Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I'm Not Business-Driven - An Interview With Céline Verleure Of Olfactive Studio


Olfactive Studio could have been created only in the era of the Internet. In 2011, inspired by cyberspace's populist bias, founder Céline Verleure set up a Facebook page entitled The Blog Of The Perfume Which Doesn't (Yet) Exist, which she then used as a platform for testing brand ideas. To cut a long story short, the result was a perfume house which has already attracted a loyal following as well as a French FiFi award. But is the truth really as fairy-tale-perfect as that? When I meet Verleure in London at the launch of Olfactive Studio's home scent range, I ask her if she really hadn't worked out the whole company in her head before she set up the Facebook page.

"There was no plan," she assures me. "If you go online, you'll see that I proposed two concepts. One was Olfactive Studio. We had a vote. It was a real process. It wasn't fake."

For those of you not in the know, Olfactive Studio's unique selling point is photography: each scent in the range is inspired by a picture which Verleure submits to a perfumer instead of a traditional brief. How deep is the relationship between the fragrances and their images?

"The image is the only thing I give to the perfumers," Verleure says. "At the beginning, I didn't even want to put any names on the perfumes. I just wanted to use the pictures and say to customers, 'Choose the picture you like best.' But then I thought that having names would make the perfumes easier to sell. The idea came about not because I wanted to show pictures, but because I wanted to brief the perfumers differently."

Have all perfumers responded positively to this approach?

"I tried to work with a very famous perfumer, and he said Yes. I gave him the photograph. He proposed one fragrance. And I said, 'It's not exactly what I was looking for.' I didn't fall in love with it. And he said, 'But you told me I would have carte blanche. That's the perfume which I think fits the picture.' So that was that. He didn't want to work with me. Sometimes I work with younger perfumers, because they do crazy things and they don't limit themselves."

Nowadays, several brands reveal the identity of the people who make their perfumes. But Olfactive Studio adopts the relatively unusual policy of also naming the company by which these perfumers are employed. What prompted that decision?

"I think these houses should be known. Usually, they're not. I don't choose Robertet or Firmenich for the same type of fragrances. For the fresh ones, I go to Firmenich, because of some captive materials they have, and because they're more into chemicals. When I want very nice natural ingredients, I go to Robertet."

Verleure's entry to the perfumery industry was by way of a post at Kenzo Perfumes in the 90s. She smiles when I ask her if the company which taught her the ropes has changed since that time.

"It was very different," she says. "The day I entered Kenzo, in May 1993, it was bought by LVMH. But at that time, they said, 'As long as the brand is successful, you do what you want.' So we had a lot of freedom. As my boss was very well-known in the field and very well-respected, Bernard Arnault couldn't really interfere. So we didn't do any marketing tests. Otherwise we wouldn't have launched Kenzo Jungle, for example."

Although the market into which she's launched Olfactive Studio is agonisingly competitive, Verleure has decided she will release only one perfume each year.

"I'm not business-driven. I think that, to have a strong brand, you really have to give time to each country and each fragrance. The US market was pushing me to launch something twice a year, because they have their spring events and then their autumn events. I decided that I might do some candles or some body products, but only one new perfume per year."

Have different countries responded in different ways to her fragrances? 

"What's amazing is that, in total, over a year, all the perfumes perform equally. So I have no bestseller and no worst seller. Chambre Noire is the most popular in the Middle East. Lumière Blanche is successful everywhere; everybody likes it. Still Life is popular in Germany and the United States, and I think it'll be popular here in England. I created Flashback for Bergdorf, for the States, but they ended up selling more Lumière Blanche and Still Life."

As someone who has relied on the Internet's assets to help her achieve success, does she think cyberspace is helping to shape the perfumery industry?

"You know," she says, "the internet is much more important and more effective than print media. When I have a picture in a magazine, I love it, but it doesn't produce sales. Some bloggers are so accurate about fragrances. They say what they think. They can say what they want. Some of them want to be invited to events by brands and so they start to 'play the game'. But the ones I like don't play the game."

Finally, given her long-standing relationship with Dominique Ropion, I ask her if he's going to author any future releases for her.

"Maybe," she answers with a wink. "I'm not sure. But, you know, Maurice Roucel said Yes to me too!"

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Olfactive Studio's next release was recently unveiled at Milan's Esxence exhibition. Entitled Ombre Indigo, it was inspired by an image by Gustavo Pellizzon (see below) and composed by Robertet's Mylène Alran. The press info describes it as a woody tuberose with notes of saffron and incense.

Persolaise


image: Gustavo Pellizzon

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interview, P. / D.
    The idea of asking a perfumer to interpret an image through the medium of scent is an interesting one and certainly raises questions about whether odours carry a sort of universal, semiotic value.
    Did you catch the Cécile Zarokian / Matthieu Appriou exhibition thing last year in London ? That obviously explored a similar theme.
    I think ultimately these exercises can tell us something about the perfumer but beyond that...
    L.




    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. L, thanks for your comment. No, I missed the Zarokian exhibition. And yes, I'd agree that, ultimately, such exercises are interesting up to a point.

      Delete

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