By  on October 16, 2006

FLORENCE — Niche fragrance fair Fragranze wooed the public for the first time at its fourth edition last month, while the selective fragrance industry in Italy continues to enjoy slow and steady growth.

Fragranze, held in the lemon grove of a villa here, was open to the public on the last two days of its run. Fragranze's exhibitors and organizer Pitti Immagine decided to open the doors of the fair to the public as a chance to communicate information about the industry.

"There were cynics who weren't happy with that decision, but I remain enthusiastic about it — it's an optimum way of educating future customers about our industry and its products," said Celso Fadelli, president of Herbarium, which represents brands including Bond No. 9, Clive Christian, Carthusia and Miller Harris.

The three-day, mid-September fair, which exhibited 102 brands, attracted 2,000 visitors, half of which were members of the public.

Executives at Fragranze said the niche perfume industry was growing steadily in Italy, and sales this year are expected to total 50 million euros, or $62.5 million at current exchange, a 12 percent increase from last year.

"The niche fragrance market has had double-digit growth annually in Italy, but it has only developed 30 percent of its potential here," said Silvio Levi, director of Milan distribution firm Calé. Levi noted the Netherlands and Germany also were performing well in niche fragrance sales, but said he wasn't happy with progress overseas.

"The U.S. market hasn't fully committed itself to niche fragrances yet — there aren't enough dedicated stores," said Levi.

Levi's distribution company will launch Maestrale by Profumi di Pantelleria this month in Europe. Maestrale is a woody men's fragrance inspired by a walk on the beach in winter.

Also at the fair were French perfumers Patrick Bertaux and François Miller behind the two-year-old Miller et Bertaux fragrance line. The two, who design a women's clothing line for their boutique in Paris, were at Fragranze to promote their new fragrance, Bois de Gaïc et Poire, a 50-ml. eau de parfum priced at 79 euros, or $98.8 million. The fragrance has notes the pair discovered on their travels — including a wood from a South American tree and antique roses from Turkey. "We were obsessed with the smell of the wood — especially after locals told us they thought the tree was holy," said Bertaux. Bois de Gaïc et Poire's flacon mimics a Mexican retablo, a wooden box used to store objects important to its owner.Kaon, the Italian distributor of Miller et Bertaux and 11 other selective beauty brands, also was showing a 12-stockkeeping-unit antiage Swiss skin care brand called Paul Niehans for the first time. Kaon was born five years ago out of the ashes of a commercial perfumery in Rome, said president Roberto Drago, who started his business after working in commercial cosmetics distribution. "I wanted to talk about the actual product again," Drago said, adding he started his company just before the explosion of the niche fragrance market in Italy. "There's no other market like Italy in terms of cosmetics and beauty; we just hope growth evens out."

Kaon is the distributor for another young niche fragrance company, this one closer to home. Two years ago, Marina Sersale and Sebastián Alvarez Murena created a fragrance for the 50th anniversary of historical luxury hotel Le Sirenuse, located on the Amalfi coast. The scent, Eau d'Italie, became a brand when Sersale and Alvarez Murena continued to work with nose Bertrand Duchaufour, who composed the Rome company's newest scents, Sienne l'Hiver and Bois d'Ombrie, inspired by the winter in Siena, and the Umbrian woods, respectively. Each is 3.4 oz. and will retail for $120. They will be rolled out to 50 doors in Italy this month, 30 doors in the U.S. in January and 20 doors in Paris, London, Hong Kong, Dubai, Amsterdam, Spain, Austria, Germany and Poland by next summer. "It's ambitious to launch two at the same time, but we are doing it because Duchaufour produced two beautiful fragrances. It's a passion and we really want to continue without growing too fast," said Sersale.

Returning to Fragranze as exhibitors was New York-based Fashion Fragrances & Cosmetics — which holds the license for production and distribution of the historical Robert Piguet fragrance line.

"I thought it was important for me to be here," said Joseph Garces, president and ceo of Fashion Fragrances & Cosmetics.

"It's not just the Italian market; I have new buyers coming to see me from places like Poland, too. Everyone comes to see what is happening on the niche market here, and you can be assured it is actually niche."The company has relaunched a scent from the Robert Piguet archives created in 1950. Baghari, a classic floral fragrance, already has been launched in the U.S., London and Paris, and will be rolled out to 100 stores in Italy and the rest of Europe by yearend.

Presenting a book by Turin perfumer Laura Tonatto, New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr also made an appearance at Fragranze. To the delight of the Italian press, Burr introduced Tonatto's biography of working as a nose in Italian, and passed the evening fielding questions on fragrance launches.

"I love Italy. Any chance I get, I come back here," said Burr, who added he planned to finish his second book in October, living at Tonatto's Rome apartment.

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