Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wake Up And Smell The PR - Episode 1 Of The BBC's Perfume Documentary


Irony is alive and well... at least in the world of TV documentaries. After months of anticipation, those of us based in the UK finally got to watch part 1 of Perfume on BBC Four, and despite a few shaky moments, the hour-long comparison of Guerlain with Tommy Hilfiger was worth the wait.

As an expose of the empty-headed, patronising crassness that is mainstream perfume marketing, director Ian Denyer's work was spot-on. The fact that high-street scents are sold on meaningless spin isn't exactly news, but it's always helpful - and shocking - to be reminded quite how moronic marketing execs think consumers are. "We wanted to keep the creative process very creative," spouts one of them when explaining the production of Loud. Oh, and she also points out that young people are really into music. And that they listen to it on these devices called iPods. Clearly, 'Zeitgeist' is her middle name.

With shots of lavish dinners in stately homes, Denyer tries to assert that on the other side of the Atlantic - far away from the nodding sycophants and aggressive sales assistants - things are done rather differently. And this is where he doesn't entirely convince. I'm sure the climate chez Guerlain isn't quite the same as it is in the offices of Estee Lauder. But to suggest that the former is run as it was when the creator of Mitsouko was at the helm is just too simplistic. For a start, it ignores the four letters L, V, M and H and what's more, it misrepresents the realities of French perfume consumption. Yes, the atmosphere on the first floor of Guerlain's Champs Elysees boutique may seem rarefied when set against an American department store in the run up to Mother's Day, but the comparison isn't fair. Visit Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussman in December, and you'll see that Parisian selling can be just as manic and numbers-driven as anything in the States.

Having said that, episode 1 is an absolute must-see for any self-respecting perfume fan. Dubious arguments aside, it offers tantalising glimpses into a world that hasn't often been captured on film. The interviews with the likes of Chandler Burr and Thierry Wasser may be brief, but they're sharp. And Denyer's editing is nearly always witty and sly. At one point, he plays the sound of a neighing horse over an image of one of Jean-Paul Guerlain's little terriers. It's a moment of unforced genius that says everything you need to know about the precariousness of the firm's current position. They may have been stallions once, but now they're at risk of becoming pampered lap dogs. If only the rest of the episode had analysed the company with the same level of precision.

[Episode 2 - which will focus on Jean-Claude Ellena, Christopher Brosius and Jean Guichard - will be broadcast on BBC Four on 5th July at 9 pm.]

Persolaise.

22 comments:

  1. Bravo! Your post echoes many of the thoughts I had too.

    I cringed so much when the Lauder trainer/marketing person was explaining to the 20-year old 'what young people are like'. The poor young woman had developed excellent skills in keeping her face straight. Their search for a patchouli plant was such an entertaining sequence too. Their inability to go beyond a florist for it; the importance placed on getting an actual patchouli plant "so they can see the real ingredients in the perfume" just goes to show that these people are completely removed from what's really in the bottle (the juice that was invented long after the bottle designs were approved, of course). If that'd been us, we would have just called the supplier of our patchouli oil. :) And it does make you wonder just how naive they think the viewers and press are; surely nobody expects this fragrance to be bursting with natural ingredients.

    I did rant a bit at the part where the Guerlain PRs were allowed to narrate without any kind of journalistic interjection. The rhetoric was thickly spread by statements such as "all of the Guerlain perfumes are still made to the original formulas". This is demonstrably inaccurate and illustrates how the film-makers either a) weren't allowed, b) didn't know to, c) didn't care to introduce LVHM to the picture. When the old Guerlain figurehead is summarily dismissed from his role, the burning question of "by WHOM?" is left hanging in the air.

    Overall, a good show, but would have preferred slightly tighter journalism from it. Can't wait for the next episode!

    ReplyDelete
  2. As an American, I feel I must apologize on the part of my fellow citizens for the Lauder segment. GACK! And it is funny how LVMH (which has how many lawyers working for it??) was absent from the conversation....
    -Marla

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great points raised Persolaise, and some I wouldn't have twigged onto myself.

    I think ultimately this boils down to TV entertainment. Definitely, tighter journalism would have been better. Had this been more detailed though, I think viewers would be bored by the politics of it all, LVMH etc. For TV's sake, it needs some melodrama, some striking contrasting characters and a loose beginning, middle and end. And nukapai really hit the nail on the head with the ABC's about the factualness of formulas etc. Given that the perfume world is so secretive and closed (for the most part) I doubt they could say what really is going on.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You have put your finger on the one flaw in the film that bothered me - the impression it gave that Guerlain was this hallowed, reactionary temple to "les parfums d'antan", when there are in fact two distinct sides to Guerlain's range - the old school scents and the unashamedly mainstream.

    That aside, it was a delight, and my favourite line was the one where Chandler Burr was sniffing a scent he had applied to his knee: "There's only so much Chandler Burr to go round." Reminded me of my Basenotes signature: "So many scents, so little skin!" : - )

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for this summary. I'm looking forward to this eventually being available in some form for us Americans, but I'm glad it was limited at first. When there is no exclusivity to anything, I worry about becoming spoiled and feeling entitled. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nukapai, thanks very much indeed for your thoughts. The patchouli business did make me chuckle. And yes, bizarre as it may seem, I really do believe that many people are convinced that high street fragrances are composed almost entirely of naturals.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Marla, don't be silly ;-) The film showed quite a few annoying British sales assistants too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Liam, broadly speaking, I'd agree with you, but I was hoping for more substance, mainly because the film was broadcast on BBC Four, which doesn't aim to provide populist entertainment in the same way as BBC One.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Vanessa, yes, most people seem to think that Burr came out of it rather well.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anotherperfumeblog, I'm sure that it'll make it across the Atlantic one way or another.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I suppose now that I think of it, BBC4 is supposed to be less entertaining, more factual... Hopefully episodes 2 and 3 live up to that :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Liam, I have a feeling the next two will be better... which is not to say that I didn't enjoy episode 1. I absolutely did! I just think certain parts of it were disappointing.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I really enjoyed watching Episode 1, but it was very Eurocentric (duh, it's BBC). It made Guerlain look very artisanal in comparison to TH, a big-box brand (no American would ever buy). Comparing the 2 wasn't exactly fair, but it is fun to see how shallow the industry is. Fun or depressing? I haven't decided yet.

    Oh, that lady explaining young people to young people. I laughed and laughed. I couldn't believe they could keep a straight face! I had no idea that young people liked music. Is this new? ;)

    And that patchouli plant. It looks nothing like the one I have here at home that gives out a strong aroma. Oh, well, I'm not going there.

    I loved Chandler Burr in it. I also "felt" for the perfumers involved and I can't wait to see the other 2 episodes.

    ReplyDelete
  14. EauMG, I suspect we could do a whole sociological study on why/how people keep straight faces in certain situations. I guess it all comes down to the 'Emperor's New Clothes' syndrome: everyone is too frightened to chuckle.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've got in trouble SO MANY TIMES for being that kid who shouts "But you've got no clothes on!"

    At this stage, I've resigned myself to the realisation that I'll probably never learn.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you so much for the update! If PBS does not air this program in the US, maybe a DVD will appear?? Off topic ?? - any chance Harrod`s might decide to export more fragrances, or is it too costly?? My logical line is if Ormande Jayne exports, why not the mammoth Harrod`s ?????

    ReplyDelete
  17. Nukapai, never, ever stop shouting. If enough people shout...

    ReplyDelete
  18. Linda, write to PBS now!

    I confess I don't fully understand your Harrods question. They do already sell some perfumes through their site. Which other ones do you think they should export?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Harrod`s does not export Annick Goutal, a personal favourite. I order online from Premiere Ave. in Grenoble, France when items are not available ststeside. (BPI`s doing!) The order just placed has 40-some odd euros in shipping/duty/taxes; they are wonderfull to deal with - but maybe Harrod`s would cost less for delivery/taxes?? Plus, Harrod`s launches Goutal`s new Mon Parfum this month, and I fear they will have a special item exclusive to themselves that I will crave. Perfumistahood always does this to us, yes?? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Linda, I'm afraid I don't know why some brands are exported and some aren't. I guess you've tried Luckyscent, right?

    ReplyDelete
  21. I thought it was a delicious programme, not perfect certainly but I loved that they managed to show the total lack of love for scent of the large, non perfume specialist houses without being overly critical, just letting the story tell itself. JP Guerlain's demise seemed a very sad end as I loved all the footage there.

    I enjoyed the second episode more overall but I worship Elena so that isn't surprising. I can't believe what amazing access they've had, would series 2 be too much to hope for?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Rose, I thought the second episode was better too. I hope to post more detailed thoughts on it soon.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks very much for reading my site and taking the time to leave a comment.

If you're using Safari on an Apple device, you may experience some difficulties with submitting comments. Please consider using Google's Chrome browser on your Apple device; this may make it easier to leave your comment.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...