Mirror, Mirror: If Brad likes that smell, I want to smell like that

If Brad Pitt wants me to douse my body in Chanel No. 5, then I will - even if he barely makes sense.

The world's iconic women's fragrance kicked off its latest advertising campaign last month with a 31-second commercial featuring gray-templed Pitt mumbling nonsense.  

"It's not a journey," Pitt says (so serious!). "Every journey ends, but we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear. Dreams take over . . . ."

Is this a 12th-grade sonnet class or a TV ad?

The black-and-white commercial (www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGs4CjeJiJQ) is so full of babble it borders on hysterical. In the last two weeks, dozens of parodies have made the YouTube circuit, including my favorite of a dog in a button-down with the same gray background accompanied by a voice-over that muses about Kennel No. 5.

The commercial has also been spoofed on late-night shows including Conan and Saturday Night Live.


Thoughts on Chanel's latest ad campaign starring Brad Pitt?

Nonetheless, beyond all the hype, I think Pitt makes a point:

"Wherever I go. There you are. My luck. My fate. My fortune. Chanel No. 5 . . . Inevitable."

That's his way of talking about the scent - whether on his woman, or another woman - and the impression it makes.

You may ask why there's a man posing as the face of Chanel, but why are we cool with commercials with alpha women suggesting our fashion choices? This just-in-time-for-the-holidays campaign marks the first time a woman's fragrance makes a man the focal point, and why not?

I may prefer musk over florals, but I also want my perfume to excite my guy - so who cares if Beyoncé would wear it? Pitt may be a little goofy, but his vote of confidence is news we can use.

Michael Smith, associate professor of communication at La Salle University, agrees the commercial holds marketing weight.

"This is a common experience for men," Smith said. "Men remember women they love and dated based on their scent. So on the one hand, they've done some really good buzz marketing."

But there is also a downside, Smith explained.

"Chanel broke one of the basic tenets in marketing: The fragrance is for a woman, and if you don't show a woman wearing it . . . it may not make sense to people."

That may be why we are snickering at Pitt and his moody mumbling. But the hefty $7 million he was reportedly paid seems likely to be money well spent.

"From what we are hearing, there has been a lift in sales," said Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst at the NPD Group, which tracks sales of prestige fragrances, defined as fine perfume sold in U.S. department stores.

"We are hearing very positive response from retailers. It has raised awareness of the brand, for sure. Leave it to Chanel to flip the apple cart."

The House of Chanel, was, after all, the fashion powerhouse that helped women in the early 1920s discard corsets, shorten hem lengths, and create a new, not to mention comfortable, flapper chic look.

In 1921, Coco Chanel tried to create a scent that embodied women's new fashion attitude. She worked with perfumer Ernest Beaux, and he presented her 24 samples.

It's unclear whether she selected Sample No. 5, but she wanted to keep the No. 5 in the cologne's name because she was presenting her collection, and the new scent, on the fifth of May that year.

The scent became an instant success and has since remained among the world's top five scents. Marilyn Monroe, Nicole Kidman, and Keira Knightley all have served as the face of Chanel.

So why fix something that's not broken?

When sales of prestige fragrances are on the upswing, as they are now - total sales for prestige fragrances were $2.8 billion in 2011, up 11 percent from 2010 - it can be a good time to shake things up.

Part of the reason the scent has done so well historically, Grant explained, is that the company thrives on doing things differently. It doesn't wait for the tides to change, even it rubs folks the wrong way.

Chanel is known for exuding glamour, yet in this commercial, Pitt looks so casual, his dirty-blond locks grazing his shoulders.

Men are always telling me that women - although they think they are trying to look good for men - really dress for other women. In fact, they tell me women try to attain a too-skinny, too-perfect physical ideal that men don't find attractive.

That means more to me than clouds, ballerinas, and any other froufrou imagery usually used to sell scents.

That's why I would plunk down some plastic for a brand touted by Brad Pitt. And I'm betting others will too.

Don't be surprised if Denzel Washington and that hunky Idris Elba get some perfume offers soon - and we like it.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.