A new strategic battleground for perfumers

Making the art of discovering a fragrance the centre of a perfume purchase, introducing the consumer to the subtleties of scents: this clearly is the major challenge of the fragrance market for the years to come. This trend started many years ago by the niche perfume brands, and progressively seduced the public. Emancipated from their status of mere passive consumers, these new fans became increasingly intransigent and critical of fragrance marketing, and are now forcing the most prestigious brands and retailers to use their creativity and imagination in order to create increasingly innovative outlets and rituals. As Emmanuel Goulin, CEO of L’Oréal Luxe Perfumes, points out, «buying perfume is a special moment where emotion is as important as reasoning. If perfume is a luxury good accessible to all, it must nevertheless remain a very unique purchase. If we keep introducing a fragrance with blotters placed on shelves, the market will collapse». While chain stores like Sephora remain one of the first points of contact between the uninitiated consumer and the world of perfume, the consumer experience offered is simply staggering. With the massive proliferation of perfume launches each year, these places were flooded with products and have become «self-service hypermarkets.» Almost no advice is offered because of the number of beauty consultants in relation to the flow of customers and products offered, and the novices eager to learn about the culture of perfume are left to themselves. Moreover, how would it be possible for them to discover a perfume in a store flooded with white neon lights slamming their eyes, constantly jostled by crowds of visitors, accidentally sprinkling fragrances intertwining in a foul atmosphere?

The reinvention of the consumer experience by niche brands
In order to resist this reality, niche brands decided to offer a truly different experience, through a scenography of slowness. To resist the frenzy of these stores, they have opened their own shops, designed as places conducive to calm and voluptuousness. As Frédéric Malle, a true pioneer in this approach, emphasizes: «True luxury in perfumery is found in places that encourage us to focus, where time stops for everyone to escape their everyday day lives and quietly discovers the scents». These old-fashioned boudoirs were designed to honor the sense of smell. «How can you smell, give space for a sense, if you are bothering everyone else? We must create magical places for these intangible and elusive creations, only accessible through imagination» exclaims the designer Olivia Giacobetti. And it is this magic that different niche brands are trying to restore each in their own way. Each has its own playful approach of perfume, poetic or technological, but they all have the same purpose: to lift their clients into the world of high-end perfumes and give them the keys to becoming increasingly responsible consumers, or even better: perfume lovers. These confidential brands now present perfume very differently from the classic distribution. They sought to find solutions that emphasize, beyond the top notes that can be smelled on blotters, heart and base notes that are the essence of the fragrance. Frédéric Malle is one of the first figures of perfumery to have addressed this problem by inventing his famous glass columns that are «a way to discover the fragrance with a distance, exploded in the air. The air, as a non-medium, allows molecules to explode faster and therefore to easily smell the perfume ». If these columns are his own creations, it is now possible to smell the fragrance in wine glasses, as with The Different Company, on pieces of tissue, under glass bells, on fans, or through fragrance technological testers at Ex Nihilo in Paris, unveiling perfume in a different light and avoiding olfactory overload.
Niche brands have given meaning to fragrance by revealing the importance of the human adventure that gave birth to it. They explain how a feeling, an idea, a desire were bottled, and do not hesitate to invite visitors behind the scenes to introduce them to this little-known language. Perfume organs, main instruments of perfume creation, are displayed in the shops to expose in an olfactory manner the entire process to creating perfumes, made from those rare materials. More recently, the Parisian brand Ex Nihilo unveiled to its audience an exclusive fragrance personalization machine, coming directly from smell laboratories. Beyond the technological feat achieved, this futuristic version of a perfume organ establishes a personal relationship where human work is essential. As a modern wink to stills from the old days, it allows clients to attend the customizing of their own fragrance and brings them behind the scenes of the high prestige perfumery. Following the same trend, Le Labo invites each customer to attend the creation of their own fragrance, dosed and bottled before their eyes, turning their outlets into olfactive laboratories. In order to provide best customer advice, the staff in these structures has often followed a sharp training to help customers finding their olfactory signature. These alternative brands have developed new methods and tools to guide them. Far from classic olfactory diagnoses offered by most brands, which results are often confusing, the Nose perfumery in Paris offers a major innovation. Committed to guide their clients through the maze of niche products offered, the latter decided to identify all components of all fragrances, in order to determine one’s olfactory pyramid by asking them which perfumes they have worn, and therefore offering them products that could meet their olfactory structure.

A constant source of inspiration for luxury brands
Niche brands have proven to be a tremendous hit and have become homes for creation and endless imitation in the world of classic perfumery. The luxury brands are imitating this strategy by creating a new « exclusive » range of perfumes, with a ceremonial and tools highly inspired by these confidential brands. Brands such as Chanel and Dior have designed specific stores for these collections, breaking with their classic stands: boxes reminding us of the hushed world of niche brands, tailored to their codes and history. Dior Perfumes guides visitors through its «private consultations» about the art of smells, teaching them how to recognize raw materials, through tools specifically designed for this experiment, such as « smell dice », in order to find your olfactory signature among twelve fragrances from the Private Collection. Chanel performs the same ritual, with other tools such as innovative ceramics to smell the fragrance notes. All brands show great imagination and offer new experiences to discover their olfactory universe, even if it sometimes means revealing the whole marketing aspect of this process and discredit themselves. Thus, if the niche brands’ approach has been extremely beneficial and has led to the reinvention of the consumer experience, it also was a victim of its success. Becoming a model for less sincere brands, it can serve as a lure and deceive a large number of spectators who cannot distinguish, as stated by Jean-Claude Ellena, the «true» from the «false Niche».

-Johanne Courbatère de Gaudric, « La scénographie des senteurs », Les Echos n°21438, 17/05/2013
-Jean-Claude Ellena, Discours à la Société des parfumeurs français, « The New perfume Magazine », www.theperfumemagazine.com, 06/08/2012
-Ex Nihilo, http://www.ex-nihilo-paris.com/
-Frederic Malle, http://www.fredericmalle.com
-Le Labo, http://www.lelabofragrances.com/
-Nose, http://www.nose.fr

by Carine Lanteri – communication expert