Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charlotte Gainsbourg for Balenciaga's new perfume: the triumph of jolie-laide!

Now there's a cool face to front a fragrance!! I am almost jumping up and down from joy at the confirmation of news that Charlotte Gainsbourg, muse for Balenciaga's creative director Nicolas Ghesquière for some time now, will be fronting the new fragrance of the house coming out world-wide February 2010.
French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of Jane Birkin and "bad boy" of French music Serge Gaisnbourg is taking the baton from her mother (who had commissioned perhaps the most daring "celebrity" scent, the skankilicious Eau de Rien to Miller Harris, lovingly reviewed here). What strikes me as particularly hopeful is that in Charlotte Gainsbourg we're breaking from the "mold effect", which I had playfully alluded to while talking about other releases with less promise (such as Kasia for Idole d'Armani), being the very embodiment of what the French call jolie-laide: a woman with a non classically pretty visage that manages to exude terrific charm nonetheless. There is a lithe and delicate quality about her, the "daddy-long-legs limbs" of her (gorgeous) mother coupled with her hippy-chic hairstyle as well, but also jarringly the cubist-friendly features of her father superimposed on the canvas. The total is unexpected, graceful in a way that defies definition and intriguing into casting a second and a third glance. In essence (no pun intended) a super-cool choice to front a fragrance, whose very charm lies on mystery and the intrigue it creates into questioning "who is this wafting stranger?" She also has the ability to metamorphosize into more accepted perceptions of sexy which is not without merit in the shallow industry of the glossy arts. (watch her styled by Carine Roitfeld photoshoot for Vogue Paris Dec.2007)

Charlotte, fresh from Cannes win of Best Actress with the film Antichrist by cineaste rebel Lars von Trier intimated to WWD: "I have the feeling that the house of Balenciaga has become my second home." Ghesquière, who described Gainsbourg as "one of the most inspiring girls in the world" and "really representative of what France is today," declared she personifies his upcoming fragrance. "Her unique sense of style, her graceful and intense talent have always been very inspirational for me," he said. "This fruitful and long-standing relationship Charlotte has with me and the house of Balenciaga gives all its meaning to this project."

On the other hand, the handling of the Balenciaga franchise by Coty is foreboding (even if it had been announced last October as a salvaging move to bring the house under Coty's aegis), suppossing the downturn of the prestige status of the once venerable brand of innovator François is anything to go by. Coty fragrances are sold...well, at drugstores and mid-market stores. Spanish-born Cristobal Balenciaga, the top couturier admired by all other couturiers, had always been about impeccable and understated luxury. Never mind that Catherine Walsh, Senior Vice President Marketing American Licenses Coty Prestige said: "Charlotte Gainsbourg, besides her close collaboration and friendship with Nicolas Ghesquière, truly embodies the unique Parisian chic of this new fragrance." Will the new fragrance have "unique Parisian chic"? Or will it remain a visual manifesto more than a nose-trip, pardon the expression?

The introduction of a new fragrance rather than the re-introduction of the illustrious specimens in the archives probably heralds the definitive death toll on the classic fragrant line-up (Le Dix, Ho Hang for men, Prelude, Quadrille, Michelle...): They were discontinued and hard to find anyway, but I doubt they will resurge under the Coty label with any aspirations as to preserving their soul. The latest IFRA restrictions do not help along either, as does not the cost effectiveness of bean counters at headquarters (Michelle from 1979 for example has a ginormous tuberose and rose heart that far exceeds the naturals ratio sanctioned today with an oakmoss and sandlwood base to scare horses, more of which later; it's supreme! ) That only leaves Cristobal, Talisman, Rumba and their respective flankers out. Which is sad...

Clip originally uploaded by unnouveauideal on Youtube


  1. E, You're spot on, Charlotte is so jolie laide; skinny, no tits, no hips, no ass, no makeup. Her femininity is delicate, frail and timid.
    I don't know how mainstream consumers will connect with Charlotte's style. Her more athletic and sexier sister Lou Doillon who also has a stronger personality would seem to be a more obvious choice for launching such a fragrance.

  2. This is exciting... I really like her. I, too, celebrate the fact that she is not a cookie cutter beauty. Finally a woman with a little character in her face :)

  3. E,

    thanks for saying so, I thought you might like my mentioning this in that frame ;-)

    It's funny to contemplate that Charlotte is perfectly fitting the Ghesquiere style for the photo-shoots ~and she's very much loved by "the fashion crowd"~ but la grosse consomation (which is what a mainstream perfume is, after all) is something different. I wonder alonside you if people will connnect with her image, it's quirky and not aspirational and perfume seems quite the bourgeois activity even for haute fans.

    I certainly hope they don't Photoshop her into oblivion!! That would be sad and defeat the purpose entirely...

    Re: Birkin's other daughter, I had tied Lou Doillon with Miss Balmain in the past: there is something about that young woman that exudes some brutish panache and yet a girlishness too, what do you think?

    You know who I'd also like to see featured in some fragrance ad exploiting the jolie-laide aspects? Romane Bohringer (Richard's daughter) and her craggy profile.

  4. J,

    you said it perfectly: no cookie-cutter. I love it when gorgeous women front perfumes (especially when they don't fall into the "highlighted hair, big breasts, big lips, fake tan scheme), but I also appreciate non-conformity: I am thinking of a young Diane Vreeland type posing for a very dramatic fragrance that would turn heads: the message could be very strong ie. perfume's beauty obliterates visually-based preconceptions.

  5. I fall in love with Charlotte every time I watch Science of Dreams! :) Can't wait to see her in Antichrist.

    Wonder how much input she's had in the making of this fragrance. It would be nice for her not only to front the perfume but also reflect its personality. Ah, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

    Oh and I absolutely agree with the idea of Romane Bohringer being the face of a (quirky? ELDO?) perfume house (she could join the enchanting Rossy de Palma). But, talking of French beauties (the term beauty of course including practically anyone), you know who else I'd like to see gracing a perfume ad, possibly for Guerlain? Elsa Zylberstein, Bohringer's Mina Tanenbaum co-star, who was exceptional in Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (have you seen it? you must!). With her classical features and a certain delicacy, she seems a perfect fit for Guerlain, no?
    And there's of course the gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas, who's practically French herself having been married to a Frenchman and lived in France for xx years! Which fragrance house do you think she would best embody?
    Oh and sorry for the long comment! I was inspired :)

  6. Dusan,

    hello there!!

    Don't apologise for being long, we love long comments (and inspired ones) here and it's a pleasure to read your thoughts, I assure you!

    The Charlotte scent being a Coty, I'm a bit worried, to tell you the truth. There seems to have been a "bulldozing" of personalities in those celebrity releases which has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Of course this is not a celebrity fragrance, rather a fashion house's one, which makes it "prestige", yet until I smell it I can't form an opinion or even an expectation, really. I'd love to think that she did have a say in her fragrance, even if small.

    I was thinking of Rossy de Palma (and other Almodovar heroines), how uncanny!! She's more craggy than Bohringer, though, you have to admit, hence her connection with ELDO. Perhaps Bohringer might salgave Balmain if they ever decide to give it the Phoenix treatment.

    Love Elsa Zylberstein and I am noting down that film, haven't seen it yet, so thanks! (so many films, so little time! bof!)
    I remember she was the best thing about that recent Modigliani film which stared the ~rather unfitting I thought, especially after Gerard Philippe~ Andy Garcia.
    You know, she could fit Guerlain well,true, but I think your other honorable mention (the French gynaecologist's wife, yeah, uber-Kristin fan here> have you watched Un été inoubliable?) would be PUUUUURFECT for Guerlain!! At least the way Guerlain's image used to be... (don't get me started on that, though)

  7. I had been pondering purchasing a small bottle of Michelle parfum on ebay... I think I'll take the plunge on it, after reading your post - thanks!

  8. Mals,

    I had the good fortune of finding a big bottle of parfum recently, which I am splitting, so if you need a free sample beforehand, don't hesitate to let me know! :-)

  9. stella p10:30

    I like very much her kind of attractiveness, and her performance in Antichrist (= Nature) was superb! :)

  10. AFAIK Lou Dillon is modelling for the Juliette Has A Gun scent Calamity J which i find quite appropriate.



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