‘In Chanel ‘No5, The Film’, has post modernism taken a step too far to be an advertisement?’
Chanel No 5 has been on sale since the company’s inception in 1921. In its almost 90 year existence, Chanel has become a recognisable brand and No 5, one of the top perfumes in the world.
In 2004, Director Baz Luhrmann was asked to direct a new advertisement for No 5. This was to be the start of a series of advertisements, directed by top movie directors and featuring well known actresses for the product. The aim was to keep the Chanel brand and No 5 at the top of the perfume world.
Luhrmann called the project ‘No 5, The Film’ and stressed he did not make advertisements. While the film was shown on UK television, the word ‘Advertisement’ appeared on the bottom left corner of the picture as to not confuse viewers. During pitching his idea for the advertisement Luhrmann said ‘What I can make you is a 2 minute trailer.. for a film that has never actually been made, not about No 5 but No 5 is the touchstone’ (Making of the inspiration room)
Chanel’s artistic directors thought it was possible to to merge the talents of Mr Luhrmann with the style of his ‘Moulin Rouge’ film to create the advertisement. Described by ‘The Rough Guide to Film’ as ‘ A stylistic magpie with a flair for camp’, Luhrmann brought not only Moulin Rouge but also elements from his other work in this advertisement. This brings the Post Modernism theory of borrowing and bricolage to a different level as many of the ideas from this piece are brought from other parts of Luhrmann’s own works. According to the Penguin Media Studies Dictionary, post modernism can be viewed as ‘putting together of style from radically different contexts and historical epochs.’ (p 276)
The campaign also brings ideas of feminism. Nicole Kidman plays an actress who wants to get away from it all and after a love affair must return to her original public position but this time she is a stronger, freer woman following her experience.
The advertisement is a type of branded content which blurs what is entertainment and what is the actual advertisement. The production of the film took place in Fox Studios in Sydney Australia in December 2003.
The final edit of the film runs for exactly two minutes without the credits. It was shown on TV and in movies theatres between 2004 – 2006. The two minute version was edited to a 30 second television version for many territories.
The Bazmark Production team (Luhrmann’s Production company) included Catherine Martin, production designer on all his films and Craig Armstrong, (ex rock band Texas) who worked on the soundtracks to Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge. Cinematographer Mandy Walker who worked on Luhrmann’s film Australia, also worked on No5 The Film. Jacques Helleu was the Artistic Director for Chanel in Paris. Fashion designer Karl Lagerfield also acted as Chief Designer for No 5, The Film.
The Chanel fashion house was founded by Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. She learned the trade of a seamstress while in a orphanage run by nuns. She began designing hats while she worked in a tailor shop and was acknowledged the mistress of Étienne Balsan, who was in the textile trade. French actresses of the time wore her hats which helped her reputation.
Chanel, herself, was inspired by men’s clothing but she introduced women’s clothing into her repertoire in 1913. She sold blazers, straight skirts and skirt jackets and she became known for simplicity but also for her clothing’s durability in work conditions as her couture became well known to women working during World War 1. During the 1920’s the Chanel name became well known for its beaded dresses. and making ‘modern’ two and three piece ladies’ suits.
Earnest Beaux created the Chanel No 5 scent. It was introduced in 1921 and was named after Chanel’s lucky number. The Couture business and Parfums Chanel were run separately, with Chanel only retaining 10% of the Parfums business. In 1924, Chanel also introduced her first jewellery piece. 1932 saw an exhibition of jewellery, focusing on diamonds. 1993 saw the reintroduction of ‘Fountain’ and ‘Comet’ necklaces to the range. Luhrmann’s ‘No 5 The Film’, takes elements of all three sections of the Chanel Brand and packages them into one item.
The Chanel company (Chanel S.A.) is now run by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer. Parfums Chanel was co-founded by their grandfather Pierre Wertheimer. (www.forbes.com)
Legal battles over who owned which part of the business dominated the Chanel brand until the 1950’s. Chanel was arrested after World War 2 for abetting the German Army. Winston Churchill intervened and she was released. Chanel approached Pierre Wertheimer for his help when she returned to France, however he only agreed as 100% of anything marked ‘Chanel’ would be his.
The 1950s also introduced ‘Pour Monsieur’, an eau de toilette for men and the now famous leather handbag with chain. The company also reestablished itself as force to be reckoned with at the 1957 Fashion Awards where Chanel’s spring collection earned her a Fashion Oscar.
‘Coco’ Chanel died in 1971, Alain Wertheimer took over the business in 1974. In 1983 Karl Lagerfield was appointed chief designer. (www.fundinguniverse.com)
In tribute to Coco Chanel, the company introduced a new fragrance ‘Coco’ in 1984. Chanel marketer Jean Hoehn Zimmerman told Marketing News. “We introduce a new fragrance every 10 years, not every three minutes like many competitors. We don’t confuse the consumer. With Chanel, people know what to expect. And they keep coming back to us, at all ages, as they enter and leave the market.” During the 1990s the company was considered to be a global leader in marketing and fragrances. (www.referenceforbusiness.com)
Chanel was reported to have spent more than any other perfume company on advertising during the 1990’s. The Baz Luhrmann advert reputedly cost £18 million with Nicole Kidman earning $3.71 million. (www.imdb.com)
Other well known names who have appeared in Chanel adverts are Jerry Hall (Fig 1) Kate Moss and Marilyn Monroe (Fig 2) who once said “What do I wear in bed? Why Chanel No. 5 of course”. This celebrity endorsement seems to have been what sealed the fragrances’ status as a world leader and iconic brand. (http://beauty-products.suite101.com)
Having these people as ‘spokespersons’ for the brand, tell us that the brand are looking to promote sophistication and elegance. Kate Moss was involved before any personal drug scandals. While in the past Chanel may have been associated with slightly older women, the inclusion of Moss, Kidman and later Audrey Tatou, appeals to women in their twenties and thirties.
In 1997 Chanel used Andy Warhol’s silk screens of the No 5 bottle in their advertising campaign, this brought a new sense of modernism and ‘hipness’ to the product (www.wonderbuzz.co.uk)
The advertisement/film itself starts with a shot of actor Rodrigo Santoro seeing in a reversed large Chanel logo on a roof top over looking the city. This has been used before in Luhrmann’s work. The Chanel Logo (Fig 4) seems to have replaced the L’amour logo (Fig. 5) The logo first made an appearance in Strictly Ballroom and Romeo & Juliet before being used in Luhrmann’s stage version of La Boheme and Moulin Rouge. It was most notably used in Moulin Rouge where Christian, (Ewan McGregor) ‘a penniless writer’ lived in a loft apartment. (Moulin Rouge)
While Luhrmann said that Strictly Ballroom, Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge were a ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’, The No 5 seems to combine elements from these to bookend the entire series.
The searchlights are reminiscent of a Batman film, however these could be a hat tip to Coco Chanel herself who was involved with German Army Personnel. The camera flashes and black and white images of Kidman seem to reflect the time of Marilyn Monroe. Turning this section into black and white, gives the piece an almost timeless feel. As the piece turns to colour real life sounds, like car horns are introduced. As Kidman gets out of the car and runs into the street, we see the words Chanel and Coco on billboards. Subtle advertising but mixing it with entertainment.
Black and white imagery is again used with a newscaster and text. Here, Luhrmann mixes the newscaster image from the start of Romeo and Juliet with the font type from Moulin Rouge. While in Romeo and Juliet this was an establishing part of the story (using the newscaster as the narrator). The newscaster here also acts as a narrator telling the backstory. He is also dressed in what seems like 1950’s attire, again reflecting perhaps the time of Marilyn Monroe.
Kidman gets into the cab with an unknown stranger but in his loft, lies about who she is. If this is 1950’s based she is seen wearing his jacket and shirt. This almost seems like a freedom for her as she pushes her pink dress on one side of a curtain to reveal the new her.
The lovers images over the city back drop reflect those in Moulin Rouge but in this case seem to mean than none of this would have happened without this city. Normality and everyday life is thrown back into their lives as a male figure, perhaps her manager tells her that she must attend an event. Kidman knows here that she has responsibilities and that the love affair wouldn’t last in the real world but says ‘No one can steal our dream, no one’.
We are taken back then to the original ‘Times Square’ type location where we see Kidman at the event on the red carpet. The camera flashes are this time in colour. She turns around and sees her lover in the distance silhouetted on the Chanel logo.
Santoro’s narration over the piece culminates here as he recalls this love affair, ‘Her Kiss, her smile, her perfume’. We are not told what perfume she is wearing. As Kidman walks away we see the No5 logo on a necklace. Implying that it is Chanel No5. We are left feeling the smell of her perfume, is how Santoro will remember this tryst.
It is also perhaps telling that Kidman’s first dress is pink, as was Monroe’s in the 1953 film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (imdb.com) At the end of the piece, a diamond No 5 necklace is revealed. This is interesting as ‘Diamonds are a Girls best friend’ is a song in the Marilyn Monroe film. Kidman also sang this song in 2001’s Moulin Rouge. The jewellery Kidman wore was worth £17 million.
The advertisement/film takes the different areas of the Chanel brand and bring them together. We see Kidman in the Karl Lagerfield designed dresses. Almost at the end we are introduced to the No5 perfume brand through the narration and finally in Chanel’s especially made fine jewellery.
The questions we are left with after this are how would the public respond to such postmodernism. Unless they have seen Luhrmann’s previous work would they get or understand what it meant? Would they watch the full two minutes in between television programmes? In this situation is the female in control and does she use the male character? As Luhrmann describes this as a film trailer for which there is no film, would the audience believe it was a film trailer or would they believe it was an advertisement. Would such romantic notions of a short term fling really want to make them buy the product.
In an online survey, 52 people answered my questions about the piece. Of those 27 were female and 25 were male. 6 of these people were aged 16-19. 21 of these people were aged between 19-24. There were 7 people aged between 25-30 and 15 between 31-40. 3 people were over the age of forty.
Thirty three people said they saw the advertisement on television, two people said they saw the shortened version of it. People also said they remembered seeing it in the cinema. One person said they saw it in Australia.
73.1% of the people surveyed said they knew what it was for. Of those fourteen people who didn’t know, two people said it could have been for anything ‘these days’. One said they didn’t know until the Chanel logo appeared. Five people suggested it could have been for a movie.
The postmodernism in the piece is interesting. Luhrmann’s work has received critical and audience acclaim but would the surveyed know where it came from. Nine people said that parts of the film seemed familiar and that they recognised them from Moulin Rouge. Two people cited King Kong. Eight people said they recognised it from other movies including ‘Generic Sloppy films’ One person admitted they couldn’t place the where but ‘just seems like a movie I seen before’.
The Mythical New York/Times Square was noted twice. Two people also cited old black and white films. Kidman’s dress was noted as ‘dress from Sex and the City’. One person replied they thought it was familiar from ‘other adds for perfume’. But only one person cited they they recognised the CC Chanel logo.
Later, when shown the CC logo, 61.2% (30 People) they said had seen the likeness before in the media. 38.8% (19 people) said they had not previously seen the image. 1 person said they had seen the image in Batman. 12 people said they had previously seen the logo in magazines. One of those saying ‘magazines containing Chanel ads’, while another quoted ‘other Chanel adverts’. Five people said they saw the logo on television while four people could say that they had seen the image in Baz Luhrmann’s films. One of the four people also quoted ‘Strictly Ballroom’. While one person mentioned Christian Slater’s film ‘True Romance’.
Having watched the advert, 49 people answered the question if they would be more or less inclined to buy the product. 3 people (6.1%) of the said they would be more inclined. 18 people 36.7 % said they would be less inclined to buy the product.
When the females surveyed were asked how the film made them feel 52.9% said they felt beautiful after watching it. 35.3 % said they felt loved. Of those surveyed 23.5% said they felt unpretty. There were also 2 responses to undervalued and 1 to feeling adored.
50% of the males surveyed said they felt out of their depth after watching the advertisement. 16.7% said they felt used.
Also interviewed for the project were a 22 and 31 year old female and a 28 year old male. One female lives in Ireland, the other in Romania, the male in California, U.S.A. During the course of the interview it became clear that the interviewees recognised parts of the advertisement but did not know where they came from. The Chanel Logo was familiar to both. The male questioned thought the Chanel logo was in a film but not sure which one, ‘maybe Moulin Rouge’.
None of these interviewees said the No 5 advertisement would make them more inclined to buy the product. They both questioned why they advert was made at all as it was hard until the very end, where the No5 logo is in diamonds, to distinguish which Chanel product this was for. The male questioned asked if it was for the pink dress Kidman wore.
The 22 year old female asked why the advertisement was so long and said ‘ if I wanted to go to a movie I would but these characters are bad’. The 31 year old female asked why the diamonds were shown at the end of the film ‘Is this not for perfume?’.
All three of the interviewed said it looked like it was set in New York while the 22 year old asked if the Kidman character was supposed to be ‘the one from Sex and the City’.
Looking at the overall analysis of questions posed, it seems that the inclusion of the different parts of the Chanel brand confused the audience. The glamorous movie trailer style also caused slight confusion as the audience wasn’t sure how they were supposed to interpret what was on screen.
Even though those who were surveyed using surveymonkey.com were given options to explain their answers, it was only while actually talking to interviewees did they really start questioning the reasons behind this advertisement. The duration of the advert and the questioning of one female makes sense that the advert was shortened to 30 seconds. The females asked why Santoro’s character seemed to be an afterthought. Both had recognised him from ‘Love Actually’. (www.imdb.com)
It is hard to conclude whether ‘No 5, The film’ was successful for the Chanel brand. The business profits and turnover had increased throughout the 80s and into the 90s. While diversifying into other areas the Chanel brand was focused on ‘its adherence to a conservative, proven image. Chanel designers and marketers were extremely careful to not tamper with the Chanel legend’ (www.referenceforbusiness.com)
No 5 was named as the most iconic fragrance of all time (www.telegraph.co.uk/) Looking at peoples reaction to ‘No5, the film’ it seems it was used to reignite talk about the Chanel brand itself. The interviewees’ ideas and confusion seem to indicate this. Journalist Bryan Appleyard also seems to agree ‘. No 5 remains exactly where it was. The only problem is that he would have achieved exactly the same effect if he hadn’t made the ad at all’ (www.bryanappleyard.com)
L’amour Sign from La Boheme
Abercrombie, N., Longhurst, B., 2002 Dictionary of Media Studies, London, Penguin Books Ltd.
Aldaz. C,  Baz Luhrmann [Internet] Available from www.imdb.com][Accessed April 13th 2010]
Chanel no 5 The Film Making of Part 1 Directed by Baz Luhrmann [internet][Available from Chanel no 5 The Film Directed by Baz Luhrmann [internet][Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfoMbir_Qd4] [Accessed April 8th 2010]] [Accessed April 8th 2010]