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Archive for November 10th, 2008

The Real Perfume Creators Are the Great Artisan Noses

Monday, November 10th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

The stunning growth of the high-end luxury perfume business in the last two decades has been centered in the celebrity endorser, designer category. Actresses, athletes, models and fashion designers have introduced dozens of new scents; each seeking to lure consumers based on the aura created by the endorsing personality.

Whether you admire Michael Jordan’s basketball skills, Narciso Rodriguez’ modernist Spanish designs or Jennifer Lopez’ singing or acting talents, the marketers of these fragrance brands seek to profit from the perceived lifestyle allure of their licensee’s. What very few people realize is that branded fragrances are rarely, if ever, actually created by the endorser.

The perfume industry is a multi-billion dollar international enterprise. The marketers of branded fragrance products, however, rarely, if ever, develop and produce their own scents. This is a specialty business handled by large essential oil houses like IFF, Robertet, and Givaudan. These companies not only formulate scents, but they harvest and source the flora, fauna and the exotic natural ingredients that provide the base for their fragrances. Many of these biologically diverse plants and animal by-products are rare, expensive and fragile, requiring a great deal of special handling and knowledge.

An example is the whale by-product ambergris. Whales are not harvested to obtain ambergris. This is skimmed from the surface of the ocean, above swimming pods of whales, Ambergris is simply whale vomit. It is exceedingly valuable and crucial as a component in many exotic scent bases.

The high cost of perfume is attributed to the expense of obtaining essential oils from rare and expensive plants. Rare orchids can yield only a few drops of oil per plant harvested and processed. The processing of essential oils is it’s own industry.

Companies like Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden and Lancome do not produce any of their own fragrances. They typically meet with perfume houses such as Givaudan, provide guidance as to their desired scent direction, and then await and evaluate submissions from the integrated houses chosen to bid on the project. Once a favored prototype scent is chosen then the perfume house is contracted to perfect the scent and produce the oils.

The creation of perfume is part science, part marketing, part branding, and a whole lot of art. The art of designing unique, commercial fragrances is entrusted to the “nose” retained by the perfume house. “Noses” are rare, coddled, gifted and possess a talent so unusual that there are only a few recognized “noses” in the world at any given time.

I have had the good fortune to work with one of the greatest, most successful “noses” of the second half of the 20th century. Francis Camail is a legend in the world of creative perfumery. The list of his achievements is stunning. Watching and experiencing his work is to view the efforts of a “master”.

Mr. Camail, working from his laboratory in Grasse, France has been the creative genius behind Annick Goutal, Revlon’s Charlie (at one time the most popular scent in the world), Giorgio (the most profitable brand of the 1980’s), Estee Lauder’s Aliage, Eternity (Calvin Klein), Ivoire (Pierre Balmain) and Bond #9. These are only a few of the brands that have germinated from his ability to create scents that consumer’s desire and loyally purchase on a repeat basis.

Mr. Camail is unique in that he is an independent contractor hired out by large, international perfume houses on a per job contract basis. His reputation is so powerful that he has the ability to be exceedingly selective in the clients he chooses to work with. To view the process he utilizes to layer, build and nurture various top notes, dry notes and a final bouquet is to experience a true artisan master at work.

The creative process necessary to produce luxury perfumery is an old-world, artisan craftsman skill that can not be taught. Francis Camail does employ assistants and interns, as do most other “noses”. However, very few of them, if any, ever go on to successfully conquer the mystical world of exotic fragrance. His skills are apparently God given.

In a world of mass production and industrialization, it is reassuring to know that skills such as those provided by perfumery “noses” are still extant, and essential. The world still has nooks and crannies that appreciate and value craft and artisan skills and abilities.

The World’s Greatest Flacon Designer Pierre Dinand

Monday, November 10th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

I was most fortunate to work as an executive in the cosmetic and perfume industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the “Golden Years” for creativity in that wonderful business. That was the era before the immensely destructive wave of retail consolidations and corporate mergers and buyouts that has severely crimped innovation in the years since. My experience was blessedly timed to coincide with an explosion of entrepreneurial activity.

The beauty industry gave me an opportunity to work with retailers, artisan craftsman and component vendors from all over the world. One of the most rewarding and enjoyable collaborations I experienced was working with Pierre Dinand to create an original perfume flacon for a new scent I was launching.

In the world of perfumery, Pierre Dinand is a living legend. Over half of the perfume units sold around the world to this day are packaged in customized, crafted bottles designed by Mr. Dinand. He has uniquely sculpted over 500 flacons for some of the most successful and famous perfume brands in the world. Opium (Yves St. Laurent), Eternity (Calvin Klein), Fendi, Valentino, Azzaro Pour Homme, Rochas, Armani, Guerlain and Givenchy are only a tiny sample of the brands he has designed for.

Pierre Dinand works in a light, airy atelier in Paris. When Mr. Dinand accepts a commission to create an original flacon he initially receives a sample of the scent to be contained in his creation. He interviews the perfumer, seeking to ascertain the notes and moods the perfume is meant to convey to the consumer. Dinand lives with the scent until his mood has been piqued and he forms a creative template for the initial silhouette he imagines.

Mr. Dinand is an internationally acclaimed sculptor. He uses favored sculpting techniques to generate initial concept pieces. The production of molding tools for the glass and the manufacturing process must be considered when crafting the prototypes. After drawings, clay models and initial acrylic pieces are sculpted the client is brought in to critique and review the early prototypes.

The process is continued until all issues regarding aesthetics, design, tooling, production and breakage are satisfactorily addressed. The closure is often the most difficult, detailed component in a perfume flacon. The closure must have the most exact tolerance to contain the liquid (which is prone to leakage) and can add significant costs to the bill of materials.

Mr. Dinand remains involved in all aspects of the packaging of the scent until the product is on counter. He appears at press presentations, will attend key trade shows for launch purposes, meet with major buyers and lend his considerable personal network of associations whenever necessary to assist a brands success in the international marketplace. He is a true professional and the roster of hugely successful brands he has creatively inspired is testament to his genius.

Pierre Dinand has also enjoyed great success as a mainstream, consumer product container designer. One of the most famous packages he crafted is the world famous orb bottle for the popular soft drink Orangina. The ubiquitous Orangina shape is renowned around the world and is further proof that this design giant digs deep to understand the needs of every client he services.

The world of high-end perfume is populated with artisans that demand the highest levels of quality, craftsmanship and creativity. Corners are never cut in the pursuit of delivery of the perfect scent. Closure, bottle, box and coffret graphics, tester units, sales collateral, sampling and signage are all absolutely essential elements necessary to present the scent in the most exclusive presentation possible.

I have launched a number of fragrances, skin care lines, hair care programs, color cosmetics, bath and body ranges, nail care, hand and foot care brands over the years. Collaborating with top craftsman is essential in order to properly position and differentiate new products. Working with an old-world artisan such as Pierre Dinand is rewarding, and refreshing in a modern world where attention to luxury, detail and styling is almost a lost art.

The Simple Elegance of Elsa Peretti’s Heart is Educational For All Product Designers

Monday, November 10th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, the historic “Big 3” American automobile manufacturers are on a deathwatch. Their collective futures appear to be solely dependent on the political whims of the United States Congress. As they burn cash, are strangled by huge legacy labor obligations, confront perceived quality issues and offer cars that are out of step with consumer tastes and needs, the future looks bleak for each.

There are many reasons for the demise of these legendary manufacturing behemoths. I believe the most important cause is that for too long they did not emphasize unique, elegant design. It does not cost any more to make an ugly car than a handsome car. When I sit at a traffic light today I cannot differentiate one American model from another. As a child growing up in 1950’s America, I clearly remember going for Sunday rides and identifying every car make by the rake of the fenders, the unique headlight treatment, grille fascia and the vivid two-tone sherbet colored paint jobs specific to each model. What happened?

Design in product development is crucial to product desirability. A Krups toaster is more aesthetically pleasant than a pedestrian Emerson model. An Italian leather sofa is typically more stylized and desirable than a chain store sofa offering. Apple computers are more visibly enticing than their competitors units. Who would not rather drive a Smart car than a Geo Metro?

The most desirable design features are usually simple. In industrial design the term “elegantly simple” is used regularly to denote product improvements that are not overbearing or complex. This concept is a modern adaptation of “Occam’s Razor”, a theorem proposed by an ancient monk that the most useful solution to problems is almost always the simplest solution.

There are many wonderful examples of designers of that have enjoyed great success by employing “elegant simplicity”. One of my favorites is the classic modern jewelry designer and artist, Elsa Peretti. Her body of work is a classic collection of “less is more”.

Ms. Peretti, born in Florence, but residing in New York, has been a fixture on the international jewelry design scene for over 30 years. She became a principal designer for Tiffany in the 1970’s and famously collaborated with fashion designers Halston and Giorgio de Saint Angelo to accessorize their most famous haute couture fashion collections.

Her most recognized and lasting design is the “Peretti Floating Heart”. The simplicity of the piece is enhanced by the undulating wavy cleave that is inherent in the object. The heart seems to float and engenders a feeling of warmth that connoisseur’s have valued for decades. The ” Peretti Floating Heart” has been a mainstay in Tiffany’s stores and catalogues and been offered in dozens of styles, pieces and combinations since it’s initial presentation. The timeless influence of this design alone would insure Elsa Peretti’s place as one of the great artisan designers in history.

When Halston began work on his eponymous fragrance brand he turned to Elsa Peretti for inspiration. Her adaptation of the “Peretti Floating Heart” into the stylized sculpture that became the Halston perfume bottle is considered one of the classic designs in the history of the fragrance industry. It sells briskly to this day.

Ms. Peretti, like Raymond Loewy, Pininfarina, Felini and Erte created design, art, and fashion that is timeless. These artists realized that form and function are actually one joint element that can insure commercial success. We forget this at our peril. Just look at the current situation of the “Big 3”.

When we review new product submissions at our marketing consulting firm we apply a simple methodology to measure potential commercial success. Does the item adhere to the basic principal of “Occam’s Razor”? Are the features and benefits inherent in the submitted item an advance over existing products in the space? Is the form and design distinctive enough to clearly differentiate the item from competition? These are only a few of the elements we review when grading opportunities.

Product designers, inventors and entrepreneur’s need to study history’s successes and failures. Businesses come and go. Brands soar and decline. You are never the greatest, only the latest. Unique design is invaluable to long-term product success. Do not dismiss this crucial product component. Elsa Peretti has built a lasting success and legacy by focusing on design, quality and “simple elegance” that defines her work.

The World’s Most Successful Board Game Was Created As A Metaphor for Hard Times

Monday, November 10th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Successful entrepreneurs are people that always see opportunity in any situation. By nature they are positive and constantly seek innovations that address wants and needs that they identify in their contemporary environment. Currently we are in a dark economic period, and this will prove to be a fertile time for the introduction of novel innovations that will reward their creators with significant profit.

The world’s most famous, widely played and sold board game is Monopoly. Lizzie Phillips created the first version of the game that was to evolve into modern Monopoly. Her game was meant to promote the single tax theories of Henry George, and the play rules were heavily influenced by his populist philosophy. Ms. Phillips filed several patents on versions of her game around 1904. She enjoyed modest commercial success.

The game and its play rules were tweaked through the years. Subsequently, the various forms of Ms. Phillips rudimentary game that were introduced never enjoyed great sales but the game never quite disappeared. Then came the Great Depression.

The many causes of the Great Depression have been well chronicled and today most people are aware of at least the broadest reasons for the implosion of the world’s economy. Greed was the cause most often stated at the time to assign blame. Society was highly segmented by wealth, education, geography and class. Charles Darrow recognized opportunity in the misery of so many and crafted his classic version of Monopoly to address the perceived social sins of the times.

The play rules and component elements of Monopoly, little changed to this day, reflected the deep divisions in society. Darrow’s game, launched in 1935, displayed the whole range of opportunities for failure and success that could occur in a capitalist society. You could go to jail, be taxed, be fined, go bankrupt or land on owned property and have to pay rents to the hated landlord if the dice were unlucky for a player.

Likewise, you could “pass go” and collect $200, win dividends, buy property, build houses and hotels, own railroads (the classic metaphor for greedy capitalists) and collect rents if the roll of the dice favored you. Also, you could bankrupt your opponents and this occurred with frightening regularity in real life during the 1930’s.

Clearly Monopoly was a game that resonated during the darkest days of the Depression and still works as a leisure activity to this very day. Darrow attained great wealth from the sales of his version of monopoly. Monopoly was licensed by the British Secret Service through John Waddington Ltd. during World War II. The International Red Cross forwarded Monopoly sets to British war prisoners incarcerated in Nazi camps. These games included hidden packets of real money, maps, communication devices and tools for use in escape attempts.

Parker Brothers secured the rights to Monopoly and succeeded in internationalizing the game by assigning country-specific play features. For instance, in the American game, the most prized real estate deeds to own are Park Place and Boardwalk. In the British version the most prized blocks of real estate to own are the very tweedy Park Lane and Mayfair.

The game’s origins, history and ownership are surrounded by significant controversy. Parker Brothers attributes all of the creative, copyrights, play rules and component design of Monopoly to Charles Darrow. This lead to decades of legal wrangling over the true ownership as Lizzie Phillips and others claimed creative ownership of the game. These legal issues were not settled until the 1980’s.

There are a number of lessons for modern inventors to be taken from the profitable, but stormy history of the simple board game of Monopoly.

If the game has play rules that anyone can easily understand, play is fluid, play pieces are simple and attractive; then there is potential for commercial success.

You must protect your game with copyrights, trademarks and patents where applicable. Not properly protecting these valuable assets lead to much disagreement and expensive, extended legal wrangling in the case of Monopoly.

My consumer product development and marketing consulting company sees more toy and game submissions than almost any other product category. The barriers to entry in this class of trade are reasonable if the inventor is willing and able to bootstrap their offering. We recommend a play focus group to confirm that target players affirm the attractiveness and commercial appeal of the game or toy.

Recently, for a class project, a third grade teacher let us borrow her class of 23 students to play a new sports board game for half a day. We filmed the session. We also had the kids answer a series of simple questions of their play experience. Based on their reactions, we were able to adjust one basic play rule to further simplify and expand the appeal of the game. The change resulted in the final result of the game becoming much more closely contested, therefore exciting.

The perfect time to launch a new product is always now. Time is never the friend of the entrepreneur. If you wait for the perfect time, the best market conditions to appear, someone can beat you to market with a product that cannibalizes the best parts of your idea. This happens all too often. Waiting for a better climate is an excuse for inaction and a sure path to mediocrity. Charles Darrow’s launch of Monopoly in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression is a wonderful example to study.

Many Aspects of Modern Travel Were Pioneered By the Ancient Romans

Monday, November 10th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Modern travelers take the open road for granted. We can hop into exquisitely engineered modern vehicles, pop onto smooth, straight freeways, well lit, with excellent signage and many roadside conveniences. We can cover as much ground as we might like in any direction, in relative comfort and safety.

Much that we love about modern road travel was actually available 2500 years ago to the ancient Romans. They created the template for a system of interconnected roads and conveniences that we have simply adapted during the 20th century as the automobile became the mass method of conveyance. The road system that they built to connect their far-flung empire is still in use in many places.

As the Roman Empire flourished, conquered and consolidated new lands and needed to efficiently administer these territories the necessity for a durable network of roads became obvious to the ruling class. Prior to Roman ascendancy roads around the world were simple unpaved paths cut into the landscape by pack animals, carts and people moving goods to trade, barter and local markets.

The Romans prospered by trading in the lands they conquered, but they also needed to move great armies, control supply lines and have the ability to quickly transport edicts, orders and news to the far corners of the empire in a timely manner. To build this essential intra-state network of highways the Romans utilized the manpower always available in their army legions.

The quality and durability of Roman roads still amazes. Depending on topography Roman roads were famously straight for as far as the eye could see. This engineering feat was accomplished without any of the modern surveying equipment used by road builders today. The Romans invented a simple device called the gromma and this became the principal tool utilized for accurately surveying roads and thoroughfares.

The gromma ingeniously uses two strings with a weight tide to the end of each. The strings are attached to the ends of a length of wood. The surveyor would simply line up the strings until they appeared as one, and would have assistants plant stakes approximately every 100 yards apart . The surveyor, using the gromma as a guide, would have the assistants slightly adjust stake placement until the strings of the gromma and the line of stakes appeared as one. The result was a roadbed that was true, precise and easily utilized by the construction crews.

The Romans laid rock above the roadbed so the surface was higher than the land next to the road. This enabled water to drain off to the side and meant that roads did not wash out in inclement weather. Gravel was placed on both sides of the roadway to act as a sort of gutter to carry away runoff.

This system, when viewed on a modern map, appears much as the present day system of interstate highways is constructed. Spain, Gaul (modern France), Italy, Germany, the British Isles, Greece and Northern Africa all were tied closely together by this amazing transport network. Modern roadways parallel this grid in most countries where the Romans built their highways.

The Romans built over 2000 bridges. Many are in use, carrying traffic to this day. The arches they crafted were amazingly strong, with strategically placed keystones supporting the massive weight and pressure of these utilitarian edifices. In addition, these bridges are some of the most beautiful structures ever built. The Roman word for bridge was “pontificat”. Today we apply the descriptive name “Pontiff” to the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, as the Pope acts as the bridge between heaven and earth.

Hundreds of tunnels had to be built through the rugged topography of central Europe in order to move traffic to the most expeditious routes. The Romans had no power tools to gouge through rock. They had no dynamite. The technology to construct these tunnels was primitive, but most effective. Engineers would build massive bonfires right against the rock face of the surveyed tunnel. Then they would boil vinegar and have this splashed against the burnt rock face. While the effect of the heat and vinegar was greatest sappers would begin to chip at the weakened surface with chisels and hammers. Some of the tunnels took 20 years to complete.

As the road system grew, the need for roadside services became acute. Travel was typically undertaken in approximately 20-mile daily chunks. As a result every 20 miles or so, along the breadth of the massive Roman network of roads, there were roadside inns, workshops to repair transit vehicles, and stables to care for livestock. Maps were prevalent and indicated not only place names, but distances, accommodations, levels of luxury, services, and military garrisons.

As distance was crucial in planning itineraries the Romans perfected the odometer 2000 years ago. They utilized a 42-inch diameter wheel and a series of gears that engaged each time the wheel made a full turn. The interlocking gear system was calibrated so each gear turned as it was activated until a Roman mile (approximately 5000 modern feet) was covered. Then a gravel pellet would fall into a container as holes in the gears came into alignment. This amazingly accurate measuring system enabled the Romans to mark their maps, and place stones alongside the roadsides marked with precise distances covered and to the next town or service stop.

Today, travel has become a hugely popular experience enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Whether a brief weekend road trip, a cruise or an international vacation, people love to go. So did the Romans. The Romans were the richest people in the history of the world to that time. The system of roads they built were heavily utilized for recreational travel, the first time in history that people had the wherewithal to move freely about for strictly leisure purposes.

Travel guidebooks were omnipresent in ancient Rome. The travel guidebook for the many attractions of Greece, for example, was 20 full papyrus pages long. Inns and eating establishments were rated for economy, luxury, cleanliness and safety. The modern Michelin and Fodor guidebooks are simply successors of the Roman travel guides.

At most major crossroads on Roman roads there was a sign offering directions, distances and recommended stops for repairs, refreshments or relaxation. Many also included a news board with recent proclamations, travel warnings and local notices. These were the world’s first billboards.

As travel grew in popularity so did the menu of services available to the traveler. Chariots, sedan chairs, carts, wagons and covered wagons with swivel seats and dice tables (for the rich) were available for rent. Accommodations varied widely in cost and quality. Hostels, servants quarters, private sleeping rooms, luxury quarters with fire, bathing and mattresses were on offer depending on one’s pocketbook. Food was offered in similar variety.

The world’s first fast food was also available from some purveyors. The cart simply pulled to a door or opening, the menu card was reviewed and the order placed and delivered to the vehicle to be consumed as the journey continued.

The Roman Empire began to consume itself around the 5th century. The pursuit of luxury, greed and laziness made the Empire corpulent, vainglorious and decadent. The same roads that had been so crucial in their military, recreational and commercial enterprises came to haunt the Romans. Their many enemies utilized this road network to attack their former masters. The Visigoths, the Franks and the Mongols used the Roman roads to carve back lands formerly taken from them and to attack Rome mercilessly. By the end of the 6th Century Roman hegemony was long a thing of the past.

The demise of the Roman Empire meant that the maintenance and continued construction of the roads came to a halt. This had the unintended consequence of leaving huge swaths of the system in areas where there was no effective government. Trade came to a halt. The roads were deserted. In many areas, especially North Africa, Britain, Spain and France the Roman highways disappeared beneath weeds and fauna.

The result was the commencement of the Dark Ages. People stopped travelling for almost any reason. Until the Crusades there was almost no interaction between peoples and cultures. The insularity of tribes and fiefdoms lead to a reawakening of ignorance, disease, superstition and hate.

For six centuries the Romans ruled the known world. Their ability to create, invent and improvise has served mankind ever since. The vast Roman network of interlocking roads, tunnels, bridges, mapmaking, services, commercial enterprises and exploration is the guide we utilize to this day in communication, logistics and locomotion. We have much to thank these brilliant Romans for as we utilize so many of their inventions to this very day.