No. 5 is much more than a fragrance,” says film director Baz Luhrmann. “No. 5 is in fact the entire flag for Chanel. When you think of the story of No. 5, whether it’s American GIs bringing it home for their girls after World War II, or whether it’s Marilyn Monroe saying she wears nothing to bed but a little No. 5, the iconography connected to that perfume is so much greater than it being just a fragrance. And that was part of the attraction for me doing it in the first place.”
The “it” for Luhrmann in case you haven’t heard, is directing a television commercial for Chanel No. 5 – his second for the famous fragrance. When Luhrmann says the scent is the “entire flag” for Chanel he’s not wrong. The fragrance which was first created in 1921, is still one of the world’s top sellers – a position it has consistently held despite endless new perfume launches by the industry each year. It has been said that a bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold somewhere in the world every 30 seconds.
Chanel, a privately owned company, does not release sales figures but according to analysts, perfume and cosmetics are the company’s biggest business and represent about 55 per cent of its total revenue.
“Chanel No. 5 remains one of the company’s flagship products and continues to capture a leading-share position in the overall fragrance market; it’s one of the huge money makers at Chanel,” says a luxury goods analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York. According to Women’s Wear Daily, Chanel’s beauty and fragrance business generated sales of $4.4 billion in 2013, making it the ninth biggest beauty company globally. So it is understandable then that when it comes to keeping Chanel No. 5 on top, no expense is spared. Which is a good thing when it comes to commissioning Baz Luhrmann to direct a television commercial, or mini film as the company prefers to call it (it runs at just over three minutes), because when it comes to budgets and deadlines Luhrmann, by his own admission, never met one he couldn’t push to its limits and beyond.
“I’m probably quite well known with some people – the studios – for being not very good with numbers and dates,” Luhrmann told a press gathering for the launch of the new No. 5 film in New York recently. “But there is one date that I do know very well and it’s for one simple reason – because it’s exactly 11 years ago we were approached by Chanel to come into their world and look at making something that would re-examine No. 5. The reason I know that date is that my daughter was born 11 years ago. And I remember that six weeks after she was born CM [Catherine Martin, Luhrmann’s partner in life and work] and my baby daughter were dispatched on a plane to Paris to start researching the project.”
It’s no coincidence that Luhrmann would relate the birth of his daughter to a commission. He has always fused life and work into one.
“People often ask me why I blur the line between life and art,” says Luhrmann. “There’s no job for us and my family, my extended circus family. There’s no job, there’s just the art.”