This video empowers consumers to challenge the salesperson upon their next trip to a perfume store!
At most perfume stores it is common to classify scents by olfactory families. For instance, a department store perfume salesperson identifies the consumer’s passion for a flowery or spicy note and provides more samples from these olfactory families. In encounters such as this, a consumer might easily feel inferior to the salesperson’s expertise. However, in observing the perfume field, we have noticed that even among experts there are highly personal systems of classification that vary from perfumer to perfumer. We asked Christophe Laudamiel and Christoph Hornetz for a set of sample olfactory materials that could help us to better understand some of the everyday practices in the field. One of the perfumers came up with a list of materials grouped by families. One night, we discussed the list over wine and cheese with the two perfumers. On this occasion we learned how even two perfumers who had closely collaborated for several years can quickly disagree about commonly shared olfactory conventions and classifications. Bear in mind that the perfumers talk about single molecules whereas commercial perfumes are composed of several dozen different molecules. After watching the video the viewer should feel empowered to challenge the salesperson upon their next trip to a perfume store!
Mundane lab work4:00
Mundane lab work4:00
Perfumery is not always glamorous. Creativity unfolds in a nexus of mundane work practices.
Perfumery is practiced in a lab. The lab serves several functions. It is a storage space for the ingredients that are alphabetically shelved. More sensitive materials are kept in a designated refrigerator in the lab. Moreover, the lab provides specific tools and equipment (e.g. scientific scales). As a special workplace the lab is the place for creating solutions of solid materials or weighing formulae. The lab also serves as the perfumer’s archive where modifications of completed projects are stored. All in all, the lab provides access to the world of the volatile molecules. While observing Christophe’s creative process we were surprised how often he went to the lab to reconnect to his material base.
Leading Perfumery schools often expect a formal education in chemistry. For example, Christophe Laudamiel studied chemistry in France and eventually earned a Masters degree from MIT. Nevertheless there are other eminent perfumers who never studied chemistry: Francois Coty, Ernest Beaux, and Jean Carles, to name three titans of perfumery. Thus, the relevance of a formal education is certainly debatable. But there is no doubt that a profound understanding of chemical compounds, how they behave or react with each other is essential. At the end of the day the scent development process must follow scientific practices and comply with technical standards and procedures. Hence, this clip zooms into the mundane, less spectacular aspects of lab work. The current discussion of design thinking often reduces design practice to an immaterial, intellectual problem solving technique. In this one-sided context, a closer look at mundane lab work put renewed emphasis back into material practice.
Envisioning a perfumista0:54
Envisioning a perfumista0:54
Once, Christophe retrospectively envisions a persona who could wear his creation.
Perfumes are usually developed with a specific user in mind. Sometimes even stereotypes are used for briefing a perfumer. The former New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr once even presented a parody of this type of briefing: «We want something for women. It should make them feel more feminine, but strong, and competent, but not too much…». Following Christophe’s work we hardly ever witnessed anything like this. Instead, it was the scent and its aesthetic quality that guided the design process.
Once, however, after the development of Blask had been completed for a while, Christophe retrospectively envisioned a persona who could wear this fragrance. Interestingly, his persona very much resembles the user, Mark Behnke, a well known perfume blogger, had in mind when reviewing this creation: «Blask is not a fragrance for everybody but if you are someone looking for a line that takes risks and challenges your perception of what perfume could be, Blask is something you need to try».
The title of this clip alludes to the growing enthusiasm for perfumes. A perfumista professes the culture of olfactory hedonism. Some perfumista might identify themselves as «fragraholics», «perfumaniacs» or «fragonerds» (just to mention a few labels popular within the subculture). A perfumista often wears an exotic fragrance that distinguishes itself from the middlebrow tastes of most people. One might think of Andy Warhol as a forerunner who once openly talked about his fondness for esoteric fragrances:
«Sometimes at parties I slip away to the bathroom just to see what colognes they’ve got. I never look at anything else— I don’t snoop—but I’m compulsive about seeing if there’s some obscure perfume I haven’t tried yet, or a good old favorite I haven’t smelled in a long time. If I see something interesting, I can’t stop myself from pouring it on. But then for the rest of the evening, I’m paranoid that the host or hostess will get a whiff of me and notice that I smell like somebody-they-know.»
Sometimes this passion for perfumery grows from an interest in chemistry and might rise to further practices. Some perfumista indulge in excessive perfume collecting. Others research for educational material, learn the basics of perfume creation and start as DIY perfumers. Another group of perfumista might start to write perfume reviews or publish related video content on youtube. All in all, they give rise to an increasingly discursive consumer culture. What started on the fringes eventually changes the rules of the game in the fragrance industry.
Anyone with a nose knows that trash can stink. It is this truism of modern life that this clip challenges: Trash can smell nice. According to our fieldnotes Christophe casually once remarked: «The garbage often smells good. And: If you want to remake it, good luck». Hence, smelling trash is a recurring theme in a perfumer’s studio. This clip, however, shows how smelling a perfumer’s trash bin can open a discussion on sustainability in the fragrance industry and envision a future of fragrant upcycling.