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Why Luxury Brands Are Using Scents and Smells to Woo Customers

High-end scents featuring intriguing ingredients and lavish packaging are the latest entrants to the fragrance realm.

When Dr Adrian Ng attended a scent appreciation session at the launch of Louis Vuitton’s exclusive Les Parfums range of seven fragrances, he was pleasantly surprised by what he sniffed out in one particular concoction.

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Louis Vuitton Les Parfums

“I like the leather tones in Dans la Peau,” says Dr Ng, an anaesthetist in private practice. “They remind me of the posh leather used in luxury products. There is also that raw animalistic smell that could maybe trigger some subconscious caveman instincts and moods! I also like the leather notes in some of the single malts and Barolos. I appreciate how fragrances evoke moods and memories on a subtle level.”

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COMPLETE PACKAGE Bottega Veneta’s Parco Palladiano fragrances come in hand-finished glass bottles topped with embossed silver caps.

While his fragrances of choice are typically by cult label Penhaligon’s, he also enjoys those by Hermes and Bulgari, and is considering adding this Louis Vuitton perfume to his scent wardrobe because of its unique olfactive profile.

To cater to increasingly discerning noses like Dr Ng’s, luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Cartier have begun to launch new fragrances, after a long hiatus from the perfume market. For instance, L’Envol de Cartier is the brand’s first men’s cologne in eight years; while the last time Louis Vuitton launched a perfume was way back in 1946.

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GLASS ACT Louis Vuitton archival crystal bottles dating back to the 1930s.

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These brands are joined by a crop of high-profile creative directors who have recently launched fragrances for their labels. They include Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen with McQueen Parfum, a gothic, rich white floral featuring rare ingredients such as sambac jasmine and tuberose; and JW Anderson with 001 for Loewe, which comes in two versions – for men and women.

Muscling in on Niche Territory

Making unique perfumes that typically appeal to smaller groups of customers was once the province of cult or independent brands; luxury brands are now muscling into this niche and discerning market. These “premium” or “couture” fragrances are said to be created with the priciest and most exclusive ingredients, and often come in swish packaging rarely seen for department store perfume – think crystal flacons or leather casing. Often, these ranges, such as Bottega Veneta’s Parco Palladiano, Chanel’s Les Exclusifs and the Hermes Hermessence collection, are available only at select boutiques globally, further lending to their exclusivity.

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INTO THE WOODS Cypress adds a crisp note to the second scent in the Parco Palladiano range.

This slew of premium perfume launches is coming at a time when the global outlook for the luxury industry is tepid at best. Bain & Company’s global personal luxury goods market report for last year found that the market, which reached 253 billion euros (S$383 billion) in revenue, expanded by only 1 per cent in real-growth terms from 2014 to 2015. At the time of publication, this sluggish growth was expected to continue.

There is however, one bright spot. The report notes that within the beauty category, fragrances are on a positive trajectory, with 2 per cent growth at constant exchange rates, predominantly driven by fragrances at the top end of the market, exclusive lines and artisanal niche brands.

(RELATED: What it’s like to be Christine Nagel, Hermes’ New Perfumer.)

This direction is reflected in the Singapore market, with premium perfumes contributing to over 90 per cent of total fragrance sales and totalling $225 million in 2015, according to figures by Euromonitor International. Sunny Um, research analyst for beauty and fashion at Euromonitor International, says the positive outlook for niche luxury fragrances stems from consumer demand for such scents.

She says: “Niche luxury fragrances offer bespoke concoctions catering to shoppers’ individual tastes. Customised service fulfils consumers’ desire to be differentiated from their peers, and mature shoppers with sophisticated tastes are willing to pay for the unique value, rarity and craftsmanship the products offer.”

Expanding The Brand Universe

Haute fragrances are a canny way for luxury brands to showcase the lifestyle that the particular fashion marque espouses.

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BEYOND GENDER Boy Chanel, the 17th Les Exclusifs fragrance, mixes masculine and feminine notes.

For example, customers interested in Chanel’s Les Exclusifs are invited to an “olfactive journey” for a comprehensive consultation, which starts with a conversation to find out about an individual’s scent preferences and lifestyle habits. Seated in a plush salon and surrounded by flacons of the perfumes, the customer then embarks on a guided sniff test of a selection of the brand’s fragrances. These range from newer creations such as Beige and Jersey to historical perfumes such as Cuir de Russie and Gardenia, which were concocted in the ’20s and ’30s for Gabrielle Chanel by her nose, Ernest Beaux. The fragrance consultant is always happy to spritz selected scents on a client to allow her – or him – to experience what they smell like on the skin. It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare this to a personal fitting session for an outfit at a Chanel boutique.

Similarly, the complementary twin 001 perfumes by Loewe creative director JW Anderson, who frequently subverts gender norms through his designs, can be worn individually or combined to create a third gender-neutral scent. The Man and Woman duo perfumes are packaged in sleek, minimalist bottles.

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VISUAL IMPACT Stark botanical images complement the understated packaging of Loewe’s 001 fragrances.

Smelling the Difference

While luxury labels market their haute fragrances as being a cut above the norm, the real test still lies in whether customers are enamoured with what they smell. Fragrance-loving make-up artist Clarence Lee, who previously owned a multi-label cult fragrance boutique, says he was not impressed by a recent haute perfume launch as the product smelled run-of-the-mill to him. Lee, who is a fan of Chanel’s woody-fresh and long lasting Sycomore, says he generally finds luxury fragrances superior to the rest in terms of their scent profile.

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COMMON GROUND Indian sandalwood is an ingredient in both the men’s and women’s version of Loewe’s 001 fragrance.

In that case however, he says: “I have a set of miniatures and after trying them all, none of them made me want to wear them out to experience how well they reacted on me. I felt that brand was just cashing in on its popularity to increase its bottom line.”

In any case, when making a decision about a perfume, public relations and marketing consultant Sam Yeo, a haute fragrance aficionado, believes it is necessary for one to try it, without getting swayed by brand or marketing. He says: “Fragrance is a very personal thing and it all boils down to the scent that smells good on your skin. I love Serge Lutens, The Different Company and L’Artisan, but of course not everything by them suits me, or smells great.”

NOSING AROUND

Fun facts about haute perfumes by luxury brands.

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    01: THE SCIENCE OF SMELL

    Perfumer for the Louis Vuitton Les Parfums range of scents Jacques Cavallier Belletrud used a cutting-edge CO2 extraction technique to imbue the fragrances with the dewy, fresh aroma of flowers in full bloom. It is the first time this high-tech process, which helps to preserve the volatile scent molecules of the flowers, has been used on blooms from perfume capital Grasse, such as the May rose and jasmine.
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