BeautyMatter and Christophe Laudamiel teamed up for a three-part series on the existing landscape of the fragrance industry, current infrastructural developments, and proposals for a future that upholds the art of perfumery for creators and perfumers alike.
The fragrance industry doesn’t live independently from matters affecting society at large, be they mental wellness or the need to bring a range of voices to the table. Perfume affects realms ranging from art to agriculture, therefore an interest in its change for the better cannot solely rest on the shoulders of perfumers alone.
For the first in our three-part series, and following on his initiative, Perfumery Code of Ethics, Liberté, Égalité, Fragrancité: A Fragrance Manifesto, and a recent feature in BeautyMatter, “Master Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel on Disrupting the Status Quo,” Laudamiel presents a new global standard of fragrance creation, manufacturing, journalism, and representation in the following excerpt from his latest open letter, Dear World.
Dear World, Dear Celebrities, Dear Fashion, Shoe, and Handbag Designers,
If you have a true interest in a Perfumery (with a capital “P”) composed of creativity, fairness, healthy commerce ethics, quality ingredients, and artistry, I count on you to take this to the next level. My situation, and my guts maybe because I just had lower-abdomen surgery (first version of this letter was November 2021), are dictating me to do this, as the right thing to do. Instead of complaining, do something about it, right? If you want to know the grievances in this industry from the perfumers themselves, read pages 11 to 24 in Gabe Oppenheim’s book The Ghost Perfumer. He interviewed more than 50 perfumers.
Because the industry is so small, everyone is in bed with everyone, at times literally in a good way. However, it is difficult to gather non-anonymous information and, worse for ethics, creativity, and farmers, to rally a movement against a 100-year system of brand establishment. The amount of unethical behaviors is free to thrive, the gross use of public ignorance is conveniently maintained like in no other business on this planet apart perhaps from Swiss banking. Most of these brands are music (auditory) or fashion and cosmetic (visual) experts. They do not know much about olfaction.
The blunt lack of expertise and respect towards perfumery is truly unsustainable. If decent people in fashion, journalism, acting, singing, literature, and high-tech entertainment could take this message further or forward it to take significant action, that would be excellent, and again the right thing to do.
I am not targeting the so-called “fragrance houses”: DSM-Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, Mane, Robertet, Symrise, Takasko, and others. If you don’t know their names, they are the recording studios and the fashion ateliers of the fragrance world. They host the music composers, aka perfumers, often as employees that you have to use. To their credit they built the guitars, pianos, and trumpets themselves too: they have to source 4,000 ingredients from 70 countries, with no child labor, sweatshops, or toxins. They do the logistics of these ingredients, they grow or help grow them, they synthesize molecules, they employ perfumers and their managers, they do most of the R&D done in perfumery.
Fashion or singers’ brands rarely invest in fragrance R&D. Of course, they invest in fashion or music R&D. Ask L'Oréal, Coty, and Interparfums, who represent a lot of these non-olfactory brands cashing in on the olfactory turf, what their R&D budget is for perfumery. Maybe I am missing a small department for specific applied products (I am) or one small action with a farmer somewhere (very small once you know what is actually in your fragrance). For packaging, they certainly invest in over-the-top designers. If that bling bling would happen for wine, rum, brandy bottles, you would say, what is this packaging farce? Isn’t that very suspicious? It is.
Sport celebrities invest in sport and in elementary schools or colleges, not in perfume research nor fellowships for their perfumers. In fact they all rarely know their perfumers. Sometimes a polite meeting. Tom Ford really knows his perfumers, but this is a rare case. Some celebrities cannot smell. Can you imagine if Ralph Lauren would be deaf, yet would launch music all the time? A little weird because he would be deaf and because he is a fashion designer. Would you buy your music from a shoe designer or a handbag designer and entrust her to decide for you what is cool in music? Kinda weird, no? If you would know perfumery a little, you would smell it, the low quality at premium price or the blunt plagiarism.
I’ve never had a celebrity ask me, a perfumer, to launch a lipstick color or a handbag, or to write their music. They would say, what does he know about cosmetics or music or fashion? And they would be right. Time has come to return the respect.
The public doesn’t know better. Celebrities and fashion brands just pluck royalties from perfumes. They, via their numerous middle-persons, get perfumes as cheap as possible from a fragrance house to put it in a bling bling bottle and sell it as expensively as possible. This is the game.
We make the public believe there is a lot of Indian jasmine in the bottle, and off it goes. Easy. No challenge. Why not? The public is ignorant and buys and buys and buys.
End gross practice #1 from fashion and music brands at literally no cost: demand that perfumer(s)’ names are on the bottle. Would they sell music or a poem with no singer, songwriter, or poet’s name on it? Do they hide the name of the fashion designer? When they do, you know the quality and the creativity of the fashion. Perfumery is no exception.
For some reason, perfumery escapes further attention, basic understanding, and does not have systems in place to create the future. No start-up incubators like in biology, computer science, fashion, textile, or shampoo and nail-polish sciences. No fellowship to creative perfumery students worldwide as far as I know like fashion, music, or sport personalities give to other students. Perfume marketing gets one as of this year for the entire world. Not perfume composers, nor perfume chemists. No recruitment to acquire the best students from the worlds of fashion, chemistry, biology, or astrophysics. Once in a while you meet someone from Princeton or Yale … or Harvard (I’m biased). Sorry, but we need some. Sorry, but we need to be challenged. Sorry, but fashion and music need to be challenged. Perfumery shall not be their turf to exploit.
End gross practice #2 from fashion and music brands: you re-inject into perfume scholarships and into true perfume R&D some of that easy cash you are milking from ignorant perfume consumers.
The fact is, many perfumery students need to become employed first. Do you have to be employed by a record label to learn music from scratch and they pay you for three years, including vacation and health insurance, and you do not create one song, because you are still learning how to play the piano? It is not a healthy system. You want students to explore many systems, be challenging and challenged, try things even if they are without a business plan or not corporate, to explore different competitive routes.
At the higher management level, call it the adult education level, would Saint Laurent hire someone that knows nothing about fashion at all to manage entire teams? Let alone to become the head of Saint Laurent and Armani and Lancôme? Well it happened at the L’Oréal luxury perfume division, which launches all the perfumes for these brands and decides what goes inside the bottles. It is an insult. The new head of Sony would tell you he has never ever listened to music. How would you feel about their respect of music? It certainly smells like it inside the bottles of the top four conglomerates that we will feature in the next article. One day someone will record a packagers-perfumers meeting. Your jaw will drop like you’ll need your chiropractor to put it back in its place.
What about journalistic perfume principles taught at journalism schools? Nonexistent. To their defense, the International Perfumers-Creators Society, of which I am a member, is still debating whether a perfumer is an artist. I know it to be true since I started in perfumery 25 years ago; Edmond Roudnitska (the creator of Diorissimo and Eau Sauvage) knew it way before that and wrote a book about it, but it hasn’t been stated officially for the past 500 years. In consequence, it can be hard for journalists to know what to do with perfumes and perfumers. Again, if I may say so, we are no exception—we are artists like composers and poets. I expand on these thoughts on the Perfumery Code of Ethics Background and Vision webpage.
Our industry is not equipped to speak up or to fend off gross fake-expert misconduct or even dangerous advice. Our industry is not equipped with any whistleblower entity or protection by and large (for business yes, but not for perfumery practices like you see in music with copyrighting or science councils with anti-conspiracy statements). It is extremely promiscuous, for better and for worse. Our industry often does not hire based on facts, but through nepotism, cronyism, or where you are born. Journalists, reporters, and critics unfortunately abide by that and love to relate to that.
Somehow, when perfumery is discussed, non-experts and their lovers of the night before have to have more respected opinions than experts. Journalists drop their guards. The public is led by the nose like donkeys. I repeat, perfumery shall be no exception to reach excellence.
Remember this to end gross practice #3: if a perfumer or a brand says it, 50% of the time it is not true or at best you do not know what it actually means. Interview 50 perfumers like author Gabe Oppenheim did and you will start to know. Or cross-check different sources of information.
You probably do not know what to ask to check, and when you do, you hit the “secret” wall. At that point, just boycott. As someone famously said to a frozen antiquated block, I say to the perfume industry, “Tear down that wall.” I say to the public: most of the perfume industry works well at sustaining itself and complimenting itself, unchecked, unworried. So let’s start looking at perfume GC (gas chromatography) analyses that are now available publicly. Coming up roses on another website.
I have tried to reach out externally to journalists and other professionals. They are not interested because we are too small and docile, and unlike textiles, very sustainable with our ingredients. Or they still want to receive free trips, bottles, or entire gift sets for the next Jimmy Choo, YSL, Gucci, or Billie Eilish launches.
The last invention (again, apart from ingredients, we have super-cool ingredients when brands and celebrities do not take “all the money”) in the fine fragrance industry was the spray pump. That is what the brands and packagers have to offer, stupid mute non-standardized pumps. I will praise Puig here and some of their brands for some creative packaging, exploring new territories. As for influencers, instead of shooting one more clueless unboxing video, please go buy a scale: I hope you know that some typical pumps on the market spray twice as much mist as some other typical pumps. Here goes your entire theory of dosing a scent by how many spritzes and at what level it is. When the perfumer develops a scent, the pumps are not determined, yet level and prices are imposed. Told you, perfume people are not recruited among the brightest math students. To be a good perfumer, you have to be good in mental calculus to write formulas; this is actually more important than chemistry. To be a packager or a perfume manager, you count cents and dimes but don’t expect them to know physics. In music, they have formed sound engineers to do all this for you and you know some basics, so you cannot be fooled as easily.
Another thing to think about in our fickle world: do you know whether spraying an eau de toilette at 10% twice is equivalent to spraying an eau de parfum at 20% once? Why isn’t all this addressed in 2022? Packaging manufacturers had no time to investigate this in the 70 years of pumps’ existence. So much for packagers counting cents and dimes instead of researching droplets, pressures, conical shapes. I tried to find hard evidence for this impact of packaging but could not come to a conclusion—it deserves a real study.
Some like Coty do advertise full blast their action on sustainable alcohol. Alcohol is the really really cheap thing in your perfume and comes from plants anyway: corn, potato, sugar cane, rice, sweet potato. This is diverting the conversation from $1,000 a kilo significance with farmers ($500/lb) to a benign $4 a kilo ($2/lb) alcohol conversation. Instead of alcohol, I want to hear rather whether 0.03% of natural jasmine is really helping the farmers? Again, see our next article.
In brief, if you are a person of integrity, you leave the fragrance houses and perfumers alone.They do the heavy lifting for an entire industry that is getting downstream the most ridiculously high margins ever. Do you realize that the perfume bottle, as primitive as it can be in engineering, still is given much more money to be made than the fragrance inside the bottle? Do you realize that no one wants to invest in removing tedious manual work like holding pipettes all day long, looking for several hundreds ingredients each day, dosing them precisely, because brands don’t want to invest in robots for perfumers and won’t pay for them? White Castle fast food is getting robots as we speak. We still don’t. Fashion regularly gets free interns with no shame. We don’t do that in perfumery labs nor in chemistry.
Finally, all of you, celebrities, singers, and shoe and handbag designers signing perfume licenses to support your fashion and music parties and mansions, do you realize that you would never on earth sign contracts for yourself the way you sign them with perfumers? You don’t even sign with perfumers. You sign with middlemen and -women. Cut out the middle people, and reward the perfumers and the farmers the way you are rewarded. Check your formulas and their unsexy content, even at high-end luxury brands, especially with “no perfumers inside.” See where the full dollars versus the tiny cents go.
Through a twist of companies buying other companies, most major perfumes created today for zillions of brands are created out of Paris. American brands have their perfumes created the same way as French brands, German brands, Italian brands, Swiss brands. Isn’t that weird for a creative industry? Most in Paris … and oh I forgot, Grasse. Defend variety, diversity, and ethics of creativity. Many secrets and methods of the Parisian industry are really traditional and quite a few are not pretty.
Defend respect no matter what the discipline is. Journalists, don’t lower your standards because it is perfumery and you are hesitant because it is not taught at journalism school, or because you need to be invited to the next Hermès launch in India or receive the next Gucci perfume gift set. Ask what is inside these perfumes precisely. If it is secret, tell the public not to buy it. I have some GCs available in case you need them. Leave the perfumer alone for a moment. Instead, ask about all the middle people between him or her and the fashion designer or the singer. It’s a total disconnection of creation and quality. Even at numerous prestigious name brands, their perfumes are not decided by the same prestigious people as the rest of the brand.
Demand the diversity statistics of all brands and packagers selling you perfume. Demand an independent investigation for ethics, integrity, diversity, and for-profit activities disguised as nonprofit activities in some of those organizations.
Hopefully a few important people will respectfully receive this letter and, now as informed individuals, shall implement some of it for the art of perfumery, the farmers, the chemists, and the perfumers.
I believe that a better, more honest, and of verifiable quality perfumery will grow the business tenfold, like coffee and chocolate, both in commercial and in specialty, in the world of fine fragrance and in scented products.
As a scent engineer too in ambient, film, and scenography projects, I am convinced once the public, architecture schools, marketing schools, universities, and celebrities are educated, that the budgets for scent design will be increased from zero.
If you would like a few disclosures from the brands I work for in ambient and fine fragrance , they will be happy to provide these, starting with 6% champaca absolute and 4% natural gardenia with more percentages of natural ouds than in any other Western perfumery brands I know in Strangelove NYC, 4% narcissus absolute in Everlasting (The Zoo), and 33% fresh ginger oil in the BélAir Lab collection. “You can check via gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis the real existence of intricate creative structures in Spacewood (by The Zoo) and the upcoming Striking (by Rich Mess). Such transparency would not pass through the usual seven layers of middle managers with no artistic degree or experience aside from selling Walmart perfumery at Bergdorf Goodman prices.
My plea to the world: changes in an industry do not come from within; please forward this to as many people as you can and walk the talk. Merci.
Master Perfumer and Scent Engineer
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