When David Bowie brought his idiosyncratic and indelible style to a small pub in the rural Australian town of Carinda in the Walgett Shire in 1983, many were shocked. Of all the places in the world to film the music video of his hit track “Let’s Dance,” Bowie – a worldwide superstar at this point – chose outback New South Wales, and, as such, that song has landed with Australians evermore. So, when luxuriate Rabanne backed its latest fragrance campaign with the iconic track this year, the scent itself felt somewhat more familiar for those who reside Down Under.
At the campaign’s centre is 29-year-old English actor and musician Charlie Heaton. He, of Stranger Things fame and who has also just added global brand ambassador for Rabanne to his resume, can be seen in a spangly, sequinned blazer and open shirt laying on the hood of an old Chevrolet. Elsewhere, he’s playing the drums (we hear the musician played an eight-minute set for the crew while filming) and dancing the night away in Paris to Bowie’s electric anthem.
Like Ziggy Stardust, Rabanne has a history of disrupting archetypes and being a little bit rebellious – and the house’s new fragrance for men, Phantom Parfum, is no exception: intense; seductive; magnetic; fuel for the raging passions of the modern man. The pulsing blend from renowned perfumers Juliette Karagueuzoglou, Anne Flipo and Dominique Ropion, fuses an aromatic lavender, with a warm vanilla, and the earthy, woody base of vetiver and mineral musk.
“The story began in 2021 with Phantom EDT. But we knew we could start working on a darker, more intense, and more mysterious version,” Karagueuzoglou tells ICON. “In Phantom Parfum, we have a new main character in the vanilla bean which gives the fragrance density and makes it a bit more sensual and aromatic. The vanilla plays with the vetiver to create a more woody signature and make it more masculine. We also changed the top note of creamy lavender to a lavender that is cleaner.
“We wanted to keep the skeleton of Phantom EDT and add a new chapter to the story.”
Ahead, ICON sits down with Heaton inside a hotel room in Cannes in the middle of its annual film festival to chat Rabanne’s bold new fragrance, and how his background in music helped him get into the Bowie-esque “phantom” character running about Paris at night.
ICON: The Cannes Film Festival red carpet, and the steps of the Grand Lumière Theatre, is arguably the biggest carpet dedicated to cinema in the world. Is attending a film festival like Cannes one of its pinnacles?
HEATON: It’s one of the biggest and one of the most glamorous film festivals that you can come to. Cannes probably has the most prestige, right?
ICON: Tell us about the new Rabanne fragrance. What do you love about it? What will the ICON man love about it?
HEATON: It’s very bold. Before coming on to do the perfume, I didn’t know about the history of Rabanne. They’ve always been pretty revolutionary, even dating back to the 60s. I think that’s what’s really cool about what they do now with actress Elle Fanning and [their female fragrance] Fame Parfum.
“This fragrance, Phantom Parfum, is about bringing a youthful energy [to the brand] and using Bowie. It’s so exciting!”
ICON: Did you enjoy yourself while shooting the campaign? I feel like it’s very you.
HEATON: Yeah! When Rabanne came to me, they had a very strong idea of who they wanted the Rabanne man to be.
I come from a music background and being on the stage and part of being in those bands in having that confidence. So, I guess it was about bringing that side of me [to the campaign]. It was super fun, I got to drum, I got to stand on top of the Eiffel Tower. I got to dance, sober [laughs].
ICON: Did being a musician help you get into the character more?
HEATON: I think so! I think I just went with it, had fun with it.
ICON: Phantom EDT was one of the first fragrances to be made with the help of AI. Have you used AI for anything yourself?
HEATON: Personally, no. It’s crazy!
ICON: What is it about Rabanne that attracts you to the brand?
HEATON: It’s a style. There is that rebellious nature to what they do, and even looking back at those beautiful metallic dresses, they are so fucking cool. Rabanne was really innovative, and when you look at the fragrance and these bottles – I’d never seen a perfume bottle like that! Part of coming on to do this was that I’d seen Elle [Fanning] and the Fame campaign, and it was glamorous and gorgeous in that 60s sense. The brand’s vision for their campaigns are really cool.
ICON: What are your top tips for memorising a script?
HEATON: It used to take me days and days to learn the smallest bit of dialogue. But I’ve gotten better. I think the top tip is to have good dialogue. If the dialogue is good, it’s easier to remember, I know that. Reading bad dialogue, nobody speaks like that so, it’s really hard to say it like that. If it’s good, it just makes sense and goes in the brain quicker. If it isn’t, cover and repeat, cover and repeat.
ICON: Have you ever used fragrance to embody a character?
HEATON: No. But I read about someone telling me that if they’ve got an extreme amount of dialogue to learn, they’ll break it down sentence by sentence. They would learn a sentence and then list a letter or a word. So, [if the dialogue reads] “there are many people in this world,” they will list the word “there”. They’ll repeat with the next sentence. In the end, they will have a list of first words. That first word will hopefully trigger the memory.
ICON: Stranger Things sets up a beautiful premise of what “family” means and how it isn’t always traditional. What does family mean to you?
HEATON: I can only go off my own experience with my family but it’s safety, unconditional, love, joy, it’s trouble sometimes [laughs]. It’s complicated; you don’t pick your family. Lots of people come into your life, but family – that’s what’s important.
ICON: What can you tell us about working with Al Pacino in upcoming film Billy Knight?
HEATON: Al is a character. He’s really dedicated, he really wants to know the truth. He’s got so much energy, that guy, it’s wild. He comes from the theatre and when he’s working, he’s very alive! He’s a cool guy.
Editor’s note: This interview predated the SAG-AFTRA strike.