant – amidst a sea of current local and international competition- it is now not necessarily anyone’s first choice as a perfume.
When thinking about what has kept these specific – very similar – brands alive for all these years, one can’t help but consider the fact that they barely even need advertising for consumers to still purchase them. The products are well-known amongst all social classes in Egypt, in part due to their affordability, and across the whole country, and the branding is so distinct that they practically sell themselves.
Both the 555 and 55555 Eau de Colognes have become some sort of a legendary products that are well-known and have evidently been tried and trusted by the majority of the Egyptian population. They are both so well-known in fact that given either one would at any point in time choose to re-brand itself, it might end up losing popularity rather than successfully position itself differently.
An Egyptian brand in a sea of foreign competition
With today’s tendency to being drawn towards western consumerism (and more specifically western beauty products), it is quite a feat for these legendary Egyptian brands to stay afloat amidst the current competition – albeit more so in the households of our older Egyptian generation. However, it is interesting to note that they are still producing products to this day as a means of staying in line with current trends.
In an interview with CBC’s ”Sa7bet El Sa3ada” show, Esaad Younes interviewed the current owners of the famous Five Fives brand who revealed a range of new products such as depilatory creams, skin creams and a revamped version of the 55555’s baby powder. With prices still under 50 EGP (3 US$), the brand is branching beyond what it came to be known for, while still staying within a reasonable and affordable price range for the middle class Egyptian consumer.
In any case, the legend of these perfumes lives on, and it is unlikely that it will ever be forgotten from modern Egyptian history.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Five Fives perfume falls under Chabrawishi’s brand. However, this information was corrected and a distinction has been made between Hazem El Chabrawishi’s earlier Three Fives (555) brand, and Dr. Antoine Kedis’ later Five Fives (55555) brand.