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"Independence restores the meaning to the art of perfumer," Nathalie Feisthauer

Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer is indeed riding high! She recently won two FIFIs in Russia: an Award for the perfume Fluo_Ral from Nomenclature and the Perfumer of the Year Award. Her third FIFI, in total, since she founded her independent laboratory, Lab Scent, four years ago. An opportunity to exchange on her experience and her vision of the market.

Nathalie Feisthauer, perfumer

Nathalie Feisthauer, perfumer

Premium Beauty News - You worked for large perfume houses before becoming independent?

Nathalie Feisthauer - Yes, during 30 years. I learned to be a perfumer at the École de Roure (from 1983 to 1986), before joining Givaudan where I stayed 24 years, including four in New York. Then I joined Symrise. I was fortunate enough to discover the creative process when times were very different from now and to meet in teams or brands, fascinating personalities. These were the days of real briefs, real biases.

Premium Beauty News - Why was it so different?

Nathalie Feisthauer - Today it would be impossible to launch a perfume like Poison de Dior, for example. Brand interlocutors now mostly have a marketing approach. Furthermore, to alleviate the burden and responsibility of a launch, we now work with ten teammates on the development of a fragrance before it is tested. We are not looking for the best fragrance, but for one that will not displease anyone. We work for two years on finding an audacious accord for which we spend two years more smoothing. It’s very frustrating. This approach leaves little room for artistic creation. Perfume has become a product like any other.

Premium Beauty News - Hence the desire to leave this system?

Nathalie Feisthauer - Yes. I suddenly realized, I had had enough of this context, which is blatant from a marketing point of view: we programme best-sellers that don’t sell, with a limited lifespan. Besides, with the exception of J’adore by Dior, great successes rarely pass consumer tests, like Coco Mademoiselle, Angel, Light Blue, Terre d’Hermès… The system has become complete nonsense. So I wanted to find meaning by founding my own laboratory. The question is not so much how to create an original or popular perfume, but rather how to follow a project in its entirety.

Premium Beauty News - Have you found a new lease of life in niche perfumery?

Nathalie Feisthauer - Yes. A bit like a disillusioned chef who decides to open his little inn to reconnect with fine products and people who appreciate them. I also reconnected with some aspects of the trade that I like, by being in direct contact with the client. In the beginning when I was working in a large perfume house, I used to exchange with clients, even if contacts took place with marketers. Over time, my role was limited to the formulation of accords that I no longer presented in meetings. Today, assessors are the ones who choose the tests to propose to brands, sometimes by tapping into old projects that won’t necessarily fit to the brief. You therefore no longer have the possibility to choose or to explain your creative process. It is, once again, very frustrating. Fortunately, as a freelance perfumer, I discovered the much-appreciated freedom of being able to choose the accords that I propose.

Premium Beauty News - What does your customer base look like today?

Nathalie Feisthauer - I work with the Gulf countries, especially the United Arab Emirates, but also with Russia, the United States and many European countries. So I work on a wide variety of projects, whether they are won, lost or in progress, which is pleasant. In Dubai, many customers want to interact directly with the perfumer, which opens up opportunities. This diversity nourishes me.

Premium Beauty News - You are also very popular in Russia!

Nathalie Feisthauer - Yes, for the past three years, my work has been very appreciated over there. I won two FIFI Awards over there last November, and I regularly receive masterclasses of Russian perfume students wishing to improve their skills in France. It is a fun country, where people intensely love perfume. It is also a very open market, where small players are more visible. And this is also true for Iran or the United Arab Emirates.

Premium Beauty News - Tell us more about Fluo_ral by Nomenclature, which was singled out at the last FIFI Awards in Russia.

Nathalie Feisthauer - The brand Nomenclature was created by Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero from the Aedes de Venustas boutique in New York. The idea was to divert calone from its iodized, marine side, to reveal it in a darker light. To illustrate the packaging of Fluo_Ral I drew inspiration from the photo of a sea in a dark night in which some fluorescent algae sparkled. I dressed it with rhubarb, blackcurrant, pink berries and floral notes against a woody base, dominated by incense. An interesting exercise, with an innovative rendering.

Premium Beauty News - Did you observe that olfactory preferences changed according to the markets?

Nathalie Feisthauer - Not specifically. If oud wood remains unavoidable in the Gulf, the region has opened up to other, more classic influences. The offer is therefore very varied in the area, this significant gap being propitious to an evolution in tastes. In Russia, the offer is also very wide. The market has also evolved a lot in France over the past ten years, particularly under the influence of Middle East customers.

Premium Beauty News - What is your viewpoint on the evolution of the niche perfume market?

Nathalie Feisthauer - Originally, niche perfumery was born from a quest for meaning and originality. For me, the niche is a perfume shop that adopts the artistic vision of a creator, far from the more homogeneous proposition of the selective circuit. This is what I like, to transcribe a story, with an olfactory bias. But today, niche perfumery has evolved considerably. Niche brands have multiplied, resulting in an effect that I would describe as a "false niche": that is to say, pioneer houses who today depend on large groups. On the other hand, we see emerging some small, highly technical alternative brands, but who cannot compete financially and struggle to impose themselves in terms of distribution. Not to mention big perfume houses in the selective, which almost all have a prestigious exclusive collection featuring the codes of the niche.

A context, in which this perfumery, which intends to be more personal, born in the shades of a commercial approach, returns in the hands of large groups, in terms of distribution. It’s a rather ironic development when you look at. Niche perfumery is difficult to describe because it is multiple, the positive side being that there is currently room for every desire, every project.

Sophie Normand

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