Life is a state of enviable existence when you own Chanel No.5

The perfume ad: the modern fairy tale.

Staring out of the page, two perfectly formed figures. Sitting on a flawless white yacht without a care in the world. The sun is shining, the sea is a hardly feasible bright turquoise, sustaining symmetrical ripples caught in perfect motion under the sunlight.

Then you look up to see the living room, and the pile of books on the sofa. It is a struggle to tear yourself away from the D&G perfume ad – and the penetrating stare of David Gandy donning a teeny swimsuit in the middle of the ocean.

The perfume advertisement defines our society’s current expectations of appearance. It may seem ridiculous to say, but you’re the little girl turning the pages of your favourite magazine, when ‘POW!’ perfection strikes. Perfect skin, perfect lips, perfect eyes, perfect teeth; so perfect, you forget to look at the product being advertised. And if you do, it is only in a vision of wonder – a state of curiosity – of whether you could ever look like ‘that’. More importantly, you begin to ask yourself if you stand ‘more’ of a chance of looking like ‘that’ if you buy the product on the page in front of you.

Turning the pages of the magazine seven years later, I find myself reverting back to the so-easily persuaded child. The thing is, from experience of buying product after product for years, the sensible side of my head has been cemented with the words, “Don’t be so silly! That won’t work!”.

And for the majority of advertisements this logic stays with me. Lipstick, eyeshadow, mascara, hairspray and beautifully bronzed body self-tanning adverts seem to no longer have an effect. They swiftly bypass the turning of the pages, with just a few managing to capture my stare for more than a few seconds.

But perfume adverts are always adapting. With their ever-increasing ‘for him’ and ‘for her’ titles (or pour homme and pour femme if you want to be posh,) it’s hard to keep up. Not to mention the fact they have separate advertisements for each sex and then one featuring both. It reminds me of a school photograph; “Smile on your own, andddd all together now!” (Except the models are hardly ever smiling – just in a state of vacant sternness. They also never seem to look as if they like each other, which I find amusing.)

Nevertheless, the advertisements place immediate emphasis on the idealistic couple. Do they really think they are creating super-cool couples walking around wearing matching perfumes?


Girl: “I brought a new perfume, and the best thing of all is we match! Eeeeee! HOW exciting!”
Guy: Slowly turns around and winks. “Genius isn’t it…?”

It seems obvious, but the narrative behind the perfume advertisement is uniform. It remains indefinitely as a love story. A modern fairytale is created through depicting our desired versions of life. Using generalised idealistic imagery to create a stare-worthy, yet not entirely unattainable scenario, the perfume advertisement thrives. Our expectations are set high and we feel the need to adhere to them. We become used to these flawless couples, and try to fit the idealism into our own lives.

And the adverts are everywhere! On the underground escalators they sit vacant and useless in the bright LED screens, following you until you reach the top. In department stores they stand tall, leering over you in massive shiny black frames surrounded by fifty or so bottles of the real thing (which don’t look half as fantastic as they do on the advertisement.) In reality, they are just mass-produced pieces of glass and liquid, yet when we spray them they make us feel iconic, original even.

Chanel No.5 has to be the ultimate culprit for this; the thought of it sitting in that perfectly designed bottle is enough to make you want it. It holds an unrivalled air of expectation, whereby to spray it on you is to make an icon of yourself. It is an element of perfection; a luxury of commercialism.


Yet, according to Carmel Dell’Orefice, the world’s oldest working model, “There is a lack of refinement, there is no romance. Everything is a vulgar description of life – it is so sad.”

We see this in the flawless advertisements, which create our dream aesthetics. In defining the standards of individuals, they are defining the standards of our lives. Perfection is a waste of time, yet in a world which is so materialistic and flourishes on ever-worsening reality TV shows, appearances, celebrity status, and money, it is hardly a surprise that we find ourselves in a commercial culture – one that remains obsessed by the feel-good feeling of advertising and its products.

But you know what… I think we secretly love it. To have that nearly attainable feeling of perfection constantly around us installs in us a sort of aim, or expectation, that it could still happen one day. So never say never to ending up with David Gandy on a flawless white yacht without a care in the world. One day you might look up and be sailing across that same ocean.


Article & Illustrations by Emma Cahill


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