This year marks 100 years of Chanel N°5, and in the decades since its introduction the fragrance has enjoyed more than a few big moments in pop culture. From Marilyn Monroe saying she wore nothing but a few drops of N°5 to bed to Andy Warhol's screen prints of the recognizable bottle, the iconic fragrance remains a symbol of luxury.
For their latest film celebrating N°5, the Maison tapped Oscar-winning French actress — and new Chanel N°5 ambassdor — Marion Cotillard. Past collaborations include Nicole Kidman directed by Baz Luhrmann and Audrey Tautou directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. In this film, directed by Chernobyl's Johan Renck, Cotillard invites viewers into a surreal world where anything can happen.
Here, L'OFFICIEL spoke with the Chanel ambassador about the film, her relationship with fragrance, and dancing on the moon.
L'OFFICIEL: Can you tell us a bit about the film for the new Chanel N°5 campaign?
Marion Cotillard: It's winter in Paris. Near the Seine. It is dark and a woman, dressed in a large black cape, walks over a snowy bridge, alone and confident in a very enigmatic atmosphere. She stops and contemplates the full moon which shines with all its light. Suddenly, she finds herself on the moon where a man is waiting for her. They dance together, training each other in a movement that is at the same time whimsical, funny, and passionate. Then the woman is back on the bridge in Paris. She turns around and sees the man she was dancing with. They smile at each other.
L'O: What appealed to you about this scenario?
MC: It's a love story, a pretty, happy love story. There is both lightness and depth, airiness and earthiness. When the two characters start to dance, two human forces come together. It's a pretty picture of what it feels like to be very much in love. I find it very beautiful to take N°5 into this universe.
L'O: Can you tell us about your collaboration with director Johan Renck?
MC: We had a constructive, enriching, and happy collaboration. There was something very similar between him and the story we were telling. He has this mischievous energy, and at the same time he's someone who has a very unique universe. A universe in motion, which can be at the same time crazy and magical.
L'O: Can you tell us a bit about your character?
MC: When we started discussing the film with the director, we imagined a woman who liked to live in the present moment. During the shoot, I really felt this woman was full of joy, with a great freedom in the way she expresses what she feels. It was important to find that energy. Because there is this dance that arises between the two characters. A dance that is unlike any other. For that, it was necessary to draw a woman who likes to feel alive and is open to the unexpected.
L'O: Is this a woman you feel close to?
MC: She is a character who lives the present moment, fully. And that's something I aspire to. The woman in the film seizes the moment — without nostalgia for the past, nor fantasy of the future. I seek to forge a joyful, positive and free path. I don't know if I'm getting there, but I'm working on it. The character of this woman seems to tell us that anything is possible, and she can make her dreams come true.
L'O: Would you also be ready to take down the moon?
MC: Take down the moon, no! She is very good where she is. (Laughs) Do I everything to achieve my wildest dreams? Yes! When I was a child, my mother always told me "everything is a gift." Today, I say to my children: "dream big, because your dreams can come true." In the film, the woman leads the dance. The fact that the man is present on the bridge at the end of the film symbolizes the strong idea of the N°5 woman. Though the woman leads, you need two to dance. We help each other, we train, we lead, and then we let ourselves be led, all in motion. It is a team effort. Moreover, this idea resonates with the song of the film, "Team" by Lorde. I like the idea of a relay between two beings. Here is a dance that is unlike any other. She is surprising, engaged, sensual, and fun. It expresses passion. Anything can happen in life, thanks to passion.
L'O: What does dance represent in your life? Do you like to dance?
MC: I have made it a rule of life to sing, dance, and laugh at least once a day! I dance a lot with my kids. At such times, I feel all the cells in my body vibrating. I sing a lot too. Singing and dancing are two practices that allow me to reconnect with my body and with external energies. To feel free. I believe people like to dance because it is a moment when you feel alive.
L'O: What was it like to work with choreographer Ryan Heffington?
MC: I admire his work and our collaboration has been very strong. His universe inspires strength, freedom, joy, and humor at the same time. It is rare to succeed in reconciling all of this. What I like about Ryan Heffington is that he's as much a choreographer as he is a director of actors. During the choreography, he guided me very precisely on the expression of the face as much as on the movements of the legs or arms. It is a real story that he tells through dance.
L'O: Did you understand the choreographic part of the shoot?
MC: Oh yes! I'm not a dancer. I was anxious. We rehearsed several days before the shoot. And I was lucky to have Jérémie Bélingard, who is a great Étoile dancer, as a partner. I was very impressed because he has had a brilliant career. Right away, he welcomed me into the choreography. It was a wonderful meeting. I was both intimidated and reassured at the idea of dancing with an Étoile dancer. I knew he wouldn't let me down, both literally and figuratively. He is a being of great generosity who radiates immense energy.
L'O: Is this dance a metaphor for the romantic relationship?
MC: The film tells the story of the connection between two human forces that come together for a dance, for a dream, in a very powerful moment. This dance shows the emotions that cross them, many and multiple. There is love, joy, mutual aid...there is also seduction, since these are two bodies that recognize and like each other. I trust the viewer, everyone can read their own vision of love.
L'O: Can you tell us about the dress you wear in the film?
MC: The dress in which I dance is a golden dress, entirely hand-embroidered in the Maison Lesage workshops. It is inspired by a dress that Gabrielle Chanel had worn. She is really sublime! It had already been reinterpreted by Karl Lagerfeld a few years ago. And Virginie Viard rethought it again, made especially for the shooting of the film. It is a jewel of grace in which I was able to move, dance, run...this dress expresses movement and freedom. Very Chanel!
L'O: What is your relationship with Chanel N°5?
MC: I felt an immediate connection with N°5. It's more than a perfume, it's a work of art. Its composition is full of mysteries and its bottle is designed like a modernist painting. N°5 is a classic, which knew how to keep its singularity. It is the characteristic of an icon, to cross time. So I feel very lucky to continue to bring the story of this iconic perfume to life.
L'O: What does the story of its creation inspire you?
MC: N°5 is the first perfume created by a female seamstress. Her creation tells the story of an avant-garde woman, breaking with her time. Gabrielle Chanel has succeeded in creating an olfactory revolution. It established itself in the world of perfumery at a time when women had to fight to exist in a world ruled by men. This is what touches me deeply.
She had decided to create a perfume for herself. Quite simply because she could not find in the perfumeries of the time something that corresponded to what she wanted to wear. So she made it up. In developing N°5, she let herself be guided by her intuition and desire. She thus created a perfume that was unlike any other. It is very daring. I believe that there is in this creative process an authenticity, a truth, which touches people. By allowing herself to be herself, she was able to touch others.
L'O: Why are you attached to N°5?
MC: Wearing a perfume is an intimate gesture. A perfume tells something about the identity of the person who wears it. We enter, paradoxically, into the depth of being. N°5 does not have the same scent on one person's skin compared to another's and yet it remains recognizable. It's fascinating. It is a perfume which has such a particular, subtle composition that it becomes unique on each woman.
L'O: Are you, like Gabrielle Chanel, an olfactif?
MC: Yes, my sense of smell is very well developed. At the beginning of my career, when I was working on the approach of a character, I started by finding a perfume that corresponded to them. It was a way of understanding my character's personality, of getting in touch with them. As an actress, I work a lot on emotions.
L'O: What personality traits do you associate with N°5?
MC: I would say that N°5 contains the idea of a feminine essence. Associated with a great challenge, that of pleasing yourself above all. But it could just as easily be worn by a man! Basically, when I think of N°5, I see a being who seeks to be free.
L'O: What are your earliest memories of Chanel perfumes?
MC: My first "woman's" perfume was given to me by my maternal grandmother. It was Chanel. I remember a bottle so elegant that I loved looking at it in my room. I was a teenager and it reminded me of a world of refinement, which made me dream.
L'O: As the new face of Chanel N°5, you appear to embody the ideals of a fulfilled woman. Do you always feel that way?
MC: Thanks to my parents, I learned that a dream can come true. It is a great strength that they gave me. This does not prevent me from sometimes lacking in self-confidence, and I am far from being strong on all occasions, but who is? And I learn a lot from my weaknesses and believe in dreams. Even if, in my opinion, the most important thing is the road traveled towards accomplishment, rather than the goal itself. And I learned that everyone goes at their own pace and in their own way.
L'O: Who are the women who have been important in your development?
MC: My mother and my grandmother are some of the important female figures in my life, but I admire all the women who speak out against conventions and established powers. Many women in history have shown us that we should never give up.
L'O: Can you tell us about your relationship with Chanel?
MC: Fairly early in my acting career, Chanel supported me in very strong and important moments. It's a House that has always fascinated me. Whether in the rue Cambon boutique, in Gabrielle Chanel's apartment or in the Chanel Perfume Creation and Development Laboratory, I am amazed. When Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur — Director of Creative Resources Chanel Parfums Beauté — asked me to collaborate on N°5, I was very moved. I experienced it as a reunion.
L'O: And how did you feel when you discovered Chanel?
MC: It's hard to describe, because there is something magical, which only exists in this House. She has a gift for wonder and therefore a gift for wonder. Arriving in such a beautiful House, so steeped in history, could be intimidating. However, immediately, the reception was benevolent. It's like a dream come true, and maybe I dared not imagine.
L'O: What was your first encounter with Chanel?
MC: The first fashion show I attended in my life was a Chanel show. I was very impressed to find myself in this mythical place, rue Cambon, in Paris. I attended a parade full of daring, joyful boldness, loaded with modernity...a wind blown by Karl Lagerfeld. I realized at that time that Chanel was a timeless Maison that was part of the movement. Always in turmoil and eager to reinvent itself.