Huckstering, marketing, and mystery: The case of Montale.

Beyond the speculation and rumors, one persistent question generates chatter in the fragrance world: Is there a Pierre Montale?

Beyond the speculation and rumors, one persistent question generates chatter in the fragrance world: Is there a Pierre Montale?

Montale Paris boutique 300x216 Huckstering, marketing, and mystery: The case of Montale.I’ve recently been reading with interest a number of threads on various websites alluding to aspects of Montale Perfumes:  their ownership, the perfumer behind the fragrances, and whether there really is a “Pierre Montale”.

So I’ll begin this piece with a single and universal statement: Much of the fragrance industry is focused on marketing versus the scents they produce. The reasons any of us wear a fragrance vary widely, but generally they are either to make a specific impression or for our own personal gratification. Like any great marketer, the fragrance and cosmetics industry has picked up on that trend and tendency and have leveraged it to their advantage.  All of this said, we each wear a fragrance because we personally like it or have been conditioned by marketing to believe it will enhance our own or others’ perception of us. The story could easily be ended here as an OpEd piece without much more to say, but we’d be neglecting the details behind the story.

The speculation goes — often unchecked — that perhaps Montale is a clever fraud perpetrated on the consumer, or more precisely, one that the consumer has also perpetrated upon themselves. So rather than begin with the speculation, let’s focus on the facts we know.

  • Montale Perfumes has a very extensive line of fragrances since its first product release in 2003. Many of them are formulaic in nature, with some change in elements to differentiate. Depending on your personal tastes, many of them are rather good and the selection of Aoud (Agarwood) based fragrances from the house is perhaps the largest.
  • Montale was among the first to focus on and capture the imagination of Oud, and without much fanfare, created a line that perhaps opened the eyes of the Western world to what was otherwise considered a Middle-Eastern or Asian tradition of the ingredient.
  • Pierre Montale has never given an interview, nor have the creations of the Montale house made it onto encyclopedic references of fragrances, despite the extensive product size of their line.
  • Montale has never done very much marketing or advertising. Rather, those who have purchased or tried the product (along with their distributors) have done much of that promotion for them by purchasing or reviewing or recommending those products.
  • One of the last searchable references to Montale Perfumes as a company includes a statement of gross sales for the Q1 2011 period, and is represented by by “Ammar Atmeh“, who is described as the founder and owner of the Montale trademark. This appears to be further supported by product release PR that underscores his relationship as the “owner” of “Montale International Design”. Further trademark supporting detail can be found in these links:

In effect, what we can substantiate is that Ammar Atmeh, a Palestinian living in Dubai, is the face of Montale. What we cannot substantiate is anything about a “Pierre Montale”, other than the name and an alleged photo making its way around the Internet that, frankly, could be anyone. There is literally no cuir d arabie1 300x300 Huckstering, marketing, and mystery: The case of Montale.history to be found on the man, myth or legend, leading people to think he is a myth, or the story behind the founding of Montale the work of clever marketing copy.

This is all accompanied by speculation of a change in name from “Montale” to “Tanelli”, something for which I could not obtain facts or concrete evidence prior to publication other than a similarly designed bottle and the information that Tanelli perfumes are, indeed, being sold in the Montale Paris location.

So apart from the speculative aspects of this, the questions remain, and resolving them will involve approximately the same level of confidence as one would have in the “Magic 8 Ball”.  So I’ve asked the Magic 8 Ball the same questions:

  • Is there a Pierre Montale?  ”Signs point to no.” Given the sheer number of Montale releases — about 100 at time of publication — it would be a major feat for only one perfumer to have developed all of them. In reality, there is likely a team working on formulating perfumes, potentially using certain templates to achieve the results. Similarly, companies like Givaudan (the worlds largest fragrance producer) use teams of people to develop their products, all of whom work fairly anonymously behind the scenes.
  • What will happen to the Montale name?  “Answer fuzzy, try again later.” Anything we say here is simply conjecture. Perhaps because of that conjecture — or a tall-tale that has since been debunked — whoever is behind Montale may decide to change the branding.
  • Is there a behind-the-scenes rift between Pierre Montale and Ammar Atmeh? “Signs point to no.” We can’t even confirm the existence of a  real person named “Pierre Montale”, much less any information suggesting a rift. The recognition that Ammar Atmeh appears to be the holder or owner of the Montale trademark suggests that the story of Pierre Montale relocating to Saudi Arabia to develop perfumes for Saudi royalty is a tale of Pinocchio proportions.
  • Will the Montale fragrances go away?  ”Doubtful.” While they’ll more likely be marketed under a different name, there is enough anecdotal evidence suggesting that the products are too lucrative to be simply abandoned. More likely is that some of the collection will be trimmed back — do we need a Kabul Aoud or a Riyadh Aoud or Dubai Aoud? Not likely.

There is certainly a lesson to be learned from the story behind Montale, and that’s one of the “fantasy” element about perfume that all of us would like to believe: The marketing copy certainly played very well to that fantasy of a journeyman perfumer who makes a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to hone his craft at creating fragrances for royalty, then returns triumphantly to Paris to share his success. The classic “local boy does well” story.  Except there is no local boy, there’s little evidence for us to believe there even is (or was) a Pierre Montale, and we’re left with just the fragrance industry output given to us cloaked in a clever but plausible story.

Marketing executives should take note of this one. It’s an interesting drama. And we bought it, hook, line and sinker. Normally, that would be the end of this story, and we’d watch the credits roll as the screen fades to black. Normally.

As much as we might like to believe there is some magic in perfumery, that magic is in the chemistry applied. Usually by people who are very highly trained or experienced in the field. They are the artists, we are just along to appreciate their work and validate it with our wallets. As mentioned with Givaudan, there isn’t likely only one artist engaged in the masterpiece to emerge; often there are several people behind the scenes as anyone sitting through the credits of a Hollywood production will attest. It’s probable for that to be the case with Montale as well.

As disappointed as we may be that the story won’t have a Hollywood ending, it begs the question: Does it really matter? The answer, quite candidly, is no. This is different from the movie ending in that the person on the screen doesn’t truly affect the final outcome. The who matters far less than you believe; the what makes the true difference. Although we’d like to pick up our marbles and leave, we’re all captivated by the aroma, the fragrance, the mystique that we’re given to believe. We like something for ‘what’ it is, not particularly for ‘who’ makes it.

We don’t necessarily want to know the secret formula for Coke, or “The Colonel’s 11 Herbs and Spices”. We want the product because we like it; otherwise we wouldn’t keep buying it.  So it goes with perfume.

So the story of Montale? Perhaps it’s this: It’s just great conversation fodder for speculation. But the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus can likely add Pierre Montale to their ranks.

Otherwise, it does little to diminish our opinion of the product itself.

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  • http://www.shopfranceinc.com Suzan Becker

    Hello. As a professional personal shopper to France, I have been a regular client of Montale and I have met with and spoken with Monsieur Pierre Montale MANY times. Anyone who frequented his shop and knew him and his staff knows that he does exist. Is he reclusive? Yes. Is he talented? Yes. Is he real? Yes. One day he was dressed in blue from head to toe…blue shaded eyeglasses down to his blue suede shoes. I only remark on that because it made an impression on me…the man, the artist. One day he and I talked about counterfeits. He drew pictures for me detailing his bottle vs. the counterfeits. I found my many conversations with him to be enlightening and mysterious. He completely shuns the public eye and it was only after several years of chatting with him that I came to know who he was. The attributes to him about introducing Oud or Aoud to the Western world are accurate. He is to be commended. And as for the commercial side of things, he never raised his prices until very recently…He is a true perfume artist. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but those who know Paris and the fragrance players, know Pierre Montale. Je lui souhaite bon courage.

  • http://www.scentrist.com Andrew Buck

    Thanks for responding, Suzan. Since this post was published, there have been a few different posts on other sites related to similar speculation. Given the apparent ownership of Montale Perfumes by someone other than Mr. Montale, how do you or he respond given that situation? Very curious as to the real backstory on this, or something that helps substantiate his existence.

    Are there pictures?