Jeffrey Dame Chats With From Pyrgos

Jeffrey Dame is not just a man. Jeffrey Dame is one of the great pillars of the fragrance industry. His prestigious career spans 34 years, and he has worked in various high-ranking and executive capacities for several of the world's largest fragrance brands. Since 1985, Jeffrey has served as Vice President of Marketing Men's Fragrances for Sanofi Beauty Products, Executive Director of Marketing for Aramis, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Parlux Fragrances, President of the Five Star Fragrance Company, President and CEO of Hypoluxe, Inc., and is also the owner of Irma Shorell, Inc., with subsidiaries Madeleine Mono, Tuvaché Fragrances, and Long Lost Perfume. As you can see, the man really needs no introduction - you should already know who he is. He was kind enough to comment on a recent blog post here on From Pyrgos, and even kinder to grant me an interview, in which he answers some of my questions about the fragrance industry, the "art" of perfume-making, and the joy of bringing timeless classics back from the grave. He also helps to clarify some key points about how perfume formulas are selected, and why so many of them are repeatedly reformulated. So without further ado . . .

Jeffrey, I want to thank you again for your informative comment under my article about the corporate distribution history of Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel. This is one of my favorite fragrances, I've been wearing it for years, and contrary to what a lot of people might think, I believe it is the progenitor of a slew of popular masculines from the last thirty years, including Green Irish Tweed, Fahrenheit, and Cool Water. It was exciting to learn that you were part of GF's corporate history.

Grey Flannel was, and still is, a stand-alone scent, with a specific character. It leads, of course, directly to Fahrenheit. Grey Flannel occupies its own unique space, but for me the fragrance that was really ahead of its time was Geoffrey Beene's Bowling Green. If you smell Bowling Green today, it might seem in keeping with all the other fresh, herbaceous, ozonic scents out there, but back in the day Bowling Green was really ahead of its time.

You have had a long and accomplished career in the fragrance industry. From the beginning of 1982 to the end of 1984, you worked as the marketing manager for Caron. It looks like this was your entry into the industry. What was it like working for that legendary house?

My entry into the fragrance industry was actually in 1980, as a trainee in the Neiman-Marcus fragrance buying office in Dallas, Texas. At Neiman's that year we launched Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui, back in the glory days of fragrance introductions, and I will never forget it. The fragrance industry back in the seventies and eighties was filled with small, tiny perfume companies, just marvelous. The Parfums Caron Paris corporate office was a handful of people, under a dozen; in New York we were only five or six, plus the sales forces in the field. The Parfums Caron company at the time was based on Pour Un Homme, Royal Bain de Champagne, Bellodgia, Infini, and Fleurs de Rocaille, plus the boutiques with the urns and historical scents. But the real marketing and development effort at the time was on modernizing Parfums Caron with Nocturnes and Le 3eme Homme.

Many lament the recent reformulations of Caron fragrances. When you smell Caron fragrances these days, do you think to yourself, "How did things get this bad?" Or is Caron still synonymous with quality to you?

In regards to the current scent character of Caron, I have not reviewed anything recently, and need to find the time to take another look, although Caron will always be Caron. Thanks for the reminder. I need to go find some Bellodgia.

Anytime, I think everyone needs to be reminded to find some Bellodgia at some point in life! You told me that many of the classic masculines like Obsession, Polo, Lagerfeld, and Grey Flannel had their labels changed from "Cologne" to "Eau de Toilette" to make them marketable to parent companies in Europe. What was the reason for labeling them "Cologne" in the first place? Most of them were always in an EDT concentration, from what I remember.

All the major American fragrance brands for men made in the USA in the seventies and into the early eighties were made and marked as "colognes." No "eau de toilette" at all. You only saw the words "eau de toilette" on brands imported from Europe. Americans have always culturally referred to men's fragrance as cologne - this is just how the product was made and sold. Even to this day, Americans generally refer to men's cologne, and don't interpret it as "cologne" in the European sense. Back then all the sizes were two-ounce and four-ounce, the American standard.

You also told me that when a brand is bought and sold, the purchasing company usually inherits several years-worth of excess boxes and labels (presumably bottles also), which are used until they're used up, and in need of replacement. This is interesting, because there are many fragrance enthusiasts who actively seek "vintage" formulas, like I did with Grey Flannel, and they tend to take older packaging styles at face value whenever they find them. Rarely is the age of the fragrance questioned if the package it comes in looks old. Is it conceivable that maybe half of the "vintage" bottles of fragrance out there on Ebay and on swap lists actually contain newer, reformulated perfume? If so, are the people who claim to smell vast differences in quality between older and newer vintages kidding themselves?

There is really no way to know what percentage of vintage scents have mixed and matched old boxes and labels with various newer scent updates. Just know that packaging carries on for years. I will say that scent is a living thing, and the character of the smell changes over time. A scent made within the past year will be brighter in top notes, a scent 2-3 years old is mellower, as everything melds together. A scent 4-5 years old starts to lose character, and can often be turning bad. Anything over 5 years old is highly suspect for quality, and anything 8 years old is dreck and turned. Buying any fragrance on Ebay over 10 years old tells you nothing, as you either end up with fragrance which is completely unwearable, or even if it is wearable, bears no relation to the original scent when it was first made. Fragrance goes bad. Fewer brands were introduced back in the eighties and nineties, and if a brand aged too long in the warehouse, it was destroyed, and no longer sold (usually past 5 years). In today's modern perfumery world, so many brands are launched and pushed through the market that you end up with brands sitting around in secondary market wholesalers for years and years and years, and reaching the consumer in all sorts of poor states.

Would you say that the majority of reformulated "classic" masculines have been reformulated poorly? For example, things like Lagerfeld Cologne and Davidoff Cool Water were bought by Coty, and reformulated in ways that some felt were truly awful. Others feel that these new formulas are just fine. Are cost-cutting and IFRA regulations responsible for ruining a whole bunch of fragrances? Or is the perceived destruction of these classics mostly in people's heads?

In the industry as a whole, fragrance formulas are changed for three reasons:
1. For straight up cost savings in two manners: one is that the brand owner wants to reduce the cost of the scent, and asks the essential oil house to switch to lower-cost ingredients, and the other is that an ingredient in the original formula becomes scarce, and the essential oil house is forced to raise the oil cost. The brand owners find that unacceptable, and ask that ingredients be changed, and the price held.

2. For IFRA ingredient de-listings and restrictions.

3. To purposely modernize a classic.
What you really need to be aware of is the "Five Percent Change". A brand may have multiple owners over a period of decades, and thus a series of formula changes. If each scent reformulation was done with good intentions, the resulting update may be ninety-five percent accurate - good enough that one time. Then the next time it is changed, it is also ninety-five percent close - but based on the prior mod, not the original; and again five years later, ninety-five percent close. Over a period of thirty years, the scent is now seventy percent of the original character, because it has had a series of ninety-five percent changes.

In regards to ruining fragrances, these reformulations are what they are, and just need to be adapted to by the consumers. It's not going to change. The business machine is moving forward. These past three to four years have been particularly difficult with the significant IFRA changes, and you can look at this whole period, from 2010 - 2015, as kind of a starting point for new directions in scent. Young people today who are fifteen to twenty years old will start their fragrance journey with the scents of today. Their olfactive memory will be locked into this period, while aficionados can remember the old days. In theory, these new standards being implemented by IFRA are so sweeping that formulas created now will have a longer life-span, since they were created from approved ingredients. Niche scents can continue to provide uniqueness within a structured palette. It is what it is.

And here is a fun one for you, an experience I had several times, whenever I was involved in one company buying another, and brands would switch hands. More than a few times I changed a scent from another company's reformulation, back to its original formula, and had the consumers complain about it, because they had become acclimated to the reformulation.

That is hilarious. If only people knew what was really happening in those instances! This brings me to the next fragrance company - from 1996 to the end of '99, you were the president of Five Star Fragrances, a brand many enthusiasts associate with the word "reformulation," particularly when it comes to classics like Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Royal Copenhagen. On basenotes and in the blogosphere, it's hard to find anyone with anything nice to say about Five Star reformulations, but I personally feel their versions smell fine. I own the current Five Star versions of Cardin and RC, and they're great. Do you have any thoughts on why Five Star gets a bad rap?

I actually founded Five Star Fragrances, and was president for its first four years. At that time we were using original formulas at high concentrations for Norell, Royal Secret, and Royal Copenhagen. This was fourteen years ago though, and I can't comment on the current state of the Five Star scents, as I have not smelled them in many years, and have no points of reference. Pierre Cardin was not part of the company when I was there.

Fair enough. You told me elsewhere that junior executives at fragrance firms are often the ones selecting "mods," or modifications of fragrances, which then officially become reformulations. Both you and your Givaudan rep were only 27 years-old when you agreed on a Grey Flannel mod for Sanofi, and that selection was made without telling anyone. You just picked what you liked, and that was it. Why is mod selection done by junior execs, and why so secretly?

There is nothing secret or secretive about it, it is the job of these people (and my job then) to do this. Understand, in fragrance companies there are all kinds of people with job assignments - sales people who sell, finance people who finance, operations people who ship, packaging people who make stuff, and marketing people who focus on the scent (or fragrance evaluators in the larger companies). Not everyone smells, and it was the job of myself and the Givaudan person that day to evaluate that scent. The Givaudan person had an internal team at their shop revise the scent due to ingredient restrictions. They brought it in to me for approval, we worked together to approve it, and picked the best one. I'm certain a memo was typed up, and all were advised of the change (there were no desktops then). Today at the larger companies there might be an entire team dedicated to adapting scents, and they may even have research studies and panels, but back then it was desk work, just as it is at the niche companies today. One or two people working on a scent. The people in charge of "keeping the flame" of the scent character are well-intentioned, and usually have very good, discerning, and accurate noses. Fragrance is glorious, but never forget it is a business with a series of small but important business decisions to be made.

I've been saying for a couple of years now that perfume is a form of commercial design, and not a proper fine art form. Chandler Burr has been stirring things up lately by insisting that some perfumes are fine art, and some perfumers are fine artists. On your forum Perfume of Life, you wrote: "In 33 years now of working in the perfume business on well over 50 perfume 'briefs,' all I ever heard the perfumers say to me was 'here, this smells good.' Many of the perfumers I know would prefer that the whole concept of aesthetics, conceptual origin, and top, middle, and base note descriptions would just go away, so they could just make scents people would enjoy in and of themselves, without the required 'extras.'" You even mention working with Jean-Claude Ellena in the mid nineties, just after his groundbreaking work for Bvlgari (Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert & Thé Vert Extreme), when he was based in H&R's studio in Manhattan. You consider him a "creative genius," but can I infer from your quote that you think of him (and his contemporaries) as being simply perfumers, and not fine artists?

I do think a good perfumer is an artist, but so is a good soccer player an artist. Some perfumers are better than others and have more of a creative vision, but I think people outside the actual fragrance creation process are over-thinking the issue on both sides. Most of the perfumers I have come to know over the years are positive people who enjoy creating perfume, and they are overjoyed if their creations find homes in brands, and end up on customers' skin. The scents are like children going out into the world. For myself, I'll have a vision in my head of a scent direction that I would like a brief to go in, and usually the perfumers will come back with submissions that are better than my original concept. I'll be blown away by one or two, and might ask for one, or at most two revisions, never more. Then out it goes for the consumer to enjoy. Nothing makes me happier.

I think the focus on the artistry of the scent creation and the resulting smell misses a key point - a fragrance is multifaceted. Yes, the wearers end up with scent on their skin, but the artistry of a fragrance is a complete brand experience. It is the relationship of the consumer with the brand maker, the beauty of the carton, bottle, and cap design, and the feel and shape of the finished product in hand. A great "artistic" scent composition placed in a poor brand design and an unappealing bottle accomplishes nothing, although a tiny cohort of people can review the scent character in a salon-type environment among themselves.

Sitting with perfumers makes you part of their creative process, especially when they hand you blotters and ask what you think of whatever is sprayed on them. Have you ever felt that your opinion directly swayed the creation of a perfume, in that your comments were taken seriously by the perfumer, and were interpreted in the final draft of a formula?

A client's comments are always taken seriously by the perfumer, and the client's changes are reflected in further mods. If a perfumer does not listen to their client, the perfumer does not sell any perfume. Certainly the perfumer can express their opinion, and their thoughts on the origin of a scent is great, but mostly the perfumer wants to win the brief, and will respond and change the formula as requested. An inflexible perfumer doesn't sell much perfume. Also note that today, direct access to the perfumers themselves is less common, and there are fragrance evaluators who act as intermediaries. For some of the largest of companies in the fragrance industry, for mainstream fragrance brands, the fragrance development departments have a library of pre-approved and pre-tested scent submissions on the shelf, ready to go. When briefs come in for new brands, submissions are pulled from shelves and assigned to these brands, and the perfumers find out after the fact that they "won" these particular briefs. There is nothing wrong with this, and the quality of the scents can still be excellent, but the idea that a perfumer explored the "heart and soul" of a fashion designer before creating the scent is less true today than in the past. With so many launches of new scents, there is just not enough time.

You are currently president and CEO of Hypoluxe, Inc. Your company oversees U.S. stocking and distribution of niche/artisinal brands M. Micallef, Parfums Rétro, and Biehl Parfumkunstwerke. These are generally considered to be niche products, and are very successful brands, but you also own Irma Shorell, Inc., which owns a stunning range called Long Lost Perfume. In this range are Crepe de Chine, Memoire Cherie, Sortilege, My Sin, Casaque, and more. These are very old and long-discontinued fragrances, recently resurrected by Irma Shorell. Their return is the ultimate feat of re-branding, re-formulating, and re-marketing. Tell me a little about what it was like to revive these classics, and reintroduce them into the contemporary fragrance market. Was it a challenge for the people at Irma Shorell to compare vintage samples to fresh ones while reformulating these classics?

The Long Lost Perfumes collection in Irma Shorell was introduced back in 1999, which makes fourteen years now of classic vintage scents for women. Recreating these scents... Sortilege, Crepe de Chine, Memoire Cherie, My Sin, Casaque, Ecusson, has always been a labor of love, and such a pleasure. I have several thousand women who are devoted to these scents, who are keeping me honest. The olfactive memory of these women, who are now in their fifties, sixties, and older, is outstanding. Even if they have not smelled the scent in decades, they know at once if the formula is accurate or not. I'm convinced there is fragrance imprinting on the brain with the first couple of fragrances a woman owns, all the way back to when she was a teenager, and the scent she wore with her first love, the scent she wore at her wedding. The locked-in olfactive memory comes back to them at once. Recreating the scents took quite a bit of work to get them right. Everyone talks today about scent reformulations, but reformulations have always gone on. So we had multiple formulas to choose from and compare to more recent versions, with some even going back decades, that were hand-written and frayed. In general, we have been able to use most of the [same] ingredients. It's just a matter of being willing to invest in costly ingredients, which results in a final oil cost that is six times higher than mainstream scents. At this point I know I have the formulas right for these scents, as we receive zero returns from the women who wear them.

I've been so focused for the past fourteen years on creating and maintaining these perfumes for the women who have always worn them, that I've not really made any efforts to reach out to modern and younger niche customers with these scents. There was a period of time around 2005, before niche exploded, when I would have young women in their thirties call me and ask to purchase some of these classic vintage scents, because they had heard how incredible they were. Without fail, these young women did not enjoy the scents, and had a hard time understanding them. They had been raised on Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, and had no olfactive range in their senses to interpret and enjoy complex classic scents from decades ago. There were no recognition points for their senses to grab hold of. Much has changed over the past few years in niche fragrance, and I believe there is now an opportunity to reintroduce these Long Lost Perfume scents to young women, because thanks to niche they have now been exposed to more variation, and have expanded their palate. And I have a few new outreach programs in the works.

Such as?

This past spring, 2013, I've just introduced a product of my own creation - Parfums Retro GRAND CUIR, which has been wonderfully received, and is selling very well exclusively at LuckyScent. With Parfums Retro, I've tried to take all that I have learned from classic perfumery (back to my Parfums Caron days, as you noted), and brought forth the best of these formulations with a modern approach, or as Ida Meister said in her Fragrantica review, "Classics rendered contemporary." Parfums Retro GRAND CUIR is for both men and women, but since it is a true leather scent, sales to date have trended more to men than women, although there are many women who know how to wear leather. There is little marketing "fluff" with Parfums Retro GRAND CUIR, just a gorgeous scent to wear and enjoy. The next scent up in Parfums Retro is a Sandalwood. I've completed the formula, and am just now working on establishing the best concentration level for the oils. Too low, and the full complexity does not come out. Too high, and a scent can harden and close down. There is always a best and most perfect concentration level.

These sound really exciting! Last question - In general, how do you feel about mainstream (non-niche) masculine perfumery of the last decade? Anything you'd like to see done differently?

Masculine fragrances today seem a little lost in the unrelenting deluge of new scents each month. On the one hand, you have new niche fragrances being introduced one after the other from over a hundred niche companies, but almost all of these niche scents are positioned for both men and women. And of course that works fine, but there's something missing without a true for-men-only scent. You need that extra masculine element, of scent focus and brand concept, to really capture my heart. I've always been deeply involved in men's scents. After my experience at Neiman-Marcus, but before Parfums Caron, I was training director for the German men's line Marbert Man, and later on was Director of Men's Fragrances for Geoffrey Beene and Perry Ellis, and after that Director of Marketing for Aramis. There have been great strides in men wearing scents since I was in those jobs, but mostly from the more knowledgeable man exploring niche scents, and the younger man wearing sexy body sprays. The man in the middle is still kind of plodding along, the same as always. His wife or girlfriend buys him his scent, and he wears it for special occasions. In another ten years, when the Body Spray Generation ages, I think things will improve. But for now, this is where we are.

I've been working on a new specific-to-men collection of fragrances for the past two years, and they are now complete. Techno-cologne, very modern and distinctive, very avant-garde with their statement, but quite wearable, and completely focused on modern ingredients. The collection will be previewed next month in October, and will start with five scents under the name PRIME COLOGNE MASCULINE. For someone like you, who appreciates a man's scent with character and attitude, you will love these. The collection encompasses: PRIME II Black Citrus, PRIME III New Musk, PRIME V Leather, PRIME VII Herb, PRIME XI Anti-Matter. And more is coming soon!

For mainstream, the diversity and range of scents for men has shortened greatly. For men, you used to have Obsession, Lagerfeld, and Pierre Cardin at one end, and at the other end was Polo, Grey Flannel, Pino Silvestri, Aramis, Devin, with maybe YSL Pour Homme in the middle. Each scent was like wearing a completely different outfit. Today, modern mainstream scents for men break into two distinct groups - "warm/fuzzy" and "clean/fresh". There's a hundred scents jammed into each group, and they are all very similar to each other, but with slight tweaks. It's as if all the men are wearing the same outfit, and only changed the belt. This distillation of scent character has forced me to really concentrate in terms of telling the scents apart, because the nuances are so small. Everything seems to be great and highly-wearable, but it is more brand-name driven, and many of these mainstream scents are interchangeable. For me, I'm happy as long as men are wearing fragrance. I'm not concerned with their perfume, as long as there is scent on their skin.