In my past life as a political scientist, I wrote a thesis about the oil rich regimes of the former Soviet countries–Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. I traveled with my father in Uzbekistan when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and I fell in love with the flavors of its foods and the colors of its traditional hand-dyed carpets. But my cursory research into the atrocities committed by the post-Soviet era regime dissuaded me from ever contemplating field research there.
So, when I heard the news of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufоur creating two fragrances, Mystérieusе and Victоrious, for the Uzbekistan dictator’s daughter, Gulnаrа Kаrimоvа, my first reaction was disbelief. I’ve always admired Duchаufour’s dramatic and elegant perfume style as well as his unprecedented break from corporate perfumery. I completely understand that the path of an independent perfumer is a rough one, even for someone as successful as Duchaufour. Moreover, perfumers are used to take on any projects that come their way, because that’s how the supplier houses operate–you get assigned clients and you work with them, your personal preferences notwithstanding.
But the problem here is that the lavish lifestyle of Gulnаrа Kаrimоvа, including her perfume, is financed by a regime based on fear and corruption. She has been trying to gain acceptance through her fashion designs, but after protests from human rights groups New York Fashion Week declined to host her show. Her latest venture according to The Independent is an international singing career, and just like the US pop stars she admires, she needs a perfume line. The irony of it all is evident even through the fragrance descriptions: “The men’s fragrance, Victorious, speaks for itself; it represents the image of a triumphant man. It’s filled with a harmony of contrasts.”
Why does it matter? Many fashion houses and manufacturers create custom designs for Karimova–Dior, Christian Lacroix, Chanel, to name just a few. To put things in perspective further, much more unsavory deals take place between large US and European corporations and Kаrimоv’s family, and it would take an opus to record everyone falling all over themselves to work with other dictatorial but oil rich regimes. I won’t stop wearing Duchaufоur’s fragrances, when they are made for his real clients, small brands that have used their own hard earned money to launch high-quality products. At the same time, I wish that the independent creators would make ethical choices and use their talent wisely. Perfume is powerful stuff.
Photography by akeg via flickr, some rights reserved.