The Tip of the Iceberg: Taking the Measure of American Niche at The Elements Showcase 2013
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No babes in the woods, American niche fragrance brands have expert and willing hands to help them find their way.
To reassure the die-hard believers of ‘you can’t make a perfume unless you are a trained and experienced nose’, American niche perfumery has ample access to expert mentors for facilitating all aspects of perfume creation. From assistance with conception, creation, and bottle design, to packaging, positioning, and marketing, François Damide of Crafting Beauty Inc., François Duquesne CEO of Beauty Entreprise and Darryl Do of Delbia Do Fragrances and Flavors, are excellent examples of ‘fragrance mentors’ in anticipation of niche brands’ every need. Well connected and savvy, their handiwork was in evidence among vendors at Elements, where they were to be found happily circulating in the midst of once and future success stories.
Access to high-quality raw materials
A natural raw materials panel discussion and presentation about Ylang-Ylang organized by Robertet was an eye-opener about the accessibility of high-quality raw materials to talented American niche perfumers of every ilk. On the same panel Robertet senior perfumer, Olivia Jan shared the mike with D. S. and Durga owner David Moltz, as well as independent and self-trained perfumer Sarah Horowitz of Sarah Horowitz Perfumes. Referring to experiences with Robertet, David Moltz’s youthful excitement about discovering the differences that can be obtained by using more refined or less refined ylang-ylang oil was contagious. Sarah Horowitz shared her creation, Eau de Light, also created with Robertet naturals. Later in the day, while conversing with Charma Ethier of Providence Perfume Co., I learned that she too benefits from access to Robertet’s excellent natural raw materials. And there are surely others.
Organizers Ulrich Lang, Frederick Bouchardy and Jeffrey Lawson
“Who are these people who are just rising out of nothing and breaking the rules?”
-Nicole Miller, Elements Showcase
retail panelist and owner of Blackbird, Seattle
As an American long-term Paris resident, I had been ‘prepped’ by my entourage - on both sides of the Atlantic - and thought I was ready for what I would find at the Elements Showcase 2013. “It’s smaller and really nothing compared to the scale of Esxence in Milan or even Pitti in Florence. You can be in and out of there in half a day.” The wisdom of French tradition and technical excellence also informed me that, “there are, of course, some outstanding American niche brands, mostly with French noses, but many are literally made up like vats of bathtub gin by people who aren’t ‘real’ perfumers.”
All of this might be true at a certain level, and those who choose to take it as such should feel a comfortable satisfaction. Perilously comfortable. For what I saw and felt at Elements was enormous power. The peculiar American power that burns in the wildness and freedom of the American psyche: capable of playing within barriers, yet not hesitating to bust through them to map out new territories -- when necessary or simply for sport. The elemental archetypical characteristics of niche fragrance – niche anything for that matter—run deep in the American spirit.
Because of the bottom-up nature of any niche movement, and the continental scale and the American niche fragrance phenomenon, it is virtually impossible to view its entirety or measure its force. However, the structure of the Elements Showcase, masterminded by Frederick Bouchardy, Ulrich Lang, and Jeffrey Lawson, offers a metaphoric ‘tip of the iceberg’ vantage point for taking this measure. With real icebergs the laws of physics allow us to do this. At Elements, the massive depths of the niche fragrance phenomenon extending beneath the visible surface can be measured in the rock solid convictions of the vendors and the tremendous energy pulsing through the stands.
Brands and People
In two intense days I (regretfully) did not visit every stand, but of those I did visit I found people and brands of enormous range and vigor. From the decidedly international and sophisticated Arquiste to the deliberately local and down to earth Juniper Ridge, American niche overflows with amazing stories, determination, optimism, confidence, humanity, and talent.
Arquiste’s references, like those of its owner Carlos Huber, are artistically storied, rich, erudite, classy and urbane. Both international and American, ‘Boutonnière No. 7’ and its suggestion of a crushed gardenia on the lapel of a Parisian dandy sparked my imagination, while at the same time the sensuous and animalistic fragrance of gardenia recalled boutonnières of my own America, personally chosen and plucked from voluptuous gardenia hedges in the Carolinas of my youth. Real cufflinks and a stickpin anchor the metaphor in the proper places.
At the other end of the spectrum is Juniper Ridge. Musing over lunch on the first day, I wondered by what mishap this lumberjack sitting next to me had stumbled upon the Elements trade show. This is how I met Obi Kaufmann, Juniper Ridge’s Art Director, who told me the Juniper Ridge story and introduced me to Hall Newbegin, President of Juniper Ridge. It was the ‘Big Sur Trail Crew Soap’ that won my heart, followed in short order by Backpacker’s colognes and other fragrances made with ingredients sustainably harvested from the deserts of San Jacinto and the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The photo of their portable still at sunset was the last straw.
Between these two extremes extends an array of brands and fragrances as wide and diverse as the American people – their passions, their lands, and their origins.
The ever cool Carlos Huber
Juniper Ridge at Elements: Hall Newbegin, President, and Obi Kaufmann, Art Director
Owners Anne Sanford and Kristi Head, claim that Lurk is ‘possibly a vocation, definitely a declaration, sometimes a diversion and always an amusement. Their fragrance ‘PRJV1’of exquisite graphics and rich natural oils exudes ‘Expansive layers of Jasmin and Rose’ which are also ‘…raw, unrefined, possibly debaucherous (sic) definitely pleasing.” In addition to being exactly that, the peculiar humor of this entirely accurate description could have been lifted from a J.Peterman catalogue.
Sarah Howoritz, quietly gutsy and reassuring, has followed a solitary path to soaring pinnacles in the creation of Sarah Horowitz Perfumes, her own be-spoke, natural and now ‘cult’ brand.
Charna Ethier’s ‘Moss Gown’ for Providence Perfume Co. takes the complexity of naturals to exquisitely haunting depths.
Ulrich Lang the man, was understandably everywhere at the Elements Showcase except at his stand, so I’m thankful for the sample of ‘Lightscape’ I saved from his November 2012 launch party at NOSE in Paris. A finalist for the upcoming 2013 Duftstars fragrance awards (the German version of the Fifi awards), Lightscape is one of the fragrances I always carry in my handbag.
It lightens and opens everything up, but with just the right spicy charge to confuse people about what's really going on. Always a useful tactic.
And I can’t begin to name them all….
Juliet Stewart’s eponymous debut fragrance of Juliet Stewart Pure Parfum Extrait evokes the softness of mornings along the Amalfi Coast, while her practical travel sachets reveal how beautifully Italian roots and Yankee ingenuity can blossom in Anglo-American soil.
Perfumer Ann McLain of MCMC
MCMC brand owner Anne McClain’s story of how she became interested in perfumes -- through a two-hour perfume class she took on a whim at age 25 -- is disarming. Her Dude No.1 Beard Oil is cunning.
Sarah Howoritz of Sarah Horowitz Perfumes
Charna Ethier Providence Perfume Co.
Sarah Colton and Arquiste’s Carlos Huber
Ulrich Lang and Sarah Colton
Providence Perfume Co. MOSS GOWN
François Damide of Crafting Beauty, Darryl Do of Delbia Do Fragrances
& François Duquesne of Beauty Enterprize.
Diversity in Retail at home and abroad
The three American retailers who took part in the Elements retail panel discussion represented a wide diversity of American tastes, personalities, demographics, and needs. The potential markets this offers to American niche is enormous.
Osswald, represented on the panel by urbane New York store manager Clement Pinard, revels in its European origins (Swiss, no less), and offers high-end placement for American and international luxury and exclusive niche brands in the luminous and spacious interior of its tony Soho boutique.
The New London Pharmacy located in the Chelsea district was represented on the panel by straight talking Marketing Director Wesley Rowell. The shelves of this New York interpretation of a cozy high-end neighborhood pharmacy are packed with an impressive selection of American and international niche fragrances crammed alongside standard drugstore items and other beauty and toiletries of all races and creeds.
A continent away in the Pacific northwest and with a decided Seattle bent, Blackbird and its feisty owner Nicole Miller promote and defend local and artisanal fragrances made by and for ‘not wealthy’ people, but just ‘folks’, as Nicole calls them, who are falling in love with perfume.
François Hénin, the only non-American retailer on the panel, offers a clear indication of the growing power and presence of American niche fragrances abroad. An unabashed Americaphile, François currently carries seven American niche fragrance brands at Jovoy, his Paris boutique.
Representatives of other retail establishments noted in the crowd and the global buyers in attendance, including those from Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Lord and Taylor, Stanley Korshak, Osswald New York / Zurich, Oak, The Future Perfect, Odin, Breathe Cosmetics Berlin,Takashimaya Japan, Tomorrowland Japan, Net-A-Porter, Anthropologie, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, C.O. Bigelow, Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts, Harrods London, Jovoy Paris, Birchbox, Shen Beauty, New London Pharmacy, Steven Alan, Blackbird, FSC Barber, Nobilis Group Germany, Cosmotheca Russia, Beautyhabit and Beauty Matrix Hong Kong.
Olivia Jan, Sarah Horowitz and David Moltz
Clement Pinard, Wesley Rowell and Nicole Miller
The Fragrance Foundation: Recognition, Rewarding Excellence, and Creating Buzz
On the first evening of the Elements Showcase, Fragrance Foundation President Elizabeth Musmanno presented the 2013 Fragrance Foundation ‘Indie’ (niche) award. First offered only one year ago, the ‘Indie’ fragrance Fifi award honors “an established brand that has been on the market for at least two years, is not distributed or owned by a large company and is sold in one to 50 stores in the U.S.” The amount of attention this award has attracted and the quality of the fragrances among the finalists is yet another indication of the strength of the movement. This year’s Fragrance Foundation Award went to By Kilian ‘Amber Oud’. Rodrigo Flores-Roux of Givaudan accepted the trophy for perfumer Calice Becker who was unable to attend the ceremony. The four other finalists (all of whom received miniature Fifi statues) were ‘Cuirelle’ Ramon Monegal, ‘30 Eau d’Hiver’ Le Cherche Midi, ‘Rima XI’ Carner Barcelona, and ‘Terasse à St-Germain’ Jul et Mad.
An Avid Media Following
The number of fragrance journalists, bloggers, and beauty editors circulating at Elements, along with numerous entries and comments on Facebook and Twitter is a sign of healthy interest by the public. Among others spotted in the crowd were representatives from Beauty Fashion, WWD, Coming To My Senses, Fragrantica, Sniffapalooza,The Non-Blonde, Hayariparis, and Bunchmag. This showcase also attracted distinguished journalists from media outlets like The New York Times, Elle, W Magazine, Town & Country, Allure, Wallpaper*, GQ, Martha Stewart Living, Women’s Wear Daily and New York Magazine.
Visionary Leadership at the Top
Elizabeth Musmanno and Rodrigo Flores-Roux of Givaudan.
Through the energy and vision of its Bouchardy, Lang, and Lawson leadership team, the Elements Showcase has forged definition, structure, standards, dialogue, and cooperation in a world of dissimilar and unequal partners, whose very nature as niche players often runs counter to these concepts. As a show of national proportion the Elements Showcase has hoisted the American niche market onto the international playing field. Currently small by comparison to equivalent shows in other countries, and tiny by comparison to the size of the American niche phenomenon, its ambitious program of two events per year continues to attract and inspire energy at every level.
After two years, Elements appears to have hit its stride and will be taking its model to Dubai in May. What in the world, you might ask, will these crazy Americans do next? I’m betting that the correct answer to this question can be found in the ‘tip of the iceberg’ metaphor: You ain’t seen the half of it!
The submerged part of the iceberg.
It’s hardly surprising that I did, in fact, encounter the submerged part of the American niche fragrance iceberg – almost immediately upon leaving Elements. Stopping in an ‘Organic Avenue’ shop on 8th Avenue to pick up something for my plane trip the next morning, I struck up a conversation with Samantha, a bright twenty-something shop assistant.
About Sarah Colton;
The Perfume Magazine Paris Correspondent
The Perfume Magazine's Paris Correspondent, Sarah Colton is the quintessential "American in Paris". A passionate perfume journalist, Ms. Colton has covered the fragrance industry for more than 15 years through her monthly column, "Notes From Paris", in the industry magazine, Beauty Fashion. Ms. Colton has also published short stories and articles in publications such as Glamour and Redbook, 1France.com, They Only Laughed Later, and Paris Joyce (former French fashion magazine) . Her first novel, Tilt 68 was published in 2008 by Water Tower Books (U.S.).
In addition to writing, Ms. Colton is a popular lecturer and speaker, and leads workshops and panel discussions on a number of fragrance topics in France, Europe, and the US. She can be found at important French and international perfume events, enjoying friendships with perfumers, industry professionals, and all that that perfume world and her Paris life have to offer.
Ms. Colton has most recently been invited to Chair the Workshop "New Retail Proposals in International Niche Fragrance Distribution" at the upcoming Esxence, The Scent of Excellence, in Milan, Italy which will include a panel of prominent professionals in the field.
Image courtesy of Fragrantica
Already knowledgeable about niche fragrances and excited to be speaking to a perfume journalist, she told me she wanted to become a perfumer but didn’t know where to begin. I made some suggestions, gave her some fragrance samples from Elements (which she clutched in her hand like rare pearls), and sent her off in the direction of Osswald and the New London Pharmacy. You’ll be hearing from her. The world will be hearing from her. She is the next generation of American niche. I recognized in her person the same untamed energy I felt at Elements. Even on that dull winter afternoon there was intense brightness in her eyes, and I distinctly remember the smell of wind in her hair.