Perfume and the Female Gaze

Chanel have realised a teaser for their new No 5 campaign. We’ve become used to what these ads offer – resplendent settings, intriguing stories and, crucially, a gorgeous, pouting ingénue. We’ve seen Nicole Kidman fleeing from paparazzi in a fairytale frock, Audrey Tatou enjoying a midnight encounter on a train and Estella Warren as a very modern Red Riding Hood. But now, for the first in its 91 year history, the perfume’s advert focuses on a man.

Turning away, so you can see thick blond hair but not his face, and can’t quite determine his gender, is none other than Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt who, for two decades has been an icon of female desire.  Who, since he played the cowboy-hatted hunk in Thelma and Louise, has been renowned for his phenomenal sex appeal (however he’s styled)

Chanel No 5 advert

Andrea d’Avack, a spokesperson for Chanel, said: “To keep a legend fresh, you always have to change its point of view,” and this shift of perspective feels important. We’re very used to advertising aimed at women showing nothing but the image of another woman, and both men’s and women’s magazines routinely feature a female cover star.  Women are rarely sold images of men.

Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay ,”Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, famously introduced the idea of the ‘male gaze.’  This highlighted that the power balance in film is often skewed because  the camera so frequently  puts the audience in the viewing position of a heterosexual man. Women are seen as sexual objects not only of the characters in the film, but also for the viewer on the other side of the screen.

This advert feels exciting because the viewer of the advert is instead assumed to be seeing though the eyes of a heterosexual woman. Her desire is both acknowledged and whetted. Mulvey argued that “the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze…”, and it is interesting to see that, rather that eyeball the camera in a come hither pose, Pitt is cowering from it (and its female photographer, Sam Taylor-Wood), hiding his face from the glare. Rather than be the active seducer, he is firmly in the role of the pursued.

The Chanel spokesperson says , “we think … that the perfume is a seduction between a man, a woman and the perfume.” And this feels like the first time we’ve such a brand offer a women something she might be able to seduce if she purchases the product, not just something she might be able to mimic.

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