Friday, July 29, 2011

Eau de Beeb, the trilogy's conclusion

Somewhat belated due to a vacation break, here are my thoughts on the final episode of BBC 4's documentary Perfume. In juxtaposing a relaunched, ancient ultra-niche "family" perfumery with the market research done in Brazil for a new Axe (Lynx for Britons) product this episode picked up where episode one's Guerlain/Hilfiger contrast left off, though with higher stakes and less cliché. Though some perfumistas apparently thought of the Axe segments as a waste of time, viewers learned the significant lesson, that low-end perfumery and functional fragrance are actually the big money makers for scent and flavor producers such as Givaudan. Moreover, as exemplified by a lower middle-class Brazilian product tester, it is floor cleaners and washing-up liquid that contribute immensely to our scent socialization, not necessarily fine fragrance, and even they have an aspirational function, as in putting distance between yourself and the stench of the favelas. Finally, who would have guessed that Brazil is one of the largest and the fastest growing markets for scent in the world, and thus, like other economically fast-paced threshhold nations a key market for Western conglomerates, who will happily adapt to local fragrance culture if it only moves product. This time around, the marketing people, i.e. Ann Gottlieb, came across as a lot more competent, as well and I assume the two "young male" focus groups portrayed in the film were only representative of many more interviewed in reality. As Axe was peddled to Brazilians, so the Grossmiths were taking their wares to the Middle East, a culturally ironic offering of Victorian orientalism to actual Sheiks which gives postcolonial notions of the "Empire writing back" another turn of the screw. It was a charming and a well-engineered contrast to the ace New York PR folks in Brazil, to see Mr. Grossmith, new to perfumery and selling (but apparently guided by the marketing-savvy Roja Dove) pedaling his high quality 1001 night fantasies of yore to wealthy Bahrainis and the personal luxury assistant of the head honcho himself. Certainly this episode provided some insight into the wide economic and cultural spectrum involded when it comes to matters fragrant and while many more issues could have been addressed (especially of the kind obsessed over in perfume forums, such as IFRA, reformulation, obscene profit margins - OK the last one's just me), Ian Denyer's trilogy was a pleasure to watch and surely an eye- , or rather nose-opener, to the previously uninitiated average scent-consumer. More of this would be most welcome  


Anonymous said...

It seems that many people think of Brazil as some sort of backward third-world country into which selling is a waste of time. Yet, as the programme showed, Aston Martin is just one 'luxury' brand selling there. People don't get that it's a vast country with a huge (inexpensive) labour force and loads of raw materials. You can buy Brazilian made shoes, for example, at much higher quality and much lower cost than similar Italian products. So, it's really a huge market. It's not all rain forest and jungle - it's got some of the biggest cities in the world, stuffed full of buyers.

dukeofpallmall said...

That's why I thought the program did well to shift away from an entirely Euro-American focus, giving at least a rough idea of how globalized the fragrance business is, and how the interaction between quite distinct perfume cultures works (or doesn't). I just watched an interesting documentary on the reindustrialization of Argentina, but I agree that many North Americans and Europeans tend to have rather clichéd views of the Southern hemisphere.