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Perfume brands chase the smell of success as consumers' tastes evolve

Russell Marino Soh
Russell Marino Soh • 9 min read
Perfume brands chase the smell of success as consumers' tastes evolve
Across the spectrum, perfume brands are innovating to capture consumers' attention (Picture: NICOLAÏ)
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Perfumery is by no means the private, hidden sector once available only to the upper crust. Today, a seemingly boundless range of fragrances exists, retailing everywhere from Paris to Phuket and Palo Alto.

As accessibility has grown, so has the pool of those constantly looking to add to their collection of scents. Brands are taking various approaches to capture interest in the market and cater to this growing spread of philosophies, preferences and purchasing power.

Established designer labels, for instance, are looking to harmonise the best of their rich archives with the needs of today’s consumers. At the same time, a growing legion of niche companies has joined the mix, setting themselves apart from more mass-oriented brands with their smaller-batch production, rarer ingredients and limited availability.

Options looks at how brands across the spectrum are approaching growth and change in the perfume industry through their recent releases and ventures.

Dior

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To modernise a legendary fragrance for the confident young woman of 2024, Dior looked to the past for inspiration.

Since its debut nearly eight decades ago, Miss Dior has continually evolved to reflect the energy of the contemporary young woman. The latest iteration, created by the brand’s perfume creation director, Francis Kurkdjian, is a yummy gourmand scent featuring notes of jasmine, wild strawberries, patchouli, Alaskan cedar and moss.

“For me, a ‘chypre’ fragrance is the very expression of French olfactory sophistication,” says Kurdjian, referring to the class of perfumes with citrus top notes, labdanum middle notes and oakmoss base notes. “My Miss Dior is a contemporary chypre. It reflects its era with flowers and woods and the gourmand tones of wild strawberry.”

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While Miss Dior has always been symbolic of youthful femininity, the new parfum version brings a decidedly more grown-up quality, with a woody-amber base hinting at a quiet sophistication while maintaining its overall sweet character. It’s indeed a modern chypre, blending old and new concepts of perfumery to create a product that women of all ages can enjoy.

Among the complex mix of notes in the updated fragrance, jasmine stands out in particular. Kurdjian was inspired to incorporate the flower in his Miss Dior by a quote from Maison founder Christian Dior himself about the original: “Miss Dior was born of those evenings in Provence, alive with fireflies, where young jasmine plays a descant to the melody of the night and the land.”

The jasmine blossoms are picked at dawn, early in the harvest season, to capture the most of their floral scent. The subsequent processing, which Dior has kept a secret, “revives the strawberry, peach and apricot-tinged fruity facets, as well as the radiance, of the jasmine extract of yesteryear”.

Etat Libre d’Orange

A niche brand originating in Paris, Etat Libre d’Orange eschews the idea of moulding itself to fit trends, instead marching to the beat of its own drum. Olivier Mariotti, general manager of the label, tells Options: “It’s very important for us to remain different from what is being made (by more mass-market brands).”

Though he began his career with conglomerates including LVMH, Mariotti says he has “lost interest completely” in that end of the market. “We want to be free from trends, to be free to create and do things our own way.” Instead, the brand focuses on rounding out its offerings, adding products where it sees a gap, and finding inspiration “through stories”.

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Mariotti still keeps an eye on happenings elsewhere in fragrances, but his focus now is on Etat Libre d’Orange’s peers in the niche segment: “I look at what they do because I think there’s a lot of creativity, and it’s very interesting.”

Etat Libre d’Orange is among 10 brands sold in Singapore through home-grown beauty retailer Novela in its newly launched Scented Journals concept. Available only at Novela’s Tampines One and PLQ Mall stores, the concept brings together niche European perfume brands curated by Novela’s founders.

Among the six EDPs by Etat Libre d’Orange available through Scented Journals, a clear standout is Les Fleurs Du Déchet — I Am Trash. Explaining its unique name (the French translates to “the flowers of waste”), Mariotti opines that “absolutely nothing” in perfumery is environmentally friendly.

“So we went to (fragrance manufacturer) Givaudan, and we asked: ‘What can we do? … Why don’t we take what you put in the garbage bin, bring it back, clean it, apply a different extraction method to get not a second-grade ingredient, but a different one.’”

The fragrance is made of upcycled ingredients, with apple firmly taking centre stage, followed by notes of rose and strawberry, all buoyed by delicate cedar and sandalwood. Having been processed by different methods from the original molecules, each ingredient is distinct from the “trash” it came from, so the product comes across as both familiar and novel.

Lancôme

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the saying goes. Lancôme is putting that wisdom to good use, with its latest fragrance offering putting a fresh spin on its already-popular Idôle franchise. The latest addition to the brand’s lineup is an EDT version of the Idôle EDP, which debuted in 2023.

Of course, the new fragrance brings something new to the table. As a lighter take on the original, the Idôle EDT features notes of green tea, rose and bergamot. Green tea, which comes from a natural-identical molecule sourced from Givaudan, has a unique vegetal quality. Madagascar vanilla, cedar, patchouli and musk anchor the fragrance, keeping it reminiscent of the original.

Coinciding with the new Idôle EDT’s islandwide launch this month, Lancôme has opened a pop-up store — fittingly called the Idôle House — at Ion Orchard. Comprising four stations, including one dedicated to the science behind the Idôle fragrances, the pop-up will run till May 31.

At the same time, Lancôme is debuting a series of more products in the Idôle line, including the Idôle Tint, a multipurpose eyeshadow, as well as new shades of the cult favourite Teint Idôle Ultra Wear foundation.

Rancé 1795

For Giovanni Rancé, seventh-generation torchbearer and artistic director of Rancé 1795, perfumes are “sophisticated works, embodying aesthetics, literature, art and research”.

At the same time, he adds that keeping a human touch at the forefront is just as important, especially as technology continues to drive the course of civilisation. “A good fragrance … should not be something to ‘just wear’. Customers today look for authenticity and the uniqueness of an exclusive experience made of scent, design, and poetry.”

Rancé 1795’s fragrances thus combine the technical side of perfumery with historical research, all anchored by “an emotion”. Its Impériale collection, for instance, employs antique formulations by Rancé’s ancestors to evoke the stories of historical figures.

An easy favourite in the collection — also available at Scented Journals — is Josephine, a strongly floral EDP underpinned by spice and musk. Named for the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, this fragrance starts with a rush of rose and jasmine, drying down to reveal a slightly powdery yet woody base.

Guerlain

Exclusivity is the name of the game for Guerlain’s fragrances. Among its latest scents is Cheval Blanc, an EDP available only at spas in the hotels for which it is named.

The Cheval Blanc Spas by Guerlain are located in Courchevel, Randheli, Saint-Tropez and Saint-Barts. Each location offers a different-coloured bottle, topped with a golden stopper; this mirrors the spas, which provide unique treatments inspired by the surrounding region.

A spritz of this unisex fragrance immediately unleashes bergamot and fig, which give way to the iris, followed by sandalwood and white musk. Created by Guerlain perfumer and creative director Delphine Jelk, the scent “encapsulates the spirit of destinations abounding in unforgettable moments, where all the elements come together to delight, move and surprise”, says the Maison.

For those seeking a more masculine scent, Guerlain has also released a set of concentrated EDPs for men based on archival fragrances: Habit Rouge, Vetiver, and L’Homme Idéal. Available in selected Guerlain stores and travel retailers, these bottles take inspiration from the world of spirits and liquors, grounded by notes of leather and wood.

“For Habit Rouge Le Parfum, I created a leathery vanilla liqueur with plenty of bold bourbon-inspired intensity,” says Jelk. Vetiver was created with “an even more aromatic and intense opening with juniper berries, coriander and liquorice. all in the spirit of an infused gin”. Meanwhile, L’Homme Idéal Le Parfum evokes “the almond in amaretto, making it all the more woody and all the more intense”.

NICOLAÏ

Another niche brand that has entered Singapore through Novela’s Scented Journals is NICOLAÏ. Founded in 1989 by Patricia de Nicolaï, great-granddaughter of Guerlain founder Pierre Guerlain, the label is now headed by her son, Axel Michau de Nicolaï. Over the past decade, the younger Nicolaï has taken the brand international, with boutiques in London and distribution networks worldwide.

“I think we always have to try and renew ourselves,” he tells Options. On NICOLAÏ’s recent growth, he notes that retailing outside Paris has inspired new products: “We’ve learned a lot about discovering new countries and new consumers … so we’ve made new perfumes, in new fields, that can suit different people.”

Expanding its product range — NICOLAÏ also produces body-care products and home fragrances — is another way the brand is capturing consumers’ olfactory demands. NICOLAÏ adds that it now produces some 350 unique products.

NICOLAÏ’s range at Novela includes five EDTs and one EDP. “These six fragrances represent the brand in this market,” Nicolaï notes. The sole EDP, Bois Belize Intense, was launched in 2020 and is perhaps the most masculine-leaning of the selection, though all are unisex. Rose and bergamot give way to wood and smoked tea notes, mingling for a refined yet bold scent.

The latest release among the six is 2022’s Riviera Verbena, inspired by the French Riviera — no surprises there. Led by lemon and mint, the EDT’s strongest note is its namesake herb. Green, fresh and slightly woody from its vetiver base, the overall scent is reminiscent of a crisp summer day.

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