Spotlight on American Artistic Niche Fragrance Brands on the Paris Retail Market
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Two years ago you could count the number of American niche fragrance brands in Paris retail stores on one hand. Today there are more than a dozen. The numbers may be small, but the growth is significant. Certain fundamentals have changed.
Changes on the Paris Front
One of the biggest ironies about the French niche perfume market is that it is tiny compared to its European neighbors. There are 25-30 niche fragrance doors in France, for example, compared to 300-350 in Italy. Accused of chauvinism and barricading its doors to non-French brands, France has long been the most closed of the niche perfume markets in Europe. Non-French brands that might be on fire in other countries have failed in their attempts to pierce the French market.
Yet more than size, the major problem of the Paris niche retail has been one of range, and lies in the fact that until recently there has been precious little retail space in the ‘middle-ground’ of multi-brand niche stores, the crucial ‘seeding’ ground where small niche brands can be nourished and grow.
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Joe Garces of Robert Piguet at
The Printemps ‘Scent Room’
As circumstances would have it, at the same moment the
Parisian retail market has opened up to more small and medium sized
niche fragrance brands, a number of American niche brands are
enjoying a new-found appeal in international markets,
including the most closed of all markets – Paris.
Sarah Colton is the quintessential "American in Paris" and has lived in Paris for over twenty years. Sarah Colton has the reputation of being one of the most passionate journalists one could ever meet in the perfume industry. She comes from a literary background, having a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She quit her job as a legislative assistant for a US Congressman on Capitol Hill, cashed in all of her savings, and moved to Europe with nothing but a small canvas suitcase stuffed with dreams of adventure. Three years later she had completed a Master's Degree at the University of London and her articles and fiction have appeared in publications such as Glamour and Redbook. Continuing her adventures, she then met, Pierre, the Frenchman she would later marry.
Ms. Colton has also published short stories various places, contributed articles to Paris Joyce (former French fashion magazine), and wrote her first novel, Tilt 68 which was published in 2008. She is also a featured journalist with her column titled "Notes From Paris" with the industry magazine, Beauty Fashion.
Ms. Colton has written professionally about perfume and the fragrance industry for many years; highlighting leading French perfumers and French Perfume Houses. She has also been a guest lecturer for the "Friends of L'Osmotheque" in Paris. Ms. Colton also enjoys friendships with industry professionals and perfumers in Paris and her vast and in-depth "hands on experience" and contributions to the fragrance industry make her a perfect fit for The Perfume Magazine. She can be found at new fragrance launches in Paris and important French perfume events, happily enjoying all that perfume and her Paris life have to offer. She is currently working on second novel about leaving home and finding herself in a foreign place -- guess where?!.
Sarah Colton divides her time between Paris, France and Asheville, NC.
SARAH COLTON | CONTRIBUTOR
The opening of these stores brought a certain critical mass and dynamism to the missing link at mid-level, and a significant opening for many small artistic niche fragrances. A window on the Parisian market, credibility, and new-found confidence.
Granted, even with the addition of these shops the market is still extremely small, but progress is progress, and Paris niche retail now offers a full range dynamic, lively, and varied platform at every level.
Changes on the American Front
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic another phenomenon has been taking shape. As American niche has continued to evolve and grow over the past several years, the appeal of these brands has broadened significantly.
At one extreme, the department stores, led by Printemps’ ‘The Scent Room’ offer dazzling places for high-end luxury niche brands. At the other extreme, concept stores like Colette and L’Eclaireur, offer tiny windows for confidential, edgy, and ultra-trendy fragrance brands.
In between, a small group of mature niche brands, all large enough to maintain their own stand-alone flagship stores, defend their turf: Annick Goutal, Frédéric Malle, Patricia de Nicolaï, Francis Kurkdjian, Diptyque, L’Artisan Parfumeur, and others.
All this means that for small to medium niche brands there has been precious little ground to gain a footing. The small multi-brand boutiques where niche might logically have taken hold, have long since been bought up by the likes of Sephora and Marionnaud, with volume and turn-over requirements way beyond the capacity of small (and often struggling) niche brands.
There has been nothing big enough to accommodate the needs of the significant and growing number of small to medium sized artistic niche brands. And there has been nothing big enough to accommodate the growing consumer demand for these products, either.
Nothing that is, until the launch of (a relocated and expanded) Jovoy, and the launch of NOSE, two multi-brand artistic niche perfume shops in Paris, both within the last year. Each has a capacity for 50+ brands, thus essentially tripling the number of brands that can be present on the Paris market.
What is immediately striking about this group is that although all the brands are technically and legally American because they are incorporated/headquartered in America, not a single one is 100% American. ‘Foreigners’ play significant roles somewhere in each brand, and often at the creative level.
This is nothing new. The alchemy of ‘Americanism’ has always born a generous dose of foreign energy, and the perfume industry is no exception. In fact, it was immigrants or the children of immigrants whose grit and creativity established American perfumery as a dominant player on the world stage in the second half of the 20th century: Estee Lauder, Charles Revson, Elizabeth Arden, Rubenstein, David H. McConnell (founder of Avon), Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren...And the story continues.
Narrowing the gap between American and European tastes has without doubt helped American brands compete internationally with other niche players from around the world – French, of course, but also Italian, British, German, and Australian. Silvio Levi (co-founder of NOSE and President of Calé SRL distribution, Milan) made this comment upon seeing the list of American fragrances, “If we consider Robert Piguet and its President Joe Garces, Aedes de Venustas, Ineke by Ineke Ruland, Ulrich Lang, etc. it's evident that their European backgrounds and personal histories bring them closer to European taste.”
Silvio Levi (co-founder of NOSE and
President of Calé SRL distribution, Milan) made this comment upon seeing the list of American fragrances,
“If we consider Robert Piguet and its
President Joe Garces, Aedes de Venustas,
Ineke by Ineke Ruland, Ulrich Lang, etc.
it's evident that their European backgrounds
and personal histories bring them closer to
Whereas in the past, American niche fragrances have often been discounted as having a limited appeal beyond American audiences, many US niche brands have recently developed fragrances with an American as well as an international appeal.
As circumstances would have it, at the same moment the Parisian retail market has opened up to more small and medium sized niche fragrance brands, a number of American niche brands are enjoying a new-found appeal in international markets, including the most closed of all markets – Paris.
Which American brands have managed to pierce the tiny Parisian niche market, what are the qualities that have allowed them to do so, and where in the Parisian retail structure have they found their places?
In alphabetical order the 14 American niche fragrance brands currently on the Parisian market are: A Lab on Fire, Aedes de Venustas, Arquiste, D.S. & Durga, Demeter Fragrance Library, House of Sillage, Ineke, Keiko Mecheri, MCMC Fragrances, Odin New York, Robert Piguet, The Vagabond Prince, Ulrich Lang, and Von Eusersdorff.
American Brands Currently in Paris Retail
The Robert Piguet Phenomenon
Of the 14 American artistic niche fragrances currently in Paris retail, Robert Piguet is unique in its astonishingly broad appeal throughout the entire range of Parisian niche perfume retail stores.
In ‘The Scent Room’ of the Printemps Haussmann flagship department store, and centrally located under dome at the Bon Marche department store, Piguet holds its own among the most luxurious of fragrances from around the world – selective as well as niche. At Jovoy, its bold magnetism can easily command center stage among the beautiful and glamorous. At NOSE its unique and instantly recognizable fragrance could overheat an entire olfaction database, while its dark bottles and boldly contrasting labels set the gold standard for elegant minimalism. At Marie Antoinette, it is completely at ease among the hallowed names of once and future perfumery classics, Lubin and Houbigant; Tauer and Mona Di Orio.
Piguet also offers a model for success for other American niche brands as its ‘niche’ designation has evolved along with its phenomenal success and sales volumes. As Joe Garces, CEO of Robert Piguet Fragrances explains, “Piguet is not considered niche in the US and UK because we have a very large luxury distribution. Our concept in the international market is to be in the best luxury stores which have limited the number of sales outlets, so we are niche in these markets.”
The alchemy of ‘Americanism’ has always born a generous dose of foreign energy, and the perfume industry is no exception. In fact, it was immigrants or the children of immigrants whose grit and creativity established American perfumery as a dominant player on the world stage in the second half of the 20th century: Estee Lauder, Charles Revson, Elizabeth Arden, Rubenstein, David H. McConnell (founder of Avon), Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren...And the story continues...
At the Printemps department store, Mme. France de Foucher, Product Manager for The Scent Room’ explained the importance of Robert Piguet’s arrival in The Scent Room. “It’s only natural,” she said, “to include Robert Piguet in this space because the brand corresponds perfectly to the universe of The Scent Room which is the largest ‘rare parfume’ space in the world. At The Scent Room, we have taken the position of militants of ‘la belle parfumerie’ and of fragrances that can be found nowhere else. Obviously, each of our brands manifests its unique universe in a very high quality perfume. But most importantly, all the brands in The Scent Room possess the essential mixture of a rich and storied heritage AND a contemporary appeal.” The other American niche brands have varying representation across the Paris retail spectrum which reflect the strength and scope of their appeal.
The other American niche brands have varying representation across the Paris retail spectrum which reflect the strength and scope of their appeal.
Present in four shops, Odin New York has the second strongest representation after Piguet, and co-founder Eddy Chai has this to say about the appeal of his brand: “I think Odin fragrances appeal to the French market because they consistently offer modern takes on classic fragrance traditions. Our scents are timeless yet distinctive through a layering of diverse influences."
Arquiste and Von Eusersdorff are represented in two shops each, while the other brands are present in one shop each.
NOSE is about olfactive purism in a 21st century context. The most recent addition to Parisian multi-brand niche perfume retail, NOSE was launched in June 2012, and presents 50+ artistic niche fragrances. The brainchild of co-founders Nicolas Cloutier (President), Romano Ricci, Silvio Levi, Mark Buxton, Antoine Calmus, Claire Delahaye de Villers, and Didier Negiar, NOSE offers clients what might be described as a contemporary olfactive art gallery organized around a unique diagnostic program and data base.
NOSE is located at 20 Rue Bachaumont, a pedestrian street in a hip 2nd arrondissement neighborhood, where restaurants and cafés up and down the street are overflowing at all hours of the day and night with a young, savvy and cultured population. The clean lines of the NOSE façade blend with the ambiance of the street, and the deliberately spartan architecture of the interior decor and furnishings are punctuated with bouquets of flowers. Four American niche brands, Keiko Mecheri, Odin New York, Robert Piguet, and Ulrich Lang have carved out spaces for themselves in this universe.
In Nicolas Cloutier's Words
“When we first look at a brand, Mark, Romano, Silvio, and I have an elaborate system for carefully considering the fragrance from a qualitative standpoint, and we ask ourselves ‘Is it good or not good?’ That’s how it starts. If it doesn’t get past this test then we don’t look at other details. We are the only shop with a nose [Mark Buxton] with 25+ years of experience, and we have enormous confidence in the choices we make.”
“Because of NOSE’s unique diagnostic testing, we are also the only shop in the world that can give people feed-back based uniquely on what they smell -- their pure olfactory response to a fragrance -- before they see the product.”
In Silvio Levi's Words:
“At NOSE we are selling liquid dreams. When choosing a fragrance we are looking for an olfactory work of art in which singular ingredients come together for a little masterpiece. This masterpiece must work by itself, so the quality of the juice is essential. After this, and only after this, we’ll start looking at the rest. The style of the packaging for example, is important. It must work with the juice.”
“Thanks to our diagnostic software NOSE collects a huge amount of data concerning preferences and attitudes in search of a "perfect" fragrance for the style of each client.”
“NOSE offers Parisians a ‘Gallery’ of olfactive masterpieces in a unique framework, and this is already influencing the way Artistic Perfumery is regarded throughout France.”
Nicolas Cloutier's Speaking about Ulrich Lang:
“First, we always start with the fragrance itself. We are not looking for THE new trend or THE new brand. Uli is not THE new brand. He’s been an established brand since incorporating the company in 2002 and launching in 2003. Look at two of his fragrances, ‘Nightscape’ and ‘Lightscape’. One is patchouli and the other is violet. These are two notes that can be difficult for people, including me. They are both really well done.”
Silvio Levi Speaking about Keiko Mecheri:
“Knowing both Keiko and her husband Kamel (and also carrying their brand in my shop in Milan), I think what makes this collection interesting is the merging of Japanese and North Africa influences that give life to tender and poetic fragrances together with stronger, more "viril" and imposing essences.”
The two other American brands carried by NOSE, Odin New York and Robert Piguet are described elsewhere in this article by vendors who also carry the brands.
The oldest of the multi-brand mid-level retailers, Arôma has its roots in selective fragrances, added niche in 2006, and currently carries American niche brands Odin New York and Von Eusersdorff. Located at 22 rue Etienne Marcel in the 2nd arrondissement, Arôma offers a depth of knowledge that can only come from owner, Philippe Moscovici’s decades of experience in the field. The shop's range includes approximately 30 well thought-out and carefully selected artistic niche AND selective fragrances, make up, and skin care.
Philippe Moscovici, describes Aroma as a ‘luxury bistro’. “I don’t try to select my clients. We are here to transmit a certain ‘savoir’, and I am open to anybody interested sharing profound values.”
In Philippe Moscovici’s words:
“When choosing a fragrance we always operate on a heart/feeling level. I fall in love with real perfumes and have trouble falling in love with anything that is purely marketed, artificial, or shallow. If I don’t feel depth I can’t love it, and won’t carry it.”
L’Eclaireur is a trend-spotting boutique group founded in 1980, and renowned for its sharp-edged choices and pioneering combinations of design and fashion. The women’s boutique of L’Eclaireur is located at 40 rue de Sévigné
in the Marais district of Paris. Stories are central to the philosophy of L’Eclaireur’s founders Armand and Martine Hadida, and not surprisingly, boutique manager Franck Passerat de la Chapelle mentions the appeal of Arquiste’s compelling olfactive stories and iconography.
In Franck Passerat de la Chapelle words:
“Clients are captivated by the entire Arquiste universe: the juices of course, and the pure minimalism of the small round bottles. But most of all the stories are important. Our shop specializes in women’s fashion, and ‘Flore E Canto’ is the brand’s most popular fragrance with our clients. They love the story evoking a sophisticated image of Mexico and its exotic Aztec heritage, and told with dense white floral tones of Mexican tuberose, Magnolia and frangipani. Though heady, the ‘Flore E Canto’ floral is not green, and is therefore more adult than other florals on the market.”
Colette, the Paris ‘brick and click’ concept store of legend was founded in 1997 by Colette Rousseaux and her daughter Sarah Lerfel. Located at 213 rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, Colette is literally around the corner from Jovoy. On a typical Saturday, the three-floor 8,000 square feet space is as crowded as a rush hour metro with noisy, youthful shoppers wandering through its art exhibition space, bookshop, and gadget sections. A metal industrial-strength staircase leading to the second floor fashion and beauty section thins the crowd only slightly. Here among a wide assortment of beauty products, a total of 6 American niche fragrance brands have set up Paris headquarters.
In addition to Odin New York, there is also A Lab on Fire, D.S. & Durga, Demeter Fragrance Library, Ineke and MCMC Fragrances.
Sales personnel and PR appear committed to a policy of omertum when it comes to divulging information about the specific attraction of individual brands besides a general “…clients are looking for something new, different, and with high quality.” Clearly, considering the brand mix, there is a strong New York appeal, whose success can perhaps best be measured by the ding of credit card terminals and the shuffling of countless footsteps.
Given the strong international mix of all the American brands in this article, it’s important to mention two brands which though not ‘technically’ American (at least for the hair-splitting parameters of this article) carry a significant strain of Americanism in their DNA: Le Labo, and Atelier Cologne. Though technically French, both skillfully straddle the Atlantic, have flag-ship shops in New York and Paris, and are represented across the retail spectrum. There are surely other brands in this category and I invite readers to tell me who they are, knowing I will most likely never hear the end of it.
This article has been limited to the Paris market. It’s important to mention the existence of multi-brand niche perfume shops outside of Paris, some more open and advanced than their Paris counterparts, and carrying American niche brands before their availability in Paris. I plan to write about their activities at a later date.
Robert Piguet is the only American brand to be carried at the tiny Marie-Antoinette boutique, located at La Place du Marché Sainte Catherine in the Marais district of Paris.
In this gem of a shop, owner Antonio de Figueiredo presents a small, focused group of modern and contemporary ‘haute’parfumes.
Jovoy’s François Hénin affectionately describes Marie Antoinette as “….smaller by far than our store, it opened its doors in 2008 in the Marais, and is like an older brother to us because he [owner Antonio de Figueiredo] was there before we were, long before we even thought about becoming a retailer.”
The future of American fragrances in Paris
Thanks to the recent openings of Jovoy and NOSE, Parisian retail currently offers a complete range, sufficient to accommodate the scope but not the size of American and international niche fragrance offerings. Vendors have bet on a positive response by consumers, and sales in the months ahead will be telling for the next chapter. For the moment, we can be certain that fragrances in Parisian retail shops will continue to be of stellar quality as American and other national brands outdo each other in the fierce competition for coveted existing places in the tiny, exquisite jewel of Paris niche retail.
Courtesy: Dress Me Blog. me
An American In Paris by Leroy Neiman
François Hénin, owner of Jovoy with Aedes de Venustas co-owner Robert Gerstner
A Tour of the Shops
Occupying a space of 1,884 square feet at 4 rue Castiglione, a gracefully arcaded street near Paris’s ‘golden triangle’, Jovoy is the self-proclaimed ‘Embassy of Perfume’. Opened in March 2012, (around the corner from its former and smaller location) Jovoy is a showcase for rare, limited edition, exclusive perfumes, and caters to locals and well-heeled tourists from the surrounding luxury hotels. Seven American niche brands, Aedes de Venustas, Arquiste, House of Sillage, Odin New York, Robert Piguet, The Vagabond Prince, and Von Eusersdorff have found their places among the other 50+ fragrance brands. François Hénin, Jovoy’s owner is in his element as ‘Ambassador’ in residence at Jovoy, generous in its warm contemporary décor. Open and expansive, Hénin loves nothing more than sharing and discussing his fragrances with clients, perfumers, journalists, the simply curious, and the occasional prince.
In François Hénin's Words:
“All our brands are unique in some way. They all have a soul behind them and I have met the person with this soul. It’s a question of juices of course, but even more importantly, it’s a question of people. When we like somebody and share his vision it makes it easier to sell what he has to offer.”
“In our shop we are proud to prove everyday that perfume is not only a French expression. We have outstanding niche fragrances from around the world including some amazing American brands.”
Aedes de Venustas
“Aedes de Venustas” is the older brother to Paris niche retailers because they’ve been showing beautiful works in their NYC shop for over 17 years. Their shop is baroque and at the same time visionary and at the avant garde of niche perfumery. The Aedes fragrance and bottle perfectly capture the mood and identity of the Aedes boutique. The cold top note of rhubarb methodically captures your attention and then reels you in with the floriental which is so Latin, generous, and solar, and the ‘30s retro cap on the bottle is a work of art.”
“When I first met Carlos Huber I immediately thought ‘this guy is too good to be true.’ And then he completely knocked me off my feet. Carlos puts his heart in his fragrances -- his Mexican roots, his architectural training, his profound and rich general culture. Through the Arquiste fragrance stories Carlos interprets flowers in a contemporary way which transports you to authentic historical times and places. His fragrances are full of rich white flowers and yet there is a ‘less is more’ side to them, and like Carlos himself, are chic yet self-effacing and discreet.”
At Colette Guillaume Salmon demonstrates
use of MCMC Fragrances 'Dude Beard Oil'
Veronica at L’Eclaireur presents Arquiste
The Vagabond Prince
“As of December 21st we are happy to be carrying ‘Enchanted Forest’ from the brand The Vagabond Prince. I met Elena and Zoran, the ‘smiles’ behind the brand, years ago, and then last year at Esxence, the Italian niche perfume fair in Milan they told me they were making a perfume. I was enthusiastic because I knew their story was true and passionate. In the words of the who’s who of perfumista in Paris (Jovoy clients who have already experienced the fragrance), ‘The perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is the King, and we love the Vagabond Prince!’”
The other three American brands carried by Jovoy, Odin New York, Robert Piguet, and Von Euserdorff, are described elsewhere in this article by vendors who also carry the brands.
Nose Extraordinaire Mark Buxton
House of Sillage
“Similarly to Clive Christian, California based Nicole Mather’s brand House of Sillage is reserved for an elite. The elaborate caps on ‘Limited Edition’ fragrance bottles are encrusted with Swarovski crystal, and ‘Tiara’ won the award ‘Cap of the Year’ at the 2012 Prix Formes de Luxe in Monoco. More recently, a ‘Signature’ collection with more accessible prices was launched which will reach a larger clientele. All of Nicole’s fragrances have been created by excellent noses (Francis Camail and Mark Buxton) and are serious artistic creations.”
Master Parfumer Bertrand Duchaufour
Odin New York
“We started carrying Odin three or four years ago. What attracted me to Odin was that it captured the spirit of New York in a real juice. Odin juices have a rare powdery quality through which you can re-discover the high standards of perfumery of the ‘80s, a time when people were still making beautiful fragrances.”
“We began carrying Von Eusersdorff a little more than a year ago in 2011. What attracted me to Von Euserdorff was the truly ‘haute-parfumerie’ quality of the juices. They are well constructed with precise notes, and made with true, high quality raw materials. The patchouli, for example is a real patchouli, and instantly seduced me because it is very precise, deep, and tells a truly beautiful story.”
Paul Birardi and Eddy Chai; Founders of ODIN NY
Odin New York has a strong representationin Paris and co-founder Eddy Chai has this to say about the appeal of his brand: “I think Odin fragrances appeal to the French market because they consistently offer modern takes on classic fragrance traditions. Our scents are timeless yet distinctive through a layering of diverse influences."