Shiloh : A Baby and a Perfume

By Joe Bargmann on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

NEW YORK -- SymineSalimpour is in a stinky yellow cab racing to JFK. Raven-haired, fair-skinned and pencil-thin, she has ditched her all-black outfit (leather pants, tank top, pointy boots), the one she favors when she s in New York. Now she s wearing blue jeans, a gauzy white tank top and flip-flops, the uniform of a chic international fashionista on the go.
It is hot and sunny, the windows of the cab are open, and Salimpour can smell the baking asphalt, the exhaust fumes, the fermenting garbage.
"It smells gritty," she says -- which, in her heavy French accent, becomes "Eet smells gree-tee."
But more than that, Salimpour exclaims, after some contemplation, "It smells like . . . like . . . freedom!"
Salimpour, 31, has a keen nose -- designing fragrances is part of what she does as the proprietor of a budding fashion company -- and the freedom she smells these days is honeysuckle sweet.
After a five-month legal battle with perhaps the most famous mother and child on the planet, Angelina Jolie and Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, Salimpour won the legal right to call her new perfume Shiloh. She got the green light on June 15, when Jolie, 32, and Shiloh, 13 months, dropped their legal challenge to Salimpour s application to trademark the name.
Now Salimpour is arranging for the first shipment of Shiloh to the United States. She says she began development of the fragrance two years ago, long before Shiloh was born on May 27, 2006. But the designer s application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office did not occur until June 19 that year.
Jolie smelled a rat, and instructed her intellectual property lawyer to bring down the hammer on Salimpour.
"I was so scared," says Salimpour, who learned of the legal challenge, filed Jan. 31, in a phone call from a friend. "I mean, c mon, who wouldn t be?" But Salimpour, who is Jewish and a citizen of both France and Israel, gamely played David to Jolie s Goliath, maintaining that the naming was strictly a coincidence.
"In Hebrew, Shiloh means his gift, " Salimpour says. "And I will use the perfume to give something back to the children of Israel and the Middle East." She means this literally. After Shiloh hits the market later this year, she says, 5 percent of the profits will go to the Israeli-based nonprofit organization BeitIssie Shapiro, which provides medical and educational services to disabled children.
Repeated e-mail and telephone messages seeking comment from Jolie or her lawyer for this article were unreturned.
The daughter of an Iranian-born psychiatrist and an Egyptian-born artist who met and were married in France, Salimpour is a graduate of the Sorbonne, and in 2003 received a law degree from Paris s famed EFB, the Ecole de Formation Professionnelledes Barreaux.
It was in Paris that Salimpour met Arno Klarsfeld, son of renowned Nazi-hunters Serge and BeateKlarsfeld. Salimpour calls Arno Klarsfeld "my mentor." A lawyer and human rights advocate who, like Salimpour, has dual French-Israeli citizenship, Klarsfeld inspired her to make a pilgrimage to Israel.
Salimpour ended up living and working there, for the jeweler H. Stern, and loved the business so much that she decided to begin designing and selling her own jewelry.
Eventually, she realized that she would need to move to the United States if she were truly going to make her mark. She flew to Los Angeles in 2005, and that summer, Salimpour started her company, Hors La Monde. Enjoying some success selling her jewelry, she decided to expand her product line with a perfume called Lo -- which flopped.
Undeterred, she began development of a second fragrance. In early 2006, she was carrying several experimental samples when she flew back to the South of France for a party at her parents house. There, she met renowned perfumer Michel Roudnitska, son of the late Edmond Roudnitska, who, during his prime in the 1940s and 50s, created such classics as Christian Dior s Eau Fraiche and Hermes s first signature fragrance, Eau d Hermes.
"I was very, very impressed to meet Michel," Salimpour says, meaning she was intimidated. "He s recognized as one of the best noses in the world. We can compare his work to that of a painter or a composer. . . . It s like Beethoven, the Beethoven of perfume."
When the two met weeks later, at Roudnitska s lab in Cabris (near Grasse, the perfume center of France, thus the perfume center of the universe), Salimpour says, "I told him my story. I told him I was a lawyer with a special interest in human rights, that I design jewelry and had lived in Israel and Paris and the South of France. The scent I wanted would present the idea of fragility and strength. And that it would be called Shiloh."
It is a complex fragrance. The forward notes, the ones that hit your nose first, are cedar wood and patchouli. Rising above that earthy base are delicious whiffs of citrus (thanks to a dab of bergamot oil) and rose petals. There are probably about 30 other scents that an expert could identify. It s a really heady scent.
When word of Salimpour s legal battle with Jolie became public (in an article I wrote for Life & Style Weekly, where I m executive editor), it created buzz on the Internet and in the rarefied and somewhat insular fine-fragrance industry.
"It was all over the place -- everyone was talking about it," says Marian Bendeth, a Toronto-based fragrance expert. "I was absolutely astounded by the fact that she put herself on the line like this. She went to Roudnitska, an uber-perfumer, and he agreed to work with her. It was a very expensive, very risky proposition."
The trademark battle "was just a huge misunderstanding," Salimpour says, magnanimous in victory. "And besides having a baby named Shiloh -- because this perfume, it is my baby -- we can say we have two other things in common: We believe in human rights, and we love Brad Pitt!"