Laurie Palma, Chanel's VP-fragrance marketing, knew it would take a stunning idea to convince executives to tamper with the sophisticated black-and-white Chanel box, which has become a fragrance icon.
"At first it was a little hard to swallow," admits Ms. Palma, 46. "We've never tampered with the package or the scent."
But when corporate executives saw the plans for a tie-in with artwork created by Andy Warhol, Ms. Palma says they knew it was a perfect fit.
"An opportunity like this doesn't come very often," she says.
Andy Warhol had used the No. 5 bottle as an inspiration for a series of nine works. The respect is mutual -- several of Mr. Warhol's paintings hang in Chanel's offices.
Using three of Warhol's images, the concept first emerged as an advertising campaign and then was quickly expanded to new packaging and in-store displays. From the advertising campaign idea, Ms. Palma expanded into using the artwork as large posters and mobiles in stores and on limited-edition packages.
"What struck me was the power of using these two great creative geniuses [Mr. Warhol and Coco Chanel] of our time who helped shape our culture," recalls Ms. Palma of the program that ran March through June 1997.
Radio and TV spots linked the two popular characters.
"The idea of Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol coming together after death made it unique and interesting," says Ms. Palma. "We always try to surprise people with our campaigns. It encouraged them [consumers] to come into stores and see it."
The limited-edition package was so successful that Chanel No. 5 sales soared between 20% and 35% over the previous year at various high-end retailers -- a strong surge for a long-lived brand.
Those gains came at a time when overall department-store fragrance volume was flat. It's estimated the promotion helped push Chanel No. 5 annual wholesale sales past the $50 million mark.
"We've been trying to speak to a younger audience," says Ms. Palma. "In the '50s and '60s, Chanel No. 5 was a woman's first fragrance. As the years went on, it became something younger women associated with what their mothers wore.
"Over the last couple of years, we've had younger shoppers rediscovering Chanel No. 5 -- even as it turned 75."