Perfume: Story of a Fragrance Collection

Capturing a story in a bottle is a tall order, but that’s exactly what IFF perfume envelope-pushers Christophe Laudamiel and Christoph Hornetz did with Patrick Süskind’s horrific olfactive tale, Perfume. The resulting coffret, launched to coincide with the release of the film version of the novel, tells a story in 15 fragrance chapters, bridging the traditional (raw Jasminum grandiflorum) and the avant-garde (the catty, fungal cheesiness of the coffret’s scent Human Existence). Along the way, Les Christophes, as the duo are known, have tapped a new creative vein, a model that could ultimately spur more innovative R&D. Michelle Krell Kydd writes about the coffret’s genesis and creation in the March issue of P&F magazine. Here, we present an excerpt of her conversation with Laudamiel.

There is much talk in the perfume industry regarding the abundance of lackluster fragrance releases. Although this is much to the consternation of all, it’s no wonder; after the terrorist attacks in September 2001, the issue of safety has become acutely prevalent in our culture, almost to the point of pathology. Stock prices along with fragrance sales took a nose dive following the deplorable acts of Al-Qaeda—and so did a healthy sense of creative risk.

Krell Kydd: One does not generally see perfume products that are the brainchild of a perfumer being actualized, from a marketing standpoint. What are some of the reasons that this concept took off?

Laudamiel: Because working on our own came first. Had we waited to have budgets approved, a sponsor, authorizations, artistic criticism, etc., nothing would have taken off. Some people don’t move before everything is defined. We moved the way we wanted to, guided by our own strict discipline.

This was followed by convincing our entourage and reaching agreement between the right people at IFF, Constantin Film and Thierry Mugler. An important fact here is that work and discipline can speak for you, though not always fast enough. I also believe in the principle of immanent justice.

Krell Kydd: Do you think that more “perfumer-created” marketing concepts are possible in the future? What do you think it would take to get things moving in this direction?

Laudamiel: Perfumer-created concepts exist, but they are usually based on odors and raw materials. I do believe the future will reveal more of these concepts in general. The balance between idea and realization is a hard one to achieve, and realization is the most difficult as it is much harder to realize things than to just have ideas. Everybody has ideas, even crazy ones, but how do you realize these into something that is tangible, credible or concrete, and have the knowledge and the will to materialize them as well? Striking the balance between reality and fantasy is a real challenge.

Also, it is not so much the “brief concept” that has to change. You can have very free briefs or very strict briefs; it depends more on the way you are prepared and educated to select things. Education is absolutely needed, from kindergarten through postdoctorate. In any other form of art or design we accept the fact that the more the public knows or sees, the more it drives up business in awareness, passion and financial results. It does not mean you have to give away all of your secrets, or say what you are preparing, but once something is public, it should be much more open to explanation.

Krell Kydd: What motivated you to take this on? You had to do this in what little spare time is afforded to most perfumers.

Laudamiel: Inner drive was the motivating factor. It’s hard to explain. I don’t know where it comes from. I have always had this flame in me to go the extra mile, whether it was at school, at sports, in dance or at work. It is this sensation, which can kill you with its weight, a sensation of feeling bad or even ridiculous when you know you can do something better, like having an idea and not being able to sleep until you can show yourself that you can do it.

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