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Making $cents: Kidman helps stir Chanel No. 5 buzz,, October 27th 2004

How do executives stir up buzz for a product that hasn't changed in 83 years?

Why, make a commercial, one starring a woman too beautiful to forget, too bland to offend and, above all, too famous to ignore . . . Nicole Kidman, of course.

Chanel executives knew the Aussie was exactly the actress for a high-budget ad for No. 5, a perfume first released in 1921. The French couture house had put other actresses on television, including Catherine Deneuve, Carol Bouquet and Estella Warren, but never anyone with the international gravitational pull of a Nicole Kidman.

Last week, the two-minute ad directed by Baz Luhrmann was unveiled for a packed house at the Chanel boutique in Bal Harbour, ensuring Chanel customers will feel like insiders when shortened versions of the ad hit the TV next month.

''The choice of Nicole Kidman and No. 5 is that of two incredible icons,'' said Laurie Palma, senior vice president of fragrance and Internet marketing for Chanel. ``She seemed like the most natural selection.''

The whirlwind plot centers on an actress pursued by -- who else -- paparazzi, as she races through a stylized Times Square and jumps into a cab, only to find herself seated next to a handsome stranger. Whisked away to his simple rooftop apartment, ''the most famous actress in the world'' spends the night laughing, kissing and falling in love.

Ultimately, she returns to her clamoring fans. But as she climbs an outdoor staircase, she looks back over her shoulder at his darkened silhouette perched on an industrial Chanel logo above his apartment. She meets his gaze with a smile, a charm in the shape of the No. 5 dangling over her back.

This, the ad asserts, is the embodiment of Chanel No. 5: A gazelle-like beauty, vulnerable and rich, seductive and adored. Now, will it sell perfume?

''It's about memory and being memorable, about making that indelible impression on someone, changing someone's life or changing someone's emotions,'' Palma said. ``She was such an extraordinary woman, this man will remember her forever -- her kiss, her smile, her perfume.''

The ''film,'' as Chanel executives refer to it, will air on cable TV beginning in November, followed by commercial TV and -- a first for Chanel -- in movie theaters. Chanel hopes it resonates with women in their 30s as much as those in their 60s.

''With any brand that's as venerable as Chanel, you always hope to continually reach the next generation and at the same time keep your consumer,'' Palma said.

The Miami crowd, treated to fine chocolate and champagne, was one of four selected nationwide to view a fascinating half-hour documentary about the making of the ad, followed by the two-minute ad itself.

''We picked boutiques in top VIP markets,'' said Rosemarie Sterling, Chanel's executive director of public relations for fragrance and beauty products. The documentary also aired in Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas, and its footage is mesmerizing -- more gratifying, even, than the ad.

Lost in the hyper-condensed, 120-second spot is the reverie quality the documentary evokes so well, much of it shot dreamily out-of-focus and with the ethereal score of Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy. Luhrmann, who also directed Kidman in Moulin Rouge, discusses his vision, Karl Lagerfeld sketches the divine dresses and Kidman, in a moment of exuberance, grabs her rear as she prances around in Lagerfeld's pink gown, which resembles frothing rapids.

While the TV spots are meant to make new fans of Chanel, the boutique viewings were held with a different clientel in mind: the repeat customer. Hence the complimentary Chanel No. 5 that was handed out in Bal Harbour.

As Sterling noted, perfume lasts only so long.

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