Cinema Notes

Scene-stealing scents add a touch of drama to life’s unwritten script

Miss Dior Cherie

Text by Mengly Taing

Nothing is more memorable than a scent. In the cold of winter, the smell of tropical flowers can seemingly transform time and space. Add notes of ginger and spices to the scent and it can evoke memories of trips to Mauritius… or simply the memory of a loved one who’s gone astray. Therein lies the emotional power of scents. It can awaken our sense of feeling, our memories and our desires without saying a word.
In film, as in the art of fragrance, emotions are currency. When used in a scene, the fragrance becomes a supporting character, adding dimension to the story that unfolds on the screen. With just a whiff, the lonely secretary turns into a femme fatale. The little girl becomes a woman. And the guy everyone fails to notice can suddenly transform into the dashing hero or the villain, as in Partrick Süskind’s novel, Perfume, about a young man who goes on a murderous quest to capture the perfect scent. But what happens when the scent becomes the star of the film and not just the catalyst? How does one even begin to breathe life to a bottled up idea?

Scent: “Gucci” by Gucci
Director: David Lynch
Release: 2007

For her latest women’s fragrance, Frida Giannini wanted to capture the essence of modern femininity. With the help of perfumer Ilias Ermenidis, she delivers a powerful scent topped with fleeting notes of warm flowers and exotic fruits that leave a sweet honey and patchouli aftertaste. The scent starts out loud then softly disappears like the mysterious women in David Lynch’s films. The unconventional director helps bring “Gucci” to life in an art deco-inspired film. Three bewitching models in cream-colored satin gowns allude to the bottle’s striped design as they dance to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”

Scent: “No. 5” by Chanel
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Release: 2004

A heart in a glass is how one could describe Chanel’s “No. 5.” To bring the iconic scent to life required an equally legendary director. Baz Luhrmann took on the challenge by creating a three-minute multi-million dollar film inspired by his musical hit, Moulin Rouge. Nicole Kidman takes on “No. 5” in its human form as the most famous woman in the world. She is graceful, poised and, most importantly, glamorous dress in a light rose-colored diaphanous gown, which resembles the fallen jasmine petals used in the lingering fragrance. Like the scent she embodies, she is timeless.

Scent: “Notorious” by Ralph Lauren
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Release: 2008

It is not uncommon for directors to pull inspiration from their own feature films to put a face on a designer scent. Wong Kar-Wai’s film noir short for Ralph Lauren’s “Notorious” is as sultry and seductive as his masterpiece, “In the Mood for Love.” The “Notorious” woman is played by French model and actress Laetitia Casta, whose portrayal of the chocolaty scent is as refreshing as its peony and carnation notes.

Scent: “Miss Dior Cherie” by Christian Dior
Director: Sophia Coppola
Release: 2009

In contrast to Wong’s homage to Hollywood’s golden era is the newest addition to the fragrance film trend, Sophia Coppola’s charming collaboration with Christian Dior. Played by model Maryna Linchuk, “Miss Dior Cherie” is seen exploring Paris à la Lost in Translation and enjoying decadent treats that are reminiscent of Marie Antoinette before flying off with a handful of candy-colored balloons over the City of Lights. The fruity fragrance is light and cheerful, carefree and independent, just like the young woman who wears it.

At times, these fragrance films seem to be deleted scenes from larger works but, in a way, they exist and remain relevant in great part to their presence on the internet. Last year, the Fragrance Foundation launched the Fragrance and Film Festival, a user-generated contest, which allowed aspiring filmmakers to create short films inspired by their favorite fragrances.

Miuccia Prada, one of the early innovators of the trend, launched a series of experimental short films for the launch of her latest men’s fragrance, “Infusion d’Homme.” For the project, she invited nine different directors from around the world to create a film inspired by the fragrance. Some looked to youth. Others looked to the ocean. The only catch? They could not be just commercials.