Behind the Scenes: The making of the Chanel No. 5 Brad Pitt ad

photo by stringberd

Having worked in the cosmetics industry, I’ve been on scads of photo shoots. Most people would be surprised to find out just what goes into a luxury brand ad campaign. Let’s just say, a lot more than meets the eye. Using the newest Chanel No. 5 fragrance ad, featuring Brad Pitt, let’s take a look.

Planning the new ad campaign for Chanel No. 5 was a serious affair. The fragrance was originally launched in 1921, so it was important for Chanel to keep the fragrance from appearing staid or old fashioned. Portraying a classic as mysterious, sexy, modern and exciting is always a challenge. Choosing Brad Pitt to be the first man to represent this iconic woman’s fragrance, for Chanel, was the easy part. But what to do with him? What should he wear? Look like? Say? Sitting, standing, squatting, surfing? The questions were endless. There were myriad ways things could go wrong. Chanel couldn’t risk any of them so they chose to put the decisions in the hands of a master.

They spared no expense and hired Ingnoff Smoolpnar for creative direction. For those of you who’ve never heard of him, Ingnoff (or Ingie as he’s known in his native Greenland) is an olfactory artiste (with an e). In fact, he’s the only one in the world. In the history of the world. He uses his sense of smell to inspire art. His ritual of sitting in silence, blindfolded, clothed from chin to toe (so not to permit the slightest breeze against his skin to distract from vibrissae [nose hair] arousal,) is all true.

Over a year ago, two marketing executives from Chanel went to Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland to retrieve Ingnoff, who only speaks Kalaallisut, and with a translator, transported him back to New York City. The voyage took eleven months and twenty three days as he uses only two modes of transportation: the short-hair mule (they’re smarter than donkeys) and kayak. Transportation utilizing fuel of any kind is damaging to the nasal chambers, and more specifically the respiratory mucosa.

His emotional reaction to Chanel No. 5 was immediate. Through his translator, Ingie told Chanel executives that the top notes of aldehydes and bergamot, mid notes lily of the valley and iris, and base notes vetiver and amber, while not the sole components of the fragrance, were the ones that shaped his vision.

A production assistant in the studio that day told me that after initially smelling Chanel No. 5, Ingnoff called out, “Sewage!” Others heard him say “Cabbage!” That’s Kalaallisut for you. Either way, that’s where it all began.

The backdrop of the set was to look like the inside of a corroded iron pipe. One that might be found underground. It took Ingnoff Smoolpnar and his two assistants (who flew to NY) six weeks to get the corrosive patina−layers of chipping, rusty, dank metal−Ingnoff “smelled.”

As for Brad Pitt, he needed to look sallow, unkempt, grimy. Rank. This took a hefty team of hair and makeup gurus copious amounts of time. Greasy, straggly hair and anemic, jaundiced complexion take fo-ev-er to get right. One of the stylists spent the better part of a weekend scoping every homeless hangout in New York City to find the right shirt for Brad (which was traded for a plump check and a clean lightweight sweater). Thankfully, this perfectly wrinkled, reeking shirt had all its buttons!

The script was the last and most critical element of the shoot. Ingnoff Smoolpnar believed the script would grow organically from the combined odors of the physical elements. Ingie sat on set with Brad Pitt and the rusty pipe backdrop while his two assistants sprayed the fragrance until the aura was created. He inhaled deeply. Ingnoff’s vision was instantaneous. It was the smell of John Lennon and Yoko Ono a week into their self-imposed bath strike. Ingie’s assistant raced to one of the last independent music stores in NY to get a vinyl copy of Double Fantasy. In playing the record backwards the script was born. Most people don’t have a clue as to what Brad Pitt is talking about in the commercial, but Kurt Cobain fans do. And yes, it’s something about a stalker, a ghost and a bad burrito.

They shot the ad in one take. It probably should have been shot twice because an insect of some kind kept distracting Brad to look off into the distance, but in the end Ingie thought that gave the ad the mysterious quality it needed.

8 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: The making of the Chanel No. 5 Brad Pitt ad

  1. Those little nose hairs are called vibrissae?
    Kalaallisut is a language? Short-hair mules are smarter than donkeys?
    Aldehydes and bergamot are pleasant fragrances?
    You read Eva and you’re gonna learn a lot about thngs you never heard of!

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