I admit that I have a soft spot for trailers and cinematic adverts. The challenge to tell a story (of a film, book, exhibition, or a product) in a highly condensed fashion to intrigue the audience and make them emotionally engaged, is a fascinating one. A recent search for a new fragrance became an excuse to research and watch several very different perfume adverts.
Just as I pay attention to the packaging and design of the perfume, I am equally curious about the story behind it and how it is visually conveyed in a video trailer accompanying the launch. Naturally, when it comes to women’s fragrances, there are several elements that can be found in virtually any advert: luxury, extravagance, sensuality, sophistication; the actresses are attractive, desirable, and powerful. But that’s what perfume is about—it’s not just the smell and the presence of pheromones, but the memories the scent invokes, and the ability to manifest our own individuality through it. Perfume are empowering, and their ads need to portray that, though it is easy to go over-the-top with the lavishness and end up with a femme fatale reduced to voluptuous body and seductive gaze.
“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” Coco Chanel used to say, which only emphasizes how much power she attributed to fragrances. Interestingly, it is Chanel adverts that I find most successful in terms of the balance between the look and the story, combining striking visuals, great editing and intriguing portrait of the woman. The several interpretations of Chanel N°5, are all good examples of that balance.
Between 1979 and 1990, Ridley Scott did a few very short ads for the famous fragrance, three of them starring Carole Bouquet. La Piscine, L’invitation au rêve – Le jardin, Monuments and La Star all have saturated colours, stylized architecture and a swimming pool, which makes me think of David Hockney’s paintings.
While Scott’s ads remained in the realistic sphere of male-female relationships, Luc Besson reached for a fairytale. His 1998 advertising film Le loup with Estella Warren and music from Edward Scissorhands, invites us to open our imagination of what the perfume might be. Only 46s long, it is packed with exquisite shots perfectly edited, with a perfect mysterious ending.
While both Scott’s and Besson’s ads are very short, Baz Luhrmann’s films, one from 2004 and the second one from 2014, are longer- 2.02min and 3.16mins, respectively. Both are equally striking visually, yet a lot more complex in terms of story and character development. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Luhrmann called them “A movie not made …(…) a hint of a movie that could be or should be made.” Nicole Kidman, the heroine in the 2004 film, is like Ann from Roman Holiday—a woman who escaped from her duties and faced a difficult choice between love and duties, choosing the latter. Gisele Bündchena, starring in the second film, The One That I Want, represents a modern woman who has to pay a price for “having it all”. Luhrmann said that he didn’t want the film to be “just pretty smiles and flowers. (…) I hope you get it from the trailer that there’s a relationship and it’s shaky”.
As much as I like Luhrmann’s films, my favourite Chanel N°5 film advert is by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and it takes place on a night train to Istanbul. Aside from the sepia- and indigo-soaked landscapes, beautiful graphics and typography, the tension and chemistry between the characters (played by Audrey Tautou and Travis Davenport) is perfectly presented.
Interestingly, just as Chanel N°5 has remained a true classic that has changed very little since 1921, both in terms of the fragrance and the modernist bottle, the logo, and the perfume/couture trademarks have also remained intact. I’m glad that Alain and Gerard Wertheimer are aware that perfect is the enemy of good, and unlike other creators (such as Yves Saint Laurent who keeps coming up with modern, often unsuccessful variants of its staple fragrance, Opium) they honour the power behind the work of Coco—big enough to transcend the era in which it was produced.