Actor Ben Whishaw
Jurgen Olczyk  /  Paramount Pictures
Actor Ben Whishaw is shown in a scene from the new film “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” Whishaw portrays Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a 18th-century French perfumer who becomes a serial murderer to create the perfect scent.
By contributor
updated 11/20/2006 4:26:59 PM ET 2006-11-20T21:26:59

As part of the marketing agenda for the new film “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”  you’d be right to expect an olfactory-related product tie-in. What you might not have anticipated is a coffret, or box, from Thierry Mugler Parfums, housing more than a dozen aromas, including a few whiffs of unpleasantry.

The film, opening Dec. 27, is based on the international best-selling book about a young 18th-century French perfumer who becomes a serial murderer to create the perfect scent.

The Thierry Mugler coffret — U.S. consumers will be able to buy it later this week for about $700 through the company's Web site  — contains 15 odors, 14 of them tied to key portions of the book that are also highlighted in the film.

On the one hand, there’s the delectable fragrance, “Baby,” depicting the orphan and future murderer, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. And the seductive “Virgin Number One,” exuding the aroma of the young girl who sells plums and whose personal scent intoxicates Grenouille. On the other hand, the coffret contains fouler offerings, such as “Atelier Grimal,” “Paris 1738” and “Human Existence,” which evoke the squalor and filth found in the sewer that was Paris nearly two centuries ago.

“I have to admit that, among perfumers, people were a little bit astonished in the beginning,” says Vera Strubi, the president of Thierry Mugler, about the response to the project. “The whole idea of what we have done is a little bit abstract.”

The seeds of the coffret were sown when Strubi was first approached by Thomas Friedl from the film’s German producer, Constantin Film. Friedl was hoping to create a perfume tied to the film, something Strubi was not interested in pursuing. “It seemed to us very difficult to make a perfume around this story, which is still the story of a murderer,” she says. But another opportunity soon presented itself.

Thierry Miller coffret
Juergen Schwope  /  Thierry Miller
The $700 coffret from Theirry Mugler has scents that range from fragrant to foul.

Strubi learned of an enterprising perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances — the corporation behind a score of renowned perfumes — who had become fascinated with the book well before its transformation into a movie. That perfumer, Christophe Laudamiel, had assembled, as part of his own creative pursuits, a personal collection of scents based on what he considered significant scenes in the book. Eventually Laudamiel connected with Strubi who liked the concept.

Strubi worked with Laudamiel and I.F.F. colleague Christoph Hornetz, to pare down Laudamiel’s offerings. In the process, the team created the 15th fragrance, “Aura,” that used all the fragrance categories, such as woody, floral and green, and which would act as an enhancer of any other scent.

Thierry Mugler produced fewer than 2,000 coffrets, many of which were distributed to people within the perfume industry. Diane Biancamano, manager of public relations for Clarins, the parent company of Thierry Mugler, said about 400 coffrets had been designated to be sold globally. The number of coffrets which had been allotted for the European market — the film opened in several countries there earlier in the fall — sold out within a week, says Biancamano. Once the U.S. allotment sells out, no more coffrets will become available.

Even for those who can afford the steep price, the coffret comes with a down side. “All these fragrances have not been worked on as a fragrance you could wear,” says Strubi. That doesn’t mean they can’t become wearable down the road. However, Strubi sees this project more as “a good starting point,” adding, “This could give us basic ideas for a new fragrance in the future, because there are so many ideas in this coffret.”

Strubi also sees the film as a revelation for perfume lovers. “The average consumer is not aware of how much work in involved to create a fragrance,” she says. “The whole movie shows the work of alchemy, very mysterious, of how to mix a fragrance and suddenly you have a beautiful smell.” 

As media and industry professionals exited screenings of “Perfume” in New York, they were treated to a preview of the coffret. The olfactory effects were contagious. “Once they started smelling one, they wanted to smell all of them,” says Biancamano, even the more “intense and pungent” ones. Some people offered suggestions about incorporating the scents into the screening experience, by pumping the aromas into the theater at key points in the narrative.

However, people worried about long lingering doses of “Human Existence” in the closed confines of a movie theater have nothing to worry about. The technology, assures Biancamano — to quickly clear the air of scents, whether favorable or not, is not there yet.

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