Semiotic Analysis: CHANEL

 “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” -Coco Chanel


Alain Chanel and Gerard Wertheimer, grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer privately own Chanel S.A. Pierre Wertheimer was an early business accomplice of the couturier Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. Chanel S.A. is an extravagance design house work in high fashion and ready-to-wear garments, extravagance products and style extras. Gabrielle Chanel picked up the epithet Coco from her brief time as a chanteuse. As a fashion designer, Coco Chanel catered to women’s taste for elegance clothing and jewelry (gemstone and bijouterie) of simple design replacing the opulent, over-designed, and constrictive clothes and accessories of 19th-century fashion.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971) deserves special recognition among the key designers who made a bold and lasting statement on women’s fashion in the 20th century. She was born in Saumur, in the Loire valley of France, and survived a ruined adolescence and strict convent education. The troubles of her initial life roused her to seek after a profoundly distinctive way of life, first in front of an audience at the stage, where she gained the moniker “Coco”, and after that as milliner.

Chanel’s own way of life enlivened her thoughts of how modern woman ought to look, act, and dress. Her own thin boyish figure and trimmed hair turned into a perfect, as did her tanned skin, dynamic way of life, and monetary freedom. All through her profession, Chanel effectively bundled and promoted her very own demeanour and style, making her a key judge of ladies’ taste all through the twentieth century. The little black dress is one of the most iconic designs created by her. Her post world war collection speaks volumes of her sense of style which is to define your personality and leave a mark in the society.

From the perfume collection of Chanel, the most celebrated one is Chanel No. 5. It’s the chosen one. [0]

Chanel No.5: The Classic

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Coco wanted to create a woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent that could describe the modern woman. Coco was herself an epitome of an independent, modern woman with a troubled and complex background. When she worked among the mistresses of the rich, she complained of how they smelled of body odor and musk. From this stem the idea of commissioning her best clients with a perfume which carried the freshness of soap and scrubbed skin, a memory that she carried from her childhood. However, it was not an easy task for Coco as the only way to create fresh perfumes in those days were through the use of citrus smelling like orange, lemon etc. but these fragrances did not last long on the skin. Use of aldehydes could create these fragrances artificially but they were very strong and perfume makers were hesitant about using these chemicals. She met a celebrity perfumer Ernest Beaux who lived in Grasse and had worked for Russian royal family during one of her holidays. Beaux was intrigued by Chanel’s demands and took up the challenge to make the perfume of her choice. After multiple iterations, he created some 10 samples to be presented to Coco. In the fifth sample, he added a tinge of aldehyde to exaggerate the notes. It was this sample that turned out to be Coco’s favorite. Some even say that it was Coco’s affinity for number 5 that led her to approve this fragrance. It was a scent, imbued with jasmine, rose, sandalwood and vanilla. In those days when marketers were not equipped with tools and techniques to test their product in the market, Coco used her ingenuous marketing gimmicks to ensure that her product was an instant favorite. She would throw grand parties at a restaurant on the French Riviera and spray her perfume around the tables. All her elite friends and invitees would stop in their enchanted by the fragrance and inquire about the scent. Thus she knew that Chanel No. 5 would be an intervention in the history of perfume. The perfume was formally launched in 1921 and was available only in Chanel boutiques. [1]


It has been 94 years since the launch of Chanel No.5 and even today it continues to be one of the top perfumes around the globe. Certain elements of this iconic perfume remain intact whereas a few elements have changed over time. The instantly recognizable logo of the perfume was created by Coco Chanel and it symbolizes two interlocking and inverted Cs of her name. The logo was not registered as a trademark till the first Chanel shop was opened. There have been a lot of stories about the classic Chanel No. 5 bottle. Some believe that its design was inspired from the curves of toiletry bottle carried by her lover while others claim that it was inspired by whisky bottle. The minimalist design of the bottle is a subject of study in many design schools today. The feminine, delicate and rounded shoulders of the bottle were re-designed to square, faceted corners in 1924 so as to sustain damages during shipping and distribution. No other changes have been made to the legendary bottle design since then. However, the stopper has undergone several changes since its inception. From a round glass plug to an octagonal stopper to bevel cut thicker silhouette, the stopper has seen multiple modifications in size and shape. [2]

The dialogue on Chanel No. 5 is fragmented without its ad campaigns. Keeping in mind the core values to advance the estimations of the perfume and eradicate the thoughts identified with glamour, excellence and extravagance, the organization utilized diverse promoting effort. From its creation until 1965, promotions were straightforward in highly contrasting where just the jug was highlighted. A cartoonist, Sem, in 1921 made a sketch of Coco Chanel, dressed in figure hugging outfit of her signature style, fixated ecstatically to the No.5 bottle. The sketch was popularized to indicate that Coco Chanel is the brand ambassador of her own perfume.

Post World War II, in 1937, a print ad in Harper’ Bazaar, depicted Coco Chanel with her faultless instinct of drama. She appeared more sumptuous and grand in her black outfit.

An epic round of free publicity came to Chanel No. 5 in 1954 when Marilyn Monroe in an interview with Marie Claire confessed wearing few drops of Chanel No. 5 in bed.


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Hereafter, the sales skyrocketed and the perfume was since then associated with the glamour of movie stars. One of the most famous celebrity endorsements in the history of advertising did not cost the brand a cent. After Marilyn, many renowned actresses and models including Suzy Parker, Ali McGraw, Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman, and Gisele played the face of Chanel No.5. The ads have always been high quality and imbue the luxurious vibes of the brand. Jacques Helleu was appointed as the head of Communication department in 1950s and he is known as the father of muses for Chanel providing a ‘face’ to the perfume. In 1957, a print commercial featured Suzy Parker as the vibrant, elite, sophisticated and desirable woman. It was with this ad that the slogan- “Every woman alive loves Chanel No. 5” was coined.

In all ads till that point of time, the product was given primary importance. The bottle stood boldly in all copies.

The Change

In order to appeal to the younger girls, Ali McGraw was pulled in. The seductive portrayal of Ali with innocent eyes for the bath campaign was indeed ahead of its time. One of the most enduring and iconic imagery of Chanel No.5 was created by a campaign shot with Catherine Deneuve. The ad copy had no slogans but just the face of Catherine with the legendary bottle and simple ad in black background where Catherine ‘confessed’ using this perfume to seduce men. [3]

Another campaign with Carole Bouquet as the muse depicts the complexity of love and emotions. The actress is presented as ‘femme fatale’ in this commercial. Chanel No. 5 tried to experiment with the tale of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in the ’90s to woo younger women by revisiting the values of the perfume. The image of Estella Warren, a professional swimmer of yesteryear, was different from the elitist, independent artists’ sketches shown in the past commercials. Red and Golden colors were tactfully used to show a sense of rebellion along with glamour, luxury and sex appeal.

The commercial with Nicole Kidman in 2004 drew an image of a celebrity running away from paparazzi and meeting a man who frees her. The idea of dream is represented through symbol of love in this commercial. Another commercial showed Audrey Tautou as a romantic olfactory enthusiast. It is not only the muses that make these ads iconic but the collaboration with famous directors like Scott Ridley and skilled photographers that gives a creative and quality edge to Chanel No. 5 commercial and ads. [5]

Keeping up with the bold spirit and portraying women to always be the star of the show, the new communication with Brad Pitt is no exception. In the ad, although Brad Pitt is shown endorsing the iconic Chanel No. 5 but he is simply positioned as the gorgeous accessory. It’s about the Chanel No. 5 woman and the romantic, adventurous feelings she inspires in the object of her affection rather than the celebrity himself.

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To conclude, Chanel No. 5 has continuously evolved its communication and experimented with celebrities to highlight its luxurious and iconic image. Starting with the focus on product and moving towards a more seductive people focused approach, Chanel No. 5 has always come up with innovations in its communication. In spite of heavy use of glamorous celebrities, the focus of the ads has never overlooked the product. The ad quality and creativity have continued to surprise the industry stalwarts till date. It has succeed in maintaining it luxury image and seducing its audiences. The historic impact of Marilyn Monroe which lent a celebrity connection to the brand has indeed been worthwhile. The participation of big names from photography and cinema sector to develop the advertisements have improved the visual effects side and high quality design of commercials relying on the notion of dreams and aesthetic.

“A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future” – Coco Chanel



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