CHRISTOPHE LAUDAMIEL: THE CONSUMMATE VISIONARY FOR FRAGRANCE

2021 . 02 . 19 | written by Karen Marin

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I never know what to expect when I catch up with Christophe Laudamiel. The multi-talented master perfumer, author, performer, chemist and fragrance visionary is always at the helm of cutting-edge, avant-garde projects that mere mortals can barely imagine. Spanning topics as diverse as ambient scent, scent and art, communication transparency as well as education, the conversation was more than lively.

BELAIR LAB-
Delving into the world of ambient scenting through his BelAir Lab in Japan, Christophe’s latest project is born from a collaboration with 120-year-old Osaka-based Rohto Pharmaceuticals on the launch of 13 interior scents and fragrance oils for diffusers. He mentioned that the Japanese are more interested in scent than most people realize, and in fact Rohto is particularly interested in how fragrance can affect the mind and body. One of the fragrances from the collection was tested on professional soccer players jointly with the Chuo University in Tokyo and Under Armor and was shown to aide in improved performance and fatigue recovery. According to Christophe, “{This project} has now entered a clinical study in Japan to further the science behind it” – something he believes no ambient scent – or maybe even fine fragrance project – has done before, speaking volumes about the importance of this venture. He also mentioned they are testing the efficacy of scent on video game champions, adrenaline-junkies who, fueled by the speed of the games and Red Bull® consumption, tend to have sleep issues. “The industry has known certain scents have certain effects. The study is having positive results on a new scientific level, and hopefully soon on a unique medical level, which will allow us to make specific claims.”
Christophe is quite familiar with Japanese traditions and avant-gardism and notes that the Japanese culture appreciates quality materials, esthetics that are refined from the inside out, a dream for fine fragrance perfumers. Products with a “cool” modern factor have a strong appeal, as do scents that are linked to the culture. “They really like to know what is in the fragrance and they will check to be sure it is true. They are certainly a read-and-write culture and they like to get the details” which resonates greatly wth him.


SCENT, ART & EDUCATION
Following on this path, I asked Christophe if he believed scent and art are interrelated, and he answered with an overwhelming YES! He observed that unfortunately, the public seldomly sees the comingling of olfaction and art and that alcohol and skin limit the art, like fashion versus painting, sculpture and artistic installations. “What the public sees too often is the H&M and Ikea of perfumery, even in many “luxury” brands. When people talk about fragrance, it’s all in the same way. This is a way of doing fragrance but it is not the only way. We are missing a whole sector of our life. Beethoven and Beyoncé don’t start with a brief. Talk to Madonna about her music and she has a point of view, talk to her about her fragrance and she talks about very classic things – not in line with her image because she doesn’t know better. The public does not see the MOMA (not much at all) and the rock and roll (a little now) and the disco and certainly not the rap and hip hop of perfumery.” Does this mean he thinks there is a homogenization of fragrance, that most of it sits at a basic level that does not challenge us, either intellectually, philosophically or sensorially? “We are missing a whole part of the creativity. Universities are to blame because they have not had the vision to understand that olfaction is a key thing to develop in our societies. Some, especially in London, are just starting to put olfaction on their programs: in scientific, creative and design programs. This will come. But why is a fellowship system not in place for the industry, and where are the true philanthropists for perfumery?”
He made another observation that is quite thought-provoking, “The perfume microcosm has always wanted to limit the number of perfumers - why? Can you imagine limiting the number of musicians that are trained per year? That is not cool.


BEING TRANSPARENT
Next I asked Christophe how he feels about the movement for brands to be transparent in communication, and particularly with fragrance formulas. He immediately said, “Wait a minute: brands are NOT transparent with formula. They give you a bunch of molecules, with names no one knows AND they cleverly do not tell you how much of those ingredients are in the formulas.” Christophe is on a committee for the Société Internationale des Parfumeurs-Créateurs (SIPC), that is determined to get copyright protection for fragrance formulas. He explained to me that copyright laws in France require that the name of the author be divulged, even if the person no longer works for the company. In the meantime, he believes brands should disclose the content of key ingredients (to make sure the costly natural ones utilized as marketing fluff are present in significant amounts to also help the corresponding farmers) and be forthcoming about why a fragrance costs what it does: be transparent about how you arrive at the price charged. We are onto surprises which will reshape our industry.
He brought up another point that seems obvious which I’ve never seen discussed: why doesn’t transparency include giving credit to all of the creators? Perfumers are getting more attention now, but they aren’t alone on the journey from conception to end product. As he sees it, “Can you imagine a brand commissioning a piece of music and not saying who wrote it or sung it?”
Transparency with formulas could be used for educational purposed too. He pointed out that “Students at ISIPCA are often still learning on formulas from the 1920’s-1990’s because there is not much else. It’s crazy in 2021 to be at this stage of deconnection and under-appreciation”. He suggested that perfumers donate a couple of real formulas to a Wikimedia Commons organized by the Institute of Art and Olfaction from Los Angeles, a type of repository for the free sharing of various files. This would essentially create a reference library that could educate the public, be a resource for students and show how complex the formulas really are.


AND A FEW PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS
Bringing some levity to our chat, I asked Christophe why we wear fragrance, and he answered me back with a question followed by his opinion on how fragrance can enhance our lives. “Why do we listen to music? Music is as “useless” as scents. Let’s also remember that like music, like singing, like reading, like poetry, like sculpting, and like observing, smelling is an excellent aerobic exercise for the brain. It is part of intelligence. It creates new connections in the brain which we know is a healthy thing. A fragrance makes you work out better, makes you relax better. It gives you extra trust or confidence or gears your thoughts one way or another. Fragrances and smells help you make key decisions.
And [we wear it] just for fun for God’s sake!!! “

When I asked my last question, how do you wish the fragrance industry would evolve, Christophe succinctly advised me to refer to his Fragrance Manifesto. Indeed, this comprehensive declaration, which makes a tongue in cheek nod at France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, proclaims Liberté, Egalité et Fragrancité (Liberty, Equality and Fragrance) for all. It compels us to shed inaccurate and misleading tenets about fragrance while mobilizing us to take up a mission to educate, drive respect for the industry, support sustainability –“we are the most sustainable industry of all industries I know”- and find innovative ways of incorporating fragrance into our daily life. To give a few examples, Christophe thinks the way children learn about fragrance, even in kindergarten, is appalling. “If I had the money I would create the Pixar studios of perfumery.” Now that sounds like fun for kids! In fact, Christophe points out that the fragrance business isn’t tapping into the fun and entertainment aspects that are missed business opportunities. He explained, “We are very preppy and very conservative in our uses and showings of scents and fragrances. {There are} no perfume shows, and no movies, no concerts…So I am on a mission to educate, to remove the BS, to provide ideas and business ideas to elevate the debate and the visions so we can create all of this. I am passionate because I want this industry to grow, us to have more fun and for this we need to educate the public along the way.”
What he said really struck home for me when I think about experiences I have had that were more memorable because fragrance was incorporated. I remember a ride in Disneyland that simulated a flight over orange groves complete with the scent of the fruit. Or walking into an art event where the scent of roses was diffused at the entry. But I have just two such memories, so when Christophe shares his frustrations about how other industries don’t understand scent technology, I have to agree. “They won’t invest one tenth in a scent player of what they put into 1 single light projector in a concert hall. Can you imagine there are sound engineers who know where to put speakers for the best effect in concert halls, but when I do an artistic scent installation, there is no olfactory engineer to do the same? It falls to me.”
He believes the industry could be much bigger, but those in the industry need to look beyond what has been done to think about what could be done. He explains, sadly, “Not many grab the importance of olfaction in our lives, for what the nose can experience and feel vs the eyes.”


In closing I ask myself, are we fighting with windmills here? Certainly not, no more than Galileo who put the Sun at the center of the Universe, or the discoverers who believed the world was not flat. With a charismatic person leading the way, we will all want to join Christophe on our olfactory mission to bring change to our beloved industry!

Manifesto
Smelling Chypre - Credit: Tim Woo
Thinking - Credit: EDGE CCF
The scent chandelier
Christophe Laudamiel- Credit: Jost Fink
The newest fragrance - Credit: BelAirLab