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For perfumer Sue Phillips, fragrance has always been about the experience.
“I really believe [niche fragrances] are a backlash for the incredible amount of competitive fragrances that are on the market,” said Phillips. “It’s because [many commercial scents] don’t have a story or a positioning.”
Known for creating fragrances for Trish McEvoy, Diane von Furstenberg, Burberry and Avon, Phillips began creating custom bespoke scents for clients in 2008. After growing her business, the perfumer opened The Scentsorium in February. The by-appointment-only, custom fragrance-blending studio is situated in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood in a 350-square-foot boutique filled with floral paintings by Phillips’ mother and mahogany furniture for a homey ambiance.
In the fall, Phillips will launch a deluxe fragrance kit, around $175, containing an instruction guide and a set of 12 blends so clients and consumers outside of New York can experience what she does at her studio at home. According to Phillips, specialty stores and a few of the home shopping networks have expressed interest in selling her product.
To that end, Phillips explained that while the retail component will be an important part of her growing business, she is also hoping to expand two other initiatives.
“I do events here with customized scents, but I also take the show on the road,” said Phillips, who explained that during Mother’s Day weekend she and her team led events for 300 people in Baltimore and New Jersey. “I take my blends with me and a few assistants and we offer a smaller experience.”
Phillips added that she also wants to develop her fragrance ambassador program around the country.
“[The Fragrance ambassador program] is for [someone] who wants to get into business on their own and loves fragrance,” said Phillips. “They purchase our fragrance kit and caboodle [which includes 18 blends, a questionnaire, a complete set of training materials, formula cards, registration cards and a range of bottles]. It’s enough material for a fragrance ambassador to present a party or an event for about 10 people.”
In a crowded fragrance market, Phillips hopes to differentiate herself by customizing fragrances to her clients’ liking. She begins by giving them a lifestyle personality quiz to find out what family of scents appeals to them. Following the test, Phillips introduces her 18 blends, which consist of ingredients like amber and heady jasmine, and explains the history behind each. Finally, she has them choose three to four concoctions for Phillips to mix into a personalized fragrance.
“I try to give [my clients] an interactive, educationally, ‘scentertaining’ experience,” said the fragrance veteran.
For a custom-blended fragrance, consultations start at $50 a person for groups up to 300 and go to $350 for one person. Fragrance formulas are kept in a database for refills, which are $85 for a 20-ml. bottle or $125 for a 30-ml. flacon.
While Phillips declined to talk figures, industry sources estimate The Scentsorium will generate $500,000 in its first year.