Gainsbourg's smoky voice selling perfume in France

Mon Jun 13, 2011 11:01am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - The work of Serge Gainsbourg, the large-nosed, Gitanes-smoking French icon whose jazzy, bohemian songs exemplified a sexually liberated France of the 1960s and 1970s, is enjoying a resurgence in the most unlikely of places -- perfume ads.

Two upscale brands, Christian Dior and Guerlain, both controlled by luxury giant LVMH, have chosen Gainsbourg's rasping voice for television ad campaigns currently running on French TV for the perfumes Miss Dior and Shalimar.

The artist who half-spoke, half-sang his songs and died in 1991 is beloved in France. Despite what he himself called his ugly face, Gainsbourg had a long string of lovers, including Brigitte Bardot, and brought a sexually charged energy to his music that is now being seized on by advertisers.

In the ad for Shalimar, a brand that first debuted in the 1920s, naked model Natalia Vodianova writhes on an unmade bed as the catchy piano riff of Gainsbourg's "The Initials BB" plays.

Gainsbourg's most suggestive and once-censored song, "Je t'aime...Moi Non Plus," (I love you ... me neither') which he recorded with then-lover Jane Birkin is the soundtrack to a Miss Dior perfume ad shot by director Sofia Coppola and starring Oscar winner Natalie Portman.

As Birkin's breathy voice catches in an apparent sexual climax, Portman lounges in a lavish, sun-filled Paris apartment, occasionally sniffing pink roses or gazing longingly at her tuxedo-clad lover.

Gainsbourg's status as an icon of "chanson" -- that decidedly French genre of lyric-based poems sung by such greats as Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel -- makes him an attractive target for advertisers, argues David Looseley, emeritus professor of contemporary French culture at the University of Leeds.

"These people, once they're dead, they're immediately acquired for their nostalgic element which gives the product not just the image of contemporary sexiness but an extra allure of the past," Looseley said.   Continued...

<p>A record autographed by Serge Gainsbourg, to late Belgium singer Jacques Brel, is displayed at Sotheby's auction house in Paris, October 3, 2008. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes</p>