founder of Airdiem
An epicurean adventurer :
Grandson of a Lyon silk maker who supplied the temples of high fashion: Dior, Fath, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli. . . Eric Gormand has always been infatuated with fine craftsmanship. He imbues his products with a sensibility he acquired over an unusual, not to say exotic, career. He spent ten years as a professional helicopter pilot. Starting 2006 Airdiem began drawing on famous designers to create truly extraordinary narghiles.
How did you discover the narghile?
When I was younger I had heard about narghiles in writers like Pierre Loti or Alexandre Dumas, but it was in 1995 while staying in Sarajevo that I discovered them for myself.
At the time I was a young officer fresh out of Saint-Cyr, the French military academy, and our helicopter squadron had the job of enforcing the Dayton Accords, in a very tense environment.
Everyday there was a mission or an alert.
At the squadron bar we’d share a narghile, which bonded us as friends and got us talking. That narghile came to mean a lot of things: relaxation after action, a well deserved break, comfort, the pleasure of being alive.
Once I was back in France, I only got a narghile of my own some ten years later. That’s how the narghile works. It helps us at certain times of our lives till it becomes a very personal item. You can let it go for months or years at a time, and then you rediscover the pleasure of it.
What is at about this object that attracts you?
Right away I loved the subtle taste and the aroma of the narghile , but also its elegance and the way you hold it, use it, physically.
It’s like Proust’s famous madeleine; it brings back moments of conviviality, a bit like those evening aperitifs during vacations. It’s pleasure unknown to most French people, though it is commonly used in the military.
Some Lebanese friends of mine were saying that during the dark days in Beirut it turned out to be the main thing people took with them down into the shelters: something to share, to bring the family together, something that stood for real values, that gave meaning.
Your narghiles have an original and luxurious look to them. What was your guiding thought in founding Airdiem narghiles?
My decision to create a top-of-the-line brand for this product was a result of what I saw. At that time there was no high-quality narghile being sold. I mean, nothing esthetically successful, made from first class materials and that worked perfectly.
I’m a non-smoker and I had the instinctive feeling that the narghile is not a product for smokers but actually a treat for the mouth. It fits perfectly into today’s world, where people seek out special occasions, small luxuries, natural ways to relax.
Where are they made?
Narghiles have a long lineage in France, being manufactured by Saint-Louis, Baccarat and Christofle up until 1914. Our narghiles are designed by designers who have also worked for the great French luxury brands like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and so on. These collaborations have enabled us to identify the best French craftspeople, this obviously being one of the most closely guarded secrets in the luxury sector.
Our narghiles are made in France in the best tradition of French manufacturing; and we make us of know-how from several EU countries, since many trades and skills are involved in manufacturing a narghile. For example, we developed an innovative burner and had it made at the Reichenbach porcelain factory in Germany, which has been a top-quality manufacturer since 1830. It’s been our quest for excellence that led us to co-design narghiles, notably with Baccarat in 2010 but with other major firms as well. Our narghiles are made to last and be handed on.
Your narghiles do not need tobacco. How did you come up with that innovation?
Airdiem did not make tobacco or charcoal until very recently. But it was not easy for our customers, often hotels and lounges around the world, to find high quality consumables for our products. We had some incentive then to invest in just the right product. So we decided to innovate with new, tobacco-less ingredients and bring out a new range of flavors under the title “On the Silk Road.”
Our blends take the form of porous minerals saturated with natural flavors. The use of minerals is important because it shows that what is involved is distillation, with water vapor and not with smoke. You cannot smoke stones!
Our product can be sold anywhere, not in tobacco shops, and can be used without restriction, including indoors.
Because of the design and innovations you offer, Airdiem narghiles are found in some unexpected places. Could you tell us about these new uses and settings?
From the start we had this vision of a narghile that was a unique tasting experience, like a tea that you enjoy in the form of ultra-fine mist. In developing this collection of flavors, we had to express to the fullest our French-style approach to a natural, sophisticated product.
Somewhat like molecular cuisine, which made it possible to discover new taste combinations, you only have to try a truffle narghile served with strips of foie gras on a crusty baguette to really understand the infinite harmonies a talented and inventive mind can draw from it
Our narghile can be at home in such different places as a spa, where it’s about wellness and aromatherapy, or a nightclub, where a bartender can apply the art of mixology to the bowl of the narghile.
One last question: to you the narghile means—?
A passion for communion in an era when we need comforting and simple pleasures.