Last Christmas I questioned whether perfume adverts personify the true scent of a woman.
After whiling the weeks away watching festive filled films and corny Christmas Specials, it’s safe to say I’ve had my share of the small screen for 2015 already. This intense seasonal viewing meant my eyes were exposed to a hoard of advertisements about alcohol, furniture and even Claudia Schiffer boasting the brilliance of German motor engineering. But it was the plethora of perfume ads that diffused across my TV screen that made me reflect just long enough not to switch over to TV3. While on many occasion the sheer romance and style incorporated into the ads lit up my heart, more often than not, I was struck by the materialistic and erotic nature either masked or blatant throughout these mini-films. Could the scents that are supposedly the epitome of femininity actually be demeaning women even further?
In a crowded catalogue of advertisements for eau de parfum’s and eau de toilettes (apparently there is a difference between the two), the key for any perfumery is to garner the audience’s attention as quickly as possible. Since there is no way for viewers to physically smell the odour of the specific perfume, companies must do their best to sell the brand and world that the perfume emulates. What better way to do this than to paint an illustrious image of wealth, fame and fortune to entice the viewer? For me this is most prominent in the advert for Paco Rabanne promoting their supposed “feminine fragrance” Lady Million. The message this advert sends us is that all women need to feel womanly is money, stardom and male attention. Is this really a lesson that the perfume industry should be teaching women?
But should we really be surprised when it comes to the misdemeanour that occurs in the promotional campaigns for perfumes? Most perfumes are products of the world’s most influential fashion houses such as Chanel and Dior, thus inheriting and representing the problems of the fashion industry as a whole. Take Marc Jacobs’ 2011 advertisement for his perfume “Oh Lola” in 2009, starring the then 17 year old, Dakota Fanning. This advertisement which pictured Fanning clad in a pink doll-like dress with a bottle of perfume situated between her upper thighs sparked severe controversy for its alleged sexualisation of minors and was eventually banned due to the series of complaints which ensued. Whatever side of the debate you are on it is clear that the fashion industry needs to question how they would like their brand to be represented in the 21st Century. The age old adage of “Sex Sells” is just getting old.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of perfumery promotion, with many adverts proving that the allure of style and grace is the sweetest smelling of all. Dior’s 2014 “J’adore” advertisement starring Charlize Theron celebrates female strength, while Lancome’s 2012 ad for their scent “La Vie est belle” shows Julia Roberts as a shining light, breaking the glass ceiling in a world where women are chained to their duties and shackled to their partners. For me though Chanel are always winners when it comes to their adverts. Whether it’s Keira Knightley riding on her motorbike through the streets of Paris for Coco Mademoseille or the romantic love story of Audrey Tatou for Chanel No. 5, they get it right every time. They truly understand what women want, most visible in Brad Pitt fronting their 2012 Chanel No. 5 campaign, in an understated ad, without all the flashy festivities which other adverts feel the need to produce.
With Dolce and Gabanna hiring Hollywood stalwart Martin Scorcese to direct their advert for “The One” fragrance and companies like Calvin Klein spending up to $6 million on their perfume campaigns, it’s obvious that companies need to find original ways to market their scents in order to win customers. But since when does original mean promoting excessive materialism and the degradation of women? While we all enjoy escaping into the Wonderland-like world which these adverts promote, even Alice smelled the roses in time to decamp the distorted world and face up to reality, maybe it’s time perfume manufacturers did the same?