'Coco' Chanel inspired it, Keira Knightley starred in it, Joe Wright directed it and Jacques Heller presided over it. We go behind the scenes of this year's most acclaimed campaign for Chanel, the COCO MADEMOISELLE commercial.
Gabrielle Chanel; there isn't much that hasn't been said about her. Valiant, enterprising and undaunted, she was the woman known as 'Coco' who rolled up her sleeves, cut her hair like a boy, created a modern fashion language and announced, "In fashion, you know you have succeeded when there is a moment of upset." Aweless and astute she was, a wallflower she was not.
Keira Knightley, the new face of Chanel's infamous and best selling eau de parfum, Coco Mademoiselle, is a woman of similar standing. Twenty-one years old and already her filmic history is 25 entries long, with a resume of films spanning from Bend it like Beckham to Pirates of Caribbean and Pride and Prejudice. She is earnest, that much is clear. However, like Coco herself, that is far from being her resounding feature, for Knightley is an actress who inspires just the right amount of contention. Pretty, perhaps, she is like a spirit – lithe and beguiling – with a certain "je ne sais quoi" that cannot be easily caught in words. She is boyish and she is human, and yet she steers clear of the Hollywood status quo in the most enchanting way. Which may be the reason why Joe Wright, the director of the new Coco Mademoiselle advertising film, fought not to cast her as Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice yet has cast her in every film he has ever made since. Knightley's flaws are visible.
In the Coco Mademoiselle film, we are introduced to Knightley in a man's shirt and bowler hat as she dances through a set of French doors. She tosses the hat, and now she is making her way to an evening soiree, clad in a floor-length burgundy gown, her eyes kohled, her cheekbones prominent, and a diamond necklace subtly encircling her neck. As Joss Stone words transpose us, we follow her into a hall of mirrors where she fleetingly enraptures a man, leaves a dab of Coco Mademoiselle on the base of his neck and is off once more, leaving the event behind with a bewitching smile.
This is a film about Coco Chanel, but it also a film about Keira Knightley. Just as Chanel retained her strong sense of self throughout her life, so too has Knightley. Both women are beautiful, but both retain much more when the beauty is taken away. As Jacques Heller, the infamous artistic director behind every inch of the Chanel brand, summed up in the interview that follows, "In the film adapted from Jane Austen's novel, Keira wore no makeup. She wore lengths of fabric as dresses. She had almost no hairstyle, just a little bun behind her head. She was remarkable without any kind of decoration." Is that not a modern incarnation of Chanel's famous quote, "Fashion passes and style remains"?
Interview with Jacques Helleu, creative director of Chanel for Coco Mademoiselle.
How and why did you decide to create a new ad campaign for Coco Mademoiselle?
The idea for the new campaign, which we were already considering last year, came from the very success of the product. This success encouraged us to invest in a new film. Kate Moss, who largely contributed to the success of the fragrance, was the muse for five years. When the results are good, it makes sense to change the image.
Can you describe the creative process?
As soon as we decided to make the film, I went out to search for the ideal candidate. The actors I find interesting are the ones who are constantly changing. You have to follow them and yet keep your distance at the same time. Sort through the emotions that they express in their roles, take into account their changes, depending on the roles they accept, but also keep an eye on their entourage. And then I saw Pride and Prejudice by Joe Wright, with Kiera Knightley, and I was immediately struck by her presence at the very moment we decided to look for a new muse.
What about Keira Knightley struck you in particular?
Her natural "flaws" were visible. In the film adapted from Jane Austen's novel, Keira wore no makeup. She wore lengths of fabric as dresses. She had almost no hairstyle, just a little bun behind her head. And of course, she was wearing no jewelry. She was Cinderella in the making! For me, Keira embodied perfection itself. She was remarkable without any kind of decoration. And I thought that if this is how she was, bare, then I could imagine how wonderful she would be embellished.
Your first approach is to find the ideal actress, and then you search for the director who will bring out her talent?
Exactly. Kate Moss left big shoes to fill. Coco Mademoiselle is someone who is independent and sexy, a liberated woman who's both modern and young. We needed a concept that wasn't too smarmy or vulgar or contemporary. So I started hunting for the perfect director.
Why did you choose Joe Wright?
Joe Wright knew how to bring out all of Kiera's beauty in his film. I am always wary of the academic aspect of the British, but I went with my gut feeling because I knew that Joe Wright knew who Keira Knightley was and how to direct her – he even chose her to be the heroine of his second film, Atonement.
And then the scenario was created. How did this take place?
There's no charter saying, "We have to see the bottle three times," or anything like that. I never try to take over the creators' job. Of course, once there's an outline for the synopsis, I put my two cents in and guide the idea.
Beyond the artistic project, an advertising film has an obvious commercial aim. How do you reconcile the two approaches?
That's the art of it! Joe Wright was able to bring out the best of Keira Knightley and transcend Coco Mademoiselle by making the world of this fragrance sharper and more impertinent, with a more elegant approach. Not only does this allow us to reinforce our position, it also lets us expand the concept to include more "feminine" or sophisticated women.
Do you like to watch films that you commissioned after they are done?
Not right away. However, it's a real treat to see them two or three years later. The most difficult thing in my field is to resist hot new talents. Just because a director or actor has made a good film and received public and critical acclaim does not mean we have to hire this person at all cost. Without repeating what's been said a thousand times, the most interesting project is the one we haven't done yet.
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