By  on December 31, 2008

BERLIN — A conversation with Humiecki & Graef’s Tobias Müksch and Sebastian Fischenich is like a romp through an irreverent humanities course, tripping over romanticism, dada and kitsch on the way.

The designing pair, clad in coordinating bow ties and big chunky glasses, have a new line of five fragrances that marry high concept with inventive perfumery, yet strive to be essentially wearable. But don’t call them niche, said Müksch, who feels the word is no guarantee of originality or quality.

“When you are small, you should try and not be niche anymore,” he said.

The line of five eaux de toilette were created by Christophe Laudamiel of International Flavors & Fragrances. He used what’s referred to as a “star-shaped” composition, rather than the traditional olfactive pyramid, so that the Humiecki & Graef fragrances don’t transform linearly with a clear top, heart and base note, but pulse and develop softly instead, he contended.

Müksch and Fischenich call it “cubism in a bottle.”

The Cologne, Germany-based duo run communication and design agency bel epok, and have served (together and individually) as consultants to Shiseido, Lancaster, Guerlain, IFF and Clarins. For their own line, they decided to do things differently, but carefully, said Fischenich.

That determination starts with the company name, Humiecki & Graef — the name of each man’s maternal grandmother — not exactly a market-tested brand concept. The edts, Skarb, Geste, Eau Radieuse, Multiple Rouge and Askew, are perfumes that evoke emotions and feelings, melancholy, intensity, desire, folly and fury, according to the duo. In addition, Skarb (Polish for “treasure” — the scent was inspired by “how men cry”) was previously released in a 2007 mini-launch as a stand-alone, but was redesigned to fit in with the rest of the line, the duo noted.

Fischenich and Müksch strove to create a unified line with standout, simple-to-identify details. The clear glass bottles are identical, but each scent has a slightly different cap (wood, metal, ceramic, plastic); label (leather, ribbon, colored tape), and white paper box, each embossed with a different pattern. All parts of the fragrances are produced in Europe.

The fragrances come in 100-ml. bottlesand retail for 149 euros, or $210.67 at current exchange. The concentration of the formulations is another Humiecki & Graef quirk — the bottles are labeled “eau de toilette concentrée,” and with an essential oil concentration of 20 to 25 percent, the scents are closer to eaux de parfum.

The designers have approached distribution with insight into the local markets for different regions. Humiecki & Graef bowed first in Moscow’s GUM and Podium luxury concept store, but had its European debut at Berlin’s Department Store Quartier 206 in October, with the rollout following throughout December in select perfumeries in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and in U.K. online shops Mankind and Naked Man.

Negotiations are under way with Space NK and Harvey Nichols for 2009. Ideally, says distributor Frank Koehler of Aroma Company, the fragrances will be in 30 to 35 German doors, 15 in France and 70 in Italy. He’s also made Eastern inroads, with shops in Romania, Poland, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan on board.

In the U.S., the brand will be distributed by Kristen Becker Reed’s Selective Brands Inc. Reed was introduced to the brand by Franco Wright and Adam Eastwood of Los Angeles-based LuckyScent, the first to sell Humiecki & Graef’s 2007 Skarb in the U.S. Said Reed, “My plans are to position it in our niche market here in the States and get a loyal following.”

Looking toward a spring launch, Reed is aiming for Takashimaya, Bergdorf Goodman, 45 ten in Dallas, LuckyScent and Mayfield in Los Angeles, Ikram in Chicago and other high-end boutiques.

The scents could generate sales of $1 million in their first year on the market in the U.S., according to industry sources.

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