BBC Perfume Series (2011):
Something Old, Something New, Bottling the Memory and The Smell of the Future

BBC Perfume Documentary Series (2011)

BBC Perfume series is a 2011 documentary trilogy about perfumes, perfume making and global perfume industry, a super-robot in the shadow, worth several $billion in sales per year. It was directed and narrated by Ian Denyer, British director, who spent one year filming the perfume industry from the perspective of its leading actors - perfumers, marketing executives and their teams.

This perfume industry close-up is done in three episodes, each around 1 hour long... But supposedly1 Denyer filmed 237 hours of footage and only 3 tiny hours made to the finals! The episodes were aired on BBC Four per partes end of June / beginning of July 2011. The episodes are called Something Old, Something New (Episode 1), Bottling the Memory (Episode 2) and The Smell of the Future (Episode 3).

It's been a long time since I've been so impressed, so inspired and so touched by a documentary. In the past week or so (beginning of July 2011) I've watched this beautifully perfumed trilogy three times - and it's definitely not the last time ;). Basically, each episode's story is dual, following the same 'destination', but through a different (even opposite) path, a different journey. Learn more about each Perfume episode below...

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BBC Perfume Series, Episode 1: Something Old, Something New

Smell is our most primitive and least understood sense. Perfume manipulates that sense, instantly reminding us of good times past, and speaking of glamour and sophistication to those who get close...

Fragrance exploits our feelings so successfully, it's become a multi-billion dollar global industry...

But with more brands making more scent than ever before, perfumes that used to whisper now have to shout.

∼ Ian Denyer (Something Old, Something New, Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series)

The first episode of the BBC Perfume Series, Something Old, Something New, follows a striking contrast between the 'old-school' perfume making / perfume marketing approach, which is a combo of artisanry and sorcery impersonated in the Guerlain perfume house vs. the 'contemporary', modern, 'creative' one impersonated in Estée Lauder perfume house (for Tommy Hilfiger perfume brand). This is alluded also from the comparison of the hectic NYC with a more serene Paris (and rest of the France).

Thierry Wasser - Guerlain In-House Perfumer since 2008 (Photo Credit: Hoosta Magazine @ Flickr)

The old school is fuelled by perfume house history, family traditions and emotions, disregarding the modern profit-driven rush and focus-group approach to perfume business.

They entice the customer at a young age and keep them for a whole life.

The episode also shows a touching father-son kind of relationship between Jean-Paul Guerlain and his perfume heir Thierry Wasser.

Thierry Wasser is the fifth Guerlain in-house perfumer and the first one who doesn't come from the Guerlain family. But having lost his father as a child, he's found an 'adopted' dad in Jean-Paul and seeing them from the outside, you'd never say Wasser doesn't belong to Guerlain family.

He treasures the Guerlain history, traditions and perfume making know-how like the apple of his eye, but still wants to gently introduce novelties of his own.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in New York City, Estée Lauder team of experts is creating a rock 'n' roll perfume for Tommy Hilfiger, the Pope of Pong, as Grace Dent of The Guardian2 has lucidly put it. Profit driven, they're targeting the elusive, the creative Generation Y, age bracket 18-27, that doesn't want to be marketed the next perfume, but values what is genuinely created.

I won't spoil you the details, but it appeared to me that more important than translating the rock 'n' roll into perfume was how the bottle will look like, what does it really say, what ephemeral celebs will be perfume spokesmodels and... will the marketing team be able to find a real, genuine, patchouli plant for the official launch with the press - because it's one of the key notes of this genuinely created perfume.

Which school has the winning approach (if), family or the team spirit2 - and what is the definition of a victory in the perfume world with approx. 1,200 annual launches? To be LOUD for a day or silently linger by through the decades?

Watch and learn more about BBC Four Perfume Series Episode 1, Something Old, Something New.

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BBC Perfume Series, Episode 2: Bottling the Memory

Perfume is magic worked by science, its job to capture the moment. Fragrance takes us back to good times, past loves...

The moment we realized that mother could smell of more than just mum...

The message is romance but the language is molecules spoken by perfumers or noses. They are artists, scientists and philosophers.

∼ Ian Denyer (Bottling the Memory, Episode 2 of BBC Perfume Series)

The leit-motif of the second episode of the BBC Perfume Series, Bottling the Memory, my favourite, is the creation of perfumes, which have the power to encapsulate (beautiful) past memories. We follow two 'rebel' perfumers, the Hermès in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and independent perfumer Christopher Brosius, the founder of CB I hate perfume brand. The whole episode is beautifully interwoven with scented memories of three women, stories of magic power of perfumes to encapsulate place & time, (beautiful) memories... Memories of first love (the one that never really dies), mother and good times past - all evoked by smelling perfumes...

Scent is really about emotion. There is an enormous connection between scent and memory.

People smell something and they are immediately flashed on an experience that they have had. This smell actually evokes the emotion that you felt at the time that you were experiencing the thing that became the memory.

You know when people without really thinking it or expecting it pick up a bottle and suddenly, they are really transfixed and they are in a different place and a different time and feeling something that they utterly forgotten about, but suddenly in this simple little bottle here it is again.

∼ Christopher Brosius (Bottling the Memory, Episode 2 of BBC Perfume Series)

Christopher Brosius - CB I Hate Perfume Gallery in (Photo Credit: NancyCz @ Flickr)

Christopher Brosius is Brooklyn (NYC) based avant-guarde perfumer - the anti-perfumer. BBC dubbed him the Proust of perfume, a punk star with mission to create scents that can speak to us of times past3.

He's the opposite of the 'industry' noses - yet, the opposite is the same - but from the opposite side ;)!

CB offers custom made perfumes and in the episode 2 we see him sniffing all over London4 like a scenthound to capture the smell of old England for his client.

We learn what it takes for him to bottle the 'Old England' into a scent.

There is also a touching part of the episode where CB talks about his childhood memories of his kind aunt and how he encapsulated the spirit of kindness in the form of a tomato leaf perfume. Says Christopher Brosius:

I realized she (his aunt) is perhaps the kindest person I have ever known...

And so much of my childhood are memories involving her then that is just all pervading sense of kindness, and it all comes back to the smell of a tomato leaf.

So that is what that perfume is really all about.

Christopher is my favourite character in the whole BBC Perfume Series - I'd love to drink a coffee or a pint of beer with him someday!

The other side of the same coin is Jean-Claude Ellena's story; he's the legendary Hermès in-house perfumer, who creates his perfumes in the woods and gets inspired in the garden on the roof top of Hermès building in Paris. What we see in the episode is his, quite poetic, approach to perfume creating. He describes this process with temperature, texture, with movements of his whole body, his fingers... like he was playing a piano.

Besides the two perfumers, who create scents evoking the past, we also see in the Episode 2, Bottling the Memory, how the perfumers of the future are trained. We get to learn what it takes to become a perfumer, how the famous Givaudan perfume school selects a handful of apprentices and how they train the chosen ones the magic of perfume making.

Watch and learn more about BBC Four Perfume Series Episode 2, Bottling the Memory.

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BBC Perfume Series, Episode 3: The Smell of the Future

What we like in a smell is determined by our culture and environment. Making scent for Western tastes used to be easy, but things are changing...

The tastes of London, Paris and New York will soon count for little. What we smell like in the future is more likely to be dictated by the customers of Shanghai, Mumbai and Sao Paulo.

∼ Ian Denyer (The Smell of the Future, Episode 3 of BBC Perfume Series)

Copacabana Beach at Night from Sugar Loaf (Photo Credit: jpwilby @ Flickr)

The last episode of the BBC Perfume Series, The Smell of the Future, looks into the future of the global perfume industry.

The exploding new fragrance markets Brazil and Asia (China, India, Arabic countries) dictate the tempo now and the industry giants, such as Avon, are heavily investing into shifting their production/marketing to these markets' tastes and needs.

The third episode of the BBC Perfume Series shows the crucial importance of consumers' opinions in the processes of product development and marketing strategy.

Perfumers and marketing executives fly around the world just to hear the opinions of potential (teenage) consumers or they visit suburban bathrooms personally to monitor the changes in fragrance tastes.

And if you didn't know already, the real money is not in the fine fragrances, but in the toilet cleaners! Well, at least in Brazil!

The story is again dually-structured; we follow the 'company' vs. 'privately-owned' approach. The former one is impersonated in Ann Gottlieb, a scent guru and a predictor of global scent tastes, who bases the development of the next Axe body spray on the opinions of the Brazilian teenage boys.

The latter approach shows Simon and Amanda Brooke, the owners of the Grossmith perfume house. With the help of the perfumer Roja Dove, they recreated the ancient, Victorian scents, very expensive to produce. Combine that with luxury packaging and there's a genuine luxury product, priced at several thousand dollars a piece. But is there a market for such perfumes? Sure, there is - Grossmitsh perfumes are a hit among the affluent Arab customers.

Watch and learn more about BBC Four Perfume Series Episode 3, The Smell of the Future.

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1 Ian Denyer talking about his BBC Perfume Series for the Basenotes.

2 Grace Dent article about the BBC Perfume Series.

3 BBC Four description of Episode 2 of the BBC Perfume Series.

4 In closing here's how London (underground) smells like - like Golden Brown! Hint, hint @ Estée Lauder & TH:

Tommy (Stephen Graham) praying that Gorgeous George (Adam Fogerty) wakes up
in the next few minutes... It was Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt) who put Georgie for a little nap.
('Snatch', a 2000 movie by Guy Ritchie; music 'Golden Brown' by The Stranglers)

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Jump to Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series (2011)

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Jump to Episode 3 of BBC Perfume Series (2011)

Jump to BBC Perfume Series (2011) to Women's Perfume Reviews


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