We’re happy to welcome back Christophe Laudamiel for the second part of this Fragrant Hommes interview where he talks candidly about his experiences in the perfume industry. We also delve into his work with different brands and his own endeavours. Laudamiel’s career began at Procter & Gamble where he started in the flavours division before being accepted into the rigorous perfumer training programme. He continued his career at International Fragrances and Flavours (IFF) before creating DreamAir to focus on innovation in perfumery, to exist outside the traditional business model, projects and modus operandi.
Christophe has created many perfumes in his career including Fierce (Abercrombie & Fitch), Ralph Lauren’s Polo Blue (co-signed with Carlos Benaim) and some stand outs in my opinion. One of my favourite ambers is Tom Ford’s cult fragrance Amber Absolute and you guessed it Christophe is the perfumer behind the scent. strangelovenyc is a brand that I’m drawn to for its creativity and general allure and the perfumes are wonderful, out of the ordinary creations with strong and memorable signatures. Christophe is the perfumer for this brand and he talks more about his experiences with the line in this interview. He now has his own perfume range called The Zoo® and this year was the recipient of the Art & Olfaction Award in the Artisan Category for The Zoo® scent Club Design. In addition, Christophe creates ambient fragrances through his company DreamAir.
Amongst all of these activities he also finds time to create scent art exhibits. Currently in Berlin he is showing at the mianki gallery with Detlef Halfa from June 15 – July 7. Of course as is the case in this day and age, Christophe’s Instagram account is a great way to follow his activity where he shares his perfume journey in a transparent, behind the scenes manner. If you haven’t already read Christophe’s Fragrance Manifesto, this would be an excellent starting point to understand his ideas and standpoint.
In Perfumes The Guide 2018, Luca Turin awards Club Design 5 stars and says of Christophe :
“Christophe Laudamiel is, among many other things, a trained chemist (MIT) and a live wire of epic intensity. He is also arguably the most inventive creator of accords working today.”
Notes : Top two photos by Josiah D. Ryan, bottom two photos are press images
If you’ve just joined now please read Part 1 of the interview where Christophe offers insight into his experiences as a perfumer and thoughts on the wider industry and come back for Part 2. He’s breaking down the barriers to fragrance and helping to educate the general public on perfumery, the possibilities for creation and what goes on behind the scenes. We talked over Skype on a variety of topics and followed up with a few back and forths over email regarding text updates and clarifications. So let’s dive in.
MISM : Tell us more about DreamAir.
DreamAir is my commercial enterprise. It’s the only start-up I know of this kind in the history of perfumery and even today. I co-founded it eight years ago to focus specifically on innovation; innovation in fragrance applications, innovation in fragrance compositions, innovation in technology and for myself a support for innovation in art. Half of the activity of DreamAir is to create fragrances for the air in what I call scent sculptures. Air Sculpture® is our trademark. I believe we should have many more spaces that are scented – stores, hotels, museums, public spaces, concerts. Scent design should be as obvious as interior design. I’ve always believed that since I started perfumery.
With DreamAir I want to show that we can do fragrances in higher-end ways, more complex ways … I tell all my clients about the value of scent. I spend more than half of my time on ambient scenting and whether it’s for hotels, car dealerships, monuments or retail, a lot of places in the world are scented by Laudamiel and DreamAir.
DreamAir is partnered with La Bottega – they do amenities for about 30% of the luxury hotels in the world. I’ve done the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome, the Lowell hotel in New York, the Rosewood in Cambodia, and others too. There should be more in 2018. Hotels are starting to make scent customisation the obvious thing to do just like design. Many hotels carry the brands of someone else in their bathrooms but hotels now want their own identity to customise their guests’ ritual. I create totally new structures with different facets and constructions depending on what the client wants.
MISM : It’s interesting that you’re creating for Asian markets. Is it true that they prefer lighter, more transparent scents?
It depends because Asian people love deep smells as well but it has to talk to them as well. You need to create their type of smells with their types of language. For example, you don’t create a tuberose or a Guerlain for Japan, it’s a very different way.
I’m very proud to say that we are probably the first Western entity who created a fine fragrance that Japanese kids are actually wearing. I get very good royalties every month so I know it is working for a fact. It’s basically the equivalent of Fierce for them, called “In The Spotlight” for Azul by Moussy and Microfragrance. A Japanese lady one day sprayed it in front of me in the metro on her baby’s arm. How unusual is that? So much for saying Japanese people do not wear scents.
Another interesting phenomenon, especially in Asia so far, is that design teams love to keep the title name of the original creator as well as mentioning his or her name on the packaging as the author, by respect and fame, in this case “In The Spotlight No11”. In the case of Andaz Hyatt hotel Singapore: “Singapore Fusion No19” by C. Laudamiel. An interesting twist whereby Asia is here teaching us how to respect the creator in perfumery more than the Western world. It is also a sign that brands in general like to mention more and more the name of the perfumer as a sign of quality too: we are no different from the interior designer or the DJ. At the Rosewood Pnohm Penh, guests actually bathe with a shampoo called “Laudamiel”, as per the hotel (director David Grau) and La Bottega’s initiative. I thought here it was cool and cute. In Korea they wanted specifically a French perfumer or a perfumer that has created for a big fashion brand. This is very new, at least to me.
MISM : How do you find out what the international customers really want from a scent experience?
I’m curious, not in a nosy way at all (I don’t like to know more about people) but I do like to put my nose everywhere, everywhere decent I shall say hehe, and I really try to be in tune with the locals. If I’m in Italy or in Russia or in Japan or in Vermont, I like to go everywhere. So when I go to Japan (and I love, love love Japan), I know certain things I want to see/smell before getting into a place but also when I talk with people I’m very open and listen a lot … and I totally adapt. You need to make analogies to what they love.
I’m like a chameleon and I like to work with a lot of different brands. I could not work just for me, not my dream at all. Although this is the most obvious model for anyone, The Zoo thing is still a weird thing for me because it’s launching me for me … but I like to show someone what they can do with scent that they could not even think is possible (a smell or a concept).
When you say you’re a perfumer you’re a magician everywhere in the world. People are fascinated. And the industry has facets and performs tasks that are fascinating. So much still to do.
MISM : You mentioned royalties. How does that work? Is it the same system as a musician when you get paid on sales?
Like any royalty, the more one sells the more one gets, like a success fee basically, but it depends on the project and other things but yes it’s a royalty. Some projects are on royalties and then with small or niche brands there are different scenarios, because if the volumes or the sales are small, the work on the fragrance is the same. I don’t make the fragrance less good and work less on it because only one bottle will sell versus one million bottles.
MISM : Do the perfumers at the big companies get royalties?
Not as such, it’s not directly linked but they do get a bonus linked to the success of their fragrances, it’s a different algorithm. One thing though: the fragrance industry is based on volume, on kilos. I’m always telling people: I’m not selling potatoes. Ingredients and kilos and sourcing and maintenance thereof are obviously important and pricey. We do have to think of polishing some models though. It will come because we are much more heavy in logistics and complexity than say music and painting.
I have three to four business models. I do have a lot of projects and I’m happy to see 50% of these come to us because clients were unhappy with previous experiences with perfumery and we bring them back. We work also a lot with people who have never seen a scent oil in their lives before, so expanding their nostrils and thus their brains and their brand or just their curiosity or history or future. Some of our characteristics? We are really more transparent and educational, and we really answer what our clients want, which is not an obvious thing to do in perfumery. It’s difficult. I really listen and I really do what they want, or in a few cases more than what they want because they might not know what they want and they are candid about it. It comes as a nice communion.
MISM : How do clients find out about you?
My name is in enough places and I’m the only fine fragrance perfumer at par with other renowned fine fragrance perfumers but spending more than 50% of my time on high-end ambient scenting. It took a lot of expertise and extra development but also beatings and scars. The volumes are low in ambient scenting, even for famous brands. One of these brands was Mercedes distributed by Han Sung Motors in Korea and iScent; they have 25 stores in Korea yet you just need a few kilos to fragrance these stores per year so it’s too small for a fragrance house. Yet it’s Mercedes and all your customers will experience that scent when they visit your brand. We created something very unique, not commercial, a signature with the history and the pillars of Mercedes inside the fragrance. It so happens it’s something you can even wear, which we then paired with art school kids for the design.
MISM : Tell me about The Zoo. What is the story behind the name?
I decided to launch my own brand. I didn’t want to launch as Laudamiel – I find me calling all fragrances under my own name tacky. Laudamiel is not the inspiration behind every fragrance and I also freak out. It’s never been my thing psychologically.
Fragrances are like animals in a zoo. The inspiration itself is not animals. Rather, every fragrance is like an animal: it has its own personality, it’s own magic. Plus you have to get ingredients from around the world to feed your animal … cardamom from Guatemala for example in Louis. Your animals are separated in different islands inside the zoo. We have the Fresh, Sexy, Raw and Forbidden territories instead of scent families, to help people choose their scents online.
There is a black design and every fragrance is in a cage, hand foiled-stamped one by one in metallic black in Rhode-Island, USA, and then when you spray you set the animal free. The backdrop is the good-mood blue sky. Importantly, in the zoo you have The Zoo Guide where I explain how to smell and other fun facts. There is also The Zoo Police. In Europe people don’t understand but in the United States you have a police for everything. The Post Office police, the Harvard University police, the subway police. Everything has a real police department with a weapon. And the fashion police haha!
The Zoo police has a code of ethics but in the industry they do plagiarism bluntly and so you will see I have a few things there.
The Zoo Police showcases a code of ethics which I have always wanted to see drafted in our industry and being enforced. I myself in my career was strict several times on this and refused projects. I think it’s high time we did this. I need to send it to Calice Baker the new president of the International Society of Perfumers to have every perfumer sign it as part of the membership of the perfumery guild. Everyone knows that plagiarism happens bluntly in perfumery, not even hidden. We are not talking some perfumers only here, we are talking brands as well, we are talking commercial and we are talking niche. We should grand-father everything that has been done before, no question asked. But as of now, make our industry function on new rails.
Every fragrance has a certain smell but also The Zoo has a quirky story, a twist you will see. There’s the dream. There’s a tagline, there’s the scent description which is also described in a certain way for people to actually get it and there’s a twist for every fragrance.
When I have some fragrances I enjoy for various reasons, I like to put them in The Zoo® collection. You will see the label has some features that are unusual. I have thirteen and am working on three more for the fall and will put them in when they’re ready.
MISM : There’s no fixed plan or strategy?
I don’t have to have any launch date. If I sell one bottle I sell one bottle. If I sell 1000 bottles I sell 1000 bottles. I also don’t have to launch to sell for Christmas. I launch when we are ready. Strategy there is but that is for a different talk.
MISM: Do you have the olfactive template already in your head when you’re creating?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no and usually no when it’s a new fragrance … Many times you don’t know what it’s going to smell like. In fact, your brain can’t predict it, even the biggest computers can’t predict it if it’s really new because it is too complex, not because it is not factual.
Sometimes I imagine the scent and sometimes I imagine the concept, it depends. Sometimes I have the scent and I have to find the concept and sometimes I have the concept and have to find the scent.
I’m not someone who can say that I can already picture the scent in my mind and that’s what I wanted from the beginning, I find that quite bullshit in fact because even the biggest computer can’t do that and your brain can’t do that either. If you say I want to do Cool Water with a bit of tuberose that is fine. I can imagine that. But not if you start from a really new structure. In fact if you give a new, or even kinda new formula to any perfumer, he or she can tell you what it smells like. That is why we trash so mush in perfumery, a lot of trial and errors.
With Light Blue, there’s no way Olivier Cresp could have seen that scent in his mind. If I tell you I put rose, cedarwood, lemon, apple in it are you going to picture Light Blue? There’s no way. After the facts, there is always an explanation, because chemistry is still science! But predicting the chemistry in such a complex system as a perfume (literally thousands of variables and parameters), is impossible. Unlike a musician or a painter who can pre”visualize” pre”hear” in their brain first what they are creating. So they have less waste too.
MISM: Tell me more about your work with strangelovenyc and how do you go about it?
Working with any brand is different from working with another and that’s why I cannot only do just my own thing, I can not only do The Zoo as I would be bored.
Some innovative stuff is to create for niche brands, for example everything I do for strangelovenyc. Frankly I don’t know one single niche brand that deals with fragrance ingredients the way I deal with them in this case. We have created our own nightmare. And someone could do even more, like a wine maker or a liquor person.
Elizabeth (Gaynes) and Helena (Christensen) are much more text and email people, and fun, rather than writing a formal brief (don’t even say brief, it’s gross). We do that a lot and then they always come and spend a few sessions in the lab. We smell ingredients, combinations and different things, and we crack so many jokes. Smelling sessions always bring about jokes and stories that would not happen without the smells, even if it is “just” an innocent lily of the valley like in Lost in Flowers. It’s incredible. We talk as much in smells or in emotions. For lostinflowers Helena said it was like you’re tickling someone with a little feather and you want to have this effect. So we have musks in the back, but I did a musk study for it. I’m being kinda simplistic and direct here, but hard to explain otherwise. You have to attend one!!
Notes : photos from Helena Christensen and promotional material
We want the scent to perform, it’s very important for me too. I like the scent to diffuse and have a signature. …. With strangelovenyc I use some ingredients that are not in the normal perfumery catalogue so they have to be sourced. Each time there’s a new batch, a new harvest, you might redose the ingredients between themselves. At Chanel and at Guerlain they might do that too but it’s rare in the industry. They do this in wine making much more, or ingredient suppliers do this all the time, but not really the brands themselves. It’s a nightmare, for them, for me and for the factory. For niche brands I don’t know. It’s extra analytical work and you need to follow the cosmetic industry standards. This is heavy work. Even with oud, people think you just find oud. Most of the ouds on the market are based on synthetic ouds. Because they’re based on synthetic it’s easy to find this at Firmenich or Givaudan. Good oud is very hard to find and good oud that smells the same year after year is even harder to find, even for, say, Firmenich and IFF. I know a lot about oud now and I can guarantee it’s a nightmare. Elizabeth’s fragrances have a lot of natural oud, in fact I have several ouds in each of her fragrances.
I juggle with different types of oud from different sources, we have currently three sources, up to four soon and now we have champaca and gardenia also to source. To find a good source of natural champaca is very hard. We could get 10ml and then we have to find a kilo. It’s hard you have to source through a lot of crap to be consistent, to have a certain quality. It’s basically what the fragrance houses do for every single one of their 2000 ingredients, it’s a nightmare for them, and they spare that nightmare to the brands. Specifically regarding champaca and gardenia, Firmenich does not have a natural champaca, they don’t have a natural gardenia. A lot of people don’t kmow natural gardenia exists. It doesn’t really smell like gardenia, a little on top when we know, but it’s very woody and very port wine – natural gardenia. It’s made from the enfleurage technique. The gardenia enfleurage is from Colombia of all places.
MISM : I have just read about a store called Perfumarie in the NY Times that you are involved with. Can you tell us more about this?
It’s open now (in fact since Nov 1st, 2017) I’ve been involved with this store as an artist in residence. Mindy (Mindy Yang) owns this store, it’s more a discovery space for fragrances and one of the activities is to discover 30 fragrances blind without seeing the packaging. I’ve tried this and they renew the fragrances every month. It was very interesting, as first of all you smell in an order and a choice that you can’t predict. They decide the order, what’s in there and you see some things that are really commercial, some things that are stinky but on purpose to surprise you. Mindy asks me for one or two or three scents that aren’t even for skin, or artistic scents shown in galleries. There are commercial fragrances, good and less good, some niche, some niche that are boring … you really go on a rollercoaster ride. You don’t spray. You just smell. It’s super interesting, as I said like a mini roller coaster ride.
Notes : Images Perfumarie Instagram
MISM : Well I read the article and I thought that she’s actually doing something quite different in the retail space but I understand it’s not simply retail, it’s a real experience and also provides services for brands to ‘test’ their fragrances with consumers.
You can buy perfumes from the tap like New Zealand wines from the tap. The dispenser is like a wine machine and they change every month with new ones on the tap.
Inside the store she has The Zoo brand and quite a few others but it’s more like she sells shelf space. They do not take margins on the fragrances they sell because they want to promote new brands that don’t have a lot of budget. It doesn’t matter if you sell one fragrance or 3000. They rent you a selling space or a learning space, but where you will learn actual data with actual consumers and aficionados. So that’s a new business – training, learning, screening model for brands.
MISM: It’s interesting to see how it works. I read that there was a perfume that people had been very surprised that they liked. It was a celebrity scent.
How you smell when you don’t see the name on the bottle is very good. For me I like to sell the inspiration, the whole thing but this idea has a lot of merit.
MISM : Are there any upcoming events you can tell us about?
- Sailors, the scent to promote respect and fight plagiarism in perfumery will launch in Amsterdam in August.
- The upcoming plan is to launch The Zoo in all the stores that have requested the collection and to launch the next three fragrances between now and Fall 2017 including some florals and No Perfume.
- The FlipBook for the Nose (scroll down to the bottom of the page on the link) and two scent fountains will be on display at the mianki gallery on Oct 4-Oct 27.
- I’ll be talking on fragrance and technology at The Zurich Art School on November 8that 6:45pm
Notes : Photos by Fuercho / mianki gallery
Christophe’s work on show at the mianki gallery includes :
Social Media, No1, 2018 by Christophe Laudamiel (top left and bottom right)
Grasse Jasmine extinct production LMR®, Bergamot Essence Capua®,Rose Absolute Bulgarian and Turkish, Osho Roots, Ambrette Superfluidic Extraction Enfleurage NYC, 5er-Set, Raumspray, nummeriert und signiert, Edition 5 + 2
and Flipbook for the Nose – The Apple and The Horse, 2018 by Christophe Laudamiel.
Conception: Dmitry Rindberg (New York University, School of Medicine) and Christophe Laudamiel (DreamAir® Studios). Scent Creations: Christophe Laudamiel and Ugo Charron – DreamAir® Studios. Advisors: Tanya Tabachnik and Stuart Firestein.
And that’s a wrap. A huge thank you to Christophe for taking time out of his schedule to speak with me and to provide clarification and elaboration post interviews. I have really enjoyed hearing about his experiences, and finding out more about what goes on behind the scenes and personally have learnt a lot. I hope you have too.
Please share with those who you think would be interested in learning more about Christophe and a behind the scenes glimpse from a world-class perfumer.
Notes : Featured Image from Josiah D. Ryan from Christophe’s Instagram : Other images where noted : Remaining images from the websites of The Zoo, Azul by Moussy, Perfumarie and mianki gallery.