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The Art and Business of Scent

By: Nicole Urbanowicz
Posted: December 6, 2013, from the January 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Industry section of the December issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Successfully creating a masterpiece fragrance that touches consumers on an emotional level is no easy feat, which is why several industry notables gathered at the Fashion Group International’s “Art of Scent” event at Space 530 in New York to discuss the art of scent, key marketing strategies and business issues that face the industry today. The panelists included Rodrigo Flores-Roux, senior perfumer at Givaudan; Victoria Frolova, editor and writer of the Bois de Jasmin blog and contributor to Perfumer & Flavorist magazine; Laura Slatkin, founder and CEO of Nest Fragrances; and Art Spiro, executive vice president, global fragrance innovation, Elizabeth Arden.

“I saw a business opportunity,” said Slatkin, opening the panel by discussing her foray into the fragrance market in 1994 following a Wall Street career with Lehman Brothers. “I said, ‘There’s just a whole industry just waiting to happen.’ So we worked and we learned all about the fragrance industry.”

She added that her inspirations mainly come from cooking, working with flowers and entertaining. In fact, the home fragrance expert said one of her scents was inspired by an event at her home during which she served fragrant Indian and Persian dishes. “‘This smells delicious, what [candle is] burning in here?’” Slatkin’s guests remarked. “I thought, ‘It does smell fantastic,’ and that was how Moroccan Amber was born,” said Slatkin. “We looked at all of the Indian spices that went into that dish and the particular ingredients and that’s how that fragrance came about.”

Another inspiration was a vestibule filled with beautiful hyacinths: “There was a [fragrant] rush of hyacinths. [A] candle came about through that,” she noted.

Frolova, who originally planned to be a scientist, began working in the fragrance industry because fragrance piqued her curiosity. “I was so curious and passionate about fragrance, [so] I got a job in the fragrance industry for several years,” she said. She added that fragrance is an artistic endeavor that has the ability to form a close connection with the consumer. “When you find the fragrance that touches you at an emotional level, it’s such an extraordinary experience,” Frolova said.

“Perfume is a conversation,” Flores-Roux added. The perfumer, who said he’s working on a new John Varvatos fragrance, is focused on storytelling through scent. For instance, Flores-Roux’s sister called to tell him that she wore the Mary Kay fragrance he created for the birth of her child, his nephew. “I told the story at the Mary Kay symposium … [and] there [were] 5,000 pink clad women and they cried,” said Flores-Roux. “This fragrance is very emotional.”

Flores-Roux also defined a successful fragrance as having a number of elements, including the fact that “the fragrance has to remind people of you when you go.” He also said a perfumer has to consider, “Is the strength just right?” The trail, he added, is crucial.

Spiro said perfumers “bring that emotional connection, that scent to life to the consumers. We’re trying to bring joy to people’s lives.” Although the bottle and packaging may catch someone’s eye, “the heart of soul is the fragrance itself,” said Spiro. “That’s what that we’re drawn to. The olfactive element is the enjoyable part of the human experience.”

There’s also the potential fan factor. Spiro cited a number of examples of the whirlwind of information that fans can gather about celebrities and the creators of their favorite television shows. However, he said, when it comes to fragrances that aren’t backed by a celebrity household name, “when you buy a fragrance, all you really know is the model [who] really has no association with the development of the fragrance, in most cases, but then again there are certain exceptions. But there really isn’t the opportunity to let the consumer in. And I see that as a huge opportunity. How many times have you seen the perfumer put at the forefront of the creation of a fragrance?”

Spiro said some companies have featured their perfumers on their websites, but added, “We don’t do that often enough. And that’s an opportunity for people like us as marketers who drive this business to share more of the artistry of how fragrance is created. We work on a craft [in which] there are so many things going on that we never share with the community.”

According to Spiro, there are certain elements that contribute to the success of the whole experience of fragrance. Using the Kashi brand as an example, Spiro questioned whether, like food companies, fragrance brands could market “natural” ingredients and their sourcing techniques to consumers. “We spend more time and energy on packaging than we do talking about the ingredients, the sustainability,” he said.

Spiro added that fragrance brands have the unique ability to create a connection to the consumer when he or she walks in a store. “When it’s Halloween, you can put a bale of hay and a pumpkin and sell the same fragrance and the same body lotion that [the retailers] were selling three months before, but all of a sudden it creates a new feeling for the consumer. So it’s the experience I think that we really need to focus more on.”

He also noted, “There are traditional and conventional ways of selling fragrance, and [then] there’s a new way.” He questioned why a typical fragrance sales pitch at a brick-and-mortar retailer begins and ends swiftly with a brief mention of the product and the gift with purchase, whereas online and broadcast channels offer approachable opportunities to talk about products.

“[On] QVC [and] HSN, you can talk about perfumery, you can talk about sustainability, you could talk about naturals. You could also talk about technology. We live in a technology-driven world. We communicate more online through websites than we’ve ever done before. So why not open it up … and share some of it?”