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“The olfactory sense is proving its true worth” Cécile Zarokian, perfumer

Well known among perfume lovers, those who nose out the so-called ‘niche’ brands, who like to go beyond the beaten paths and explore new olfactory trails, Cécile Zarokian was still in her learning process when she created her first fragrance, Epic Woman, for Amouage, the Omani brand. A graduate of the ISIPCA (Institut Supérieur International du Parfum de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire – Higher International Institute for Fragrances, Cosmetics and Food Flavouring), she was then trained within the Robertet fragrance house in Grasse and then Paris for four years. In 2011, she created her own company and became an independent perfumer. At a time when most women declare that fragrance is their first criterion when choosing a perfume, Cécile Zarokian gives us her vision of olfactory creation.

Cécile Zarokian

Cécile Zarokian

Premium Beauty News - A first fragrance emerged when you were still learning your trade at Robertet, then shortly after you created your own company, with some twenty fragrances signed in two years. You haven’t lost much time, have you!

Cécile Zarokian - It was now or never to get started. I did not want to wait too long and then not dare take the risk. And finally everything worked out fine.

From the time my company was created, I engaged myself in an art project with the illustrator Matthieu Appriou. The project resulted in an exhibition in Paris in September 2011, which was part of the program “Rives de la Beauté”. The idea was to combine six perfumes with six illustrations, and establish a dialogue between the two universes, each giving birth to the other. Alternatively, the brush stroke followed the olfactory narration, or in turn the nose was guided by the brush. This enabled me to show what I could achieve aside from a customer’s specific request or business constraints. The exhibition is now going to take place in London this fall. [1]

In parallel, I won some projects and signed several fragrances. The creation of Epic Woman enabled me to meet Francois Hénin, the President of Jovoy, who distributes the brand in his outlet. This meeting resulted in the creation of two fragrances for Jovoy Paris, the eau de parfum Private Label and the scented candle Ambre 1er. Creations then followed one another with two home fragrances and two scented candles for the waxmaker Perron Rigot: Carnet De Voyages and Soirée Câline. Then there was the eau de parfum Pink, a 100% natural composition for the brand Undergreen, some more candles, the perfume Mon Nom Est Rouge for Majda Bekkali, and recently, the three perfumes Vy Roza, Djélem and Albho for the Suléko brand. I also created the candles for the Château de Versailles.

Premium Beauty News - Customers mostly come from the so-called niche perfumery sector.

Cécile Zarokian - Yes, it is more a matter of choice. If I became an independent perfumer and created my own laboratory in the process, it was to be able to continue my work freely. From this point of view, working with smaller brands is very different. If they often have a smaller budget, they do not have the same constraints and when they turn to an independent perfumer, it is because they rely a lot on the fragrance. The creative work thus becomes both more interesting and is carried out in close collaboration.

Premium Beauty News - An independent perfumer’s way of working is very different from that of a large fragrance house?

Cécile Zarokian - We do not exactly address the same needs nor do we exactly offer the same services, we generally don’t operate on the same markets. Customers who come to me know that I love working on original projects, sometimes out of step with the conventional spirit of the fragrance industry, from visuals, emotions, colours, fabrics, sounds, while sticking to the brand’s universe. I am not systematically given olfactory directions, and enjoy a lot of creative freedom. And then there is also a direct relationship with the customer throughout the development process.

Premium Beauty News - How do you see the evolution of the market of niche perfumery, referred to as exceptional and creative?

Cécile Zarokian - In this segment too, launches have increased. On the one hand, this helps stimulate demand and the market is expanding, but on the other hand, one might ask whether the market is not already saturated. In the end, profitability is not always easy to reach and many brands do not rely solely on their perfumes to make a business.

The positive side is that the olfactory sense is proving its true worth The power of scent has long been underestimated, but nowadays a lot of brands seem to discover the power of olfactory marketing, its impact on sales. We can see in the ready-to-wear world, brands like Abercrombie & Fitch or Zadig & Voltaire give a real olfactory identity to their outlets.

On this market, which is also becoming very competitive, I think it is important to take the time to give a “soul" to perfumes, it must be sufficiently differentiating to be recognizable by consumers, but not too much in order to not deter most customers. Originality is important, but it must be used appropriately.

Premium Beauty News - Doesn’t this frenzy of launches, all segments included, facilitate the development of full service?

Cécile Zarokian - This is an underlying trend of the market. More and more companies are offering turn key products. Depending of their customers’ request they can rely on a catalogue of perfumes or turn to a perfumer. In some cases, the customer may also express his desire to work with a specific perfumer. But of course this is only interesting when one wishes to engage in a genuine process of olfactory creation.

Premium Beauty News - The strengthening of regulatory constraints also plays a role in these changes?

Cécile Zarokian - Certainly. A small brand will need to rely on a growing number of experts. In such conditions, it is sometimes more effective to delegate a large part of the process to a company which already has a critical mass to withstand the costs involved.

But as far as olfactory creation is concerned, the weight of regulatory constraints must not be exaggerated. I belong to a generation who has always worked in this context, and that does not preclude creativity. Sometimes it is also more the brands’ specifications that generate real difficulties than purely legal obligations. In my projects, I have never had any difficulties with IFRA standards. Conversely, when I developed Pink, a 100% natural composition for the Undergreen brand, we had to undertake a huge amount of research work on ingredients, to manage in the end, to create a complex and subtle fragrance in spite of a limited palette. And the biggest achievement of the project lies in the fact that this constraint is not reflected in the final result!

In fact, the problem arises mostly for already marketed fragrances. If the regulatory changes include the requirement to reformulate a large part of what is already on the marketplace, costs will be astronomical and not bearable for small structures, not to mention the loss of our olfactory heritage.

Interview by Vincent Gallon


[1] From September 5 to October 4, 2013 at the Illuminum Lounge, 41 Dover Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4NS. Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 06:00 p.m.

© 2013 - Premium Beauty News -
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