The first bottle of perfume that Taiwanese actress Shu Qi received from a boyfriend, when she was 17, was a Kenzo fragrance called It Smells Beautiful.
"I think he wanted me to smell like a flower," said the youthful-looking 36-year-old in Mandarin. "The scent also had a dreamy and romantic quality to it."
She was speaking to four journalists from Singapore at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong as part of a press event to unveil the new FlowerByKenzo advertising campaign last month.
The memory stuck with her and it is fitting then, that she now fronts the fantastical campaigns of Kenzo Parfums' best-selling perfume, FlowerByKenzo (right).
The new ad visuals can be seen in the March issue of various magazines, and will be unveiled at the Kenzo beauty counters next Friday. There are no details on when the commercial will air in Singapore yet.
Journalists present at the event were given a preview of the 60-second clip. It shows Shu Qi wearing a red gown and taking a dip in La Seine in Paris, where she discovers a field of poppies growing underwater. The ad ends with red poppies floating up into the air against a Parisian landscape.
This is Shu Qi's second shot as the face of the perfume - she starred in its campaigns from 2007 to 2009. Prior to that, FlowerByKenzo - launched in 2000 - was fronted by model Rachel Kirby and, later, model Sophie Nicholas. From 2010 to last year, Japanese model-actress Lika Minamoto took the lead in Kenzo's campaign: she wore a red dress while standing in a grey urban landscape where red poppies bloomed.
Mr Patrick Guedj, Kenzo Parfums' creative director, says he wanted Shu Qi to front the perfume again because he, like so many others, thinks she has a magnetic quality.
"Lika was great, but there is something more about Shu Qi which I cannot describe," he said in Hong Kong. "And I still clearly remember the experience of working together with her in 2007."
In the 2007 commercial, Shu Qi was shown lying on the bonnet of a moving car at night while red fireflies floated around her.
"I remember her playfulness during the filming. She liked lying on a car that was going quickly and she asked to do it again and again, like a child."
When Mr Guedj first met her in 2006 in Miami for the filming of the ad, he was surprised to find a simpler, girlish character instead of the femme fatale she often played.
He first noticed her in the 2001 award-winning Taiwanese art film, Millennium Mambo, where she played a bar hostess torn between two men.
"I wanted someone who was sensual, had personality and a kind of beauty that was not common or classical," said Mr Guedj, who is also an artist and directs all the Kenzo Parfums commercials himself. He thought she embodied the light, floral and powdery but mysterious scent of FlowerByKenzo perfectly.
During the filming of the first ad, Shu Qi's professionalism also impressed him.
"She understands things and works quickly. She knows I will not ask her to redo certain moves plenty of times if we get the shot the first time round, so she tries to make it happen."
When the actress had to wear a light, sleeveless red dress for the latest campaign and walk along La Seine on a 4 deg C morning, she did not flinch.
"As an actress, I'm used to filming shows set in summer during winter and vice versa," said Shu Qi, who is set to play a female assassin in a new period film by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien.
"I trusted Patrick to make me look beautiful, so I gritted my teeth and went ahead with it."
The star was also willing to make concessions for MrGuedj because she thinks he is a "sensitive and thoughtful French gentleman".
For the underwater scenes of the commercial, she had to jump into a 7m-deep pool.
"I was afraid because I felt like I had to jump off a building. But he had underwater scaffolding built for me to jump from, so it was less scary for me."
THE SMELL OF SUCCESS
The constant reinvention of its campaigns without departing from the original story - of a flower in the city - is how FlowerByKenzo remains relevant and competitive, said Ms Patricia Tranvouez, the brand's managing director. Each time Kenzo Parfums signs on a new face - about once every three years - its ads will be revamped.
"The original commercials were working well, but I think it's important to nourish the DNA and story of the perfume, and to surprise people," she said.
"It's just like how a couple have to work on their relationship to make it successful."
While Ms Tranvouez declined to reveal specific figures, she shared that every time a new ad goes on air, sales of the perfume would soar between 40and 250 per cent, depending on the country and medium.
FlowerByKenzo is Kenzo Parfum's flagship fragrance.
The red poppy runs through all the product's packaging and advertising imagery because it does not have a scent, and is thus a blank canvas for the brand.
The perfume is also based on the idea of a delicate yet hardy flower that blooms everywhere, just like the poppy.
Since its launch in 2000, three variations of FlowerByKenzo have been developed: FlowerByKenzo Le Parfum, Flower Tag Eau de Parfum and Flower Tag Eau de Toilette.
Owned by the Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) group, Kenzo Parfums also has a skincare line, Kenzoki, which was started in 2001.
On choosing a Chinese face for its latest FlowerByKenzo campaign, the brand clearly hopes to tap on the huge Chinese market.
But Ms Tranvouez said the move was also geared towards the brand's multicultural heritage.
Kenzo was founded by Japanese designer Kenzo Takada, who found fame in Paris for his bold and daring designs in 1970. The brand was bought over by LVMH in 1993.
"FlowerByKenzo is an emblematic perfume for the brand, so its Asian character is very important," said MsTranvouez.
"Shu Qi, a beautiful Asian face who has a strong character and speaks with a touch of poetry, is a perfect match for Kenzo."
FlowerByKenzo costs $142 for 100ml and is available at Takashimaya Department Store, Metro Paragon, Robinsons Raffles City and Robinsons Centrepoint.
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