COMING down the escalator yesterday from the Bloomingdale’s second-floor women’s shoe department where I did not find the all-weather, waterproof boots that I am in search of, Yours Truly is struck by a huge image of a blond white man.
Initially, I believe it to be William H. Macy as he looks in "Shameless" (http://www.sho.com/sho/shameless/home). Almost instantly, I dismis the notion – the man in the photo is too handsome, too young. Looking again, I wonder. Could it be? ... Brad Pitt staring back from the gigantic photo that is an advertisement for Chanel No 5 Parfum for women, not for men?
Safely off the escalator in the men’s department at the 59th street store in New York, I study the photo (pictured at top). It is an arresting sight. The man in the photo exhibits a combination of earnestness, virility, self-confidence and authenticity. It is an aspirational image, but its subject is approachable. He is quite handsome but not in a threatening way. It is a photo that stops one in one’s tracks as it does me in mine.
I get right to the point of my visit. It is indeed BP in this stunning photograph. Chanel rep D. Harry also gives me to know that BP is the first man to be the face of Chanel No 5. This distinction puts him in league with Audrey Tautou, Nicole Kidman, Ali MacGraw, and Catherine Deneuve. (See video of CD's Chanel No 5 commercial below.)
How is it possible that this escaped my notice? Is not fashion and beauty part of my business? Put it down to busyness, too: I was engrossed in both the 50th New York Film Festival and the 2012 Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival around the time that the buzz started around this event. Alas, one cannot know everything and one clearly does not.
A bit of research last night does confirm the BP-Chanel connection. It also reveals that BP has been widely ridiculed, including in a “Saturday Night Live” parody, because the corresponding Chanel No 5 television commercial is deemed by many the worst sort of drivel. Perhaps because I saw the photo before I even knew of the existence of the commercial directed by Joe Wright (“Anna Karenina”), I do not judge it so harshly. (See bottom video). One would be hard-pressed to make the same claim about the print ads, one in particular when it is increased many fold its size.
Chanel rep DH and I are now on the other side of escalator in front of the Chanel booth peering at a smaller, yet still-large version of the same photo. To our left is another smaller, yet large photo of BP – chin in hand (channeling “The Thinker,” perhaps?) – looking pensive. Both draw in the viewer. The largest photo, however, is the coup de grace.
I share with DH my earlier thoughts about the photo, taken by Sam Taylor-Wood. He concurs. We are now observing the photo together. On closer inspection, it reveals much more than a handsome face. Who knows how much makeup was used because BP is made up to look like he’s wearing very little or nothing at all. The latter may be the case. What is remarkable, though, is that it appears that he did not wish to be doctored too much. The lines under his eyes are clearly visible. And beautiful. He's keeping it real, as if he has lived some life and the lines testify to that.
Like the larger pores on sections of his face, the lines give him character that would have otherwise been lacking. Visible on his neck and chest are small goose bumps. They do not age the 49-year-old nor would anyone think him old, as they may his partner, Angelina Jolie, if she were to be so bold.
BP has a semi-scruffy moustache and goatee. His shoulder-length hair is coiffed, but minimally so – or at least it looks to be. “A lot of people who have seen the photo say he has extensions,” DH says, though it is not obvious to me. In any case, the extensions look good and they look natural. Many a woman can take a page from this book.
“They’ve been up about two months,” DH says of the photos. “A lot of people have noticed it. We did really well in December.” This last bit he says with a gleam in his eyes.
What in the world is Brad Pitt thinking about? Dinner? How he is going to spend some $7 million after taxes? Photos by Sam Taylor-Wood.
For obvious reasons, it is not surprising that Chanel No 5 would have experienced a significant bump in sales in December. The photo, however, is a powerful selling tool, working on numerous subliminal levels, as it does. There is much at work here to unite the fragrance and consumer. Consider the various messages:
1 Buy this perfume and you will attract BP or a BP type;
2. Buy this perfume and you will attract handsome men;
3. Wear this perfume. BP and men like him will like it;
4. Buy this perfume for the special woman in your life and she will see you as BP or a BP type;
5. Buy this perfume for your woman as BP does for his;
6. Buy this perfume and it gets you closer to Angelina Jolie, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world and so on.
At work here is the same sort of subliminal messaging that automakers employ in using attractive women to sell cars, especially red ones.
And is it not as common sensical as it is brilliant to place this advertorial photo for a women’s fragrance in the men’s fragrance department? It makes it easier for men to purchase the perfume for numerous reasons, including avoiding the discomfort and intimidation of venturing into the women’s fragrance department to do so. It’s simply more convenient and no doubt will increase sales to men, as has been the case at Bloomingdale’s, DH confirmed. The placement also suggests to a man, possibly a clueless one, that he is on the right track in buying this fragrance for his woman if BP is endorsing it. After all, BP is the type of guy that men – particularly American men – can trust to tell it like it is, preferably over a beer.
This last brings up another point. The beauty of the photo, notwithstanding, it is more surprising that BP is the face of Chanel No 5, than the fact that the campaign marks the first time that a man has been selected to be the face of the fragrance.
Why Brad and why did Brad do it? As for the actor, it couldn’t be for the money – though reportedly his payday is around $7 million – because his net worth is believed to be nearly $200 million. According to some wags, he’s having a mid-life crisis. If so, better a 91-year-old scent than a 19-year-old girl.
As for Chanel, the label may have chosen BP simply because he is relatable to so many demographics across age, ethnicity, geography and gender. Indeed, as Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet has said, “No 5 is the most iconic fragrance of our time, and Brad Pitt is the most iconic actor of our time. Women in every culture love No 5. No matter where you are, No 5 is there.”
Translation: Relatable. The same cannot be said of Douglas Booth, for instance. The young British actor (and model), whom I recently saw in an adaptation of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” on “Masterpiece Theater,” is simply too beautiful in an intimidating sort of way. A body like Daniel Craig is too rugged-looking.
Is this the body language of a man having a mid-life crisis?
Though George Clooney is only one year older than BP, he looks about a decade his senior – the younger demographic won’t go for him. Plus, he can look rather severe at times. The mind cannot conjure up a nonwhite actor who would be a potential face except for Will Smith. He looks a little too boyish and comedic. And, of course, there is the added disadvantage that an actor of color might be perceived as not having international appeal. That written, Barack Obama would be an exception, but the president of the United States does not do this sort of thing.
In that case, why not Brad (who doesn’t normally do this sort of thing either), he seems to pass muster.
Forger the TV commercial, cast the eyes on the photo at a Chanel booth near you, possibly in the men's department.
Visit http://www.chanel.com to learn more about Chanel No 5.