Thursday, November 3, 2011

Michelle Yeoh for Guerlain: new face

Famous faces haven't been in short supply these days at Guerlain: Natalia Vodianova (face of Shalimar, Parfum Initial and also the classic Shalimar), Nora Arnezeder (for Idylle) and Hilary Swank (for Insolence). This alpha team is joined by ~ageless! can you believe she's 50?~ Malaysian born, Hong-Kong based actress and producer Michelle Yeoh.

Funnily enough, it won't be just for her high cheekbones, balanced features and truly amazing skin that she Michelle Yeoh is promoted as a Guerlain ambassador (although she is used for all that too), but also for her potential to introduce the idea and magic of fragrance to the Asian market. "Beyond our success through our innovations in skincare and make-up, since 1828 the heart of Guerlain beats in perfume, still quite distant in the culture of our friends in Asia. Michelle Yeoh will be our guide to introduce our Asian customers into the magical universe of our perfume creations", according to Laurent Boillot, PDG at Guerlain. He adds: "“Beyond being a beautiful lady, Michelle defends several causes, she is a woman of conviction and we are pleased that she is now going to defend the causes of beauty and elegance in the French way, for a company which for 183 years has been transmitting the values of courage, creativity and refinement”.

It remains to be seen whether there will be separate advertisements for  existing Guerlain fragrances for the Asian market fronted by Michelle or whether there is a new fragrance in the works specifically targeted for that demographic.

Photo of Michelle Yeoh at the flagship Guerlain store in front of the famous chandellier with all the glorious Guerlain fragrances via
Photo of Michelle Yeoh with orchids via 


  1. Anonymous22:02

    Well Hallelujah! A 50-year old woman in an advertisement instead of under-25 only (or worse, under-18!). Admittedly, Hilary Swank is about 35 so that was a step forward.

    Here's to "courage, creativity, and refinement." I really hope she'll be fronting the classics.

    -- Lindaloo

  2. leinti nti22:44

    she is amazing and yes I wouldnt mind seeing her fronting campaigns for the european market. i am really sick of natalia vodianova and hilary swank. both are boring.

  3. Pamplelune from PoL02:50

    As an Asian who lives in Asia (for now), I feel Michelle Yeoh has been seriously miscasted for this role. Yeoh has always come across to us as a Western ideal of feminine Asian beauty - same as Lucy Liu. Both Yeoh and Liu would not be considered aspirational or classic beauties in Asia. I would have expected someone like Joan Chen to be more suitable for Guerlain - she's a classic in all senses of the word.

    Also, the roles she's played doesn't really fit the whole aesthetic and ethos of Guerlain's long history of perfumery...does it?

  4. I see your point, Pamplelune, however, I don't think Hilary Swank meets the Western ideal of caucasian beauty, either. And Vodianova is like a creature from another world, a gorgeous creature to be sure, but she's definitely not a classic beauty, either. All three are rather strikingly unusual-looking. And I do hope Guerlain uses Yeoh in European and American campaigns, as well.

  5. L,

    I applaud more women of all ages in advertisements as well. I like young ones for youth-targeted products, more mature for products aimed at that segment, older women for products for skin that has shown a bit of age already etc. It makes sense, you know?
    I also think it makes sense to use different faces from different races and ethnic backgrounds. (Why don't we see more black women fronting campaigns for instance? It's not for lack of beautiful black women)

    It's certainly an improvement. :-)

  6. Leinti nti ( ελληνάκι? γειά σου πατρίδα)

    I also find Vodianova rather boring in a peculiar sort of way; I guess I have seen her everywhere, that must be it. She's beautiful, but she's a beautiful baby, not a woman. I think she will remain a baby till very very old, she has that sort of baby-ish features. Immediately appealing, but at the same time...I don't know. Lack of depth? Experience? Smolder? Something of that at any rate, IMHO.

    Swank isn't really boring, as an actress she's v.good and likes to experiment. But her use by Guerlain hasn't been really experimental. I guess of course a classic brand like Guerlain couldn't well do that sort of thing anyway.

    I hope they make really classy ads with Yeoh. She looks amazing and looks like a smart cookie as well.

  7. Pamplelune,

    hi there, so nice to see you here!

    You bring on a good point there: There's something to be said about who Asian people (what a lump-classification, anyway!) aspire to, themselves.

    Lucy Liu is to my eye to a greater deal American than Asian. At least in attitude. I do like her exotic looks though and her freckles. (I KNOW, such a no-no in Asia!)

    Re: Yeoh, I didn't know that she wasn't considered classically beautiful in Asia (or aspirational). Why is that? Care to elaborate? (I get the point about her roles not fitting Guerlain's image, more of which below)

    I do agree with you enthusiastically on Joan Chen: she's so very beautiful! And yes, classic. Probably not interested in a collaboration? Zhang Ziyi is also beautiful, though quite young for anti-ageing skincare ads or more "mature" perfumes.

    I suppose Guerlain was also looking to find someone who would be very much recognizable from an international audience view point. Chen is less so, if I'm not very much mistaken. (?)

  8. Melissa,

    clever thought: Indeed Swank is horsey-faced (though I find her face interesting, probably because I find her acting interesting; that happens to me a lot), with her pronounced jaws and wide mouth. She's unusual-looking or at least not the classically symmetrical Grace Kelly lookalike we've been taught to consider the ideal in Western societies. (Then again Monica Belluci isn't Kelly-like but she's gorgeous and many people's Western ideal).

    It seems to me -to be honest- that they thought: who is out there that is very recognisable and of Asian extraction we can use? They could have used Vanessa May too I suppose (only usually actresses/models have the visual advantage over celebrities from other fields)

  9. Ooops, typo: Vanessa Mae.

  10. This is wonderful news! Michelle Yeoh IS beautiful, I think. I am not of Asian origin, but she has been casted in Asian films so she can't be thought of as gruesome there either! What a great step forward for Guerlain. I also love that she's not 15.

    I hope the next model will weigh more than 60 kgs as well. Now that would be progress!

  11. Fiordiligi14:16

    Hmmm, interesting choice. I cannot stand Hillary Swank and I think that using her was a big mis-step for Guerlain. Add me to those pleased that they have selected someone older than the norm.

    Bring back Catherine Deneuve, I say!

  12. Pamplelune02:10

    Hi Helg, thanks for the welcome!

    Michelle Yeoh isn't considered unattractive here in East Asia, per se. It's just that she's not particularly well-known, hasn't been in a lot of Chinese language movies, and is generally quite low profile for the Asian market. I wonder if Guerlain has engaged the use of a focus group for this at all? (I'm assuming their target market is China)

    I ran this story by my Facebook group for Singaporean perfume lovers (Singapore is 75% ethnic Chinese) and they too agreed that Michelle Yeoh was not an appropriate casting. (But as Melissa pointed out, who is, these days?) They would have preferred to see Gong Li or Maggie Cheung - both very, very well known and legendary in the Chinese speaking world, but less well known in the West. However, I understand Gong Li is currently under contract with L'Oreal and Maggie Cheung is the face for Olay.

    Joan Chen, I think, was somewhat popular once upon a time in the West - she'd been in a few Hollywood movies and was in Twin Peaks. Not sure what she is doing now, though.

    About why Yeoh is not considered classically beautiful - I can't really explain exactly why, but in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong (the major cosmetic markets), super pale skin, huge (sometimes surgically enhanced) eyes, and a round "baby face" are all over the cosmetic ads. Perhaps that is what women here aspire to look like (not me, for sure). Zhang Ziyi's look is more aspirational I think. But then again, I can't see her as the face of Guerlain either.

    (I remember when Lucy Liu was a big deal in America, and when speaking to people from Asia, they just laughed and couldn't quite understand the fuss! Perhaps she is attractive to the Western market because of the exotic factor.)

    Melissa: I agree, it would be great if they could use Yeoh for the American and European markets! I think she is more recognisable there and it would be great to see some diversity in ads.

    I realise that Swank and Vodianova are not 'classical' beauties, but I also feel like unconventional beauty has become more acceptable in the European and American media, due to more exposure to unconventional looking runway models and magazine faces. Unconventional has become cool, I reckon. Karen Elson in the 1990s, anyone?

    For emerging markets like China, I feel that the public is more likely to stick to the familiar rather than the avant garde. There is less concern with artistry, and more concern with conspicuous status.

    All that said, who knows? Yeoh might be a successful face for Guerlain - I just hope they don't pair her up with Shalimar and Mitsouko!

  13. Very interesting perspectives and some I hadn't thought of till now. Indeed unconventional has become cool, but China is a market with less exposure to such saturation of the unconventional.
    It remains to be seen what happens exactly. I only have seen Yeoh for Guerlain skincare ads so far.

  14. D,

    who could argue about Deneuve (pinacle of great face for advertising), but despite her connection to Guerlain (wearing the perfumes, I mean, as admitted by herself), isn't her face indelibly linked to No.5 for the American market?

  15. LTS,

    I somehow think that the zaftig ideal isn't embraced in the Far East: the clothes sizes run significantly smaller in my experience and they're customarily petite.
    Now, as to the US market (and increasingly the Euro one too), zaftig is on the rise, so ads are conforming to some degree (see the success of Renn et al)

  16. Anonymous12:25

    Typical for a new "globalist" style company. Since LVMH took over Guerlain in 1994 it is no longer a traditional french perfume house. It now is one of those "globalist" companies which means profit is all that matters. Asia is a huge market and that´s why this strange Asian lady has been chosen as a brand ambassador. Guerlain is quintessential FRENCH and a Guerlain brand ambassador has to be FRENCH !
    Guerlain has created lots of really remarkable perfumes and one could always sense the love and passion that was put into the creation of a Guerlain perfume. The classic Guerlain perfumes are/were unbelievably beautiful, multi-facetted, unique compoitions.
    Not anymore!
    Since LVMH took over tons of new low quality Guerlain branded fragrances have been put on the market, in rapid succession - cheap stuff that isn´t worth 10 dollars but is sold at a premium price because of the Guerlain brand name.
    LVMH even managed to ruin the classic Guerlain perfumes like Samsara, Shalimar and others by modifying the original ingredients/recipes and by releasing tons of variations of the old classics.
    Guerlain doesn´t exist anymore. Only the brand name is still there. LVMH has managed to ruin the best fragrance house in the world and it will get worse. Hardcore capitalist profit orientation ONLY will never result in good outstanding unique perfume quality.
    Only passion and love for perfume will result in perfume creations that can stand the test of time.
    I will never buy LVMH Guerlain perfumes. I will stick to traditional french perfume brands - the ones that are still there - and buy more arabian perfumes. Arabian perfumes, especially perfume oils, are still available in high quality and they are worth the money. I love oriental perfumes anyway. I just hope Investors won´t ruin arabian perfumes in the near future.

    1. I agree about the influence that LVMH has had over Guerlain in general, though people do buy because of the brand and the image. And they did buy because of the brand in the past too. In that regard, it's not new.

      I kinda feel strange about your insistence that Guerlain's ambassadress has to be French strictly, though, because 1)we live in a multi-cultural world today anyway (whereas it was not the same in the 1950s, say) and 2) the faces for Guerlain were never the focus before (the ads were never focusing too much on the person doing the promo and for all I know they might have used other nationalities as well).

      Yeoh is not a bad case, I think toothsome American Hilary Swank was much less Guerlain material, remember? (and despite the ad I did like Insolence).

      Thanks for offering your unique viewpoint, as always :-)


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine