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.
Convolution has always been an ally of secret-keeping, and the velvet rope around the perfume industry has remained in place for thousands of years. Fragrance prided itself on its alchemical properties—an extraordinary potion whipped up behind closed doors, an undisclosed formula, the by-product of olfactory dreams. That fantasy-fueled element to dream even more olfactory dreams is certainly one of the things that makes it such a magical medium, but it doesn’t absolve the areas of improvement—most of which are unclear to consumers, and to a certain extent, industry members.
In the second part of BeautyMatter’s series with Christophe Laudamiel, the master perfumer delved into the current relations between conglomerates and the industry’s overall structures. In this final piece, he outlines the comprehensible and direct efforts that individual brand owners, the C-Suite, institutions, and consumers can do to ensure a fair industry that maintains artistic integrity.
People are asking what can be done to change things, as new perfumers and consumers, but also seasoned managers from other industries. I’ve spoken at about 150 conferences, with audiences ranging from 10 to 800 people, from bloggers to scientists, over the course of 20 years. Here are my suggestions:
Ask each celebrity if they would sign the same contract for their own art (fashion, music, sport) that they are signing with perfume licensors. No way on earth. They are exploiting perfumers, farmers, and chemists, period. They would never accept themselves being treated that way. No copyrighting. No royalties. No credits. Surfing on plagiarism. Not knowing what they are talking about when they talk about the creation of someone else.
L'Oréal sponsors hairdressers and makeup artists regularly. How many perfumers do they sponsor publicly? They don’t need to. Better keep the cash for themselves and fly makeup artists around the world. We rhinal people pay for appearance people. “The soul of being is their scents,” said Süskind, not their made-up faces or the imperial clothes they wear. The non-investigative public believes what it reads in pseudo press releases and ads, so L'Oréal doesn’t have to convince their audience that their juices are good or a higher quality than they pretend it to be, nor does the company need a credibility check from professional perfumers’ endorsements.
Ask how much money L'Oréal, Interparfums, and Coty spend in lobbying in the EU and in the USA to directly defend perfumery. L'Oréal has certainly successfully argued in French courts to ensure that perfumers are not considered artists in the eye of the very strict French law protecting the artists.
Brands and distributors should remove the cost of raw ingredients from their multiplication pricing factors. It is not more difficult for them, it does not require more retail surface area, it does not require more training from the staff to sell a fragrance with 10% natural sandalwood instead of 0.1% sandalwood. This new method makes the product affordable for consumers and is a significant improvement for farmers and perfumers. It’s also an opportunity to explore new scent territories. Price based on quality, artistry, and actual ingredients. A distributor in Germany and a brand owner in the US have recently agreed to switch to this creator-style economy instead of a commodity, fast food-style economy.
Disconnect olfaction from vision and audiology. You don’t buy music from Armani or Adidas. You don’t buy food from Rihanna, you usually don’t buy fashion from a singer. And you know what it feels to buy fashion from a brand with no fashion designer in-house. Well, fashion has taken over perfumery, because it was very convenient for the perfumery business: low-hanging fruit, since the 1910s and in exaggerated proportions since the 1950s. Now, perfumery has to reclaim perfumery. We are also not a cosmetic item—by law yes, because we touch the skin—but we do not deal with vision. Check where the perfume experts, meaning the perfume composers, are and buy directly from them, not six levels lower.
Ask where your dollars go. They shouldn’t be going to fashion designers but perfumers, farmers, and chemists. Buy from brands that have a perfumer in-house. I don’t buy wine from a company with no winemaker in-house. I don’t go to a restaurant and pay premium prices when there is no chef in the kitchen. Ask where perfumers work, decide that you prefer to pay the perfumers directly and make sure there is a respect of cultures as well as a variety of creative styles.
For ambient scents, think of it like the music for your speakers. Generally speaking, the market is extremely low: what speakers do you get for $4.99 or for $12.99 including the music inside? When prices are that low, the cheaper, the lousier, and more technology restricted. Be curious—upgrade. Good ambient scents can be as refined as fine fragrances: the same ingredients, but you just need good technology and an interesting perfumer. It is pricey but plain normal if you compare it to other art. Talk to a scent engineer who doesn’t have a conflict of interests to believe anything, or simply compare it yourself.
Once in a while, ask for a perfume with no Hedione or no Iso E Super inside. Demand to know about the 2-3 naturals and/or 2-3 molecules per perfume. Ask exactly how much of this and that expensive ingredient there is in each fragrance. Not just “jasmine” but “pure jasmine absolute.” Jasmin infusion is cheap and weak: it doesn’t bring you nor the farmers very far. For most flowers, anything below 1% concentration is no big deal and anything below 0.3% is a joke if that is the marketing ploy; for less expensive ingredients, anything below 5-10% is a joke too. In these matters, if it is secret, you can smell the stink already. These percentages are not top secret for the company, nor is it valuable information for the competition: the competitor already knows. They all run GC-MS [Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry] analysis, so the public might as well know, because often you will be appalled to know how little of that expensive jasmine from India, sandalwood, or rose from Grasse there is in a fragrance … like 0.02%. It is the public’s duty to check so the rewarding system of the industry changes. The public shall pay for truth, for the farmers, the chemists, and the perfumers.
Ask where the fragrance is designed, where it is manufactured, where the bulk of the ingredients are manufactured, where the precious ingredients are manufactured, and to have the manufacturing date of the fragrance oil printed on the bottle like a transparent vintage.
A fragrance does not have to last. But a fragrance that lasts more than 3 hours is a sign of quality, of a lot of work, and some intuition. Notice, many fragrances fall through between hour 2 and hour 3, or lose their signatures, and what is left smells rather common.
Stores take 50% of the sold perfume bottle price, yet they do not provide proper guidance for you nor training for staff. Many salespeople have never spent time with a perfumer or seen a perfumer organ. Shop only at stores or boutiques that have experts on staff. The Fragrance Foundation training? Well, it is fashion history–heavy, online only (no smelling kit to train, would sound obvious though) and is vetted by the very brands that have a vested interest in you not knowing more about fragrance cost structures.
In large stores, ask the salespeople staff which brands they most represent by contract. Basically you should know whether a music salesperson (when we had some) was paid more by Michael Jackson or the Rolling Stones so you understand why someone is always pushing the Rolling Stones in front of your nose. Basically ask them to show you their true colors so you know why they automatically send you to a brand you didn’t want to buy in the first place. This presents a huge drama for small brands arriving at a department store. Do not believe the salespeople force: you will be directed to the largest commission payer, not receiving true expert advice about what you like or about real quality criteria.
Only go to stores that take care of their ventilation and have decent respectful spraying. Ask salespeople to describe the smell of the ingredients they mention; most don’t know. They were not even shown the ingredients they are imposed to talk about. Do not expect staff to know the entire list of ingredients by heart either. That is torture on the salespeopleerson and it means nothing to the story of the scent. But if you sell violins, usually you know what they sound like, what they look like, and if that is the type of music your patron is looking for. We need better-trained salespeople staff so perfume quality can increase.
Education & Psychology
We are not an industry based on narrow ideas of visual representation (well, currently we are), so demand to see a variety of crowds: big, small, overweight, people of color, impared, blind, alternative.
Demand that every school program involve an olfactory component: in history, physics, math, chemistry, art, language, and literature. Olfaction is as important as vision and more important than audiology. Some children will be more olfactory than auditory, for instance. When people are or were illiterate, olfaction is or was an even more important vector of information, culture, and communication. It cannot be ignored. They cannot pass on one-fifth of their brain function and solely concentrate on visual appearances.
Demand that your psychologist use odors to help you recover joyful or painful moments. Olfaction opens brain drawers that words won’t: science has proven this. Play psychological scent tricks with your salespeople, your artists, your brands to see how serious they are about olfaction versus merchandising or their wallets.
Ask for a company’s diversity and ethical statement, as well as checkpoints they have put in place to improve their situation. You will see at some brands that the teams have not changed a bit since June 2020. You will see that the Fragrance Foundation New York and RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials) have not changed at all.
Ask how many fellowships the brand gives to perfume students, to farmers’ children where they get their so-called beautiful and rare oudh. Currently zero. Ask how many dollars they give to perfume research. L'Oréal gives plenty to hair and cosmetic research, but zero to fundamental perfume research, when perfumes pay for their hair research and fellowships. Olfaction gets the crumbs.
Create perfume schools in your own country. Create your own perfumery history and know-how. Grasse is not the cradle of perfumery—it is one cradle.
Abhor cronyism and nepotism—two gangrenes of the fragrance industry to this day. Create your own perfumers’ association on your own principles that you deem fair. Have multicultural and multi-physiognomic teams based on proven talent, not on self-proclaimed praise.
Ask journalists to systematically divulge what they have received from every brand they discuss, or the article is simply an infomercial. It is the law in the United States, but somehow does not apply to fragrance journalists and fragrance influencers. On this matter actually, influencers are usually more transparent than journalists.
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