Smells like weird marketing

Helen Razer writes.

The description of scent is no easy matter. In fact, explaining a fragrance is a little like explaining your dreams. This is to say, hazy, abstract and please shut up about the edible unicorns of your subconscious before I hurt you, you boring twit. 

Speaking of which, Brad Pitt:

His new TVC for forever-scent Chanel No. 5 makes faintly less sense than our dreams but substantially more than a girlish press falling over itself to read something into this wooden nightmare. Stop it with the interpretation of dreams, ladies! There’s no subtext here beyond the seven million smackers Bradley was reportedly paid to speak into a camera looking and sounding exactly like your creepy high-school drama teacher.

God. He says NOTHING. And does so badly in front of some hideous flock wallpaper. This isn’t inspiring; it’s a passionless speech delivered badly in a staff-tea-room.

No. 5 is “inevitable”. That’s the best Mr Pitt can manage before he wipes the slaver from his dirty beard and offers to give all the girls in the ninth grade a massage while delivering the soliloquy from Richard III. 

Inevitable? Medical appointments and regret are inevitable. Chanel, surely, should strive to be just a little more hard-to-get than a pap-test.

Explaining the strange qualia of perfume is not easy but it really doesn’t have to be a complete twunting letdown, either.  And, in fact, it doesn’t even have to be anything like the truth to be a great success. This, after all, is fashion where reality is about as useful as tits on a model.

It just doesn’t have to be true to be good. Take, for example, one of Chanel’s best TVC’s for its men’s fragrance, Egoiste:

The scent itself is a warm harmony of wood with vanilla; it genuinely aims to please, unlike the chap who has all those beautiful French women shouting “je serai implacable !” (“NO I WILL NOT CALM DOWN”) onto their Juliet balconies.

CK One was also pleasantly misleading throughout the nineties. Smell this still popular “unisex” scent and you’ll think immediately of the freshly laundered jocks of a Princeton rower. Look at the TVC, though, and you’ll be brought to mind of inner-city intravenous drug use; not loin of Ivy League. Aesthetic inaccuracy aside, the campaign was evocative of something other than the lazy, unshaven “inevitability” that Chanel is spritzing us with.

Beauty should never be inevitable. There was nothing “inevitable” about Sophie Dahl’s ultra-luxe bod in this print ad for YSL’s Opium; a 2000 effort that is among the world’s most protested images. Those supernatural tar-tars were overwhelming; much like the fragrance itself. This Oriental-Spicy will still knock you over the head with a blow-up dolly then tie you up on a water-bed with Frederick’s of Hollywood hosiery and do you to a Bette Midler soundtrack. Personally, I’d rather be seated between Khloe and Lamar on a long-haul flight to meaninglessness than ever wear it. But, the point is, the imagery told us something about something and did so very effectively.

A perfume campaign must tell us something. That Chanel has managed to utter nothing about a product that has bathed much of the twentieth century in its soft floral notes is extraordinary. And it says one, possibly two things. First, it takes more than seven million dollars to make Brad Pitt have a bath and a shave and act. Second, perfume branding has jumped the shark. 

A quick look at our inbox of the past few weeks just confirms the fear that creatives have left their passion for parfum back in the nineties. Of Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection, the most expensive minds in PR tell us “It is as sensual as beautifully contoured nude skin.” This makes no sort of sense. What the actual? Have these people taken the world’s most poorly written fashion tumblr, popped it through Google Translate a few times and then asked Cat Marnell to vom on it?

Perhaps the description for Roberto Cavalli’s signature scent was crowd-sourced at a 1980s brothel. “Her apparitions become events. Her life is a scene on which she plays with glamour and charisma. Sexy, sophisticated, she turns her excesses into elegance.” I don’t care if the guy is from Florence, you just can’t upchuck this sort of nonsense and expect to be treated like an adult. It’s enough to make me want to turn my excesses into elegance.

Not even Gaga could uphold her initial promise of "blood and semen" with the launch of Fame. That it smells less like jizz and more like Sour Gummi aside, here again we have a big expensive pile of branding that goes nowhere in an ugly multi-million dollar blaze. 

The only fragrance folks making good use of big money currently are Balenciaga.  Using curious muse K-Stew, Florabotanica has at least prettied up the joint with a campaign that looks like Mondrian with an Etsy store. I don’t know what it smells like. Possibly the tears of a Mumford & Sons groupie.  But, accuracy is never the point in this business.  The point of perfume should always be beauty.

Not some inappropriate midlife guy standing in front of wallpaper depressing me with talk of the “inevitable”.  There are scenes in Fight Club more aspirational than this shit.

Lead image via Shutterstock

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2 comments so far..

  • pavementfrippery's avatar
    Date and time
    Wednesday 17 Oct 2012 - 7:50 PM
    Excellent article.

    Sophie Dahl's Opium print ad is one of the most luscious fashion photographs I've ever seen. It doesn't get better than that.

    I'd also like to give an honourable mention to Kate Moss' Parisienne for Yves Saint Laurent as (, mostly because it led to the posting of the single funniest youtube comment ever:

    Is she having an orgasm with the flower?!?
    our eng teacher is making us do an essay on this!! :(
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  • HelenRazer's avatar
    Date and time
    Wednesday 17 Oct 2012 - 8:45 PM
    Your English teacher has assigned you to perfume ads? THIS IS POST MODERNISM GONE MAD> Tell her from Helen that she needs to get some fucking Thomas Hardy into you lot quick smart ;)
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