Monday October 15, 2012
Brad Pitt: The first male spokesmodel for Chanel N°5
By LOUISA LIM
To its wearers, Chanel N°5 is the essence of femininity perfectly encapsulated in a square-cut bottle. In the brand’s latest advertising campaign, it chooses to throw all caution to the wind ... by getting a male spokesmodel.
WHEN the grand dame of Parisian haute couture Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel declared, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different”, she wasn’t just harping on empty rhetoric. Decades later, the people at Chanel are still taking this aphorism to heart, by signing on Brad Pitt (pic), 48, as the first male face of Chanel N°5 .
The actor-cum-producer has stepped into a role previously filled by some of the world’s leading ladies, such as Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard and Audrey Tautou. Shot by Joe Wright – whose previous works include two Coco Mademoiselle commercials with actress Keira Knightley – this campaign has been shrouded in secrecy since it was announced earlier this year.
But all will be unveiled today, in a global premier sure to raise some perfectly trimmed brows.
Brad Pitt? Who knew?
Chanel devotees know, however, that if there were anyone in this world who had the audacity to rebel against life’s tiresome conventions and – in this case – get a ripped hunk to represent a woman’s fragrance, it would be Mademoiselle Chanel. She has, after all, pioneered a modernist philosophy when ornate Edwardian styles were all the rage, and launched an iconic fragrance at a time when couturiers and perfumers practised very separate arts.
Now, for the first time, a man has entered the picture; not just any man but one whose rakishly good looks and formidable personality has earned him numerous accolades and the top spot on People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive – twice.
“What’s important to remember about Chanel N°5 is how revolutionary this fragrance is. When it was introduced, it broke all the rules by discarding meaningless ornamentation for an honest and open aesthetic, and a scent which embodies liberation from trend, creating a fragrance which remains as modern today as it was during it’s inception. Chanel N°5 has always been the most iconic women’s fragrance.
“The beauty of its success for all these years is both elegantly simple and complex at the same time. That’s what I see being the appeal of this campaign ; it goes beyond the abstract of emotion or beauty to evoke what is timeless, a woman’s spirit,” said Pitt in a press statement.
Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the United States, William Bradley “Brad” Pitt has starred in numerous movies like 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Troy, Moneyball and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
The Academy Award-nominated star’s fiancee is the equally-famous thespian Angelina Jolie. Pitt and Jolie, 37, have six children: Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Knox and Vivienne.
For his Chanel gig, he reportedly pocketed a cool seven-figure sum.
It’s a pretty reasonable amount, considering how some women – like fashion stylist Andrea Wong, for instance – think Pitt will do a better job at selling the fragrance than Kidman.
“It’s a bold move from Chanel to have a man, no matter how gorgeous he is, to be the face of a woman’s fragrance, but it might just be one that will pay off. Perfume has always been about seduction, and none more so than the iconic Chanel N°5 . What girl wouldn’t want to be seduced by Mr Pitt himself?” says Wong.
Model and emcee Elaine Daly echoes Wong’s sentiments: “Oh, it’s so clever for Chanel N°5 to do this. Whenever I wear the scent now, I will think of Pitt! And if I don’t have it, I will certainly hurry out to buy myself a bottle if it can get me someone like him!”
Former beauty queen Nadine Ann Thomas enthuses: “I never thought Chanel N°5 would associate itself with someone like Pitt. However, it’s a nice little surprise for a scent that always prides itself in being very feminine. Pitt adds a muskier, more masculine, dimension to Chanel N°5 that I haven’t seen and this is great! I have a bottle of Chanel N°5 at home and I will be looking at it differently from now on.”
Not everyone is impressed however.
Ellfian Rahim, deputy editor of New Man, feels that “there is no logical reason for Pitt to be Chanel N°5 ’s new face, other than the fact that choosing him in the role adds shock value and draws attention”.
“Honestly though, I don’t see what this guy can possibly do to persuade more women to pick up and use this classic,” he adds. “I guess Chanel chose him to illustrate to its audience that they know how to reposition classical points of view.”
Although actress Sazzy Falak understands the raison d’être behind Chanel’s campaign, she has another leading Hollywood heartthrob in mind for the role.
“I’d pick Johnny Depp because he was married to Vanessa Paradis and he’s living in Paris ... you know, he’s got the whole French thing going on!” she exclaims.
Love or hate its decision, no one can deny that the brand is taking a creative leap into the unknown.
Just as Pitt makes for an unlikely spokesmodel, Wright is the unlikely filmmaker. While filming his second Mademoiselle advertisement, he was lightly ticked off by the company for being “too romantic”. Nevertheless, it was this sensual use of the camera that led to this 40-year-old being offered the N°5 gig.
Wright has matured tremendously since his first collaboration with Chanel in 2006. Working on Chanel commercials, he claims, has allowed him to grow because it gave him the opportunity to make “a small film of art”.
“They talk about a world that expresses love and I love thinking about love,” he rhapsodises in a press release.
Love is also the central theme in his latest project. To prepare for the shoot, Pitt was encouraged by Wright to think about Chanel N°5 in a personal way.
“We never discussed it in intellectual terms,” explains Wright. “We discussed what Chanel N°5 meant to us. I wanted to ground it a real, emotional context.” To Wright, the scent is accessible, but also symbolises dreams, luxury and seduction.
“It does not feel like a perfume that is designed to attract a male and yet it does,” he says. “It feels more than that and kind of beyond sex.”
The result – a black-and-white commercial set against a stark backdrop – features Pitt reciting an ode to a former lover, or so it seems to the viewer. Later, it’s revealed that the object of his affections isn’t a woman, but Chanel N°5 .
Wright has credited Pitt for his “great American voice”, claiming that part of the commercial’s magic was derived from it.
“I don’t see why perfume commercials shouldn’t be moving,” says Wright, who has directed movies such as Pride And Prejudice, Hannah and Atonement. “There are lots of handsome men around but it’s his soul that comes out in his voice. It gets under your skin.”
It is said this intimate approach – the antithesis of today’s dense, complicated narrative – was inspired by the classic N°5 Catherine Deneuve advertisements from the late 60s.
“I really admired the simplicity of the Deneuve ads,” says Wright. “When you have Deneuve or in fact Brad Pitt, why would you need to decorate that? It would be like gilding a lily. I wanted to create something incredibly simple and strong that really focused on the performance.”
The fact that he was shooting the first male spokesperson for Chanel didn’t ruffle Wright’s feathers. “I am quite irreverent and never really think about whether I am breaking rules or anything,” he says. “It just felt right that Brad should be speaking this love letter. So it didn’t feel odd or strange to me.”
The editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, Natasha Kraal, says that while she always looks forward to Chanel adverts, this one, in particular, has her heart racing with anticipation. She is optimistic that Wright’s work will be just as stirring as past campaigns because “nothing Chanel does is ever without deep thought”.
“Chanel commercials have always been more than just an advertisement; they are a dialogue for our times. I’m curious to see how this 90-year-old brand can be reanimated with an unconventional face.”
Although Wright is intrigued by the public’s reaction to his opus, he isn’t worried. As a matter of fact, he’s confident that the campaign will trigger a positive influence.
“The world is crumbling at the moment – there is so much loss and despair – and Chanel N°5 stands for an aspiration, a time and self-love.”
It is also easy to imagine Mademoiselle Chanel looking down on both men from her heaven of quilt and pearls, and nodding her approval.
The Chanel N°5 ad starring Brad Pitt airs from 7pm today on Astro channels: Prima, Wah Lai Toi, TVBS Asia, KBS World, AXN, Star World, E! Channel and FOX.
Chanel N°5 rich in history