CHRISTOPHE LAUDAMIEL: THE PERFUMERS ADVOCATE STARTS A REVOLUTION
2022 . 07 . 21 |
Christophe Laudamiel is one of those multi-hyphenated individuals that never stops. Master perfumer, author, performer, chemist and fragrance visionary, I think he can now add the title of “whistleblower” to the list. Several years ago Laudamiel published his Fragrance Manifesto, a comprehensive declaration which, while making a tongue in cheek nod at France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, proclaims Liberté, Egalité et Fragrancité (Liberty, Equality and Fragranceness) for all. His words compel us to let go of inaccurate and misleading tenets about fragrance while mobilizing us to take up a mission to educate, drive respect for the art that Perfumery is, support sustainability and find innovative ways of incorporating fragrance into our daily life, professional or festive. Now, in a series of articles for industry publication BeautyMatter, he goes a step further to bring to the public’s and the perfume celebrities’ attention some gross practices that are rampant and well-known in the fragrance industry. It’s a call for ethics and “fair play”. For example:
- Relatively few companies give full credit to the fragrance author(s) or artist(s): the perfumer(s). Exceptions, such as Frederic Malle and Essential Parfums, exist in the niche sector, but for the mainstream and mass categories, the perfumer is a mystery.
- Big companies sign licenses with celebrities, singers, fashion designers, even athletes, to create a fragrance, and yet:
- Typically there is little or no contractual arrangement directly between these individuals and the perfumer,
- Contracts don’t include royalties, credit or copyrights for the actual artist, the perfumer. What musician would sign such a contract on their end for their own music?
- The big companies (the brands) rarely re-inject profits into fellowships, scholarships or R&D directed towards the perfumery universe. Without naming names, there is one right now who is granting fellowships to women in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math – commendable, and actually a boon for the development of products like shampoo and hair color, but fragrance is still left far behind.
- Makeup artists and hair dressers are sponsored regularly and often sent on tour. No one has sponsored a perfumer, let alone sent a perfumer on tour at the brand’s expense.
- Why is it acceptable to have major fragrance companies without an in-house perfumer in charge? Or even without a perfumer in the house at all? Do you know a fashion house without a lead fashion designer who is the soul of the brand who guarantees expertise and creativity for the brand?
It’s crucial to note that these comments don’t pertain to the oil houses, like IFF, Givaudan, Firmenich and their ilk. This is directed at the big conglomerates who manage perfume brands and are behind the huge launches of the latest Celebrity X and Fashion Designer Y fragrances. You know who they are.
I caught up with Christophe following this year’s World Perfumery Conference (WPC) in Miami to delve deeper into the situation and to learn more about the cause.
On July 1st the first shots of the revolution were verbally fired at the WPC during a speech entitled "The Future of Perfumery from a Perfumer's Perspective" given by Calice Becker, co-President of the International Society of Perfumer-Creators (ISPC). She is also a VP perfumer and the head of the Givaudan Perfumery School. Christophe asked Calice why most perfumers were still not getting credit for their work. Another voice from the audience, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, VP, Perfumery at Givaudan, seconded Christophe’s point which was the first time that perfumers, from a president to two master perfumers, showed publicly to the world that they are united on this matter.
Christophe explained to me, “We have to have a revolution. We have to own our own industry and unite. We are the only artistic industry that isn’t owned by the artists and the managers of the artists. We are owned by fashion, cosmetic and music which are respectively visual and auditory industries. Certainly not experts in scent design. We get nothing, no credit, no royalties, perhaps a little bonus but if you leave the manufacturing company, you get nothing while the fragrance is still riding in the top 10 or 20 for 10 years. But now, this is over, it has to stop. Ask each celebrity if they would sign the same contract for their own art, fashion, music or film, that they are signing with perfume licensors. No way on earth! I think the designers and the musicians don’t realize how scandalous, exploitive and outdated our system is. This is why I had to write an open letter to them. I’ve never had a celebrity ask me, a perfumer, to launch a lipstick color or a handbag, or to write their music or to even “inspire” their entire collection down to the seams and buttons. 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.”
Indeed what would seem to be a professional courtesy among artists is not being done, and this is bubbling up into a source of contention. But it’s just one part of the shakeup that’s going to hit the industry, because Christophe has called out even more which feature in his Perfumery Code of Ethics, a pledge that recognizes perfumery as an art, while also touching on the principles of respect, clarity, the protection of intellectual property, and education without forgetting the farmers of perfumery plants, whose stories are used, but their ingredients much less. Perfumers, brands, institutions and writers from around the world have already signed the agreement and now the movement is picking up steam. Among the gross practices prevalent in the industry which prompted this code, Christophe has identified the following:
In regards to ingredients: “I know what is possible to do with the money in the budget. Brands make a big statement about how certain ingredients are in the formula. A big group has a standard that if there is at least 0.01% of an ingredient – like jasmine or neroli – then marketing can make their story around that ingredient. It’s nothing. It is actually an insult and a joke for the farmers growing those plants!”
In regards to training: “Department stores take 50% of the money from each fragrance bottle that is sold, yet they do not provide proper guidance for you nor training for their staff. Many salespeople have never spent time with a perfumer or even seen a perfume organ. We are the only industry where people are so poorly trained to sell the product. In fact to graduate from the most common training in perfume sales, no smelling is required and the training happens online within a couple of days.” I hate to say it but I know this to be true! When I worked for a major retailer, senior management didn’t feel training fragrance staff was necessary, that all the salesperson had to do was spray two blotters and let the client choose. It’s why I held regular conference calls with regional fragrance managers and then eventually went on a mission to install touchscreen fragrance finders in the stores, so at least there would be something to actually guide or inform the consumers.
In regards to experts: “Stop putting non-experts in key roles or in a position where they address the public as if they know something when they don’t.” It is hard to believe, but divisions can be headed by someone who knows nothing of olfaction. Again, I lived this. In one of my former jobs, on two occasions, the new VP of Fragrance was brought in, once from an apparel company and once from a children’s toy company. Neither knew anything about fragrance (not did they wear any) and on both occasions I was asked to train them, to explain what’s an eau de toilette vs an eau de parfum and so on. As Christophe said “That’s disgusting.”
In regards to formulas: Using a gas chromatograph, technicians can work backwards to determine ingredients in a fragrance formula. Companies can then create copies – or clones – that may closely resemble the original. Christophe has spent thousands of his own dollars to buy “GC’s”. “I’m going to teach people how to read GC’s – kind of a formula for the fragrance - because once we start disclosing, the public needs to know how to read these things. Scientists, scholars and lawyers should look at these as well. I don’t want the public to be bluffed anymore.” Big conglomerates create “briefs” to pitch their projects to oil houses to bid on. They basically give a description of who is the target consumer, perhaps some olfactory direction or the feeling the fragrance should provide, but they are also likely to mention a blockbuster hit as a starting point from which to tweak in a certain direction. Sometimes companies take so-called “inspiration” from an old classic to have it modernized and produced for today’s consumer. If you are the perfumer who’s creation got cloned, shouldn’t you have a right to be credited and to receive royalties?
I asked Christophe if fragrances are part of a company’s intellectual property, and if the perfumer silently gives consent to the use of his/her creation because it was done while working for Company X. Christophe noted that journalists get bylines in publications, and even if they leave, their articles will still cite their name as the author. If a musician leaves a record label, the songs will still direct some royalties to the original music performer or composer. Is it not comparable? Indeed.
Consumers, and even some people who work in the industry, have been kept in the dark for so long, but the time has come shine the light on the future. Christophe goes beyond whistleblowing by giving all of us actionable measures that are truly linked to common sense. Going forward, why don’t we:
- 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. If there is no in-house perfumer, then you shall inquire more about the structure of that perfume brand.”
- Disconnect olfaction from vision and audiology. “You don’t buy music from Armani or Adidas. You don’t buy food from Rihanna. Perfumers need to own and be in charge of their own industry.”
- Shop only at stores or boutiques that have experts and knowledgeable, trained employees. This is so basic yet very hard to find in commercial perfume spaces.
- Insist on quality ingredients in sufficient amounts: “When a brand talks about an ingredient (like jasmine from India, pink pepper, neroli from Tunisia, patchouli) ask them, How much is in the fragrance? If they don’t tell you, don’t buy – it means the amount is probably ridiculously low.”
And of course, it is suggested to verify if the brand has signed the code of ethics on www.perfumeryethics.org
So often when we read about challenges facing the industry, the topic falls to sustainability, or how to drive innovation or how to build the business, but clearly, there are fundamental issues that should be – and can be – addressed, that will have an overarching positive effect on the entire scope of perfumery. What Christophe calls out are antiquated practices that have – for whatever reason – been accepted for decades, and it’s time to make a change. Everyone can make a difference, even in a small way. Can you hear the battle drum of the revolution calling you to take action?
For more information, and to sign the code, visit: www.perfumeryethics.org
The Ghost Perfumer by Gabe Oppenheim