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Daily Life and Hobbies Infiltrate the World of Artistic Perfumery

MILAN — Bottling up the scents of a far-flung destination visited during a lifetime trip or recreating an olfactory trace of a childhood memory have always been powerful ways for niche fragrance houses to unlock and connect with customers’ emotions, but a new attitude is infiltrating the field.

As the fragrance market continues to boom — especially the artisanal subcategory — emerging brands are embracing everyday storytelling and new formats in their creations. In addition to fueling an ever-increasing competitive market, the approach offers novelty to knowledgeable and demanding consumers, including younger generations that are showing more interest in the category.

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“People [have] become more expert and they want to find innovation and stimulating concepts,” said Tanguy Le Baud, a beauty industry veteran who piled up more than a decade of experience at Lancôme before launching his niche fragrance brand Art Meets Art in 2022. Also known with the acronym A.M.A., the label is rooted in the founder’s personal passion for music and partners with master perfumers to reinterpret iconic tracks — think the likes of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” — with the idea of offering an olfactory playlist to consumers, encouraging them to pick different fragrances according to their moods rather than tie themselves to a single, signature scent.

“My interpretation of the [boom of artistic fragrances] is that consumers connect on a more intimate basis with the niche category: there’s an innovative approach, a refreshing point of view and also a closer relationship,” said Le Baud.

Fragrances by Art Meets Art.
Fragrances by Art Meets Art.

His brand was among the 360 international exhibitors showcased earlier this month at the 14th edition of Milan-based fair Esxence, dedicated to artistic perfumery. The four-day event that closed here on March 9 saw 12,000 attendees, proving the niche category is gaining traction.

The record number of brands encouraged organizers to expand the exhibiting space at the Allianz MiCo venue to cover a 150,695-square-foot surface. Here, out of total companies showcased, 260 labels were lined up in the Spotlight section, reserved for emerging names.

International brands accounted for 70 percent of exhibitors and hailed from 30 countries, with new entries such as South Korea and Australia. Buyers and visitors also came from markets where the beauty industry is rapidly growing, such as India, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia, which added to operators hailing from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.S., to name a few.

Silvio Levi, who cofounded the trade show with Maurizio Cavezzali, said the edition confirmed “the extreme vitality of the sector at an international level.”

“We have become a unique international point of reference and we have given a precise identity to a sector that has contributed to the evolution of quality perfumery’s consumption,” he added.

According to data shared by organizers, sales generated by artistic fragrances account for 2 percent out of total beauty sales on a global scale, but they are on the rise, accounting for 10 percent of the segment on average in some countries. In Italy specifically, last year, sales of artistic fragrances totaled more than 310 million euros, accounting for 14 percent of sales generated in the perfumery channel and roughly 30 percent out of the total sales of fragrances in the country.

Scene at Esxence in Milan.
Scene at Esxence in Milan.

Local consumers’ interest has placed Italy among the prime targets for indie brands to expand their distribution, even for those who managed to scale up their business rapidly and reach a considerable number of international doors in just few years. Cue Born to Stand Out, the Seoul-based brand launched by Jun Lim in 2022 and already distributed in more than 45 countries.

“Italy is extremely important, we believe is the number-one market in Europe,” said Lim, whose brand made its official debut in the market last month thanks to a deal with distributor Beauty and Luxury. Asked about the key assets of his label, Lim pointed to the “edgy branding that fit the latest generations and good products. We go alternative ways: I don’t do florals or citrus,” he said, hinting to his latest scents inspired by the likes of maple syrup and gasoline. “These are part of my everyday, I get inspired by my personal life,” said Lim.

In the same vein, other founders centered their brand concepts on their passions for photography or food, finding in individuality rather than universal inspirations the key to surprise and relate with consumers. In sync with the goal of engaging with new generations, emerging indie players also shifted toward fun and more approachable elements rather than expressing exclusivity in ingredients, intricate packaging and, eventually, prices.

Boldly colored bottles, forthright and unexpected names and new formats informed the likes of Millennial-oriented brands Bel Rebel or Fugazzi, where fragrances dubbed “Sugardaddy” and “Workaholic” stood next to scented laundry detergents conceived to delicately imprint perfumes directly on textiles.

Yet the winning example of a fresher take on the niche segment was Versátile Paris, the brand Coralie Frébourg launched in October 2021 with the mission to bring joy, simplicity and transparency into an industry that has always been secretive, she said. Her label best expresses a more accessible and lighthearted approach to artistic fragrances by mingling an eco mindset, minimal and genderless packaging and a single 15-ml roll-on format, which comes with several benefits, including securing a sweet-spot pricing of 59.99 euros.

Here, WWD rounds up five brands to watch:

Versátile Paris

Graduated from the École Supérieure du Parfum in Paris in 2019, Frébourg eyed the creation of a brand during the pandemic. After 10 months of work on fine-tuning the concept and establishing the network of suppliers, she launched her label in October 2021 with five alcohol-free perfume extracts inspired by moments in life and food. Ever since, the assortment expanded with new scents — coming with catchy names such as “Croissant Café” and “Sea, Sud & Sun” — as well as limited-edition candles and a book. The latest launches include “God Bless Cola,” a gourmand extract mixing notes of cola, popcorn, vanilla and caramel.

The concentrated formulations based on almond and wheat oils and the roll-on delivery system are preferred to sprays as they better reflect the founder’s no-waste approach to fragrance creation. Despite the 15-ml. size, each bottle still can last between four to six months, depending on the number of applications per day.

The Croissant Café fragrance by Versátile Paris.
The Croissant Café fragrance by Versátile Paris.

Light and easy to carry anywhere, the minimal packaging offers consumers artistic fragrances at an accessible price point, and allows the brand to tune in with younger generations’ more fleeting shopping behaviors. Despite the price tag, the brand’s image contributes to an elevated perception that favors the company’s positioning at concept and fashion stores, in addition to perfumeries and department stores.

Versátile Paris is available at 200 retailers in 30 countries, with its top markets being France and Italy, where it can be found at Galeries Lafayette or indie perfumeries like Milan’s Carpe Diem and 50ml, respectively. In the U.S., it is carried by the likes of The Scent Room and The Pink in Los Angeles as well as Ministry of Scent in San Francisco. Next up, it will further expand its distribution in Japan — where it’s already available at Tokyo’s Isetan — and mainland China.

Art Meets Art, or A.M.A.

Music is the starting point of Tanguy Le Baud’s brand. A singer and guitar player himself, the founder saw both music and scents as providers of emotions and decided to tap into the olfactory potential of iconic songs. Hence, in 2022 he tasked different master perfumers to translate hits including “Sexual Healing” and “Besame Mucho” into fragrances.

“Each scent has its own mojo, its groove that you want to wear on you,” he said, underscoring his goal of creating a playlist of fragrances. “A great perfume has to carry a great story,” continued Le Baud, explaining that tapping into universally known tracks already creates an instant connection with consumers. “It all starts with the [choice of the] song, that needs to be part of everyone’s cultural heritage, carry a potent name and have olfactory potential.”

The Like A Virgin fragrance by Art Meets Art.
The Like A Virgin fragrance by Art Meets Art.

The newest fragrance is the “Unplugged” version of its “Like a Virgin” scent. The interpretation of perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin resulted in a completely different juice blending bergamot, freesia, Moroccan orange blossom and vanilla, compared to the musky and woody one first created by Alberto Morillas.

Distributed in France as well as recently expanded in Japan, all fragrances come in a 50-ml. size “so that consumers are not too committed to the 100-ml.” format and retail between 130 euros and 160 euros.

Sisology

Capturing everyday moments through camera and scent is the mission of Nicole Park, who wove photography and fragrance creation into the South Korean Sisology brand she launched three years ago. The name winks to the sisterhood between the founder and her friends, evoking shared life moments and the spirit of community behind the label. The delicate formulations developed by French perfumer Joëlle Patris with ingredients sourced in Grasse nod to intimate feelings, like in the case of “Êntre Toi,” “Deep Down” or “On the Sofa,” which are all part of the main line retailing at 135 euros for 50-ml. The “L’Eau Delà” fragrance is part of the higher-end Extraordinary line priced 185 euros for the 30-ml. size.

The Deep Down fragrance by Sisology.
The Deep Down fragrance by Sisology.

All scents come in a packaging that recalls vintage cameras, with glass bottles featuring pumps reminiscent of a camera shutter button and caps nodding to lenses. The box is also shaped as a classic camera box, and to further reinforce the narrative, sales assistants take a polaroid image of customers after every purchase of Sisology scent as a souvenir.

Ohtop

“I Hate Rose” and “Green Flannel” are just two of the fragrances included in the assortment of French label Ohtop, which translates into scents favorite elements — or quite the opposite — of its founder Romeo Oh. A Korean man that relocated to Paris since the early ‘90s, he is behind Showroom Romeo aimed at scouting and supporting young fashion talents. His eye for aesthetic and minimal design came in handy when venturing into fragrances last year, after having introduced a unisex cosmetic line under the Ohtop brand in 2021.

Fragrances by Ohtop.
Fragrances by Ohtop.

At its second attendance at Esxence, the brand debuted three new fragrances that promise to add to bestsellers such as “Paranoïaque.” Retailing between 170 euros to 230 euros for the 100-ml. size, the brand is available at Jovoy in Paris, All Yours in Barcelona and soon at Boon the Shop in Seoul and Firster in Bangkok.

Born to Stand Out

Jun Lim and his Born to Stand Out brand surely deliver the promise embedded in the label’s name. Bold branding and an effervescent product launch activity helped the company to scale up rapidly in the market in just two years. Lim’s own ebullient character trickles in all aspects of the label, starting from the fragrances. The most recent additions to the assortment nod to maple syrup, gasoline and nail polish, elements that are part of Lim’s everyday life and that resulted in scents like “Drunk Maple” and “Angels’ Powder.”

“It’s just me and my passions: I’m bottling my cuckoo mind,” he said. Hence “going bananas or nuts” serving as inspiration for the “Nanatopia” fragrance, or the “Happy Nuts” scent blending notes such as pistachio, almond, honey, caramel and rum.

The Angels' Powder fragrance by Born To Stand Out.
The Angels’ Powder fragrance by Born to Stand Out.

Lim’s personality and his 185-euro-priced perfumes are resonating well with customers, as the brand already counts a flagship in Seoul and an expansive distribution in Asia, as well as in the U.S. and in Europe, two markets where Lim plots to also establish stand-alone stores this year to best convey the brand’s message. In addition to scents coming in pristine bottles with red branding, the label offers body care, home fragrances and design objects developed in collaboration with South Korean artists.

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