War Of The Noses - France's Luxury Brands Battle Over Top 'Authors' Of Perfume

From the flower fields of Grasse to the crystal perfume bottles sold in Paris, the process of creating a best-selling and enduring fragrance like Chanel N°5 or Poison by Dior is a long and delicate journey in a cut-throat business where competition and po

Perfume as art (By Kilian)
Perfume as art (By Kilian)
Véronique Lorelle

PARIS - "I take my nose out, especially when nature "gives itself a shake" after the rain..." So declares Jean-Claude Ellena, the "nose" of Hermès, speaking in his office at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.

Since the day he joined the Parisian label in 2006, Ellena, who comes from Grasse ("the world's perfume capital" in the South of France), has managed to give leather and couture brand Hermès legitimacy in the world of perfume.

"Producing lilac perfumes for the sake of lilac? I'm too old for that!" he states. "I enjoy conceptualizing the scents and giving life to abstract notions… Using a minimum of ingredients to attain a purified fragrance."

Rather than copying nature, the fragrance virtuoso prefers to "create olfactory illusions'. This is the idea behind the very successful Terre d'Hermès and Voyage d'Hermès perfumes, which helped the brand rise to the top of the men's fragrance market.

Since then, the trend of noses has spread. While most companies use big perfume labs like International Flavors and Fragances (IFF), Givaudan or Firmenich as subcontractors, luxury houses prefer to hire their own perfume creators.

In 2006, Christian Dior poached François Demachy from Chanel; in 2008, Guerlain hired Thierry Vasseur (ex-Firmenich); and at the beginning of this year, Louis Vuitton treated itself to the services of Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, the master perfumer from Grasse who created L'eau d'Issey and Dior Addict.

Maurice Alhadève, perfume consultant and Dean of the Superior School of Perfume in France, explains that "mentioning the ‘author" of a perfume, like you would drop the name of a top chef, is a recent phenomenon". "They are put in the spotlight by the luxury brands who want them to become a sort of creative spokesperson, the face behind the exceptional know-how." Alhadève's school, which opened in September 2011, imparts five years of training for future noses and perfume creators.

Fierce competition

Between 800 and 1,000 fragrances are launched on the world market each year. In that context, star creators are needed in order for their products to stand above the rest. "In the past ten years, the competition between noses has become much tougher because at the end of the day, only a very small number of them will be hired by a luxury house. Most of them are working for creation studios in direct competition with each other," points out Jacques Polge, who has been working as a nose for Chanel for thirty years. "The key to success is curiosity… as well as being able to grasp the Zeitgeist, that is to transform your time into a scent," adds the creator to whom the couture house (which owns its own fields of flowers in Grasse as well as its own factories) owes Coco Allure, Egoïste and Bleu.

Some noses, such as Francis Kurkdjian, the creator of Le Mâle by Jean-Paul Gaultier, prefer to be self-employed. Kurkdjian founded his own perfume house in 2009. He sells his own creations, which include Aqua Universalis (a bottle of 200 ml costs 150 euros). Others hope to be chosen by Frédéric Malle, who in 2000 was the first to have the idea of "curating" perfumes, just as a gallery owner curates a work of art. In Malle's shop in Paris, each perfume bottle has the name of the nose written on its label. And others, such as Calice Becker (J'adore by Dior) and Sidonie Lancesseur, work with art directors such as Kilian Hennessy who founded his own perfume house, By Kilian, in 2007.

Perfume as art

"One day, as I was admiring the precious perfume bottles of the last century on exhibit at the Baccarat Museum in Paris, I felt almost ashamed: it made me realize that fragrances deserved more than the mundane production I was a part of," the former L'Oréal executive remembers. "Just like an increasing number of people want to dress in an original way, some women don't want to wear the same perfume as two million others," Hennessy adds. He sells his creation perfumes at 175 euros per 50 ml bottle.

Romano Ricci, 34, trained with his grandfather Ricci, the creator of the famous L'Air du Temps fragrance. Juliette has a Gun, the "dissident" brand he created in 2006, is sold in over 600 outlets. "I create fragrances as a weapon for seduction that women can wear in different ways, from the most naive to the most self-assured," he says. His perfumes have names like Lady Vengeance or Not a Perfume and are sold online for about 70 euros per 50 ml bottle.

"We are getting back to the tradition of the perfumer as an artisan, a craftsman, like in the 18th and 19th centuries, but with a contemporary vision," sums up perfume expert Maurice Alhadève. In some perfume houses, you can order a custom-made scent: expect a minimum of 8,000 euros at Kurkdjian and a maximum of 40,000 at Guerlain. The price is 30,000 euros for a made-to-order fragrance created by Mathilde Laurent, the official nose for the jeweler Baccarat since 2005. It comes in a 750 ml gold-and-crystal bottle. The jewel-like perfume costs about what an elegant woman would pay for a haute couture dress. And like the dress, she will be the only one wearing it.

Read the article in French in Le Monde

Photo - By Kilian

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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