On a very cold winter day, in January 2017, at a grand estate somewhere in upstate New York, I watched the two-time Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain do what she does best: exude femininity, strength, and dynamism in front of a camera. Except this time, instead of shooting an awards-worthy drama, she was starring in Ralph Lauren’s new fragrance campaign, Woman, which launches today.
“By naming the fragrance Woman, it’s putting the power back into the word,” says Chastain.
The setting for the print campaign, photographed by Steven Meisel, and the TV commercial, directed by Philippe Le Sourd, was epic, to say the least. The mansion itself is massive, but the message of the campaign, for which Fabien Baron served as creative director, is quite intimate.
“As women, we need to be unapologetic, and we need to be very present right now,” Chastain says. “I love putting the word ‘woman’ in the forefront of this campaign, as it’s really empowering.”
The fragrance is targeted not at millennials, per se, but at the self-realized, confident women of today. With gender boundaries being blurred, Chastain thinks now is the time to move away from the typical stereotypes of what it means to be a woman.
That happens to be an approach that comes naturally to Lauren himself. “When I started designing women’s clothes, it was with a menswear sensibility,” he says. “I love women who take something masculine and make it exceptionally feminine.”
“Being a woman has always been a powerful thing, where history has sometimes dictated otherwise, but I believe that a woman can be compassionate, sensitive, soft, kind,“ she told us. “A woman can be all of those things, but she should also be allowed to be prepared, ambitious, and be in control.“
For Chastain, being in control includes being outspoken in an industry where too many actors of all genders are afraid to rock the boat for fear of being boxed out of roles. After serving as a juror at the most recent Cannes Film Festival, Chastain was asked by a reporter if she felt that opportunities for women are better now because “so many women [in the film industry] have been more rewarded.” Chastain responded that what she had seen onscreen throughout the festival was “disturbing.“ She continued, “For the most part I was surprised by the representation of female characters onscreen. I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day to day life.“
Chastain has a busy lineup of films this year and next: Molly’s Game, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, and Woman Walks Ahead (directed by Susanna White). Asked if she detects a difference between being directed by a female director versus a male director, she answers, “Not in the skill of the filmmaker, because a male director can make a romance film just as well as a female director can make an action film.” But has noticed that, on women-directed film sets, there are more women in the crew. “In my experience, women make room for other women.”
Chastain is also on the advisory board of We Do It Together, an organization dedicated to promoting opportunities for women in the film industry. She has her own women-empowering production company too, Freckle Films, which options books and life rights, to provide a platform for women whose voices have been ignored in the industry. Plus, she’s a huge supporter of Women In Film, a not-for-profit organization that provides equal opportunities for women. “I’m going to do anything I can to be there and support any organization that empowers and creates opportunities for women,” she says. “When people tell me, ‘I love when you play strong characters,‘ it’s not that they are stronger than other women in films. I think the difference is that I play well-written characters. I play women that I authentically recognize in my day-to-day life, and that’s what I search for in the roles.”
As for the message that comes with Woman eau de parfum, Chastain believes that every woman should decide what femininity means to her.
“The modern femininity is strong and graceful, soft, compassionate, and aggressive. It’s all those things, and it’s everything—what each person is and more. We need to move away from the stereotypes that box us in.”
Asked about the scent itself, which was created by the perfumer Anne Flipo, she says, “I love the fragrance! I love tuberose, and I also love sandalwood—the complementing natures of both, and the duality of both.”