Monday, October 15, 2012

Let's Talk About It: Bertrand Duchaufour And The Dictator's Daughter

I woke up to an email from a reader pointing me to this article on the Independent website. In short: master-perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour was hired by Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Islam Karimov, the ruling dictator of Uzbekistan to create a perfume for her line. I admit to being a semi-myopic American who had to do some googling, Wikipediaing and reading to quickly familiarize myself with Uzbek politics. Here's the best article I found about the lady in question. As for her daddy, let's just say that he's not a nice man.

By the time I was fully awake and in possession of the basic information, the guys on Basenotes already declared themselves Not Impressed with Duchaufour's newest patrons and his decision to work with them. I can see why. If we take The Independent's word for this, the brilliant perfumer seems a bit too self-congratulatory for comfort:
Her latest vanity project, perfume, was launched at a lavish party in a Tashkent nightclub last week. The fragrance was created by leading French perfumier Bertrand Duchaufour, who has masterminded scents for a number of leading brands including Christian Dior and Givenchy. "Through the 'Mysterieuse' fragrance I tried to convey the image of Gulnara, her femininity and sensuality," he said, according to local news reports from the event. "The women's fragrance has notes of every flower that can be found in the Orient." "I am perhaps the first man in the history of perfumery who has tried to link France and Uzbekistan through perfume."

Personally, this kind of association bothers me.  Bertrand Duchaufour is perhaps the highest profile hired-gun perfumer. Just by being in that Tashkent club and rubbing against Karimova and her circle he gave them a certain perceived legitimacy, and I wish he hadn't. The question is, can we expect and demand that our favorite artists (especially perfumers) to avoid catering to clientele we find morally and ethically questionable? Do we have the right to be outraged at Mr. Duchaufour, and if so what should we do about it? Should we tell L'Artisan in no uncertain terms that we'll boycott their next release if they hire Duchaufour  to compose it? Can we (and should we) separate the artist from his art?

I don't have a clear answer. I think Mr. Duchaufour was wrong in taking this job, but who am I to tell him that? I own several of his creations and enjoy them tremendously. Will I think twice before purchasing another one? Yes, definitely. But where do we put the line?

What do you think? Let's talk about it.

Photo: A model walks the runway during the General Defile By Dom Stilya on October 9, 2012 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Credit: Yves Forestier/Getty Images Europe, via Zimbio.


  1. Didn't a star recently get into PR trouble for attending/performing at the birthday party of this or another dictator? That should have been a cautionary tale. I agree, this is disappointing and distressing. ~~nozknoz

    1. Singers Beyonce and Mariah Carey have made private performances for the libic dictator Gaddafi...

  2. I do think we have the right to be outraged. Consorting with dictators and working for anyone who is willing to pay you deserves some sort of consequences. Of course, we all remember the artists of all kinds who morally compromised themselves by working for and thus supporting the Nazis. At the very least, he should get a public reaction, so I'm glad you're blogging about the issue. I'm not sure what I personally am going to do about it, but I'm thinking about it for now and will discuss it with other perfume friends.

  3. He has the right to take any job he chooses. He also as a professional has the responsibility to face any blowback this will elicit.

    On a mercenary note I'd think twice about polluting my personal brand with this sort of partnership were I him. Unless his fee is going to aid in educating girls in Pakistan in the name of Malala Yousufzai, it's not going to sit well. Even if it is, it's not going to..

  4. I'm definitely tremendously disappointed ! I expect artists to work responsibly and consciously - exactly because of the fact that the local/native artists in dictator's (fascist, etc.) regimes cannot work freely. So if nothing else, then at least solidarity...
    Duchafour was one of my favorites - but the order for the 3 Ann Gerard scents (created by him) I had in my shopping basket in an online shop won't be sent anymore.

  5. Agree with Tom. We value the freedom of choice, and should not impose restrictions on others, but it's just such a shame and a shock that he chose to take this job.

  6. I think we have the right to expect artists not to behave like streetwalkers. That was an unethical (and quite silly)job choice, and un unethical party to be at. (I'm sure there was great caviar there, though.) Of course, when we look back in time such perceptions get attenuated, but for me, personally, nazi collaboration is still too fresh. I'll not be a fan of Leni Riefenstahl, even if I agree she was technically competent. I spent my childhood in a dictatorship, and I think as a consumer I'm not going to crave Mr. Duchaufour's creations for a while. What a turnoff!

  7. Urgh, absolutely gruesome. Child slavery, boiling prisoners alive, graft and corruption, and sleazy pop. Now she's got her "celebuscent". Any artist needs to be careful about their choice of patrons. This was a bad choice of patron indeed. I'm grossed out. And shame on Sting, too.

  8. Yesterday I read the news in the main Italian newspaper (no less!), and was disappointed not to find any echo of such news in the perfume blogs - so thank you for bringing up the subject!
    As a customer, I am disappointed when a brand I like, via it's artistic director, it's spokesman, or whoever is directly link-able to the brand, behaves in a way that is contrary to my principles. As Tom says, BD has the right to take any job he choses, and as a customer I have the right to evaluate how much his choices dusturb me (in this case: a lot!) and act in accordance.
    I don't know if and how to boycott, however: many brands whose products I love crawl in ethically "dark gray" areas...and the perfume industry in particular flirts with the kind of customers that I would firmly place behind bars.
    So, while I do my best not to buy Nestlé and Danone products, I am not sure how I should behave with respect to Chanel's, Guerlain's and, in this case, BD's perfumes.
    I am lucky enough as I don't have as many BD "loves" as your average perfumista, so it would be easy to "boycott" his work. Yet I am not sure I want l'Artisan, Penhaligons or Neela Verneire to pay the consequences of my disappointment in BD freelance choices...
    I hope he was just superficial in not making a good due diligence on his last "patron"... Look forward to the other comments!

  9. Several of Mr. Duchaufour's creations are personal favorites of mine. While I agree that he has freedom to work for and with whomever he chooses, I find it sad and disappointing that he chose to associate with these people.

  10. I think Tom sums it up nicely. I've been sort of generally worried about BD's relentless ubiquity for a while now - constant exposure is bound to result in some resentment eventually. But this is some pretty horrifically bad judgment that can't really be excused by simply wanting to "grow your brand." We all know who Duchaufour is, he's incredibly successful at what he does, and good at it, too. He doesn't need this particular job for fame or recognition, so it winds up just looking like greed, and a particularly ugly form of it. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and that bottle of Seville a l'Aube I was contemplating just moved a little further down my "to buy" list.

  11. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. Duchaufour has the right to work for whomever he chooses. In doing so, he should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Granted, this is the daughter of the monster, not the monster himself, but it's a tainted commission nonetheless. The people of Uzbekistan live in terror of Karimov and his henchmen. Take money from that family and you take money soaked in blood.

  12. Whatever one thinks of his taking the commission to produce the actual juice, he certainly went further when he claimed that the fragrance tried to convey the "image of Gulnara" i.e, femmine and sensual. At that point he signed on to being one of her publicists.

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  14. This is awful. While, as others pointed out, he has every right to choose for whom he will work, we as consumers also have every right to choose whom we will support with our cash.'s Santal Majuscule instead of Seville a l'Aube for me this fall!

  15. Terribly disappointing. I have long loved Duchaufour's work, but as a fan, I feel positively crushed by this news. Yes, it's his choice-- but a more unfortunate or misguided one he could not possibly have made. Who will buy this perfume-- and under what level of coercion or threat?

  16. I'm just very sad to see his venality, and I guess that every time I'll be admiring his incredible ability to make a mood or an exotic scenario bloom from the bottle (his scents occupy a big place in my fragrance collection!), I couldn't help feeling a bit uneasy, thinking of how easily he bended this ability to convey the dreams of a dictator's daughter!!

  17. If you want to know more about this family of kleptocrats, please read current reports on forced child labor/human trafficking in Uzbekistan by Human Rights Watch and many other organizations. The US government is currently considering severe sanctions on this country for human trafficking. Observers of the cotton harvest have been "cracked down upon" when they try to report on the condition of the children, who are forced to pick for the Karimov clan. The prison where the "cracking down" happens is most notorious. This regime reminds me of the Duvaliers of Haiti, and I cannot imagine buying the work of the perfumer who made Michelle Duvalier's celebuscent. Therefore, no more Duchaufour perfumes for me. I'm terribly sad.

  18. My only caveat is that it's sad that the people who would pay for a boycott in this are the people who have hired him previously. I don't think he works on residuals; he's already cashed that check and moved on.

    He may have to be dealing with baggage in the future however if people decide to send the message that they won't buy anything new from him.

  19. Poor decision from someone who should know better. Free to make his own choices, I do think there will be consequences. Having read a few articles about her, I find this highly disturbing. I guess in his world money talks, no matter where it comes from. Sad!

  20. I have always been a huge fan of his, so this is beyond shocking and disappointing. I will attempt to send him some communication and ask him to explain, tho who knows if it will ever get through. He may feel he doesn't owe anyone an explanation, still, I would like to know how this was justified in his own mind at least. I don't feel comfortable buying further fragrances or supporting him through writing about them until I hear something from him that makes sense of all this, or an hopefully acknowledgement that he made a big mistake. If there is a justifiable reason for this he should let us know. I can't imagine what that would be, but I don't know all the circumstances. I assume he has freedom to work as he wishes more or less, and can't imagine that L'Artisan would contract him out to a dictator's daughter. If they did, then I'd like to know about that too.

  21. Seriously? He's a perfumer. He can do what and associate with whom he chooses. I wish there were as much attention being paid to the presidential election in this country.

  22. The average perfume customer may never know that the perfume they are smelling was designed by a person who also put money in the pockets of a violent dictator's family. It's up to the media and frankly blogs like this to put that information out there and make it potentially dangerous to the bottom line of others who want to hire him. Unfortunately he doesn't bear the name of any particular fragrance company, so the connection is tenuous at best in the mind of even the educated consumer.

    It's not a question of whether or not he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. There is such a thing as ethics. The world is a better place when people choose to use their talents for good. The world is a worse place when people choose to use their talents for bad. "Because I can" is something people try to train out of their children when those children beat up on the other kids or steal their toys. "Because I can" is not a real excuse from an adult who should know better, who should know that just because there's no law prohibiting something doesn't mean it's okay to do. And this isn't a case of freedom of expression as an artist; he isn't creating art for the public sphere or for himself, he's doing it as a commercial commission from an unspeakably evil corporate interest.

    You can see in his comment that he pats himself on the back for developing a connection between France and Uzbekistan; but in reality all he has done is cash a paycheck.

    Shame on M. Duchafour, good for you for bringing attention to this, and I very much hope that the companies who have commissioned M. Duchafour in the past realize that doing so in the future may bring them unwanted attention. A boycott from a few dozen or hundred customers doesn't affect sales. But *press* about the boycott brings attention to a much wider audience and can very much affect sales.

  23. Again, the man is a perfumer. As far as I know, there is no perfumers' code of ethics, no pledge or oath they take to uphold professional standards.

    That leaves us with business and personal ethics. As we're all probably aware, current "business ethics" consist of no ethics at all. What he did is probably being acknowledged by the business community as "entreprenurial" or "risk-taking," because you're a chump if you don't do whatever is necessary to make more money. If anything, the publicity is most likely boosting his sales.

    So that leaves us with personal ethics. Apparently, creating this scent did not conflict with those. It's his business and his problem. If two or three dozen consumers stop buying his scents, what's the effect on him? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    I find it absurd and sad that this is being blown up into an "issue" given the real issues we are currently facing in this country. Why not give the money you'd have spent on his scents to a charitable institution in your community? That will make a difference.

  24. It ALWAYS comes down to personal ethics: it is absurd and sad to think that there are separate ones for perfumers. Of course there are not.

    But there do not seem to be any rules anymore as far as retail is concerned. It is whatever makes money nowadays. I used to work for someone who allowed racial name-calling (and yes, I too, was a victim of it) inside the shop. The idea was that they would be gone soon after the sale was made and it would not matter anyway. But to me, it did matter; I could not work for that retailer anymore.

  25. 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?

  26. There are certainly "real issues" in Uzbekistan. One can choose to ignore them, but change never came about by people not caring.
    As ordinary consumers it's close to impossible to avoid completely not sending money in directions we'd rather not because it's close to impossible to find out who's owned by whom at what point in time when we do our everyday shopping. But this is something else. This is a willful choice.

    BD can do as he pleases. So can I. Judith, you put it so well - just because we can, doesn't mean that it's the wise thing to do.

    Aesthetics that don't relate to the world we live in lack in meaning and ulitmately beauty to me.

  27. Excellent post!

    The thing is art can be separate from one's private life (this is why we can cringe at the personal stories of some of the greatest artists) but it can't be separate from one's politics (even if not exactly "partisan" or being "enlisted to a cause" politically). Necessarily the society cannot extricate itself from the artist (because the artist is part of it and expresses it), while the artist owes his/her audience to extricate his/her private life.

    Then again it could be argued that perfumery is more of a craft than an art...which unpopular as it might be as a view lately, it might -just might!- be closer to the truth than the puffed up ego of some might agree with.

  28. I read about the whole affair on nstperfume about an hour ago and am not able to pull myself together.

    Like some of the above perfumistas I own some Duchaufour stuff (big bottle, small bottle, samples) and until he conceived "Petite Mort" I admired him very much. Afterwards, I had the picture of two misogynists (the master and Mr Atlan)laughing themselves senseless before my eyes.

    Now I see a person entirely bereft of any compassion.

    It would be the wisest thing to throw all the stuff made by him away, but I cannot bring myself to do that yet. Maybe if the bitter aftertaste intensifies.


  29. Petra,
    This was purely a personal decision on my part, and I don't expect others to do it just because I did, but the bitter taste and sadness intensified to the point I DID throw my Duchaufour bottles away, and made a donation to a human rights NGO. It was painful to see those bottles leave my street in a garbage truck, but I feel just fine now, and I have lots of other wonderful perfumes for comfort!

  30. Hello Mary,

    I really admire you being so consequent.

    One thing's for sure: no more Duchaufour for me.

    What actually makes me quite happy is the fact that
    a lot of bloggers are as appaled by this affair as
    I am and do not find palliative excuses for such a

    Therefore I wish more people would boycott "A rebours"
    by "Friendly Fur", a German fur producing enterprise.
    PETA calls their propaganda "greenwashing".

    There's no friendly way to skin a fox and in my
    opinion the only friendly fur is fake fur.


  31. I do not see any reason to throw away anything created by Mr. Duchaufour until now: perfumes aren't signed by his name, I'm not promoting his name by wearing those perfumes - so why should I punish myself (I've bought those already)? I do not think it's a good idea to boycott exisitng creations by Mr. Duchaufour - for the reasons stated above as well as because it would be unfair towards all the brands who hired him previously: he had been already payed for those perfumes and brands had no way of knowing what he'd do in future. But I plan to boycott his future releases: now I know and brands know. Since if I don't have enough integrity not to SPEND money on something how could I require any ethic behavior from somebody when it comes to MAKING money? So I feel that I HAVE to start with myself and say No to new perfumes from Mr. Duchaufour.

  32. I agree about the older perfumes, Undina, and I don't want to see people like Ann Gerard and Neela Vermeire penalized for GoogooGate. My chucking the Duchaufour perfumes in the bin had to do with the fact that I could no longer wear them without feeling some very dark emotions. I realized that wouldn't change over time, either, and I didn't want to sell them (I just donated money I already had to the NGO). As I said, it was an utterly personal decision based on how I felt smelling those perfumes. I'm not advocating that anyone else throw away his former works.

  33. After what happened to me on the other blog I have to say that giving money to a NGO is a very very good idea.

    As long as people go blabbing about having to laugh at the Innquisition because of Monthy Python there's a lot of PR work still to be done by Amnesty International.

    I immensly like "The Life of Brian", but this does not induce me to giggle at crucifixion.

    When I insinuated that for persons who think the Inqusition is a laughing matter Mystérieuse might after all be the perfect scent,
    I was being censored.

    As I would not want to have a conversation with persons so inclined in the real world, I'll skip doing so in the virtual one.

    Such a lot of blogs around, as there are perfumers, luckily!


  34. Please dont confuse personal life and creations... because the artist in their private life are not models, but the important are their creations. Are or not good? No more cuestions to me, I asked about the life of writers their books I loved, bad parents, bad citizen, the same question on the same with the masters of painting, Picasso, Dali, ... examples, one was a bad friend, a bad husband other political ideas of both, opposite, do not share them, but I enjoy wiht their works.
    If You think a perfume is good enjoy it, In my country during len my country during the dictatorship of Franco many women stopped using Diorisssimo because I used the dictator's wife. What fault has the perfume?
    Ok I Know is different but to enjoy the artistic work unfortunately we abstract from the life of the artist who created it.

  35. I'll say this much,...the French always find a way to be willing "slaves" to their "outre" performances and antics.


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