The balcony doors are flung open as beautiful women dressed in Chanel evening gowns fling flawless French invectives at the unseen "egoiste." The object of all this scorn is never seen, although his arm can be seen placing a fragrance bottle labeled "Egoiste" on a window ledge, instantly turning the scene from black and white to color. At the end, doors open and close in unison as 35 women scream "Egoiste" in puppet-like unison.
The 30-second television commercial, which started airing recently, and the product it promotes are acknowledged as risks by Arie Kopelman, president of Chanel U.S.A. He was in San Francisco to promote the West Coast launch of the cologne selling at $28.50 for 1.7 ounces.
"The job of a commercial is for people to say, 'Holy cow, I've never seen anything like that in my life,'" Kopelman says. "As an attention-getting device, it's a fabulous commercial."
The commercial is the work of Jean Paul Goude, an artist and filmmaker most recently known for staging the 1989 Paris parade commemorating the French Revolution's bicentennial. It was shot in Brazil and the exotic-looking building with its French doors and balconies is a facade created just for the commercial.
If you're wondering what sort of man the "egoiste" is to inspire these screaming women, you'll have to use your imagination because he's never going to be seen. "That's too expected," Kopelman says. "We feel a lot of people have done that already."
As much of an attention getter as the commercial is the name "Egoiste." Webster's defines an egoist as "a person who is self-centered or selfish."
So why would a man want to splash himself with cologne that implies selfishness?
Kopelman doesn't agree with dictionary definitions, preferring to quote the lines used in print advertising for "Egoiste" "To assume is uncaring or aloof is to misread him. He walks on the positive side of that fine line separating arrogance from an awareness of self-worth."
"There was an initial concern are we doing something negative or is there an opportunity to do something good with it?" Kopelman says. "Ego is an important thing. We view an egoist as a person who is a doer, makes things happen, a person that has visions of dreams he wants to accomplish."
How big "Egoiste" will be remains to be seen. Kopelman won't disclose sales projections, but is happy to report that the fragrance, which has a high concentration of sandalwood, is now the best seller for men at Bloomingdale's in New York, where it was introduced in April. A top-selling men's fragrance hits $80 million in annual retail sales.