Brad Pitt, Chanel's new Cover Girl Even an A-list scent like Chanel Nº 5 could do with a refreshing ad campaign, says Katie Puckrik, and Brad Pitt makes more sense than you'd think as the face of a women's perfume
The world's best known perfume and the famous man set to get even more A-listy when he marries Angelina Jolie Photograph: Frank Baron/ MARK BLINCH/The Guardian/ REUTERS
A terse tweet this week announced Chanel Nº 5's latest cover girl, matinee idol Brad Pitt. This is the first time in the history of the iconic perfume that a man has been cast to represent the scent in their ad campaign. Considering the current amount of cross-dressing in thebeauty industry, you might be wondering "what's the big whoop?" After all, we've already encountered fragrance and lip gloss-flogging blokes in MAC ads, on YouTube tutorials, and behind the makeup counter of our local Boots.
But Chanel Nº 5 ain't no trendy tranny accessory. It's Chanel Nº 5, the olfactory embodiment of womanly mystery and sophistication. Coco Chanel herself pronounced it "a woman's perfume, with the scent of a woman." And up until Brad, women have been the only flavour of people smoldering from page and screen as the embodiment of its appeal. We've had the glamazons: Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Kidman, Ines de la Fressange - and the gamines: Audrey Tatou, Vanessa Paradis, Ali MacGraw. Despite the odd foray into coquettishness, the tone of the campaigns has been remarkably consistent. The model's demeanor is typically self-contained, with a cool, appraising stare down the lens of the camera. Almost masculine, you might say.
Chanel Nº 5 liberated perfume from its binary system of madonna (namby-pamby single note florals) and whore (heady jasmine and musk) to create an abstract blend of natural and synthetic notes that summed up the modern woman of the 1920s. What is remarkable about No. 5 is that almost a hundred years after its launch, it still smells modern: unsentimental yet plush, insinuating yet elegant. The buttery blur of jasmine, rose and ylang-ylang are contrasted by aldehydes, a compound that adds oomph and arctic shimmer. This chilly shimmer is warmed by mating-season musk - only revealed on the skin, like a secret between lovers.
But why Brad, and why now? Chanel Nº 5 still reigns supreme as the 'ultimate' perfume, the stuff even clueless Cro-Magnons can namecheck as proof that they know the score. However, the world of perfume has experienced a population explosion since Nº 5 was first introduced in 1921. With over 1,000 fragrances now launched yearly (many of them uninspiring spin-offs and celebrity cash-ins), the grande dame of the perfume counter has a harder time than ever being smelled over the din. Name brand recognition doesn't necessarily equal sales dominance, and indeed in France, Nº 5 is currently outsold by Dior's J'Adore.
There's nothing like hitching one's wagon to a star to get back on top, though, and with Brad planning to make a Mrs. Pitt out of Angelina Jolie in the near-ish future, Chanel will only benefit from the Hollywood hoopla (and rabid press interest) surrounding the wedding. A link with an A-list actor never hurts an A-list brand. Marilyn Monroe once boosted sales after an impertinent reporter asked what she wore in bed. She provocatively answered, "Chanel Nº 5". With their latest perfume model, Chanel offers a subliminal reframing of that answer. What does the modern woman wear to bed? Brad Pitt.