Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mona Di Orio Draw Winner + Impossible Potion - Episode 2 Of The BBC's Perfume Documentary


Despite the best efforts of an eccentric, pipe-smoking, kilt-wearing American, the trans-Atlantic battle in the second episode of BBC Four's Perfume documentary is again won by France. In this instalment, director Ian Denyer abandons the marketeers and turns his attention to the people without whom the fragrance industry wouldn't exist: the perfumers. Through a succession of contrasting interview snippets with the near-legendary Jean-Claude Ellena, Christopher Brosius (of CB I Hate Perfume) and a few students at the Givaudan school, Denyer successfully conveys the unknowability of what makes 'noses' tick, if you'll pardon the muddled metaphors. Ellena tries to compare his work to painting, but the analogy only takes him so far. Trainer Jean Guichard claims he can teach technique, but not talent. And Brosius subverts all the established conventions by creating and selling 'real world' accords called 'cucumber sandwich', 'doll's head' and 'roast beef'.

Anarchic streak notwithstanding, Brosius is the episode's weakest element. Yes, his posturing serves to throw the attitudes of the French contingent into sharp relief, but Denyer unjustifiably permits him to dominate the narrative, wasting precious air time with redundant shots of Brosius smelling books, Brosius riding a taxi, Brosius drinking a pint at ye olde English pub... There is no doubt that CB I Hate Perfume's anti-establishment philosophy deserves to be explored in this particular episode, but perhaps the excessive amount of footage devoted to it is a reflection of TV's love of nutty, larger-than-life personalities rather than the importance of Brosius' contribution to the overall argument.
Nevertheless, there is much to savour during the hour. Ellena makes a fascinating interview subject, charming the camera with his twinkling eyes and deep, carefree laughter. The Givaudan students are equally watchable, not least when they display frighteningly precise skills of olfactory analysis. But perhaps the most telling moment involves an anglophile American who has commissioned Brosius to create a perfume that will evoke the scent of England. Instructed to smell an unwieldy bundle of blotters - radiating the odours of, amongst others, tobacco, gin and Cadbury's chocolate - the client plays along and takes a deep sniff, at which point his expression clouds over with disappointment. He doesn't complain - perhaps because he's being filmed - but it's obvious that what he's just smelt hasn't quite hit the nail on the head. The message is clear. You can spend hundreds of pounds on a bespoke creation, you can seek inspiration by smelling car seats and you can get one of the world's greatest perfumers to impart his wisdom to a group of young hopefuls, but in the end, you can't second guess the curious alchemy of perfumery. Even the most talented noses in the world can't predict what will be a failure and what will be the scent that, generations from now, plunges people straight back into their childhoods.
[The final episode of Perfume will be broadcast on BBC Four at 9 pm on Tuesday 12th July and it will focus on Grossmith's success in the Middle East as well as the increasing importance of Brazilian perfume consumers.]
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Thanks very much to all of you who entered last week's Mona Di Orio draw; your comments were a joy to read, as ever. Sadly, there can be only one winner and according to Random.org, this time it's
Memoryofscent
Congratulations! Please send your postal address to persolaise at gmail dot com and make sure you let me know whether you'd like a sample of Tubéreuse, Vétyver or Vanille.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everybody,
Persolaise.

14 comments:

  1. I agree about the disproportionate coverage accorded to Brosius - given that he is such a maverick, I was concerned that "normal" members of the viewing public might think this is the way scent creation is headed generally, ie in ever more esoteric and bizarre directions. I was relieved to note that Brosius did acknowledge the point that so needed to be made that one may *like* the smell of dolls' heads, roast beef, ink, hessian sacks etc, but not necessarily want to smell *OF* those things. I have long puzzled about the creative rationale for Memory of Kindness, as tomato leaves/stems seems an odd accord on the face of it, but have learnt that it is an intensely personal scent memory linked to his aunt.

    I would have liked to know the identity of the perfumes that were transporting random members of the public featured in the programme, especially the little blue bottle wafted by the lady with bad teeth!

    I was also amused by the emotional "leakage" on Guichard's face when Ellena was telling the students to be true to themselves and to hell with marketing - or something along those lines - I sensed Guichard was concerned that he was a bit of a loose cannon.

    My favourite - and arguably the most profound line in the programme - was from Brosius in fact about how perfume exploits our sense of loss...

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  2. I understand the point you're making but I don't really agree Brosius was the weakest element in the show - simply because he had more pertinent things to say about the overall topic of smells and their relationship to our lives and the act of smelling rather than perfume which is (arguably) a different subject. He was incredibly articulate, generous with his views and hugely likable.

    In contrast, the equally likeable Jean-Claude was rather reticent and cryptic in his views ( "trust yourself, but have doubt") quickly closing his cupboard door on the latest batch of prototype perfumes as if he didn't want to talk too much about the whole business. If he'd been more forthcoming about making perfume I'm sure he would have featured more. The wise sage of the woods routine doesn't really work telly.

    It was a great show, and easily the best documentary on the subject I've ever seen.

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  3. Vanessa, thanks for your detailed comment.

    As far as the 'talking heads' perfumes are concerned, I know for a fact that the lady at the end was holding a bottle of vintage Soir De Paris from Bourjois; the first lady was talking about Dior's Fahrenheit and the second lady was, unless I'm mistaken, talking about Cartier's Declaration, which was, of course, made by Ellena.

    I thought Brosius made several brilliant comments - I loved his thoughts about the importance of time - which is why I was disappointed that his impact was somewhat diluted by the 'padding' shots.

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  4. Kev, thanks for your comments too.

    I take your points about the subject of smells as opposed to perfume. And yes, he was articulate, and as Vanessa states above, he did have several relevant things to say.

    Ellena was more reticent, a quality which, as you say, doesn't work terribly well on TV, but I still think he could have been given a larger share of the limelight.

    Criticism aside, I enjoyed the episode very much and am definitely looking forward to part 3.

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  5. I've yet to see any of the episodes (Tarleisio will be sending me a disc with all of them at the end), but it sounds to me like they could have picked someone better suited to represent a "rebel" attitude in perfumery than Brosius. How about the Le Labo boys? The two Antoines?

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  6. Some good points there Persolaise. I loved the part of the documentary about the students in Givaudan for obvious reasons, and selfishly, would love to see more of that. And you're right, they do have frighteningly precise skills!

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  7. Hi Persolaise,

    Lovely to meet you at the Mona di Orios.

    I had a dream about you last night. I was at the round table near the annick goutals at liberty. There was a presentation where there were six bottles of perfume and a plaque describing you, the scents you had chosen and were recommending to the public and a creation of your own, callled... 'Octopus Noir'...!

    I cant rationalise it.

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  8. Carrie, I know that several hours; worth of interviews with many other perfumers didn't make the final cut. Perhaps the director thought Brosius was a particularly TV-friendly personality. He certainly contrasted with Ellena.

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  9. Liam, yes, I was fascinated by the Givaudan process. It would have been interesting to see how the students actually commit all those smells to memory.

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  10. Jason, it was great to see you again too... and as for Octopus Noir... I am speechless :-D

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  11. Hi everybody. it was also interesting when Jean Giuchard was saying to students to work hard but not to work like rats... well, unfortunately some of them will be in that race i'm afraid and how manyof them could possibly achieve the status that Ellena has?
    Mika.

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  12. Mika, you're quite right. Many of Givaudan's students are destined for a life of creating functional scents for detergents etc. But then, they all know that when they apply for the course, and actually, in some ways, making a beautiful smell for a washing up liquid requires more skill than creating a 'fine' fragrance.

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  13. It was good that Guichard said "rats" and didn't use the expression that got Guerlain senior into such bother...

    Thanks for the bottle ID! I clocked the Fahrenheit and Cartier the brand, but not the particular scent - must google Declaration now. And Soir de Paris was my top guess for the older lady, so it is good to have that confirmed.

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  14. Vanessa, I'm almost entirely certain that the Cartier was Declaration, but I couldn't swear to it, because I guess it's possible that there's another Cartier in a similar bottle.

    It's well worth trying: typical Ellena, with a beautiful cardamom twist.

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