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For Céline Verleure, founder of Olfactive Studio, a perfume bottle and a camera lens have a lot in common.
This story first appeared in the March 29, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Her brand, which she described as a bridge between the worlds of contemporary photography and perfumery, will make its U.S. debut on April 8 in Bergdorf Goodman and other specialty retailers. Each scent in the line, which Verleure refers to as a “perfumer’s proof,” is inspired by a photograph and meant to interpret the overall emotional imprint left by the art.
Distributed in North America by KVD NYC Inc, industry sources estimate Olfactive Studio’s increased presence — which will include a U.S. e-commerce site, at olfactivestudious.com, and entry into Canada — will double the brand’s sales to $2 million this year. It is currently available in 26 countries, with Germany, Russia and the Middle East accounting for the bulk of the business.
“Perfumers often work with words when developing a fragrance, while photography evokes emotions, which is a key point of difference for Olfactive Studio,” said Verleure. “Great photography is inspirational, and the perfumers enjoy working in this different creative style.”
Verleure’s goal is to launch one scent a year and continue to expand geographically, with plans to enter Japan’s Isetan department store and other retailers throughout Asia by 2014.
Verleure said her company — which began as an online crowdsourcing project called “Blog for the fragrance that doesn’t (yet) exist!” — “started like an artist project.” On the site, Verleure asked the Facebook community to offer proposals for new niche scents — including details such as fragrance names, preferred notes and packaging. “I wanted people to participate in the backstage of fragrance production,” said Verleure. The project drew 5,000 participants. “When I saw the response, I realized I could become a real brand,” said Verleure, who officially launched her Paris-based brand in September 2011.
The initial experiment yielded Olfactive Studio’s first three fragrances — Autoportrait, meant as a reflection of self; Still Life, a nod to “living sculptures,” and Chambre Noire, inspired by darkness. Lumiére Blanche, a milky-hued juice meant to exude both warmth and coldness, was added in June 2012. Each Olfactive Studio scent, priced at $195 for 3.4 oz. and $145 for 1.7 oz., is packaged with a postcard-size picture of the photo that inspired it. The fragrance flacon is meant to resemble a Polaroid picture, and the cap, a lens. Verleure, also Olfactive Studio’s art director, begins each new fragrance with a name, chosen with help from the digital community. “I then go look for the best picture to really fit the name,” said Verleure, who scouts galleries and art shows for inspiration. “Once I find something, I contact the photographer and ask if I can use their piece.” She then arms the perfumer with the inspiration shot for a corresponding juice.
Olfactive Studio’s newest scent, Flashback, is fifth in the lineup, and its introduction will coincide with the brand’s U.S. launch. The juice, imagined by Firmenich’s Olivier Cresp, interprets a photo by French media artist Laurent Segretier that explores the past’s effect on the present. A blend of tart, green rhubarb and a drydown of vetiver, cedar and musks, the scent is designed to reflect the mind’s ability to transform time. Marketing for Olfactive Studio is centered around the digital space, namely social media, a fitting choice given its beginnings, said Verleure. “We have 20,000 fans who are writing a lot and really passionate [about the brand] because they participated in its creation too. They are linked to it.”