Premium Beauty News - Contrary to other European countries like Italy, Germany, or England, is alternative perfumery experiencing difficulties finding its own place in France? How are things going to evolve?
David Frossard - Fifteen years ago, only few fragrance lovers were interested in this type of perfumes. Today, the alternative perfumery concept has been integrated. It has become accessible, and the sector has developed its customer base, even if France is less open – historically and culturally – to pioneers in this field. So yes, the future can be promising, provided the concept is clearly defined and structural issues are settled.
Johann Vitrey - Its future is controlled. As the cradle of perfumery and of the major selective brands, which belong to groups that also own distribution networks, France does not leave much room for artistic and niche perfumery: by definition, it is the property of small houses and – often independent – artists. It is tricky to find one’s own place in a saturated country.
François Hénin - Alternative perfumery has reached an interesting step, a phase of maturity, so it will need to express itself differently. The concept is actually getting a bit outdated, but some brands are thinking about further asserting their identity through the packaging or communication. The future will mostly be secured by retail and its development: this is the great revolution expected to make up for the lack of distribution of rare perfumes in our country.
Premium Beauty News - How can this distribution be “revolutionized”?
François Hénin - Revolution might be triggered by the main operators, because it needs people willing to invest in the long term. And it is also, or actually mostly about remapping perfume shops in France. Jovoy, Ombres Portées, Sens Unique… there are initiatives: they are meant to try and get out of the Parisian circle to penetrate deeper into the country.
David Frossard - This perfumery branch has no proper distribution network, only a few independent players, department stores, concept stores… it is very heterogeneous. The challenge will be to define in which channel this perfumery can work and develop. Things are already changing. Concepts such as Liquides, my perfume bar, attract department stores because they offer an exclusive shopping experience, and advice is given by real perfume specialists. There is growing interest from major distributors: for example, Sephora has selected a few alternative perfumery brands like Juliette Has A Gun [NB: Sephora has just opened a 3.0 store to highlight niche perfumes as well, with a broad collection of testers], Le Bon Marché has dedicated its perfumery department exclusively to this sector, the Printemps department store has devoted a large area to it, and Galeries Lafayette are going back to it with brands like Atelier Cologne or Ex Nihilo.
Johann Vitrey - Absolutely. LVMH has adopted this idea of going back to the truth with its Small Is Beautiful store in St-Germain-en-Laye, in the west of Paris. The concept is definitely focused on customers, reception and service, and on a sophisticated product presentation. This very concept is a model, an example to be followed. It is a revolution I am ready to draw inspiration from.
Another solution could be to open franchise stores in order to set up a direct network of several points of sale with its own trading group. Many have been thinking about it for a long time, and a few players did it, although it requires heavy investment for an uncertain return.
There is also the idea of developing one’s own network of wholly-owned stores, and I encourage brands to consider it. Not all of them, obviously, but those whose range is broad enough, and which have extension projects, and the potential to do it. It is a heavy investment, but it is exactly what French customers want: enter into a different world, a brand, and appropriate it.
Premium Beauty News - Other than distribution, which difficulties is alternative perfumery experiencing right now in our country?
Johann Vitrey - Today, nobody can come to an agreement on the definition of the segment itself, and this is the first difficulty. It is hard to find one’s own place when the industry is not clearly defined itself. What is rare perfumery? Which brands can be considered to be part of it, and which brands should be excluded?
Then, there is the size of the companies behind these brands. Beyond their creation skills, these people are usually not trained to regulations, export, or legislation. There is a lack of organization and professionalization. So, with Paris Parfums Rares, we are trying to provide solutions, and others are doing the same, for example through labels such as Différentes Latitudes and Comité Joséphine. Things are getting structured for a better organization.
Lastly, there is the weight of selective perfumery in a shared network. The agreements signed by major groups’ brands with independent perfume stores compel them to make a certain number of purchases every year, and this is really extremely tough financially, especially in this economic context. It prevents them from investing anywhere else, and obviously, in rare perfumery.
David Frossard - It must be pragmatic and follow the market’s rules. Increasing the number of launchings obeys to a strategy of linear profitability for brands with a visionary, well-defined approach. This contributes to the creative dynamics typical of the sector, but it must not make people believe anything is possible. It is up to distributors, retailers, and even the press, to sort things out and avoid those that claim they belong to creative perfumery, when they actually do not. A multitude of brands embark on the adventure, which makes buyers even more confused, whether they are professionals or end users, and prevents good brands from emerging. That is the reason why I created a label [NB: Différentes Latitudes]. It is a closed concept that guarantees a truly creative perfumery, a DNA, a story, a long-lasting concept.
François Hénin - Indeed, niche perfumery already suffers from this fast-moving race. Brands with a real DNA are doing very well, as can be seen with the recent purchases by major groups. The last protection we have remains retailers, who do possess the knowledge and power to select real rare perfumery brands.