Bakkaris es un portal de reseñas, historia y noticias sobre el apasionante mundo de la perfumería.

Entrevista a Gabe Oppenheim

Recordarán nuestra reseña del polémico libro The Ghost Perfumer, que compartimos con ustedes hace ya su tiempo, coincidiendo con su estreno editorial. En este libro, su autor, Gabe Oppenheim, desvelaba todas las mentiras tras la casa Creed, agitando la industria como nunca antes. Tras un par de años desde su primera edición, hemos querido entrevistar al autor sobre el libro y otros asuntos que creemos de interés, y aquí está el resultado de la misma, en inglés, idioma nativo del autor (aunque pueden usar el traductor automático de nuestro portal para leerla en español).

Hello Gabe, first of all, thank you very much for agreeing to participate in this interview. I hope you can forgive any mistakes I might make, as English is not my native language.

It has been a little over two years since the editorial debut of The Ghost Perfumer, which was undoubtedly marked by controversy, sparking a considerable amount of reactions within our small and niche community of perfume enthusiasts. Looking back now with the perspective that the elapsed time provides, how do you assess the reception of your book?

I think the book was received with incredible kindness by perfume enthusiasts and those who work in the industry alike. It’s an imperfect work, written by a then-outsider to the beauty world with an inflammatory brain issue that makes his writing far less trenchant and frequent than it should be.

More specifically, I would like you to respond to this question in a similar manner: Could you assess the reception of your book among industry professionals, brands, and specialized press, if such a thing exists? Have you received private messages of support from important figures within this business, praising your work? I strongly believe that your book has brought to the forefront an important issue, which is to advocate for the work of perfumers, who are often overlooked or even excluded from the official narrative of perfumes.

Yet rather than dismiss me, several insiders were kind enough to give my words a thorough look and tell me as much. A prominent nose at a French house with true history (as opposed to a falsified one). A prominent retailer of fragrances in the US. A keen artistic director of a niche brand in the Arabian Gulf. Did they all appreciate every word? Of course not. One person in the industry literally emailed me to say that this person liked the book but took issue with certain portions of it — without specifying which had proven disagreeable. I appreciated the candid review, however unspecific its critique.
But I really don’t want to assess — let alone, aggrandize — my book’s impact. It’s for others to measure its effect on the industry, if it has had any. I believe in keeping one’s head down, though my occasional YouTube appearances, in which I appear joking and perhaps even snide, may indicate otherwise.
Really, I’m very much a bifurcated human in this regard. I enjoy jesting tremendously, having grown up with the utmost appreciation for the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges. But when it comes to doing the work, I believe in an industriousness and humility that don’t permit self-evaluation of the book-review-type. I believe in a nose-to-the-grindstone ethos (even if I do occasionally indulge in a bit of navel-gazing in the form of reading Amazon reviews on my book).
Perhaps I’m just boring. My girlfriend enjoys telling people, quite rightly, that I like my foods plain — my proteins sauceless. She’s not wrong.

And what about Creed? What was the house’s reaction to the editorial debut of «The Ghost Perfumer» and all the controversy it stirred up, especially from the owners at the time, BlackRock?

As for BlackRock, I’ve had just a few interactions with those who were installed at Creed following the 2020 acquisition by that financial firm. Those interactions have been positive. The BlackRock team was not unkind to me and I think I’ll be able to say more about this once their deal with Kering closes.
But it bears repeating, as I’ve said it innumerable times: BlackRock acquired a company for the excellent fragrances Bourdon, Herault and Rasquinet formulated (and the margins they can charge on such refined work). How can I hold Olivier’s bizarre backdating and mistruths against either those three perfumers or the financial juggernaut that realized how much money such fragrances could earn?
My only qualm is for the consumer, and it’s because, again, BlackRock’s team in London realized the margin on Creed bottles could be increased even on top of inflation-owed rises. No consumer benefits from that — and actually, neither do the perfumers, in the sense that they receive no residuals tied to sales in the way other creatives historically have in other sectors.

Do you believe that the book has contributed in any way to changing the perception of these matters within the industry, initiating a type of serious investigative journalism around these topics, moving away from the frivolous and superficial perspective often seen in fashion magazines? Needless to say, many of us were eagerly awaiting a truly inquisitive, bold, and courageous work like yours that would dismantle this kind of deceitful marketing to which quite a few houses have accustomed us.

I’ve pondered during this Hollywood writer’s strike yet again whether perfumers should receive residuals tied to sales and resales of their perfumes. In a perfect world, perhaps it’s the most equitable model for them. In the world we live in now, in which Firmenich and Givaudan offer tremendous salaries to their top workers in exchange for ownership of that work, I don’t know that residuals will ever be introduced.
What I do know that is the multiple antitrust investigations of the F&F firms and IFRA should give all of us, perfumers and sprayers alike, a better idea of just how fairly we’ve all been treated by the current system of fragrance ideation, creation and retailing. Let’s see the results of these investigations and then decide how better world, if we can effect one, should look.
And full disclosure, I’ve been engaging in business in the beauty industry since the book’s release. It’s work I’d discuss openly if I hadn’t signed forms preventing my very mention of its nature. I’ve not taken any jobs — my work has been always as a third-party whose opinion was valued. Obviously, I will never write about this experience unless I am granted a dispensation to and equally obviously, I won’t cover the beauty industry again if I feel the work I’ve already done will compromise the basic objectivity of any future writing.
But regarding the latter scenario, I’d like to believe the work I’ve done so far has a certain scope, such that I could still write compellingly about the industry without crossing any lines. But I want my ethics never to be in doubt — hence, this disclosure.
And perhaps it’s interesting for a reader to know that since the book’s release I’ve yielded a few requests for business help. I perhaps found it odd at first. But this industry is a tough nut to crack — still so secretive. So perhaps it’s not odd at all that someone who tried to penetrate these bubbles would be asked for help on a few occasions (and no more).

Recently, initiatives have emerged within the industry and among enthusiasts, myself included, aimed at promoting an ethical vision of the industry. These initiatives advocate for giving appropriate recognition to the professionals behind the perfumes by citing their names, promoting the sustainable and responsible use of ingredients in perfume manufacturing, acknowledging the work of small producers, and striving for greater transparency in the information provided to customers at all levels. The efforts of groups like Perfumery Code of Ethics, led by figures like C. Laudamiel, are particularly notable in this regard. What are your thoughts on these initiatives?

As for initiatives to make perfumery more ethical, I find a lot of mistruths around the idea of naturalness. You get people clamoring over sulfate-free washes, as if a surfactant can’t strip you of your natural oils just because it originated in a coconut. The Romans used ammonia born of actual urine to clean their laundry. Should we revert to that or keep on with the detergents made by major conglomerates? I mean, urine can be sterile and the Romans built some gorgeous bathhouses, so…
The industry has to be less patronizing. Its marketing emphasizes to people their protection by Goop-y forces that seek a return to the Earth in all things beauty (and yonic). In reality, our salvation will come from a blend of natural things and synthesized lab solutions inspired by natural things (see fusion, nuclear and the sun).
So the answer when it comes to sourcing ingredients and their later mixing for perfume formulae is simple, to a degree: We must mandate transparency and flexibility. I think we need to be clear about what we take from where and how best to do it. Yes, we want lithium for electric car batteries. No, we don’t want lithium evaporation pools in Chile to lower the water table dangerously.
Of course, we must compensate all those along the supply chain fairly and leave all with the kind of control over their destinies that late-20th century deindustrialization stripped away from many growers, distillers, manufacturers. Every person whose efforts ultimately yield a fragrance deserves not just a fair wage but a measure of recognition — the dignity of knowing the person’s contribution was vital to the final product.
Movie credits are long. Book acknowledgments should never be short (mine are not). Fragrance credits — why can’t these be extended beyond the label? So Frederic Malle lists the perfumer on the label. Great. Why can’t a Web site or some AR version of the label add more info about other contributors?
Maybe no one would read those. But I often stay behind and watch credits or read the end contents of a book. The nerds will seek out their fellow creative nerds. To me, that’d be damn a fine system to institute in the fragrance world.

In your book, there is a notable emphasis on the issue of unabashed perfume copying, which is a prevalent problem in the industry. This is particularly evident in the rampant production of clones in the Gulf Arab countries, often referred to as the «wild west» of perfume manufacturing. However, this issue is global, as even well-known brands and supposedly artisanal perfumeries are not immune to copying without any sense of shame. It seems that in the end, everyone is copying one another. How can this chaotic state of plagiarism be reversed?

As for the copying of formulae: we all thought Napster was the end to copyright protection in music. But iTunes first and Spotify subsequently changed the game — perhaps revenues for musicians are depressed because of streaming (they are), yet we no longer worry about revenue lost to torrent sites either (I mean, perhaps musicians still do a bit, but it seems streaming is the main concern). So as for fragrance plagiarizing: I’d say GC-MS tech fired the first shot, in favor of the reverse-engineering of scents. But that doesn’t mean tech won’t be able to make fragrances less easily replicated with a second shot fired.

There are niche perfume companies charging exorbitant prices for their fragrances, many of which bear striking resemblances to compositions already present in the catalogs of other houses. Examples include Tiziana Terenzi, or Mancera/Montale, which release dozens and dozens of serialized perfumes each year. And there are many other brands with ever-expanding catalogs. How is it possible to sustain these staggering numbers? Could a single perfumer, like Pierre Montale or Paolo Terenzi, for instance, be responsible for all of this output? Do you believe that this rush, this relentless race, might compromise quality and even raise suspicions about the authenticity of these perfumes?

Then there’s the issue of those supposed creators who claim to be perfumers, although we all know they are not, and they take credit for their compositions while the true artisans remain in the shadows. We could name names, but we all have our suspects. Do you find this behavior ethical? And surely, with your contacts, you must be aware of the discomfort that this situation, I believe, causes among the true professionals behind our perfumes.

That you’re asking me whether Montale or Paolo Terenzi are real perfumers says it all. I need not answer further. But Montale was originally named Pierre-Louis Repellin, and, as you can read in my book, he was sued for counterfeiting a Jean-Paul Gaultier fragrance. Terenzi’s company dashes out press releases that unveil his family’s game plainly. From a June 2022 press release announcing the opening of a Terenzi shop in Istanbul: «Cereria Terenzi is a multigenerational family business based in Cattolica, Italy that has garnered international accolades for its artisanal niche artistic perfumes.»
Notice the immense oddness of this claim: The company is a «cereria» — Italian for «candlemaker» — and yet its fame is owed to its perfumes. Uh-huh.

In my opinion, we are witnessing an exponential, almost tumor-like growth of niche or artisanal perfume offerings, in addition to the mainstream selective market. I believe that all of this is hardly sustainable. What are your thoughts on the current global state of the industry, and what do you think are the most significant challenges it will have to face in the future?

Where is niche heading? After the sale of PdM/Initio to Advent and Creed to Kering, I’d say we’re in a phase of consolidation that will ultimately yield a tier of well-financed uber-luxury players and lesser-funded pretenders.
Niche was a rebellion against the endless flankers of the prestige frag world. Those flankers are still being churned out — I just think the revolution against that will be waged slightly differently over the next decade, in terms of pricing and in terms of marketing. Don’t quite ask me what these shifts will be — because the market is headed wherever Gen Z wants it to, and I don’t understand a damn thing about Tik-Tok or Shein. But the metamorphosis of the niche rebellion into a new kind of flanker-revolt: this is already happening…

I don’t want to take up any more of your time, although I give you the freedom to add anything you’d like to the conversation. However, I wouldn’t want to conclude this interview without asking you about your favorite perfume houses today, and if you could mention your three or four most frequently used fragrances nowadays, or your all-time favorites, if you’d be so kind.

And this is the final question. As an unwavering fan of your work, one among hundreds, I would like to know if you are working on any other related book, and if you could provide us with a preview of its content, we would greatly appreciate it. Without any further matters, and once again appealing to your kindness, I want to thank you once more.

Recently, I’ve been wearing Heritage de Guerlain and Bentley Wild Vetiver, among many other fragrances (I still sample much of what emerges onto the market). And I have not been writing enough lately, really, I’ve been quite remiss, but my girlfriend and I have been discussing a writing project that would involve fragrance. I think it could be quite good. I’ve also been mulling releasing a book of short stories — short fiction entirely unrelated to scent. Do you think anyone would find that of interest?

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