Historically and culturally, the shisha has signified status, elitism and family bonding. Though it continues to be a popular recreational fixture across the world, questions have been raised from the perspective of health. For Eric Gormand, the solution was to reinvent the narghile and make it contemporary, innovative, versatile and a wellness accessory. And he did just that with Airdiem!
The Back Story:
Eric Gormand had an early introduction to high quality craftsmanship. His grandfather, a Lyon silkmaker, supplied his luxurious textiles to the hallowed houses of French couture: Dior, Balenciaga and Schiaparelli. Gormand graduated from the French military academy Saint-Cyr and spent ten years as a professional helicopter pilot for the army, travelling and living in various countries and gathering a wealth of myriad experiences.
While he had read about the narghile pipe in books, Gormand had his first real encounter in 1995, while living in Sarajevo, in a politically tense environment. “At the squadron bar we’d share a narghile, which bonded us as friends and got us talking,” he recalls. “That narghile came to mean a lot of things: relaxation after action, a well-deserved break, comfort, and the pleasure of being alive.”
It was only a decade later that he purchased his first narghile, but it immediately took him down the memory lane. “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.” The subtle taste, the elegance of holding the pipe and the bonding values of the shisha inspired him to look at it from a French recreational perspective, like an evening aperitif.
His acquaintance with luxury design and the lack of high-quality narghiles in the market motivated him to “create a top-of-the-line brand for this product.” Gormand launched Airdiem in 2006, fashioning ergonomically and aesthetically advanced versions of the historic hookah. Crafted in France, “in the best tradition of French manufacturing”, the house collaborates with esteemed designers who have worked with the likes of Hermes and Louis Vuitton, and also with specialist manufacturers of precision parts. “It’s been our quest for excellence that led us to co-design,” he says. “Our narghiles are made to last and be handed on.”
Aroma-vapologie©: As electronic cigarettes fast replace traditional nicotine, and vaping becomes the new smoking, connoisseurs of the ancient tobacco shisha are discovering the pleasures of a healthier method of recreation. Airdiem has been a pioneer of this movement. Being a non-smoker, Gormand had looked at ways of eliminating tobacco before launching the brand. “I had the instinctive feeling that the narghile is not a product for smokers, but actually a treat for the mouth.”
Airdiem’s concept of Aroma-vapologie© is a fusion of lifestyle and gastronomy, a process of tasting flavours in the form of pure, natural vapours, carried to the olfactory organs with the help of steam. According to Gormand, the experience is “like a tea that you enjoy in the form of ultra-fine mist…. Somewhat like molecular cuisine.” The more exotic the ingredients, the better: imagine a white truffle steam or a geranium vapour! The Indian palate can try cardamom, saffron, spice mixes, mint and even chai. Collaborating and experimenting with gourmet chefs, Airdiem offers exciting recipes using elixirs and salts. It is all about new combinations, like pairing food with wines. “You only have to try a truffle narghile served with strips of foie gras on a crusty baguette to really understand the infinite harmonies that a talented and inventive mind can draw from it!”
And then there is vapo-mixology. Esteemed mixologists and bartenders have customised cocktail recipes that give a whole new definition to intoxication. The degree of headiness can only be determined from a real-time experience, though the alcohol quotient of a potent liqueur is reduced after passing through water. Instead, the narghile helps a blend express all its notes and reveal its subtle aromas.
The aromatherapy angle can also be explored at a spa or a wellness centre. Though there have been no specific health studies conducted, it is likely that the user benefits from the nutritive properties of the main ingredient, for eg: vapours of saffron may infuse its anti-depressant qualities. Airdiem also makes its own tobacco-free blends using porous minerals saturated with natural favours. “Our product can be sold anywhere – not in tobacco shops – and can be used without restriction, including indoors,” says Gormand. To him, the significance of the modern narghile lies in “a passion for communion in an era when we need comforting and simple pleasures.”