A decade after joining the once-ailing heritage Italian leather goods brand Bottega Veneta – a period in which he increased sales by 800 per cent – creative director Tomas Maier is giving himself an anniversary present. What will it be? A fabulous Amalfi coast holiday? A ski chalet?
Nah. He’s finally launching the house’s first perfume. It’s hard not to wonder what took them so long.
After all, these days perfumes are as integral to brand-building as a recognisable logo or a flagship store, and most designers launch scents almost at the same time as their first ready-to-wear line (Tom Ford actually launched his scent before his clothes).
This is a major change: in the 1930s and 1940s, when designers collaborated with perfumers to create legendary perfumes such as Elsa Schiaparelli’s Shocking and Nina Ricci’s L’Air Du Temps, scent was seen as the jewel in the crown of a fashion house, the very last, often risky, bid of a brand for sensory immortality. “The perfumes came in exquisite bottles designed by the likes of Lalique and Baccarat,” says James Craven, perfume archivist at specialist perfumery Les Senteurs in London.
Today, by contrast, says renowned perfumer Roja Dove, “Scent has become commoditised, with the result that the big blockbuster brands now rule with perfumes that are so mainstream that they don’t feel special.” A staggering 200-plus fragrances – from mass-market brands, celebrities and fashion houses – are launched every year, although three years later, only around 50 will still be available on department store shelves. Calvin Klein, for example, has managed to rack up a staggering 62 fragrance launches since it arrived on the scene in 1985, while DKNY’s Be Delicious franchise has seen 25 variations in six years.
Enter the Bottega Veneta experiment, an effort to create a new approach to fragrance in the contemporary market. Call it slow perfume.
“In business, people are always looking to find the next big thing or tweaking versions of past successes, and I think that’s wrong,” says Maier. “To be truly timeless you have to first create something with meaning, that’s unique, and then stand behind it. So while creating a perfume has been a desire of mine since the beginning, the time had to be right.”
Maier decided his time was right in 2009: “We wanted to create something that stood out but also felt like a natural fit in the smell, the advertising, the bottle.” Bottega inked a license deal with beauty behemoth Coty, and began.
The scent – inspired by the Venetian countryside, mixing bergamot, jasmine, pink peppercorn and patchouli with its chypre base – is not a heady, leathery fragrance but is instead soft, creamy, and so delicate you have to be up close and personal to smell it on someone else. As for the bottle, it, too, has a Venetian theme, inspired by Murano glasswork and the Italian carafe and finely inscribed with the company name, with a small metal cap in their signature brunito shade, plus a fine leather strap stamped with a butterfly around the neck.
“There’s a simplicity that’s to be admired in these type of scents,” says Craven. “Using a pared-down palette that allows a few notes to speak for themselves rather than many that compete is highly skilled and rare today.”
“There is a growing swell of consumers who are prepared to go out of their way to find fragrances that are more individual,” says Dove. “They hark back to the era of Shocking, when scent was precious and wearing it felt like putting on a fabulous piece of jewellery. We haven’t had that in perfumery for some time, but it’s a trend that I foresee getting stronger.”
Indeed, Maier’s counter-intuitive approach to fragrance brand-building means that the BV scent will be a one and only for the foreseeable future. “For me, it is important that a fragrance be given time to grow,” he says. “We have handbags from my first collection that are still number-one sellers. I expect they will be here after me, and I think the fragrance will, too.”
Which raises the question: if the BV experiment works, will it herald in a new era in fragrance? Dove, for one, thinks the answer is yes. “Whereas women had up to 10 fragrances in the recent past, I think we’re starting to see that scaled back to just a couple.”
Bottega Veneta eau de parfum is priced from £42 and will be available from August 17