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MILAN — France and Italy may be the undisputed titans of the luxury fragrance industry, but Julian Bedel is out to prove that South America can compete in the already saturated upscale market.
In 2010, the Argentinian and his business partner, Amalia Amoedo, founded Fueguia 1833, a vertically structured body and home fragrance brand that is setting sail this year in Europe and the U.S.
“We started with a lot of research about the botanical aspect of plants in South America,” Bedel explained. He noted that while the company invests heavily in identifying quality naturals, the most important step is to find a way to source them. “You need to talk to communities — to explain to them that they are surrounded by a potential interesting ingredient, and how to [harvest] it. Most of the time, this ingredient [may be] wild-grown, but it can be domesticated.” For that, Bedel refers to the nonprofit HelpArgentina Foundation, which he set up in 2002 with Lloyd Nimetz. The foundation builds relationships with and provides funding for a network of smaller organizations throughout the country.
Each of the 55 Fueguia 1833 body fragrances comes wrapped in a copy of a vintage map of Patagonia and nestled in a handmade box made of reclaimed Patagonian wood. Bedel’s interest in the natural world and artisan crafts has several family precedents: His ancestors include the globe-trotting French entomologist Louis Bedel and travel writers Maurice Bedel and Filiberto Oliveira de Cézar, while his father and brother are artists.
“I’m also a musician and a painter, and I build guitars,” said Bedel. “It was very natural. It was a very empirical approach to say, ‘OK, I am going to build a fragrance.’ For me, playing with ingredients, I know where to start.”
Bedel carefully formulated the brand’s identity, hoping that even without a major advertising budget he could reel in customers through high-quality products with an enticing narrative: The name, Fueguia 1833, is a tribute to the 19th-century encounter between Charles Darwin, Robert FitzRoy and the young Fueguia Basket, a girl from Tierra del Fuego who was captured and shipped off to England with two other native Fuegians.
“South America is an amazing, diverse continent, botanically speaking and geographically speaking, and it’s also a continent that during the 19th century was full of botanists and explorers that untapped the diversity of our region,” Bedel said. “There are many elements of the culture of South America — writers, landscapes, characters, animals, specific plants, music — so my idea was to reproduce this in scents, or to use it as a backbone or an argument for fragrance.”
At the two Fueguia 1833 shops in Buenos Aires, customers can refer to a guide of fragrances: The perfumes, labeled by hand, are divided into different collections with names like Jorge Luis Borges and Fàbula Fauna, and each is presented with a brief description. Instead of the pyramid structure commonly used to build scents, Bedel said he used “orbits,” so that each perfume has one dominant and two key supporting ingredients.
With prices at about 115 euros, or $149.55 at current exchange, for a 30-ml. bottle and 185 euros, or $240.57, for 100-ml., Fueguia 1833 fragrances hit shelves April 10 at Rome’s Campomarzio70 store, which currently has an Italian exclusive. The brand will be available at Aedes de Venustas in New York starting May 6; in Los Angeles at Lucy Scents on May 11; in Milan at 10 Corso Como in June, and in Paris at both L’Eclaireur and Jovoy in June and September, respectively. Other openings are slated in Barcelona, London and various cities in Germany, so that by the end of 2013, Bedel estimates 25 stores in Europe and the U.S. will carry Fueguia 1833. “The idea is to keep it exclusive because of limited production,” he said.
Bedel declined comment on sales projections, but industry sources estimated that the line could generate first-year wholesale sales of about $3.5 million.
Ultimately, Bedel hopes to open direct points of sale around the world: The brand is now negotiating its first stand-alone European boutique in London.
“I believe that [Fueguia 1833] is a good homage to my family, to the philosophy of my family and to the philosophy of adventurers,” he said.