One of fashion’s top tastemakers breaks into indie perfumes

Behind Carine Roitfeld’s new fragrance line


IT’S no secret that celebrity fragrances sell. Since the epic success of Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume in 1991, which still generates about US$47 million (RM195.99 million) annually for Revlon, according to market researcher Euromonitor International, fans have more options than ever to smell like their favourite Aand B-listers. Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry and even Antonio Banderas have cashed in on lucrative licensing deals with industry titans Coty Inc and Puig SL, which together account for 19% of the US$51 billion global fragrance market.

And yet, this mass appeal and affordable accessibility can mean that legions of men and women all whiff of the same pedestrian blend of fruit, flowers and alcohol, which has led to an upturn in desire for more niche, artisanal scents. The latest entrant: Former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief and style siren Carine Roitfeld, who recently debuted her eponymous line, Carine Roitfeld Parfums. The collection of seven genderless fragrances called “7 Lovers” is available on Net-a-Porter and her own website. Unlike mass fashion brands such as Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford or Yves Saint Laurent, Roitfeld didn’t team up with LVMH, Estée Lauder Cos or L’Oréal Groupe, which together have 21.1% of market share. She instead opted to foot the bill and retain creative control for a chance at a more unique product. In the last five years, luxury fragrances have outpaced cheaper options in most markets, according to Euromonitor.

To keep it premium, Roitfeld kept it close. “It was important to me that the collection was entirely launched by myself. I am grateful to have had so many prestigious fragrance houses and investors offer to provide financial support for this,” she said, “but as this was very special and personal to myself, I said ‘No’ to all offers. This was never driven by money. It is about passion and legacy, and it is how I have always done in everything I do”.

7 Lovers Eau De Parfum travel Set (RM1,147) with 10ml bottles

When pressed for how much she personally invested, the tastemaker and creative director played coy: “We are French, as you know, and French people never talk about money,” she quipped. The cost of creating a niche fragrance line is steep. Holly Tupper’s new eight-scent collection, Cultus Artem (starting at US$550 a bottle), for example, cost at least US$300,000 to develop. (“I’m an artist,” Tupper said. “I don’t keep very good records.” She expects to turn a profit in three years.)

As founder of style magazine CR Fashion Book and co-founder of CR Studio, a fullservice creative and production agency whose clients include Chanel, Yeezy and Dior, Roitfeld is well-versed in high fashion. But she’s a novice when it comes to creating perfume. As a result, the project took eight years to develop, while companies such as Inter Parfums Inc churned out more than a dozen fragrances in 2018 alone.

To get the right scent, Roitfeld, along with her son and business partner, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, collaborated with perfumers Aurélien Guichard, Pascal Gaurin and Yann Vasnier, each of whom worked on different scents. The trio brought to the table a well-balanced mix of commercial and niche success, having crafted designer department store favourites such as Issey Miyake Pleats Please and indie hits like Ex Nihilo Citizen X. “I did not want to rush the process and knew that in order for the line to be successful,” Roitfeld said. “I had to work with those that had the experience.”

In addition to risk and development time, another challenge of being completely independent is that “you don’t get outside or third-party perspective that can help challenge you to create the best product”, her son explains. For that, they turned to industry insider Frederic Pignault, who was comfortable telling them what was working and failing, in addition to testing with a stable of well-connected friends.

The seven unisex scents are inspired by Roitfeld’s great loves, both real and fictional, and her favourite cities — Paris, London, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, Buenos Aires and St Petersburg. Vladimir, named after her son, is a woody, masculine blend of Moroccan orris (a rich, earthy flower that takes three years to dry before the scent can be retrieved) and amber. George is an eclectic green mix of cannabis ScentTrek (patented, lab-created cannabis smoke), violet leaf absolute, and oakmoss absolute, which are natural extracts rather than a blend of natural and synthetic molecules. And without corporate deadlines and budget-conscious beauty executives to report to, the team took risks. Hand-picked immortelle flower from Yugoslavia, for example, has such an intense, herbaceous odour reminiscent of hay that it’s normally used as an accent. But in Sebastian, it was used as a key ingredient.

“In terms of ingredients, no costs were spared,” Pignault said. “With no restrictions, we were able to let our imaginations run wild, which I am sure made Vladimir nervous. But in the end, it was the right path.”

“I needed artists who could understand where I was coming from and where I wanted to go, what I wanted to express,” Roitfeld said. The results are rich and moody, and in khakicoloured glass bottles (US$285 for 90 milliliters) that resemble a flask, perfectly capture her signature smudged eye makeup and black wardrobe. — Bloomberg