Perfume explores the astonishing creativity behind an invisible commodity that uses single molecules to whisper to one of our most sophisticated senses – smell.
Filmed across a year inside the multi-million dollar perfume industry, this three-part series tells the story of an ancient French perfume house and a mass-market fashion brand. We also follow master perfumers or 'noses' as they mix ingredients and meddle with our scent memories and observe the dwindling influence of Paris and New York as the tastes of the emerging markets begin to define the fragrances of the future.
Today, all perfumers face the same challenge: how to make their fragrance stand out in a market crowded with product. We spend a year with two very different perfume houses as they attempt to win over the next generation of consumer. In Paris, the ancient house of Guerlain looks outside the family for the first time for its next perfumer-in-chief. But Thierry Wasser has to tread carefully - adapting the iconic fragrance Shalimar for the 21st century without upsetting the old guard. When esteemed head of the family Jean-Paul Guerlain lands himself in hot water with a racist remark, the slow transfer of power is dramatically accelerated. Meanwhile at Estee Lauder in New York, executives are devising a mass-market fragrance for designer Tommy Hilfiger. Getting the concept and packaging right is as important as important as the smell. But will buyers get this liquid rendition of rock and roll?
Perfumers are molecular chemists and sensual creatives who seek to trigger pleasurable memories and associations through our most primitive sense. We follow three different types of perfumer - or nose - to find out how they do it and what it takes to become one. Jean Claude Ellena is in-house nose at French brand Hermes. We spend time with him in his studio in the woods, musing, sniffing and then creating a fragrance inspired by a secret garden. American Christopher Brosius is the Proust of perfume, a punk star with a mission to create scents that that can speak to us of times past - whether through the smell of tomato leaves or musty books. Jean Guichard is the principal of the Parisian school for noses. There are more astronauts than there are perfumers - so how does he spot the right stuff in students who may not be aware they have it?
The fragrance industry used to cater for the tastes of London, Paris and New York, but times are changing. New economies are the future, but what we like in a smell changes with time and location, and perfumers have to a lot of homework to do. The fastest-growing market of all is Brazil, where citizens are obsessed with everything fragranced. We're with perfumers as they peer into bathroom cabinets to monitor minute shifts in taste, and with an American scent guru who has to get up the noses of Latin adolescents in order to define the smell of the next version of a bodyspray. An ancient English perfume house remakes Oriental fragrances that amused Queen Victoria. The tastes of modern Britain have moved on, but in the Gulf States they like these hot and heavy scents and we follow them as they as they try to make it big in Bahrain.