Why Does It Matter : Ethics, Power, Perfume

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.

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98 Comments

  • Anne: I was so disappointed to learn about this collaboration in The Independent article the other day. Like you, I hold my favourite creators to a higher standard. October 17, 2012 at 8:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I was too, it really should not have happened. October 17, 2012 at 11:20am Reply

  • Andy: That is fascinating. I had no idea any of this was going on, neither in the fragrance nor fashion industry. What I find even more interesting, when I come to think about it, is how fragrance spans so many different realms, from political, to social, to artistic, and everywhere in between. October 17, 2012 at 8:20am Reply

    • Victoria: It does! I shared a story here before how Chanel No 19 had to be reformulated shortly after the Iranian revolution, because the supply of Iranian galbanum dried up. Or how chypres were produced during the WWII when the perfumers could no longer get the oakmoss (imported from the Balkan states). October 17, 2012 at 11:24am Reply

      • andy: I remember the story about the Galbanum, I think from your Galbanum note article. I didn’t know about the chypres, so interesting! October 17, 2012 at 12:45pm Reply

        • Victoria: I will try to look for the article, Andy. It was in one of my perfume books. October 17, 2012 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Lyng: It only takes a few searches to find out that Karimov’s regime is considered one of the worst in the world (if you want details check out Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch). The moment you enter Uzbekistan you know that you are in a Soviet style police state. Corruption runs from top to bottom – I’ve literally seen money pass from hand to hand under the table; it’s a way of surviving but the Uzbek people deserves far better than that. I wonder if Duchaufour’s nose is so deeply burried in the perfume bottle that he doesn’t know? October 17, 2012 at 8:29am Reply

    • FastFoodLocal151: I read somewhere that he was at the launch party, so somewhere along the line, he knew. I don’t know how tied in people are contractually, you would have thought he would have tried to get out the launch, at least, if he hadn’t known before. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. October 17, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I wager that these days it’s much worse than anything that was happening during the Soviet regime. The possibilities for corruption are so much greater, with the exploitation of the oil reserves and the world’s need for the fossil fuel. October 17, 2012 at 11:26am Reply

  • Barbara: I’m glad that you’ve brought it up, V. As consumers we need to be aware and voice our concerns. October 17, 2012 at 8:39am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, it’s important. October 17, 2012 at 11:29am Reply

  • Allison: Thank you for illuminating me! I know a lot of people think “business in business” and profit is key. But the individual who disregards basic ethical standards for the sake of a new project or artistic opportunity does a disservice to his or her profession. We can’t separate ourselves from the larger picture and think that what we do doesn’t matter in the big picture. October 17, 2012 at 8:55am Reply

    • Joe: I think your comment really summarizes my feelings on the issue perfectly and succinctly. There really is such a thing as ethical business. October 17, 2012 at 11:26am Reply

    • Victoria: That thinking is the reason why fragrance quality has plummeted so dramatically. Perfumers create junk scents for celebrities and court companies that pay less for a fine fragrance project than an average detergent brand would, and then everyone collectively wonders why there is no respect for this profession. But I don’t blame the perfumers themselves, because working within the limitations of the industry one often has no choice. October 17, 2012 at 11:36am Reply

  • Stacy: Victoria ~

    For two years I’ve been reading your blog daily with delight and learn something new with each post. I’ve never before today made a comment. You are an amazing woman and role model. Thank you for teaching us all through your incredible and varied personal experiences!

    Stacy October 17, 2012 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Stacy, that’s a very kind thing to say, and while I’m not sure I deserve it, I really am touched. I’m glad that you’ve stopped by and commented. I’m always happy to meet other perfume lovers. October 17, 2012 at 11:39am Reply

  • Steve: Thank you for the fascinating post. One never thinks about the political side of perfumery. October 17, 2012 at 10:07am Reply

    • Victoria: I never thought that I would have to put on my polisci hat again, but it has been handy quite often as I found myself working in fragrance. :) October 17, 2012 at 11:41am Reply

  • chrisf: I totally agree that we can’t separate ourselves from the larger picture and must keep ethical standards in place in all dealings. I see self absorption everywhere in business and it just makes things worse in the long run. So thanks for making a stand, Victoria. October 17, 2012 at 10:12am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, Chris, it really does make things worse. There must be a boundary of some sort. October 17, 2012 at 11:45am Reply

  • pam: Thanks for a fascinating article. A real eye-opener. October 17, 2012 at 10:23am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome, Pam! October 17, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

  • Elena: Fascinating and thought provoking. This is why your blog is head and shoulders above the rest, Victoria! October 17, 2012 at 10:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Elena. I also recommend you check out Gaia’s The-Non Blonde. She has an interesting discussion on this topic on her blog. October 17, 2012 at 11:47am Reply

  • Jack Sullivan: I’ve read about this on The Non-Blonde and I was disgusted – although not surprised. It is no secret that the fashion industry (and its subsidiary, perfume industry) works as a big money laundering enterprise for all sorts of underworld ventures and corrupt political regimes. If you have not read it, I recommend you “Gomorra”, the book by Roberto Saviano that was later adapted for the screen. There are chapters about the links between the Italian mob and very well-known luxury brands, it’s very educational.
    As for me, I’m not sure whether I will ever be able to have the same respect for Duchaufour, or to wear his perfumes. If the status of an artist means anything at all, if his signature is worth anything at all, then how are we to discriminate between the things he does for either respectable or infamous clients? Underneath, it’s the same person. October 17, 2012 at 11:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Perfume to me is a collaboration between two people. It’s not just the perfumer. Which is why the fragrances one perfumer creates for several different clients can smell so remarkably different, especially when a client is hands on at directing the project. And in this case, to be completely fair, I would blame the person who managed this project probably even more than Duchaufour himself. The perfumers are used to take on projects for any client without questioning, that’s how the corporate perfumery operates. I’m not excusing him, of course, and obviously I can only offer my conjectures. My call is for more awareness and for recognizing that some sort of ethical standards must be upheld.

      Thank you, I will check out the book. I’ve heard about it, but now you’ve given me an incentive to get it. October 17, 2012 at 11:54am Reply

      • Masha: I was under the strong impression that M. Duchaufour is his own project manager. And I read in one of the interviews in the press that the perfumes were a 2-year project, so this has been a collaboration of years, not a quick moment of poor judgment. He had to know the implications. He clearly made a choice. I wish he would respond in some way to this sorry situation, as Sting did when he was caught sitting next to Googoosha as her paid seatmate, and did a well-paid concert for her in Uzbekistan. I didn’t agree at all with Sting’s explanations, they rang as hollow excuses, but I appreciated that he took the time to explain himself to his fans and the public. October 17, 2012 at 12:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: There was a manager on this project in particular, from what I understand. It was not a solo flight. October 17, 2012 at 3:07pm Reply

          • Masha: Thank you for clarifying that. It’s important to know. October 17, 2012 at 3:35pm Reply

  • Cheryl: Thank you for this article, Victoria. Hopefully, word will continue to spread. Hopefully people will choose human rights over a brand name. I think its easy in our consumer driven societies to forget the hands of those who create and manufacture our products or the true cost of items we purchase (gold and diamonds come to mind). Many times, consumers just don’t know; many times consumers CHOOSE not to know; and a few people just don’t care. One thing is for certain: when you gain knowledge like this, it will chip away at your soul if you support it.
    Thanks again, Victoria. I really appreciate your thoughts and your courage to discuss it. October 17, 2012 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, we don’t live in a perfect world, and nothing is ever black and white. It’s easier to ignore, I suppose, but it’s also worse in the long run. October 17, 2012 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Nina Z: Thanks for taking on this issue! I think it’s important for people to find out about and to discuss. And for those who are not familiar with the details, I think there is more concern about what the perfumer stated publicly about the job and the woman herself than of his taking the job itself (which, as some have mentioned, may not have been have been his choice). October 17, 2012 at 12:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Exactly, even if we don’t come to a clear cut answer, at least we can discuss the situation. It obviously touched many of us deeply. October 17, 2012 at 3:02pm Reply

  • Meg: Duchaufour’s pre-Karimova perfumes mean a great deal to me. They were influential in guiding, informing, and even challenging my comprehension of scent. But I don’t think I will be able to bring myself to enjoy what he creates from this point forward, owing to his acceptance of this particular commission. It marks a point of schism that leaves me profoundly saddened. Duchaufour is entitled to his artistic/creative freedom, of course… and so was Leni Riefenstahl. October 17, 2012 at 12:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: “They were influential in guiding, informing, and even challenging my comprehension of scent.” That’s a great way of putting it, and that’s how I feel as well. October 17, 2012 at 3:05pm Reply

  • solanace: I can’t respect someoe who does anything for money. And that move was not only unethical, but also utterly idiotic, no matter how well paid he was. The guy should hire a PR, and at least pretend he cares, for the sake of his own name! I only feel sad about Neela Vermeire and Denyse Beaulieu, who both seem to be very nice women, and did not deserve to have the nose behind their fragrances involved in such scandals. Their fragrances I would not boicot, but the rest… Adieu, M. Duchaufour!

    Lovely choice of picture, by the way, V. October 17, 2012 at 12:37pm Reply

    • iodine: “I only feel sad about Neela Vermeire and Denyse Beaulieu, who both seem to be very nice women, and did not deserve to have the nose behind their fragrances involved in such scandals”.

      I felt the same about them, solanace, I think they should feel taken in… October 17, 2012 at 1:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for noticing, A! I didn’t want to put up anything with GK or her perfumes as a title photo, and then I came across this shattered glass image, and it just clicked.

      Your point about PR is very spot-on. There are plenty of perfumers who have worked for similar unsavory clients, but they are hidden away and there are layers of PR and legal teams protecting them. The reason BD is at the center of this issue, why he got outed, is because he is independent and hence more transparent. October 17, 2012 at 3:13pm Reply

      • solanace: A fower made up of shattered glass. So fitting, a truly brilliant choice!
        I agree it is somehow nicer that he is more transparent and does not have a PR. But on the other hand I get scared when people are not ashamed about doing shameful stuff. How clumsy was that, to say the least, going to the party and all??
        As a consumer, I feel turned off. We are trying to escape big labels buying niche, thinking we are supporting the artists, and then when an artist we all respect behaves like the worst kind of businessman, I lose my respect. It’s a shame, because I’m really fond of his work. October 18, 2012 at 4:48am Reply

  • Emma: Dictatorships and double standards!
    When you look the answer to a problem, follow the money!
    We do business with communist China but not Cuba and the chinese lend us billions and billions of dollars, no wonder why on human rights and animal cruelty in China, we choose to look the other way.
    Two million people died in Congo for the last past ten years, nobody talks about it, after all it’s just Africa, they have no money and kill each other, the media ignores Africa, yet you’re going to hear about Israel and the Middle-East on daily basis in the news.

    Emma October 17, 2012 at 12:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: Double standard is exactly right, Emma. October 17, 2012 at 3:15pm Reply

  • fleurdelys: Wisely put, Victoria. I just read about the same issue in The Non-Blonde, and after reading an article in The Atlantic about this woman and her dictator father, I made the following comment: “Well, it’s said that every man has his price, and both Duchaufour and Sting have proved that they have theirs. But do they really need money that badly?” October 17, 2012 at 12:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: Makes me wonder too. October 17, 2012 at 3:16pm Reply

  • Yulya: Victoria, it is a very interesint article, as always! I had no idea about this. I do have a question, however, to you and others. Nobody seems feeling squeemish about buying Amouage perfumes, for instance. Why? Why are we looking at some regimes with contempt and not the others? October 17, 2012 at 12:58pm Reply

    • Emily: I would also like to hear more about this, from folks who are more knowledgeable than I am about Amouage and/or Oman. October 17, 2012 at 2:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oman is a monarchy with an elected Parliament, and it has always been one of the more cooperative Middle Eastern states when it came to the US Iraq war efforts. Not every Middle Eastern regime is circumspect, and Oman is probably one of the better ones on many counts (women’s rights including). October 17, 2012 at 3:20pm Reply

      • Emily: Thanks, Victoria. That was my general impression, but I’m not as knowledgeable about the various Middle Eastern regimes as I probably ought to be. (And it can be difficult to know who or what to believe, sometimes.) October 19, 2012 at 1:26pm Reply

  • Carla: I am still feeling disgust for the article in Vogue (US) about Bashar al-Assad’s wife. It came out the same month the civil war in Syria started. I couldn’t figure out if the writer was truly fawning over her or just being tongue-in-cheek. Since I traveled in Syria in 2002 I am particularly touched by what is happening there, like you are concerned with Uzbekistan. But I still read Vogue, I admit. I am disappointed in Duchaufour though. I doubt he needed the money. He is the most successful perfumer today. I wonder how he would defend himself. But it is almost impossible to consistently be completely ethical. So many companies do business with “unsavory” regimes. So much of what we use, wear, eat, etc, may have been produced in an “unsavory” way. I guess we just have to be reasonable and remember that the first thing is to be kind to your neighbor and the stranger you meet on the street. That’s what I remind myself when I think about the horrible things going on in the world. October 17, 2012 at 1:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: I skimmed through that Vogue article too, and I had the same impression. I couldn’t figure out whether the author really was so taken with her or whether it was a veiled satire. October 17, 2012 at 3:24pm Reply

      • Daisy: I remember that Vogue article, but what I remember more was Joan Juliet Buck’s follow-up article on how the first was written.

        http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/07/29/joan-juliet-buck-my-vogue-interview-with-syria-s-first-lady.html

        I came away with more sympathy for the author despite my initial feelings of repulsion and disgust having read what was published in Vogue. Although I can understand how a writer can feel pressured or bullied to produce something that they feel uneasy about, I still do feel that there would have been ways to express those feelings in a moral and professional way. October 17, 2012 at 7:17pm Reply

        • Daisy: Meaning with less ambiguity! October 17, 2012 at 7:28pm Reply

          • Carla: Thanks for sharing. Buck would have done herself and Vogue a favor if she had had the integrity to refuse the assignment. I traveled to Syria for work about ten years ago. I was driven from Beirut to Damascus, and got so carsick – bad roads, fast driving – I ended up forgoing a road trip to Palmyra, sadly. May I just say that the difference between Beirut and Damascus is amazing – Beirut is a modern, exciting city, and Damascus is a third-world ruin. I had a run-in with the Syrian state while in Damascus. I was told to stop my work, that it was “illegal”, by lovely gray-haired ladies at the economics bureau. First, I had the requisite tea and chit-chat with them. They told me to return next day for the requested data. The next day, they were very apologetic and gave me the line from the higher-ups – you must stop your work, it’s “illlegal”, and we can’t share with you the promised data. I smiled, nodded, then kept on doing my work, looking over my shoulder all the while! (I was young and fearless then.) Also, at the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus, there were books in every room with pictures and details about every Sheraton around the world, and someone had taken the trouble to censor a couple hundred or so of these books, blacking out the pages with hotels in Israel. Unbelievable. I am so sad for the people of Syria. I keep thinking of my nice Syrian driver and his family. October 19, 2012 at 11:27am Reply

  • iodine: When I read about it on the Corriere della Sera homepage, I felt very sad realizing that Mr Duchaufour has disposed of so many ethical issues with one single move! He accepted to deal with a dictorial regime; he supported a cheaply stereotypical images of women, while praising her “femininity and sensuality”, and men, “triumphant”…
    It’s very sad, I would rather “my perfumers” to have a morality and an unconventional viewpoint on gender matters.
    That said, I’m not going to boycott his fragrances- I own too many of them, and truly love them!- but I’ll surely feel uneasy.
    Thank you for having posted about it. October 17, 2012 at 1:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, it’s sad and a complicated topic. Very hard to write anything cogent about it, I tried to do my best. October 17, 2012 at 3:25pm Reply

  • Jirish: I found this news to be extremely disappointing. But I have a question: Do perfumers receive a commission of some sort on each bottle of a scent they created? While this news makes me squeamish about buying any of Duchaufour’s future creations, it doesn’t seem fair to penalize companies he’s worked with in the past for collaborations on scents made before he lost his ethical bearings. October 17, 2012 at 1:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: The standard practice for a perfumer working within a company is no royalties of any sort, just a bonus based on the sales his perfumes generate that first year. I don’t know what arrangements an independent perfumer would work out, but I understand that royalties is not the most common way to do it. October 17, 2012 at 3:26pm Reply

  • Caroline: I found myself engrossed in this piece. Thank you for writing this! I think too often in this world we lose site of ethics and our own moral compass when it comes to making money or even getting a bargain on goods. — It reminds me of a quote I heard from a movie or a TV (the movie or show did not stick w/me but the gist of the quote did) — Money is not evil — money is like alcohol — when you have/get a lot of it, it reveals who you really are inside. October 17, 2012 at 2:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great quote!
      I agree, in the end, we make our own ethical choices. Someone already mentioned up the thread, but not thinking about these issues is worse for us all in the long run. October 17, 2012 at 3:30pm Reply

  • Emily: Victoria — I don’t have any compelling insights to add to this discussion, but I just wanted to thank you for writing about this issue and for engaging with complicated questions in such an intelligent way. October 17, 2012 at 2:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Emily, thank you very much. I’ve agonized for hours over this short piece. I couldn’t ignore it in the end. October 17, 2012 at 3:31pm Reply

  • Eva S: Thank you Victoria for posting this (and Gaia of the Non Blonde), I had absolutely no idea! I’m no expert on Uzbekistan, but I’ve read enough in Swedish newspapers as well as meeting a number of severely traumatized Uzbec refugees through my work to find this deeply disturbing. I don’t know ifI’ll decide to boycott all mr Duchafours perfumes, but I won’t be able to look at the man the same way ever again. October 17, 2012 at 2:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: I have many Uzbek friends as well as some who were exiled by the current regime from their country and who can’t return. It’s a country with such a fascinating history, warm and generous people and an unusual medley of cultures that its current state feels even more heartbreaking. October 17, 2012 at 3:38pm Reply

  • Ariane: When I read the article on the Non Blonde’s site,I wondered who of the perfume bloggers would speak out about this,and I am so pleased it is you,Victoria,as you are my favourite writer!I feel quite disturbed by this piece of news and agree with people’s comments,I had wondered about Duchaufour for a while,since he seems to be churning out perfumes at an alarming rate,I am glad that there are still artists like Vero Kern in this world! October 17, 2012 at 2:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Gosh, Ariane, this short piece took me longer to write than anything I’ve written recently. It’s such a hard, complicated topic. October 17, 2012 at 3:48pm Reply

  • StephenMc: A triumph of finance over ethics, a shame really. I have an Uzbek friend who was desperate to stay in China rather than return home when her scholarship ended. Her family did not want her to return home, so she has found employment in Chengdu. This is a real shame and it will mean I will think long and hard about purchasing M. Duchafour perfumes. I already have a personal ban on Bond No. 9, until their unfair dismissal and racial profiling case is settled. Times may be difficult but making money from monsters and supporting racist businesses is where I draw a line and will not cross. October 17, 2012 at 3:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sometimes people are naive, they make bad decisions, and when you have less support around you, you’re bound to make more of them. In this industry the client is the king to the extent that the fragrance houses do everything in order to win the next project. It’s this mentality that’s making this industry suffer. In this particular case, I think that it has to do more with poor decisions and not understanding of all implications, rather than venality. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t make excuses, but I also don’t want to paint some black and white picture. October 17, 2012 at 3:51pm Reply

  • Yulya: I do agree that this topic is much deeper than just perfumery. If we look at, I would say, the majority of the artists, writers, musicians, well, people of creative mind that make our lives colourful and enjoyable, have some traits of carachter or have acted or continue to act in a way that is not agreeable with some of us. Should we stop enjoying their work? Should we stop listening to Tchaikovsky’s or Vagner’s music? Should we stop watching movies by certain great directors or attending concerts of great musicians that vocally support the current Russian government? What is it that matters to us most and why?
    Victoria, thank you very much for provoking this discussion. It is very interesting to read all of the comments and to think about it more. October 17, 2012 at 3:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: It does come time to time, like it did recently with Chanel. Of course, everyone of us makes their own decisions and draws their own boundaries. As long as we are aware and can discuss these matters, we’ve already achieved something, I believe. October 17, 2012 at 3:53pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: I was horrified to read about this. I first learned about the Karimovs on a news magazine TV show in the US, and the details of how political dissidents in Uzbekistan were tortured and killed have haunted me ever since.

    Now I feel rather guilty about wanting a bottle of Seville a l’Aube. October 17, 2012 at 3:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t think that you should feel guilty, not least because Seville a l’Aube is a product of someone’s genuine passion and dreams. Denyse put more of her heart and soul into this project than any other creative/artistic lead I know. October 17, 2012 at 3:56pm Reply

      • Carla: I wish it had been anyone but Duchaufour. I was excited about what he did with Denyse Beaulieu and Neela Vermeire. Real Promise for the future art of perfume. The scents they created with him were so personal and beautiful. But the thought of him working with this other woman in a similar way…how could he?! October 19, 2012 at 10:51am Reply

  • Tomate Farcie: Ahhh, I dream of a world where we all make good ethical choices, problem is one man’s choice is another’s poison. I suppose he won’t respond and he really doesn’t have to, Here we can vote with our wallets and our pens. October 17, 2012 at 3:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s true, it’s never quite so clear cut! October 17, 2012 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Austenfan: Such a coherent, carefully put, well thought out article on a very difficult subject. I admire you for doing this.
    I find it hard to form an opinion of my own. I just don’t know enough about this world.
    I think you are absolutely right in having posted this.
    Thank you! October 17, 2012 at 3:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, I appreciate your vote of confidence. I’ve thought a lot about it and finally decided that it means too much for me not to say something. October 17, 2012 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Leah: Thank you for this thoughtful post. I had a brief philosphical struggle with Chanel No 5 after reading one version of events surrounding company control, production and distribution of the fragrance during WWII. After further reading, it was clear that there were no “clean hands” to be found during that time of horrors, as war seems to blur the lines of ethics. This seems much more clear cut and unfortunately is the way much of the world operates. October 17, 2012 at 4:24pm Reply

  • Parfumista: This was quite big news in Swedish business magazines probably because of the ongoing corruption scandal where Swedens largest telecom company, Telia is suspected to have paying bribes of more than 200 000
    000 EUR to a company affiliated to Gulnara Karimova when acquired a telecom license for Uzbekistan. Duchaufour was cavil at in comments from people that doesn’t know anything (almost) of perfume /great perfumecreators. Personally I was very dissapointed as I think that if Duchaufour works in a project for a large fragrancecompany they most likely have a CSR policy which doesn’t allow a collaboration like this with the house of Karimova. The question arises if Duchaufours own firm has such policy, probably not as he seems to work as his own firm as a freelancer. It’s despite that remarkable that he seems to have missed the whole CSR subject and discussions of ethics in the corporate world of today. Also that he is not protecting his brand from loss of value form such a (in advance) obvious scandal.
    When it comes to me I will use the Duchaufour perfumes I have because they are lovely, even if not as frequantly ( in the nearest future anyway) and as I feel today I’m not going to purchase any more Duchaufour perfumes. When it comes to me there are other skillfull perfumers that could be supported instead. October 17, 2012 at 4:34pm Reply

    • solanace: That’s how I fell. He was too stupid, in a time when image is everything and news cross the world through optic fibers! October 19, 2012 at 4:42am Reply

  • NeenaJ: Very well-written! This is a difficult topic and I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments.

    While my first, second and third inclinations are to revile the perfumer, when I get to fourth and fifth, I begin to think about some of my favorite artists and composers who created masterpieces at the king’s/queen’s/dictator’s hand. Was their commissioner just or treacherous? Do we think less of them for creating that art?

    Is M. Duchafour really concerned with who his financiers are or is he focused solely on creating the masterpiece? Perhaps he is thinking that the art stands apart from how it came to be? I don’t have the answer. But, this is an important conversation and I’m glad so many people are speaking out about it. October 17, 2012 at 5:30pm Reply

  • George: Simply, a great article.
    Were you able to offer Duchaufour a right to reply to this?
    It would be interesting to know what his take on this is. October 17, 2012 at 5:52pm Reply

  • Ariadne: Is it possible that M. Duchafour’s life was threatened if he declined the request to create for Karimova, or perhaps his loved ones’ lives? We are lucky in this moment to be able to speak freely of ugliness in a place devoted to beauty. October 17, 2012 at 7:07pm Reply

  • Daisy: Thank you so much for blogging about this and bringing more attention to it. I have to say that I was shocked to see Duchaufour’s name attached to someone so heinous.

    Obviously, there are so many incidences of works of art created for monsters. One can easily point to most of the works created during the Italian Renaissance, or the Ottomans.

    But unlike those times, saying no to a perfume commission would not have been life threatening or otherwise.

    No one but BD can know exactly their motivations for agreeing to such a project, but if it were me, I would have had extreme difficulty creating something so personal for someone so unworthy. October 17, 2012 at 7:33pm Reply

  • hongkongmom: Judaism has a long history of persecution and the study thereof. Without going into too much details, one of the most important teachings is Pirkeh Avot, (the teachings (ethics) of our fathers) along with many others. There are books and countless laws on “ethics in business” from the minutest detail to larger issues. Doutchafer hardly needs to be understood or studied.. It is a clear breach of ethics.

    As users of his creations..we are faced not just with discussion, but a choice of action.

    An important aspect of information, intellectualisation and discusssion is that words with no action go nowhere in this world. Action is a natural progression after discussion. Its can be compared to an artist who has lots of ideas swimming around, but doesnt create. I for one, will not be sampling or buying this gorgeous new Orange Blossom…and any other of his creations…I will put aside my personal preferences, lemmings and creative loves for the bigger picture and the betterment and lighting of this crazy world….even if I am a tiny spot in it.

    My heart goes out to Denyse who put so much into it…I really hope you reach some peace and ride the storm. Even confront this man who has the ability to be so incredibly talented as well as, sadly, unethical.

    Denyse, I was so looking forward to smelling this…I look forward to seeing your creativity and passion shine in the future in a more special and beautiful (ethical)place! October 17, 2012 at 11:19pm Reply

  • Claudia: I’m seeing a screenplay and a movie about this subject sometime in the future-would be a great story! October 18, 2012 at 12:03am Reply

    • solanace: It sure would! October 19, 2012 at 4:31am Reply

  • behemot: I am very disappointed with Duchaufоur’s decision to become a court perfumer for the Karimov dynasty. We can only hope Gulnara will really like his creations. If she changes her mind about any of them, Monsieur D. can end up in Uzbek jail. That’s what Karimova does to people who don’t satisfy her :(

    Victoria, thanks a lot for this article. October 18, 2012 at 10:10am Reply

  • Memory of Scent: There are two major doctrines about perfumery today. One says “all perfume is art”. The other says “perfume is a luxury item, how dare you speak about price”. Both can be traced back to marketing. Gulnara has probably chosen sides. I think it is time perfumers also choose theirs October 18, 2012 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Undina: Obviously Mr. D subscribes to the moto “pecunia non olet.” It’s such a pity! I can understand an artist who lives under a regime and whose choices are: create for the regime or don’t create at all. But a perfumer who lives in a democratic country and enjoys all its freedoms should have known better.

    I’m not going to punish brands that worked with him before but I feel like I have to do something about his future creations. And I’m really sad. October 18, 2012 at 9:54pm Reply

  • nozknoz: Thank you, Victoria, for opening this discussion.

    Duchaufour is my favorite perfumer, and I’ve been vocal in praising his work, so I guess I can’t avoid saying how disappointing this is. October 18, 2012 at 10:21pm Reply

  • ula: What a disappointment to read this. I have never understood why creative people, who are generally regarded as educated, sophisticated, can do assignments for and lend their creative forces to people and regimes like Karimov. I cannot image Duchaufour did zero research on who his client is and knowing that, I just cannot fathom how anybody, really, would want to be associated with anybody of that ilk. October 19, 2012 at 3:18am Reply

  • noisome: An Upton Sinclair quote is appropriate: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    Plus, the behavior that got Uzbekistan shunned by the “human rights” community is no different than what our “friendly” dictators do repeatedly. The point is the US had a falling out and was made to vacate their military bases – poof! Uzbekistan is evil. (And Bahrain, KSA, Yemen, Mubarak’s Egypt, Turkmenistan, and so on – they can carry on murdering protestors as long as they don’t make problems for the US)

    Sorry but that’s just the state of affairs these days. I can’t get too worked up about things like this. The luxury industries survive and thrive due to inequality and brutality – always have. October 19, 2012 at 3:25am Reply

  • Rachel: Thank you, Victoria, for this article. It’s hard to imagine that for 2 years of development he never did any research on his subject that hinted at the situation in her country that would have led to further inquiry. To me, there are only very narrow instances where something like this would be understandable –as one person mentioned, for crying out loud he’s in a democratic country and surely he’s not *that* hard up for cash –or fame. His perfumes are now on my rather long list of products and companies I won’t patronize for various and many ethical reasons. October 19, 2012 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Emily: Dear V- Another reason to love your work is your ability to combine life’s fun and pleasures with thoughtful doses of reality.

    Shame on this woman since the power of free press never got in her way. If the Atlantic compares you to a Third World Kim Kardashian with a background more like Kim Jong Il’s, you must immediately accept you will have no Spice Girl future in the Free World. And that is even if you are not already a 40-yo mom of two.

    Tsk, tsk, tsk, Mr. Duchaufour! October 19, 2012 at 3:18pm Reply

  • Cristine: I agree with all of the comments about the fact that in today’s world there is no way M. Duchafour could be so very ill-informed. I would like to add that I feel he is giving tacit approval of that “government” and family by agreeing to make this perfume for them. He is providing a means for them to make profits from his product (or artistic endeavor), which is “aid and comfort” for a very nasty regime. How is that any different from being a “Nazi sympathizer” or fascist?

    For shame M. Duchafour! And I hope the French government speaks out against his attempt to unite the French people with this horrible family. How very arrogant.

    Since perfume is a hobby and not a necessity, I choose, from now on, not to give my patronage to someone of his apparent moral mindset. I may not be able to avoid buying gasoline, but I certainly do not have to buy perfume from an immoral businessman! October 19, 2012 at 3:55pm Reply

    • Masha: Cristine, I’ve had a couple of days to mull, and I am feeling exactly as you do, and I’ll be doing the same thing as you are. There are so many wonderful, small perfume brands with beautiful products, created by artisans who try to make the world happier and more peaceful for all. They are not as high profile or as rich as M. Duchaufour, but my money is going to them. October 19, 2012 at 5:37pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: It is always disheratening to learn about the moral failings of artists you admire- revelations of misogyny, anti-semitism, racism, or even just generalized asshole-ism taint the perceptions of the artists and the art( think about Picasso, Wagner, Hemingway and has anybody felt the same way about Woody Allen since the Mia Farrow/Soon Yi debacle?). I think it is vital to rememer that talent doe not exuse you from the oridnary oblications of simple decency and that the Buddha advises us all to pursue the “right living” one which does no harm. October 19, 2012 at 6:00pm Reply

    • Petra: Lynn, this describes exactly how I feel.

      The first time I was so disappointed in Mr Duchaufour was when he collaborated with Marc Atlan on the abominable “Petite Mort” scent. I thought that two misogynists had united and that Mr Duchaufour was a bit of
      a mercenary.

      Which turned out to be only part of the truth, as he stands as an example of venality.

      I cannot use his perfumes anymore, they repel me. October 20, 2012 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Alyssa: I am very late to the part–been offline for most of last week–but thanks very much for your post and for hosting this thoughtful discussion, V. October 22, 2012 at 1:23am Reply

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