Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chanel No.5 Through the Years

The renewed interest in Chanel No.5, due to the new advertising campaign with Audrey Tautou, reaffirms what has been a shared secret: "The powers that be at Chanel claim that a product bearing its name (be it in the form of scent, soap or bath oil) is sold every six seconds". And that the production, shot before the unfolding of the current economic crisis spared no costs: "A crew of 25 people reportedly worked on it for three weeks last May, filming everywhere from Paris to Limoges and, of course, Turkey". [source: Independent]

The new commercial {presented here} is a more haunting version with a nod to traditional values compared to the all dancing, outright-glamour-and-paparazzi-escaping of the one with Nikole Kidman some years ago. Shot by Baz Lurhman the fiary tale "I'm a dancer" routine was a modern, upbeat version ~with more thigh shown~ of the Roman Holiday scenario: VIP who finds true love at the side of a mere mortal, if you recall your Audrey Hepburn collection correctly. Funnily enough, Kidman looks nothing like Audrey Hepburn in her super-tall frame and attenuated blonde features, although Tautou does bear a passing resemblance thanks to the immense doe-eyes of both brunettes.
The current No.5 commercial reprises the romantic scenario "feminine classique" with a nod to the story-telling fantasy unconventional style of the OVNI, aka an anything-goes-style in which a sense of parody might be injected or the fantasy materializes. The latest Jean Pierre Jeunet commercial for Chanel No.5 uses angle-shots, photography and editing style which err on the side of romanticism, rather than the parody he had exhibited in Delicatessen or the follow-the-pale-faced-gamine-with-doe-eyes of Amélie. The invocation of the bottle in the reflections of lights from the window panes of the Orient Express train however, the warm saturation of colours, the bird's eye angle at the end showing the protagonists hugging while the interlocking CCs are left to shine on the mosaics through the fade-out are all masterful choices of film direction. The final shot reminds me of the bird'eyes shot of the fateful couple shot by Francis Ford Coppola in his Dracula (a film full of intertextuality in itself).

Chanel always paid a lot of attention to how they presented No.5 to the world and I took the initiative to present a little retrospective through the years a propos the latest:

The first illustration for No.5 featured famous illustrator's Georges Goursat/Sem stylised silhouette of a flapper, the fashion for liberated women being to embrace the new fragrance; the flowing dress in typical 20s flapper style, the bobbed hair, the ecstatic hands in the air. This was not an advertisement nevertheless (Sem was known for satirizing Chanel in his previous attempts) but an acknowledgement of the popularity of the new scent to its intented audience: the fashion-conscious and the hip.


Next Coco Chanel herself posed at the Ritz Hotel suite where she stayed to photographer François Kollard in 1937, the grandeur of the suite and the majestic fireplace echoing the luxury of the fragrance.

The tradition of pampering connected to No.5 persisted through the years through advertisements which hinted at the rapture and sense of luxury which its use provoked.

Marilyn Monroe ~although never chosen by Chanel herself as a spokeswoman for the fragrance~ became the best ambassadress and advertising vehicle of the brand in 1960. She revealed in an interview which asked her what she wore during her schedule that Chanel No.5 was her choice of bed attire. A indelible memory was scratched in the flummoxes of people's minds to this day and No.5 became legendary to people who had never thought of perfume before! Certainly not in those terms!

Ali Mc Graw and her more down-to-earth strong beauty took the torch in 1966 when she posed with her dark features as the face of Chanel No.5. The choice showed the emphasis which Chanel placed on their American audiences even then.

The 70s were scattered with print and TV ads of classically beautiful Catherine Deneuve (once upon a time face of Marianne, the French national emblem), the one who has been more closely related into people's minds with No.5. Ironically Deneueve was opting for Yves Saint Laurent for her clothes and for Guerlain for her perfumes! It doesn't matter: think of Chanel No.5 and some old ad depicting Catherine Deneuve is certain to pop up in your mind.

Unknown beauties were continuing to feature in advertisements or Chanel No.5 but the glamour and joie de vivre were always featured when the famous number was brought forth.

The last French face to front Chanel No.5 in the late 70s (in memorable Ridley Scott directed commercials) and all through the 80s, was Carole Bouquet. The French actress wasn't the most talented one to come out of the country but her beauty and chic radiated through the pages in classy sexiness.

It was the bottle itself which took center stage in the pop images reminiscent of the Andy Warhol technique before the Nicole Kidman contract in 1985. Actually Warhol never made any reproductions of the No.5 bottle: it was a gesture of homage.

Estella Warren, swimmer, model and actress, was the early 2000s face for Chanel No.5 in what was an unforgetable campaign of commercials filmed by Luc Besson reprising the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale in a most imaginative and creative melange. The print ads were visually striking, but not the same thing at all.

And then there was she who was at the height of her Hollywood career after worthy choices following an infamous divorce from Tom Cruise: Nicole Kidman had arrived and securing a contract to front Chanel No.5 was its apotheosis.

Please look at Perfume Shrine posts on Chanel No.5 commercial short-films through the years, clicking this link: Advertising Series part 1, I don't want to set the world on Fire.


  1. I had no idea that Ali MacGraw had ever been the face of No.5. I love her, but she seems all wrong for that assignment! The ecstatic lady in the fur collar comes closest to embodying my own feelings about No. 5. She's gorgeous.

  2. Anonymous20:18

    It's amazing to see that so many superstars and so many images of glamor have been used to push this fragrance, I am in awe of the power of attraction this has created for customers and they continue to ask for no.5 every six seconds, or so, not that I believe that necessarily. Do you, helg?
    The best pic for no.5 is Monroe in my opinion as it makes it seem sexy and not old lady, but I am sure old ladies will disagree with me, lol.

  3. Thanks for the memories, great post.
    In my case it's miss Warren I have utterly erased from memory. When was this again? I can't bring myself to recall her at all. I recall the pop art bottles print ads and then I seem to channel Kate Moss. But she wasn't fronting No.4, it was Coco Mademoiselle, right? have inspired me to get some No.5 for myself. Sounds like a good deal :)

  4. what a lovely re- cap. The new advert is great. I love the first picture, which I'd never seen- and always liked the Bouquet ads.

    I actually like that still of Kidman but neither she or the lady in the red riding hood ads seemed appropriate for No 5 to me- they are too blonde athletic to me, much more clean than number 5.

    I still don't get No 5, one day maybe.

    PS I have given you an award over at my blog- come and see

  5. Thanks for the view of No.5 through the years. I'm either too young, or not attentive enough to have seen or remember most of these adds ... but what stuck me when I saw the new commercial was actually ... relief.

    As someone who appreciates No.5, but doesn't wear it, I've often felt that the advertising didn't do anything to capture what (to me) is the real spirit of the fragrance.

    When I think of No.5, I do think of luxury, yes. Chanel has conditioned that view into many of us. But I also tend to think of austere, and simple elegance.
    I've always thought of No.5 characterizing a woman who has her own thoughts, her own way of doing things. Someone who doesn't need a man in her life, but might enjoy one. Someone who travels her own path.

    The Nicole Kidman commercial never seemed to fit, for me. It was a bit flippant, and it reminded me more of Moulin Rouge than it characterized the idea of No.5 for me. No.5 isn't about star-crossed lovers, (or at least not in my mind) and it's not really about escape, either.

    The reason that I like the new commercial is that, at last, I'm seeing a No.5 add that captures the spirit of the fragrance, as I see it. A woman, traveling alone (where is she going? is this an internal journey as well as a factual one?), restless sleep, a search (which may or may not have anything to do with a man). Her style is understated. Her destination, unclear. Her confidence, absolute. Her elegance, without contrived thought.

  6. M,

    I agree with you that Ali seems too down to earth and very much a woman not prone to chi chi frivolities. I wonder what she could front...hmm...
    But it goes to show how much emphasis on the US market had been placed all along.
    Yes, the fur collared lady is all sensuous abandon and classic glamour. :-)

  7. Aline,

    at least this is the figure they're giving out themselves. I cannot profess to higher knowledge, and I doubt anyone outside the firm could, unless they had agents at every department store around the globe! LOL!
    Marilyn did contribute to lots of its legendary status, so definitely lots agree with you.

  8. Sue,

    Kate Moss was indeed the face of CMlle before Keira Kneightly.
    Hope you find something to like!

  9. K,

    awww you're spoiling me rotten! Thank you, thank you, thank you! My honour...

    Returning to NO.5, glad you liked the Sem advertisment, isn't it beautiful? Love it! It's in Roja Dove's book.

    And yes, I ADORE that commercial by Besson with Warren, only mentally I substitute Warren with a dark beauty, probably gothically pale too. :-)

  10. Proximity,

    I think you have provided the best commentary on the new commercial I have read so far. Excellent!!

    You've got a point about the Kidman one recalling Moulin Rouge. I think it was conceived at about the same time and therefore it did want to ride on its tailcoats success and the director was the same etc etc.

    Great analysis. I especially agree with the woman alone on a (self-discovering) journey.

  11. Aww, thank you for the praise, I'm blushing :)

  12. Wonderful post! Chanel always fascinated me. Thank you!

    May I ask if you could write about Jean Paul Gaultier also Trought the Years?
    Thank you very much!

  13. Thank you Lulubella!

    It's something to consider; if I find enough material, sure, you've got a deal. :-)


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