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Exemplaire Launches First Scent

Eau d’Initié, a unisex fragrance, is being sold in highly selective distribution.

PARIS — Jean-Victor Meyers was initiated into the fragrance world literally from birth — after all, he’s the great-grandson of L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller. But he hasn’t necessarily adopted the beauty company’s quest for mega-hits. When readying a first scent with Louis Leboiteux, his partner in Exemplaire, the last thing in mind was developing a top-10 perfume.

“The idea, when we started, was to make a very high-end fragrance that we would wear ourselves,” Meyers told WWD of the cashmere-focused fashion brand’s new perfume, Eau d’Initié, which starts selling on Monday. It’s an explanation echoing that of the raison d’être for Exemplaire’s birth.

“We like to be very picky about the quality, [and] also want to have something quite exclusive,” he continued.

And exclusive is how it all began, since the unisex scent was first given to insiders — or initiés — of the duo’s intimate circle of friends, family and top clients.

Meyers takes a straightforward approach to perfume creation. “To me, fragrance is similar to cooking,” he said. “Like for a very good dish, you need to have a great cook and great ingredients [at the start].”

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Jean-Victor Meyers
Jean-Victor Meyers Ed Alcock / M.Y.O.P.

Leboiteux suggested Firmenich perfumer Christophe Raynaud for the project. The executives then discussed Exemplaire with him, giving Raynaud carte blanche to use the most high-quality ingredients in whatever quantity he wanted to make a perfume that’s rich, faceted, diffusing, yet still long-lasting.

“We told him that we would like to have something unisex, that you can wear day and night, winter and summer — not something seasonal,” Meyers said. “We wanted to use incense and myrrh.”

Such notes were chosen for their mystical qualities, with the latter rarely used in fragrance, but central to Eau d’Initié’s juice.

The scent’s top includes bergamot essence, plus notes of pink pepper and incense. In the middle, besides myrrh, are orris concrete and amber gris notes, while the base has tonka bean absolute, patchouli essence and a bourbon vanilla note.

Raynaud concocted the eau de parfum over two-and-a-half years — sending weekly test vials to Meyers and Leboiteux.

“At the beginning we did not really think that we would launch and distribute it,” Meyers said. “Everything happened quite organically and naturally.”

Once it was decided Eau d’Initié would be sold, it had to have a bottle. “We needed to find, exactly like we do with the cashmere and leather goods, some very high-end artisans, who could produce in very small quantities,” Meyers said. In Normandy, they found a glass and crystalmaker from whom Exemplaire executives purchased the mould of a flacon from the Thirties, with an Art Deco flair.

That spawned the weighty Eau d’Initié bottle, made of glossy glass with chamfered edges and coming with a black, corrugated cap embossed with Exemplaire’s double-e logo. Only about 250 can be produced a day.

The scent’s concrete gray outer box echoes the minimalist aesthetic of the brand’s store. Its white label winks to traditional French couture houses.

Meyers considers Eau d’Initié a traditional and contemporary mash-up. “I think that even if you do a new fragrance, it’s important also to respect what used to be haute parfumerie — respect the codes,” he said.

As with Exemplaire fashion and accessories, each element of Eau d’Initié is made in France.

Jean-Victor Meyers and Louis Leboiteux
Jean-Victor Meyers and Louis Leboiteux Ed Alcock / M.Y.O.P.

Meyers said the perfume’s development outlays were in scale with Exemplaire, given the scent’s small quantities, tight distribution and lack of advertising. “Cost-wise, it’s like adding a collection or adding a product or category to your brand,” Meyers said.

Eau d’Initié — retailing at $355 for a 6.8-oz. bottle — is to be sold in only a handful of locations. Principally, it will be carried in Exemplaire’s Paris boutique on Rue Saint-Honoré starting on Monday, and on the brand’s new e-commerce site, due to launch at the end of this week. A sprinkling of other selective stores will start stocking the scent, too, such as Maxfield in Los Angeles beginning in early October and The Corner in Berlin later this year.

Meyers has long been a fragrance lover. In high school, for instance, he wore Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren. (A pet peeve is scents so present olfactively that they annoy others.)

Meyers spritzes perfume on his clothing. “I like the idea that when you wear your sweater or scarf, the next day it smells like your fragrance,” he said.

Meyers is taking a wait-and-see approach to whether Exemplaire launches more perfume, which he considers as fitting well in the brand’s lifestyle positioning. To him, scent was a natural expansion of the label just five years after it launched, whereas some fashion companies wait much longer to introduce a perfume.

“We started with knitwear, and then it evolved into leather goods — and even more into art de vivre, lifestyle,” said Meyers, who believes it’s simply important to launch projects when the time feels right.

Scented candles haven’t been ruled out, but the next project for Exemplaire will be limited-edition pieces made in collaboration with French craftsmen, including silversmiths, starting this winter or early in 2018.

“Each year we’re probably going to think of a different métier d’art and do a small edition of objects,” Meyers said.

The executive said he is very happy with Exemplaire’s boutique — and that there’s just one. “If you think of 20, 30 years ago, you would come to Paris, go to a specific store that you find nowhere else. [There would be pieces] you would find only there,” he said. “Now, you have more or less the same stores everywhere.”

(Exemplaire is sold in a small selection of high-end stores, including Maxfield and The Corner.)

Meyers believes true luxury today is unique, practically made-to-measure pieces. “The more specific and more exclusive it is, the more interesting,” he said, adding luxury is also about “real quality and know-how.”

“We really want to do items or pieces that last over time, and sometime even become nicer after a couple of years,” Meyers said. “Now, everything is about fast-fashion.”