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BW Businessworld

Message In A Bottle

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'Made in France' remains the biggest driver of per- fume brands though, of late, creating a fragrance has become an alchemy of ingredients, processes and people from the world over. We are, however, seeing a shift in consumer tastes from big brands to niche offerings. A duty-free store is not where they can be spotted though. They are typically found in quaint little stores that provide beautiful spaces to enhance a shopper’s experience. 
 
A few decades ago, there used to be around 30 fragrance launches a year. Opium from YSL, L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci, and Anais Anais by Cacharel are just a few of the big names from that era. Today, with more than a thousand perfume launches a year, the luxury consumer is beginning to tire of the repetition. She certainly does not want to smell like the next person. Discerning users are looking for something unique. Hence, the preference for less-marketed brands or fragrances that have chosen a more subtle path to the consumer. 
 
‘Editeur de Parfums’ Fredric Malle, Serge Lutens (maker of Ambre Sultan and Tubéreuse Criminelle), Romani Ricci’s Juliette Has A Gun, By Kilian by Kilian Hennessy from the LVMH founding family, the iconoclastic fragrance house L’Artisan Parfumeur — all names associated with the trend of keeping it small and beautiful. Both creators and consumers think of the perfume as a jewel, and the making and buying of perfumes as akin to buying jewellery. And what’s surprising is that these fragrances are only just a little more expensive than mass-marketed popular brands. 
WHIFF OF CLASS: Serge Lutens, Romani Ricci and Kilian Hennessy are among the top perfume makers

The situation now is, on the one hand, we have more people wearing fragrances, while on the other, luxury consumers are moving away from the big brands to brands we’ve never heard of. Though a brand plays a big role when it comes to fragrances, it is not the only thing a perfume lover is looking for. At the end of the day, a discerning consumer will not wear a fragrance unless he loves it. A brand is important in getting the consumer to try the perfume, but it is not a sure shot way of getting him to buy the product. The olfactive quality is most important; so it’s not just about the brand, it’s also about the name of the perfume, the colour, and the packaging.  
 
Every few years, as fashion changes, the trends in fragrances change too, though not as fast. This is mostly because a fragrance is sensorial and very closely linked to memory. Right now, the world is going through a fruity moment. What we’re seeing are fruity notes. But, again, fruity notes mean different things to different people and different cultures. For example, Brazil is a fruit-loving country and people love fruity smells. In India, people don’t always like to wear what they eat. So, there has been a slower take-on of these fruity notes but we’re seeing this changing and fruity notes are picking up in India as well. 
 
Fruity notes have been popular in lip glosses and products like shampoos. In fragrances, they go well with a combination of flowers like honeysuckle and jasmine. This combination of fruity and floral will stay for long. Interestingly, we are seeing fruity notes in men’s fragrances as well. One example is Kokorico by Jean Paul Gaultier. It has a green fig note. Figs are not a very sweet fruit like strawberries, so they can work in men’s fragrances. 
 
The perfume consumer is becoming increasingly aware and knows what she wants to wear. This can be seen in the rise of fragrance blogs like nowsmellthis.com and fragrantica.com. The levels of knowledge and understanding of fragrances is amazing. These bloggers are passionate about their perfumes; they’re almost like perfume connoisseurs. Consumers are also sensitive to what goes into their perfumes and are capable of distinguishing between different fragrances. It’s no longer a simple 'I like it' or 'I don’t like it'. And it’s refreshing for those of us working in the industry, because now we’re working with an evolved consumer. 
 
In a country where smells are all around, the Indian consumer likes her fragrances to have a distinct, recognisable note. She also wants to make a statement with their fragrance. And since the weather in most parts is hot, the fragrance molecules have to be able to withstand high temperatures and stay for long. Consumers in West Asia prefer their fragrances even stronger. A popular note there is oud wood. The wood is found in India too, but the smell is not preferred. This goes to show how fragrances are also a cultural choice.
 
When it comes to the production end of the perfume market, India plays a major role in providing essential ingredients. We find the world’s finest jasmine, ylang ylang, mint, ginger, cardamom in India. Along with Brazil, India is one of the most important sources of fragrance ingredients. In Asia, the other countries that are big in terms of ingredients are China and Indonesia.
 
The perfume industry is dominated by women’s fragrances, and that will continue for the foreseeable future. However, we’re also going to see an uptick in men’s fragrances in a big way in the next 10 years. There is already a discernible change when it comes to the male consumer. He is not easy to please and really knows what he wants. Fragrance creators will have to match step.  

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 07-10-2013)
 


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