By and  on March 20, 2009

PARIS — Almost five years since Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman united in what was allegedly the costliest advertisement ever, Chanel will unveil the next mini-movie in the No.5 saga, featuring the quintessentially French duo of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his leading lady, Audrey Tautou.

Taking the theme of missed encounters between strangers, the commercial depicts doe-eyed Tautou and strapping model Travis Davenport en route from Paris to Istanbul aboard the Orient Express. The two-minute-and-25-second ad breaks on the Internet on May 5 — 88 years to the day that Coco Chanel first introduced No.5, which went on to become the world’s best-selling scent. A product in the No.5 portfolio is sold every six seconds, according to Chanel.

Produced also in three TV versions of 60, 45 and 30 seconds, the ad evokes the seductive power of a woman’s fragrance. Tautou, who first charmed moviegoers in Jeunet’s 2001 hit “Amélie,” first crosses Davenport aboard the train. Later, both unable to sleep, he lingers outside her cabin. In Istanbul, Tautou misses a riverboat, only to photograph it later from another ship, revealing Davenport on its deck. The ad, which recalls the vibrant colors of “Amélie,” plays out to Billie Holiday’s lilting track “I’m a Fool to Want You” and closes with a shot of the couple embracing, standing atop Chanel’s logo formed in a mosaic.

Despite the intimacy depicted, the commercial was a megaproduction. A crew of 250 worked for three weeks last May, filming everywhere from a Paris studio to various Istanbul locales, plus train stations in Limoges, in central France, and in Nice, where the station was temporarily blocked during the hoopla of the Cannes Film Festival.

“Even in the world of advertising, it can be said that the house of Chanel works in an unparalleled level of comfort, which allows you to go to the absolute limits,” said Jeunet, noting he spent at best a week for each of his previous 40 to 50 ads.

From a “Notice to Passengers” to the cabin’s ornate Lalique paneling, no detail is overlooked in the replica carriage interior molded according to originals. Blink and you’ll miss the No.5 references, including the numbers of the train platform and Tautou’s cabin.

Starting with a teaser phase on in late April, followed by TV commercials then a print ad shot by Dominique Isserman for the second half, the campaign is designed to keep No.5 at the pinnacle of the global fragrance market. “We do not have a business model of launching new fragrances, but in constructing brands,” said Andrea d’Avack, president of Chanel Fragrance and Beauty. The film will launch on the Internet on May 5, said John Galantic, president and chief operating officer for Chanel Inc.

Yet while it remains the bestseller in France, Italy and China, according to NPD Group figures for 2008, No.5 tarries at number four in the U.S., where a national network TV campaign catapulted Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle to second place, even knocking Estée Lauder’s perennial hit Beautiful from its number-one spot for several months last year.

“In industry terms, we say, ‘That’s one sexy old lady.’ She’s in her 80s now,” said NPD Group’s senior beauty industry analyst Karen Grant. “Nothing has done what that fragrance has done.”

Renewing its campaigns systematically typically draws younger consumers, who are often less aware of No.5. Before the 2004 Kidman ad, awareness among younger consumers hovered around the low 70s, percentagewise, said Grant. By 2005, it had reached almost 80 percent.

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