'To keep a legend fresh you always have to change its point of view'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The world's most famous perfume has a new face, and it's a surprisingly masculine one, says Susannah Frankel

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve, Lauren Hutton, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman, Audrey Tatou… And now Brad Pitt.

Today, the latter becomes the new "face" – and first man – to advertise the world's best-known and bestselling fragrance, Chanel No. 5. (It is said that a bottle of this rose-jasmine scented amber juice sells every second somewhere in the world.) In the past, all of the aforementioned women have promoted its considerable allure and that's quite a roll-call – although Monroe's endorsement was in a less than official capacity.

In a certain way, a male figurehead serves as something of an equaliser. For years, men's fragrance and indeed at least some fashion advertising has featured women in varying states of arousal – basically – as they swoon over their partner (male's) high-end wardrobe, say, or the waft of fragrances as diverse as Gucci Envy and Lynx. And although the famous – and famously expensive – 2004 No. 5 commercial shot by Baz Luhrmann and starring Nicole Kidman co-starred the ridiculously handsome Brazilian actor, Rodrigo Santoro, he ended up with less screen time than the fluttering train of the Oscar-winning actress's gown – Chanel haute couture, naturally.

It is estimated that Pitt, who signed with Chanel in May, may be commanding as much as $7m for his services, although, as a private company (Chanel is owned by the Wertheimer family who are notoriously backwards in coming forwards), the powers that be have the luxury of keeping any precise figures under wraps. What we do know is that this new commercial is shot by Joe Wright, who has worked with Chanel since 2006 and is the creative force behind the just released Anna Karenina, as played by Keira Knightley. Knightley is the face of Coco Mademoiselle and the director has worked with her several times in that capacity.

"To keep a legend fresh, you always have to change its point of view," Andrea d'Avack, president of Chanel's fragrance and beauty division told Women's Wear Daily. "It is the first time we've had a man speaking about a women's fragrance. We think very much that the perfume is a seduction between a man, a woman and the perfume. No.5 is our leading fragrance, and we are willing to make the investment to keep it on that level."

Throughout its long and grand history, Chanel No. 5 has, of course, broken many rules. The scents that came before it were heavy, single-note florals packaged in, to Coco Chanel's mind, overdecorated bottles that did little to advertise the importance of the liquid within. And so, the couturier instructed the master perfumer, Ernest Beaux, who she met in 1920, to create "un parfum de femme, à odeur de femme".

"What I think she meant by that was the idea that the perfume smells different on different women, that a woman's natural perfume informs the fragrance she wears," Jacques Polge, who took over as Chanel's third nose in 1979 has said. "Although people may believe otherwise, there are actually very few fragrances that do that…"

The use of more than one flower aside, Chanel No. 5 is also the first fragrance to benefit from the inclusion of aldehydes, first synthesised in France in the late 19th century, and unheard of for use in that capacity until that time. Beaux compared the effect of aldehydes – taking the subject out of the laboratory and simplifying it for mere lay people, clearly – as that of "lemon juice on strawberries". There are many of them and they range from the repellent (aggressively cloying formaldehyde) to the enticing and ultra-powdery but chosen carefully they add sparkle to the main ingredient, enhancing any natural properties.

Next came the name. Chanel No. 5 is called Chanel No. 5 as opposed to anything more typically wordy or obviously evocative for no more complex a reason than it was the fifth sample Beaux offered the couturier. The clear, square-faceted bottle, altered only slightly since it was first designed by Chanel herself, is equally minimal so as not to detract from the main event. It quickly became so instantly recognisable that, by the 1950s, Andy Warhol went so far as to immortalise it in different colourways in much the same way as he did Coca-Cola, Campbell's Soup, and Marilyn.

And that brings us neatly back to the women that have been carefully selected by art directors at Chanel since the fragrance's inception in order to promote it most effectively. Coco Chanel herself was the first of these, photographed by Man Ray. Monroe was never officially signed up but it's safe to say she helped the scent's fortunes considerably by telling an interviewer that she wore nothing more in bed than "a few drops of No. 5". Chanel later employed the services of Deneuve, a far from obvious choice, in fact, given the size of the business by that point and the relative obscurity of the actress outside Europe. Later came Carole Bouquet, again not a household name but quintessentially French, quintessentially elegant and therefore quite something to aspire to.

For his part, Pitt has agreed to lucrative advertising deals in Japan in the past – specifically, he was the face or perhaps bottom that sold Edwin jeans to Asia, inviting onlookers to check out his backside. He also worked with Softbank mobile phones starring in a commercial directed by Wes Anderson, playing Monsieur Hulot and dressed from head to toe in banana yellow.

Closer to home, in 2008, commercial work with Kiehl's benefitted his Make It Right organisation dedicated to the construction of housing in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This, though, is the first time he has accepted anything so high profile.

Today's film will be followed by a print campaign that will launch in glossy magazines in November, just in time for the build up to Christmas. Not that this, the mother of all modern scents needs it but: "We believe this dynamic, modern campaign will make people think in a completely different way about No.5," D'Avack says.

youtube.com/user/CHANEL; facebook.com/chanel

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

    £38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

    Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

    £35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

    Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

    £15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea