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The latest behind-the-scenes fashion trend has nothing to do with hemlines or hot shades; instead, it is about staking a claim on fragrance: namely, hiring your own in-house perfumer.
Just as the big fashion houses trade on the creative directors behind the clothing lines to help consumers relate to a brand, so perfume houses are seeking to do the same by putting the creators of their fragrances – the “nose” – centre stage.
“It is pushing this idea of the artisan working behind the scenes,” says perfume critic and blogger Persolaise. “Consumers want to have that face in order to convince them to buy a product. When cult perfume house Frédéric Malle put the names of the perfumers on his bottles, they emerged from the shadows. A lot of brands have since realised it isn’t in their interest to keep the identity of those artisans silent but to put them to the fore.”
Take Burberry, which has just taken its lucrative beauty business back in house, dropping licensee Inter Parfums, and hiring French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, previously responsible for creating perfumes for fashion houses such as Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Dior.
Add to that the news that fragrance house Jean Patou has also installed Thomas Fontaine and that last year Louis Vuitton took on Jacques Cavallier, who created the best selling L’Eau d’Issey, and you have the start of a trend.
Until recently, when it came to fashion brands, only Chanel and Hermès had their own, dedicated in-house perfumers.
“In a way it was deeply unfashionable having [one’s] own in-house perfumer,” says Dom De Vetta, founder of the perfume house Shay & Blue.
Indeed, most designers, from Givenchy to Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Narciso Rodriguez, still don’t have in-house “noses”. Instead, they team up with different perfumers, most of whom work for one of the big fragrance manufacturers, such as IFF or Givaudan, or a beauty giant such as Procter & Gamble, which makes fragrances for Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. The simple reasons: cost and expertise.
Sumit Bhasin, director of global innovation at P&G Prestige, the group’s fragrance arm, says: “We have long-term relationships with perfumiers IFF, Firmenich and Givaudan. If you were to replicate that structure in-house on that level, it would be very expensive.”
De Vetta says: “You have to be serious about perfume to invest in an in-house team. It costs approximately €1m per year because it is not just your perfumer, it is assistants, a library of ingredients, a working studio.”
Another issue: not every perfumer is right for every perfume, and to ally yourself with one nose could be limiting – and may still require outside help. “We know through our in-depth work with the fragrance houses that some perfumers are better than others at female or male combinations,” says Bhasin. Indeed, despite their new in-house nose, Burberry still worked with Olivier Polge, Dominique Ropion and Anne Flipo on Brit Rhythm, Kurkdjian’s first scent for the brand.
So, why bother with a single “nose” at all?
“We tracked 1,330 new fragrances in 2012,” says fragrance expert Michael Edwards, author of Fragrances of the World, “my first guide book in 1984 listed just 38.” In an increasingly crowded marketplace, having a name and a face to attach to a scent can make a meaningful difference.