jeudi 26 février 2009

Sylvaine Delacourte, Head of Development of Guerlain, answers Grain de Musc

My last post has launched a passionate debate, especially in the French-language section. And a world first, since Sylvaine Delacourte, Guerlain’s artistic director, responded directly. I had intended to ask her to react – it’s done in journalism, why not in blogs? – before finding her comment…

For the benefit of my English-speaking readers, here is a translation of her response, which clears up the many points raised by the launch of her blog, Esprit de Parfum (in French exclusively).

Here is Sylvaine Delacourte’s answer:

“Dear critics,

I have read your attacks with attention and I want to inform you of many aspects which, it seems to me, should be pointed out. My blog is a personal initiative, in no way has Guerlain been involved; a friend (who has a web agency) set up my blog, and I started posting. I write my articles myself, with my heart and my desire to share my knowledge about the world of perfumery.

Some of articles, which I didn’t want to publish first, had already been written, which explains that the archives go back to January 2008 (I have corrected that mistake), and I was thinking of officially launching the blog in early March with the contents I had been preparing since the end of 2008.

Concerning the criticism addressed to my work, I hear them and I am listening carefully. Criticism is more constructive if it is followed by a debate… Let’s exchange on our various blogs! The discussion has already started on Esprit de parfum…”

I’d like to thank Sylvaine for responding so courteously. And I am quite proud that a dialogue – a stormy one, granted, given that no house arouses such passion as Guerlain – has been initiated between Guerlain lovers and the person responsible for the house’s destiny. This is also a first and I am delighted that it took place here, on Grain de Musc.

37 commentaires:

  1. Thank you for the translation, my sincere hopes that this is the start of something good.

  2. Elysium, I do too... I wish I had the time and patience to translate the whole of the French debate, it was pretty rough going, but many interesting points were made.

  3. Hello, D. I've been slowly following the debate on the French side of the blog, but have been too shy to jump in en francais. But I'm glad to see that such an interesting discussion has been generated on your blog.

  4. D, I have a couple of questions.

    1) Could you outline for us non-French-speakers the lively debate in your French version of your post? If it's endless pick what seems most interesting to you :)

    2) Browsing her blog... my French is hopeless. How personal does it feel to you? For instance, under Coriandre, is it her meditations on the spice? What does the ... point of the blog seem, to you? By way of comparison: Andy Tauer's blog is about whatever interests him that day (a mod, a flower he saw in a field, etc.)

  5. Jarvis, it's been pretty exciting. Let's hope it comes to something!

  6. March, that's a tall order. In a nutshell:

    Many commenters expressed their disgruntlement at what Guerlain has come to: the negation of the house aesthetics, the "diorisation" of the brand, the "pastry" perfumes, especially "la petite robe noire".

    A commenter (who has her own perfume review website) supposed that the blog might be written by a ghostwriter and that it was an opportunistic gambit to infiltrate the perfume blogosphere.

    It must be said that the Guerlain affair comes in the wake of a French, self-styled "perfume critic" getting an award from the French Committee of Perfumery for online writing. This "critic" has not endeared himself to French bloggers because he has attacked several with snide, if not insulting remarks, some time ago on perfume boards. Lately he has been very laudatory towards the Guerlain "pastries" (it is surmised that the house has treated him well since).

    On top of this, an anonymous commenter, obviously a friend of Ms Delacourte, gallantly leapt in to her defense, questioning my motives (he has since made his peace with me).

    Commenters were pretty rough with Ms Delacourte and her aesthetics. She responded quite graciously.

    Now, about her blog.

    Clearly it fired off a bit earlier than intended. Octavian "outed" it on the 23rd, TSS published a more "institutional" statement on the 24th, though I don't know if this was before or after my own 24/02 post as I only read TSS today.

    Ms Delacourte tells the story of Angélique Noire and Cuir Beluga: how she conceived them with the perfumers and what they mean to her. She also tells of her attachment to L'Heure Bleue.

    Many of the posts are essentially explanations of perfume-related topics (ingredients, how to choose your fragrance, etc.) that don't seem particularly personal. Some are historical (ditto): one can hope to find more info on the history of Guerlain later on but there isn't that much yet.
    A few are favorite addresses of restaurants, hotels or shops.

    The general perfume/materials/history posts seem directed at the people who won't be buying any books on perfumery and need a 101.

    So far it's a bit of a mixed bag, but I'm curious to see more posts on the way Ms Delacourte works with perfumers -- I would imagine it's the same type of things she tells journalists.
    What will be interesting is how she responds to comments, which she invites.

    Hope that answers your questions a bit...

  7. D., There is such precious "capital" involved at a venerable house like Guerlain that the high-toned nature of such a debate is completely justified. A blog, however, must be personal and ephemeral. That is precisely why I have always kept Andy Tauer's blog on my blogroll. Some may that it is a business-driving device, but it shows the day-to-day of a less established voice who can explicate some of the minutiae of scent-making to fine effect.

  8. C., clearly blogs like Sylvaine's and like Andy's are two very different things. Andy's has existed for a long time and is like an extension of his soul. I'm curious to see how Sylvaine's will develop because it must be a very difficult exercise to try to find your tone, when you hold that type of position. Clearly she wasn't thinking of people like us geeks and may not have measured the reactions she would trigger -- whatever the area of specialty, the blogosphere has always howled when a brand has tried to blog, and though Sylvaine says her initiative is not Guerlain-backed, she is the voice of Guerlain whatever she does.

  9. D, thanks for your thoughtful response to my tall order. Even with my pathetic translations it seemed kind of impersonal, compared to some of the others I read.

    Oh, I wish you'd be less gracious and gossip about the French perfume "critic!"

    And mark me down as loathing the Guerlain pastries at this point and wishing desperately they'd do something else.

  10. March, the gossip will have to go in an email, I'm afraid -- I'm not one of the people he dissed. Let's just say that some people wish they were Luca -- they wish.

  11. Sylvaine Delacourte may be passionate about fragrance, but the idea of her starting a blog that isn't sanctioned by Guerlain sounds like a cloaked attempt at damage control to me. 99% of corporations would take litigious action against an employee who writes about what they do about work. I find it hard to believe that there isn't a corporate hand in this. If there isn't now, trust me, there will be (if they aren't pulling the strings behind the scenes already).

  12. I agree with the last poster - after reading her blog, it appears that it has been created as a mouthpiece for Guerlain outside the standard marketing channels in order to capture some of the perfumista blogosphere traffic. Donc depourvu d'interet pour moi.

  13. D,

    May I ask you a question? Is the blogosphere as busy an entity en français as it is in English? Seems to me that if Ms. Delacourte opened an English-language blog up to comments, there would be 20 responses by now, whereas I only see 2 posters that have responded to her so far. Not saying that it should be in English, just that the response is less than overwhelming. Like Jarvis, I read French well, but I'm still working up to an actual post...

    I agree that the blog is a business tool, but still, full props to Ms. Delacourte for soliciting the public's input and responding graciously to the comments about her on your blog. There's a whole community of Guerlain-lovers worldwide who might never have been to 68, Champs-Elysees but do crazy things, like sniping Ebay auctions for vintage extrait (yes, I'm talking about myself). At least, Ms. Delacourte knows we're here. And now she knows that we'd like some new releases that aren't gourmandises.

  14. If Ms. Delacourte was really interested in a dialogue with the "market" she would offer an English translation of her blog posts. Is this one of those marketing ploys...generate demand by absence? Smells like merde to me.

  15. Anonymous, Sylvaine says it was her initiative to start the blog, not that it is unauthorized by Guerlain. As the blog is in French, I realize you probably haven't been able to read the contents, but there is nothing at all in them that could be construed as indiscrete. Much of it is advice or history, and the "behind the scenes" is pretty much what you'd tell journalists in an interview.

  16. Tara, as I said to March (above), it doesn't seem to be directed at "us"... But the very choice of topics can be enlightening (which is what prompted my first post).

  17. Charlotte Vale, you're talking about me too! At least, I was out there on fleabay before LVMH sued its French branch to make it pull its LVMH auctions. We can't even access the non-French auctions now for most vintage frags (even non-LVMH)! But that's neither here nor there.

    About the French perfume blogging scene: obviously it's much less active because of the size of the population. As far as I can tell, there are seven blogs and one site, counting mine and including two newbies, and three boards.

    And now Sylvaine's blog. I would surmise the reason for it being in French is that... she's French, and so is the company? I don't know her level of English but even if it's good, very few people can write in a second language as well as in their first. She'd need a translator. I suppose it's an option, but not one you'd take on a fledgling blog.

  18. Anonymous, much as this may come as a surprise to the English-speaking world, not everyone can write in English, and if if this is indeed a personal initiative rather than a calculated marketing ploy -- let's give it the benefit of doubt, shall we? -- it's natural to write in one's own language.

  19. P.S. To Anonymous: blame it on not having had enough coffee yet... I hadn't properly processed the first sentence of your first comment (I suppose both anonymous comments are by the same person?).

    If I understand correctly, you're supposing that the fact of Sylvaine's writing here to say the blog was her initiative is damage control? It might well be. There was damage to control, definitely. And the launch of the blog misfired, that's for sure.

    Still, about the French, I'm not sure it was quite as machiavellian a calculation as you suppose: if you've seen the English version of the press release for the Elixirs Charnels, you'll see that Guerlain, for all its wealth, doesn't quite have the best translators in the business.
    I'm sure Sylvaine got the go-ahead for her blog, but that it wasn't seen as strategic enough at this point to warrant the expense of a translator (who would also need to be on hand to translate her responses to comments).

  20. I'm very glad Mme Delacourte gave a response to the (frankly cheap) attacks she received here.
    I find that it would have been more elegant to begin with by posting such sardonic comments on Mme Delacourte's blog.
    But I am no fan of the Guerlain house, nor of its present and past presumed splendours, so I don't take this matter at heart - in the least. I just believe that a creative director managing such powerhouse under the control of the LMVH group has a very small freedom of operation. (for example -what have been Dior and Chanel been producing perfume-wise in recent years? Chanel’s “exclusive” line? LET. ME. LAUGH.
    Mme Delacourte revealed such a rare elegance in the blogosphere, that the contrast with what preceded her comment (everyone was just soooo superior and assertive) is particularly striking.

  21. Hi Zazie, and welcome -- I believe it's the first time you comment here.
    The attacks were violent, granted, but a lot of Guerlain lovers feel very strongly about the path Guerlain has taken, and though I wouldn't have expressed myself in quite the same terms as some posters, it's not a bad thing for their voice to be heard. Most of them apologized once Sylvaine commented herself and a couple went on to comment on her own blog -- it had to be brought to the attention of readers before anyone could go there, hence my post on it.
    I agree that Sylvaine's response was gracious, and I also agree that hers can't be an easy task. I beg to differ on the Exclusives, but that's possibly another topic.

  22. Dear Carmencanada.
    I often read your blog with delight.
    I was just ranting because I thought last day's topic was a bit of a "chute de style".
    Thank you for your kind response.

  23. Well, as I said, Zazie, here in France we feel very strongly about Guerlain -- it's more than a house, it's our national heritage. La Petite Robe Noire is a little like putting Jeff Koons in Versailles -- fun, but shocking to a lot of people, and not just old farts!

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  25. Hi Scott! First comment here too, right? Welcome! This has been an eventful couple of days. And as you say, whatever the imperfection of this medium, it is the best we've got. Somehow, beyond the thorough thrashing the house of Guerlain has received -- it is thrashed precisely because it is so well loved, and doesn't that ring a bell? -- I have the feeling that quite an interesting analysis of its present condition/perception has emerged.

  26. Shiseido was founded in 1872! They knew they had to radically change direction to survive, in the face of that they hired Serge Lutens in 1981 who had an oriental vision for a japanese house, a revolution but with coherence and a long-term strategy, something crucial when it comes to such a perfume house but which the incompetant people at Guerlain just don 't understand. They can hire all the top perfumers on the market, without a solid vision and direction, Guerlain is doomed to failure. Preserve your identity is one thing, but their new launches are either girly pink fruity florals/pastry gourmands like Insolence and LPRN with all the cheap flankers that come with it and their pricey exclusives are nothing but mediocre lutensian clones which execution have been guerlainised.
    Just like Shiseido, Hermes took a chance with Jean Claude Ellena who 's been able to modernize and give Hermes perfumery a true new identity without cheapening the brand. Obviously Sylvaine Delacourte is no Serge Lutens!

  27. You should be proud. As should Mme Delacourte (did I type that properly? My last French lesson was in the 80's); to have a house with as much history as Guerlain embrace the blogosphere is monumental.

    While I am not mad about the last few releases, the fact that I can type "Please release Derby to the Beverly Hills Saks" and maybe have it read is good enough to me.

  28. Garde Rose, the "reinvention" of the house of Guerlain poses specific problems, I think, in that it is specifically a perfume house (unlike Hermès or Chanel) that is very strongly linked to the name of a perfumer dynasty (unlike Shiseido), and that is still very much alive and kicking (unlike Caron).
    It has produced masterpieces, but it has never really been cutting-edge: as you know, here in France it is the epitome of the bourgeoisie. The problem is that Habit Rouge, Vetiver, Shalimar or L'Heure Bleue's customers are, let's say, getting on in age, and that younger middle-class, middle-of-the-road customers must be drawn to the fold.
    I'd have loved to see another Ellena -- a man with a style, a discourse and a vision -- take over, but there's only one Ellena, and Guerlain could not afford, probably, the kind of tabula rasa that Hermès, not being primarily a fragrance house, could.
    As for Serge Lutens, well, he started his own brand in his own name, and I don't think it could have been any other way for a man like him.

  29. Tom, you typed it well, sweetie. Yes, I do think it's a very interesting step, and I do hope you get your Derby (another Derby lover here).

  30. Hello dear GdM, I periodically read your reviews but have never written before... But I wish to contribute my thoughts, since I work in a huge multinational of the tourism industry, owned by (and owning) other companies. Like with Guerlain and LVMH, there is a huge amount of money to gain or loose and none is allowed any personal opinion while wearing the office jacket. When Strategy meetings take place, all the directors in the top management board (and Mme. Delacourte is, indeed, a Top Manager at Guerlain), are bound to strictly respect directions given by shareholders. Any activities carried on must tune in with the strategy undertaken. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that Directors can do at a personal level. If there is their name and their face on it, it MUST be an emanation of the Company and part of a well studied strategy. As Mme Delacourte's blog.
    The Company where I work, too, has opened a b2c blog (that is business to clients) with the aim of having more people talk and write about destinations and travels in the catalogue. The blogger is of course a copywriter, whose texts are reviewed by the marketing department before putting it online.

    Moreover, let's imagine that in the Company where I work there is a top manager who is really passionate about travels, destinations who does not share completely the Company's views and how they handle the brand, the destinations etc. (but has a well-paid and glamourous job which he/she would never risk). Well, in order to speak about travels freely and share his/her personal views, this top manager would be obliged to open a blog under a different name in order not to be discovered by the Company. To cut it brief, Mme. Delacourte's is Guerlain's blog. And as an product of Marketing Guerlain, it's interesting in itself. Chapeau to Guerlain for reaching the blogosphere! But,
    1- why not telling it openly?
    2- truly, we don't need all the nice but useless bla-bla on how much passion Mme Delacourte puts in the new fragrances she creates and all the rest. Dear Top management at Guerlain, would you please use the blog to tell us -among promotion and masked advertising- what are you REALLY doing?

  31. Hi B e B, and thanks for dropping in! My written Italian is very primitive and I'm afraid I can't reciprocate...

    Concerning your comment: yes, I'm quite sure that though the blog may well be Sylvaine's idea -- it does make sense to enter the blogosphere which is more flexible, personal and rapidly referenced than a website -- it was approved by the top management.

    It could be a valuable instrument for disclosing to the general public what has been, up to now, only told to journalists -- the story of a particular fragrance, for instance.
    It could also be used for more transparency in discussing releases, and, unfortunately, discontinuations, as well as justifying reformulations, for which Guerlain is not entirely responsible. Introducing the perfumers who work for the brand (since Thierry Wasser isn't the only one, finally) could also do a lot to humanize the huge machine that is LVMH.
    Even as a marketing instrument, the blog has a lot of potential. I take it as a positive sign that the negative comments have been posted on Esprit de Parfum.

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  33. Dear D. -- Thank you for hosting such a lively debate and especially for summarizing its main points. And thanks to Ms. Delacourte for reading and joining in. I welcome any news of actual conversation between the industry and it's passionate fans, even if my parochial American language limitations make it impossible for me to participate. (I swear, if I had known I would become a perfume obsessive I would have studied French instead of Spanish...)

    I just wanted to be clear that my supposition the blog was ghostwritten (which I share, apparently, with a French commentator) was based primarily on the historical errors you mentioned and was, therefore, an attempt to give the benefit of the doubt rather than to accuse.

  34. Alyssa, I think the historical mistakes are kind of the proof that the blog entries were written by a very busy woman rather than a copywriter, who would've taken the time to double-check.

    I was a little overwhelmed by the intensity of the debate, which is still going on -- I wish I could translate every comment in the other language, but... I do have a day job!

  35. Dear Carmen, I do take this as a positive sign, too :-) Opening a comunication channel is better than stay mute and deaf to what is happening around. Let's wait and see if it really turns (also) into a means of information and trsnsparency...
    Thank you for your effort in hosting and managing this debate, I imagine it takes you time and patience.
    ps: you don't need to know italian anymore... finally I am translating the blog into English!

  36. B e B: on it goes on my blogroll, then! You'll see that translating a blog is... well... quite a bit of work, but worthwhile, as it expands the number of readers in a very gratifying way!

  37. Thank you: I feel honoured to be on your blogroll!