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.
BBC Perfume, Episode 1: Something Old, Something New
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).
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.
BBC Perfume, Episode 2: Bottling the Memory
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…
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 past. 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.
BBC Perfume, Episode 3: The Smell of the Future
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.
BBC – Perfume,