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BBC Perfume Series (2011), Episode 1:
Something Old, Something New

Are You LOUD or Are You Proud?1

15 years ago, there would have been a lot less. There were about 150 (perfume) launches a year. And in 2011, there's going to be... There will have been twelve hundred (1,200)... I think. ∼ Chandler Burr

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 1: Part 1/4

The main story of the Something Old, Something New, the Episode 1 of BBC Perfume documentary trilogy (2011) is a comparison between the 'old' and the 'new' school to perfume making and perfume marketing. Which school has the winning approach (if), the family or team inspired one - and what is your definition of a victory with more than thousand fragrance launches per year? To be LOUD for a day or silently linger by through the decades?

The 'old' school is impersonated in the Guerlain perfume house, where they cherish the traditions, the history, the quality levels of the past, where they take time to create perfumes and still can afford to ignore the profit driven marketing rush. Their way of getting the customers is at a young age (via their mothers) and then keeping them for life. As the narrator says: "Guerlain fragrances make a powerful statement, quietly. Frenchness in liquid form". The inspiration for the perfumes? Says the previous in-house perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain:

Always, women have always been inspiration and that's what my grandfather taught me. You create perfume for woman with whom you are in love. You know, the most beautiful girl in the world, when she goes to see her lover, she if possible gets off her dress, takes off her make-up. What's left? The charm of her voice and her perfume...


Part 1/4 of Something Old, Something New (Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series)


The 'new' school is depicted in Estée Lauder company that designs a perfume and manages a marketing campaign for the Tommy Hilfiger perfume line. They're targeting the elusive 18-27 age consumer group, a generation Y, obsessed with music - and very creative. They'd thought of making a liquid rock 'n' roll for them - LOUD by Tommy Hilfiger.

Estée Lauder's approach to getting the customers appears to be only profit driven, and so do the inspiration, creativity and passion. More important than the perfume (quality) appear to be the packaging and the advertising campaign. Again the narrator expresses lucid thoughts: "The big name brands that now dominate the industry have made perfume a fashion item, something to be changed regularly," and "... with more brands making more scent than ever before, perfumes that used to whisper now have to shout". The idea for the LOUD's name comes from here, doesn't it ;)?

We also meet the legendary New York Times perfume columnist, Chandler Burr; he tells us there were supposed to be around 1,200 fragrance launches in 2010 alone and then we see him flooded with perfumes in his apartment how he tests them personally... On his skin: wrists, arms (inner / outer side) and when there's no free patch of his skin left also legs above his knees!

Because it's just too much and people have been now trained to just go on to the next thing. If you throw so much stuff at people, they have no time to love anything, to become attached to anything. And you're not making anything good enough for them to become attached to.∼ Chandler Burr

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 1: Part 2/4

The next 15 minutes of Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series start with Chad Lavigne, LOUD's bottle designer, and his team about different designer challenges of perfume marketing and continue with the Guerlain 'old' school marketing approach. Jean-Paul says he hates marketing, but in effect it's exactly what he's doing. He and his perfume heir Thierry Wasser invite a bunch of press ladies to J-P's castle, have a little snack & chat with them (he mentions his new cologne, by the way) and then fly them back to Paris.

Then we get to meet Thierry Wasser, the fifth Guerlain in-house perfumer and the first one who doesn't come from the Guerlain family. The touching relationship between the old lion king, Jean-Paul Guerlain, and his perfume heir, Thierry Wasser resembles more to a father-son, than to a teacher-apprentice kind of relationship, especially to Thierry:

I lost my father when I was a child and as an adult I have been always growing at the shade of mature man and I used to say that since I find a dad at almost 50, I got my childhood back. And it is, well what I am telling you is very personal actually but, to me be back in a loving, respecting, admiring relationship is fascinating and make me young also it's very weird. But it is nevertheless how I feel.


Part 2/4 of Something Old, Something New (Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series)


On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, we follow the development of the LOUD perfume for Tommy Hilfiger. The noses behind it were young Aurelien Guichard and Yann Vassnier. The inspiration for them (remember, TH wants a liquid rock 'n' roll) were hippie patchouli2 and feminine rose:

Patchouli it was very much used in the past by hippies and the rose is probably the most universal way to express femininity. We thought that was rock and roll for us, when we worked the rose with the patchouli. We thought that was rock-n-roll. ∼ Aurelien Guichard, creator of LOUD perfume

Then comes the legendary part when the Estée Lauder team headed by Veronique Gabai-Pinsky meets with Tommy Hilfiger himself for half an hour to discuss the perfume and bottle prototypes and advertising stuff. The famous lines:

We wanted to keep the creative process very creative. ∼ Veronique Gabai-Pinsky


What is it really saying? I mean, you know what it says, we all know what it says, but what does it really say? ∼ Tommy Hilfiger, fashion designer

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 1: Part 3/4

The third part of the episode 1, Something New, Something Old, continues with Tommy Hilfiger and his creative army ruminating about the perfume bottle, tagline for the LOUD fragrance... and - you won't believe this - they talk and (smell!) also the fragrance itself! And - you won't believe this either - they all find it very good!


Part 3/4 of Something Old, Something New (Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series)


On the other end of the story, we see how the Guerlain perfume house cherishes the original (high) quality of their fragrances by following the original perfume recipes to the very last drop, many times using very expensive ingredients, such as iris oil for the company's crown jewel, the iconic Shalimar. Even now when Thierry Wasser decided to make his own Shalimar version targeted at a younger market the Guerlain quality (the spirit of previous Guerlain perfumers' recipe books) and traditions (family jewels) are a focus, rather than the bottle or a cute tagline.

In contrast to this, the episode continues with Estée Lauder almost pathetic tries to be authentic, genuine, original, creative when launching the LOUD by Tommy Hilfiger for the press. This escalates to the point when the publicity team frenetically tries to find the genuine, the real rock 'n' roll patchouli plant to show that "... At the end of the day you want to sell fragrance, right? And yes, at the end of the day, of course that's what we're about. But try to do it in a way that's genuine and different," as Veronique Gabai-Pinsky from Estée Lauder said at the press launch.

With all seriousness another member of the publicity team explains to the camera: "Believe it or not, this is an authentic patchouli plant, which seems vaguely odourless at this point. We're going to make it look pretty, because that's what we do. It doesn't look extraordinary but it will be extraordinary when we present it. At the end of the day, it's important to show people the true raw ingredients and we had all hands on deck and we reached out to the right people and we were able to get it." Ooh, that is soooo sweet, sooo genuine, thank you for letting me know that your perfume smells like the odorless, ordinary green plant!

I won't spoil all the details, but Estée Lauder goes a really long way to show to their target audience, they care about them, their creativity, their authenticity - and most of all their perfume wants and needs3. Urggh, so phony, so fakey!

The third part of the Episode 1 of the BBC Perfume documentary ends up with NYT former perfume critic, Chandler Burr, who takes us to the pet cemetery of once highly and LOUDly launched fine fragrances - the suburban discount department store.

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 1: Part 4/4

The last quarter of an hour of Episode 1 of the BBC Perfume Series starts with Chandler Burr's musings about Calvin Klein fragrances available in an 'ordinary' suburban grocery store and why would a company that sells $3000 suits allow something like this? The answer? Says Chandler: "... fragrance is the single best way of monetising celebrity and brand ever created."

In this part of the episode we also get to see Thierry Wasser's consultation with the Guerlain marketing person about his pink Shalimar (Shalimar Parfum Initial) and the launch of Tommy Hilfiger's Loud fragrance in London. We see how the fevered shop assistants how they prepare and attack the visitors (ironically the assistants shout: "Are we LOUD or are we proud?"), the reactions of the (potential) customers and the reaction of the marketing team for TH when they get first sales numbers. (To me it looks like the sales figures were quite mediocre, but a nice smile can hide many things...)

The episode 1 of the BBC Perfume Series, Something Old, Something New, ends up quite gloomy, but in a way also symbolically. The old has to give the way to the new. Jean-Paul Guerlain's racist remark in a TV interview ended his reign and the baton was passed to his heir, Thierry Wasser:

Narrator: Are you still going to have to deal with your adopted dad sometimes?
Thierry Wasser (sitting in a couch, with a remorseful, depressed Tony Soprano look and black voice): Well, around food, yes. I'll see him in private. And that's it.
Narrator: What about around perfume?
Thierry Wasser: No.
Narrator: You're in charge now?
Thierry Wasser: Mm-hm, Yes.


Part 4/4 of Something Old, Something New (Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series)



1 Debenhams shop assistant trying to convince a visitor to try LOUD by Tommy Hilfiger (see part 4 of the Episode 1 from 5:40 onwards).
2 I always thought hippies were more into other kinds of plants...
3 Guerlain way of advertising promises all you've ever wanted from a perfume, whether you are an active or a passive user:

Natalia Vodianova for Shalimar Parfum Initial by Guerlain



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