Molton Brown in India

NEW DELHI — If you go trend-spotting in beauty retail here, what stands out is a category that was barely there two years ago: niche fragrance. And the sector has been emerging in malls, on high streets, in shop-in-shops, e-commerce, even in wedding gift boxes.

Stores such as Maison des Parfums, Scentido, Creed and Jo Malone have opened in some of the most popular malls in the country, like Select City Walk, Emporio and The Chanakya in New Delhi and Palladium in Mumbai; in premium market spaces such as Khan Market in New Delhi, and on high streets near Horniman Circle in Mumbai. They are finding areas in shop-in-shops like Good Earth and other specialty retailers, and even in the emerging department store formats, as in the new premium Shoppers Stop concept, in Gurugram. While the movement toward the format is cautious given the exorbitant retail real estate costs in India, high import duties for global brands and the complicated registration process for products, the sector is growing fast.

The offerings are mainly in the premium and prestige segments, such as The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.-owned brand Jo Malone, which has four stores in India, and Lalique and Annick Goutal, which are carried in Maison des Parfums, the store opened by beauty distributor Beauty Concepts Private Ltd. Although the majority are global brands, smaller Indian perfumers and retailers have been launching their own fragrances, including brands such as Bombay Perfumery, which is in 14 doors.

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The market is developing primarily in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Two factors pushing this growth, according to industry analysts, are the growing desire for individualism and exclusivity, and the greater focus on luxury and the search for more variety in the fragrance category.

The beauty and personal-care market in India is estimated to have totaled $11.12 billion in 2018, according to Euromonitor International. Although the premium segment is small, at $773.9 million in 2018, it grew 14.5 percent, up from $661.4 million in 2017.

The fragrance market was an estimated 27.28 billion rupees, or $381.82 million, in 2018, with 20.30 billion rupees, or $284.16 million, of that being in the premium segment. Euromonitor forecast for fragrance growth until 2022 is at 17.2 percent.

“Rising beauty and hygiene consciousness among women due to higher awareness and more women joining the workforce will drive growth over the forecast period,” Euromonitor analysts noted in 2018.

Although fragrance is the beauty product bought most often by the growing number of Indian travelers who shop at travel retail outlets in Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore, circumventing customs duties as high as 30 percent, the overall fragrance category has continued to grow at department stores including Shoppers Stop, Central and Lifestyle, as well as in specialist beauty retailers such as Parcos, which is owned by distributor Baccarose; Sephora, and specialist store Nykaa. Bestsellers in the overall fragrance category continue to be scents from major brands like Hugo Boss, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Bulgari and Hermès.

Here, WWD looks at some of the players in the new wave of niche fragrance retailers.

MAISON DES PARFUMS

The retailer owned by Beauty Concepts Pvt Ltd. BCPL, a longtime distributor of beauty products in India, launched in 2017-18 with stores in the country’s two highest-end malls: Select City Walk in New Delhi and Palladium in Mumbai.

Early last year Maison des Parfums partnered with premium department store Shoppers Stop to launch a selection of their niche fragrances in the new beauty-focused store Arcelia, in Hyderabad, and in the new Shoppers Stop concept in Gurugram, in the New Delhi capital region.

Maison des Parfums

The Maison des Parfums store in Mumbai.  Courtesy

Some of Maison des Parfums’ top brands include Memo, Amouage, Lalique, Jean Patou, Olfactive Studio, Amouroud parfums, Nasomatto and Juliette Has a Gun. Maison des Parfums carries about 30 brands, with more in the pipeline.

“We recognized that not all niche fragrance brands will attain critical business volumes in the challenging Indian market,” Tony Chin, chief executive officer of Beauty Concepts, told WWD. “As such, we seek to constantly refresh our offerings in Maison des Parfums so that consumers can look forward to novelties and the latest global trends in niche perfumery. Since the launch of the stores in Mumbai and New Delhi, we have added major brands like Acqua di Parma as well as Annick Goutal, and we are in the process of finalizing more.”

Chin said he anticipated growth will be substantial over the next few years.

“This is a segment where growth is significant, albeit from a small base, but relatively shielded from discounting and not available online. We will see further developments in niche fragrances as retail concepts evolve and more brand entries will create more choices and demand for these premium, unique fragrances,” he noted, adding that another trend will “see new niche brands filling up gaps in pricing with more affordable options like smaller sizes and lower price positioning in order to capture a younger customer base.”

While mainstream fragrances account for most of BCPL’s business, with brands such as Bulgari, Hermès and Salvatore Ferragamo, Chin said the niche fragrance segment will help create another growth driver.

“It will also allow us to upgrade our expertise in luxury retailing and facilitate our entry into other luxury product categories. We have just launched a niche luggage and travel accessories concept store in Palladium, Mumbai, as high net worth individuals tend to shop across categories. In addition, we are also looking for more opportunities in the luxury beauty segment to bring top quality and stand-out products to Indian consumers,” he said.

While analysts noted footfall at niche perfumeries tends to be relatively low, Chin observed that “there were two possible business models in beauty retail — the first being lower-priced products that rely on volume, and the second — on which the niche perfumery concept rests — to have more exclusive, higher-priced products which don’t rely on volume, which Maison follows.”

While India has more than 600 million people who are under age 25, many of the shoppers for niche fragrances are older.

“Since the price points are more expensive, a significant portion of the Maison customers are obviously older with financial capabilities to spend more than $270 on a fragrance. However, we are seeing increasingly more younger, upper-income customers coming into our stores to buy,” he observed.

Chin sees this as a step into the market of the future.

“The niche fragrance business is a long-term investment and a segment that is still in its infancy but with great potential in tandem with economic and disposable income growth.”

SCENTIDO

Owned by Mumbai-based entrepreneur Shishir Mehta, Scentido has two stores — one on a high street, near Mumbai’s prestigious Horniman Circle, and the other in the much-frequented Khan Market in New Delhi, which has one of the highest retail rental rates in the country.

Mehta describes his foray into niche fragrance retail as his own path into the future.

“I’m a mechanical engineer and I used to run a metallurgical testing lab which was started by my dad in 1964. It was our golden jubilee year when I sold it to a British company, and I said, ‘Let me follow my passion.'”

To step into Scentido is to make a dramatic withdrawal from the teeming city of Mumbai around it, with its energy and the smell of humid heat, tar, buses, and countless artifacts being sold on makeshift stands. The 1,100-square-foot store has a heavy, subtle aroma and is spacious despite the more than 20 brands it sells. The black-and-white flooring gives the store both style and a distinctive look.

Scentido

The Scentido Niche Perfumery store.  Kunal Bhatia - http://www.KunalBhatia.net

“I like Art Deco. We wanted to keep the old world charm, so that you feel a different kind of calm when you enter here, and can take your time exploring the brands. It is all about he experience,” he remarked.

The store in New Delhi’s Khan market is smaller, but well-organized, and easy to browse, with its latest launch from U.K. brand Gallivant and Fragrance du Bois.

Both the Mumbai and New Delhi stores opened in late 2018, followed by one in Pune, as a shop-in-shop at the Marriott hotel. “Pune is a shop in shop because there is a lot of expense putting up our own store. We already have these in a few more locations, and aim to have 10 to 12 such doors. These have to be where people can appreciate niche,” he said.

The launch of e-commerce facilitated a better geographical reach, he said, catering to requests from many smaller cities. “We have buyers in smaller cities such as Hyderabad, Nagpur, Ahmedabad. No brand can work without e-commerce now, but we also need flagships to attract the brands. They are also needed for educating our clients and a part of building awareness. We do one-on-one workshops, a lot of kitty parties where women’s groups will meet here and experience the range.”

Pricing starts from 3,000 rupees, or $42, and up for perfumed candles, although black oud-based candles are more expensive, 2 and 80 grams are 14,000 rupees, or $195, while even larger sizes are 26,000 rupees, or $363.82.

Fragrance prices vary, but are in the premium category.

“Whatever we have here, the retail price is same all over the world, you won’t get much difference other than currency fluctuations. So if you get the same product at Harrods at 100 pounds, we will give you at 9,400 rupees here. Normally it is 30 percent more. We know people in India are very price-sensitive so we giving at the same rate of conversion,” Shishir Mehta explained.

Although the trend is to open retail doors at malls, where footfall is more assured, Scentido stores appear to disregard that business model.

“People want to go into malls, but I wanted something more exclusive for the store,” he said. “It is not only a business, it is a passion for me.”

BEQUEST GROUP

U.K. brand Molton Brown and Paris-based house Creed have been brought into India by the U.K. — and New Delhi-based Bequest Group. These are both stand-alone stores in malls, with Creed at The Chanakya mall close to Hermès and Chanel, and Molton Brown at luxury mall Emporio, in New Delhi. Bequest has other global brands, including French footwear label Berluti, Italian lifestyle brand Brunello Cucinelli and Danish audio visual brand Bang & Olufsen.

“We launched the entire range of Creed,” Gaganmeet Singh, ceo of Bequest Group, told WWD. The approximately 45-stockkeeping unit range is displayed in the elegant 550-square-foot store. “We were surprised a lot of customers are already aware of Creed. The bestseller is Aventus, we have seen a lot of instances of customers coming and trying Silver Mountain Water, Himalaya, Royal Mayfair, Love in White and more.”

A Creed store in India

A Creed store in India.  Courtesy

“The pricing is on par with UK, and 15 to 20 percent cheaper than the U.S. ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 rupees, or $210 to 280,” he said, adding that “luxury doesn’t work on Excel sheets. It is more about the availability, time that you launch, the location, etc. — these are sometimes irrational sales.”

“Indian customers understand that niche fragrance is not about the price, but the exclusivity; a lot of customers look for heritage as well. They are well aware that mainstream brands are sometimes more about a marketing story, and they like that Creed is still controlled by the family, that it is made with a great attention to detail,” Singh said.

The Molton Brown store, at the Emporio mall in New Delhi, is 850 square feet, and Singh said the unique fragrance ingredients are a major draw for Indian customers.

Singh believes that New Delhi is a strong market, “maybe three times the size of Mumbai in this category,” he said. “The New Delhi Capital region is heavily dependent on domestic business — it is not a tourist shopping stop like Hong Kong or Dubai. But people come from neighboring areas — Haryana, Chandigarh, Ludhiana to shop,” he said.

“We are evaluating for a more locations, evaluating pop-ups with the right adjacencies, and special pilot programs to generate brand awareness and partnerships with certain retailers, for example Molton Brown is also in [lifestyle store] Good Earth,” he said.

BOMBAY PERFUMERY

Indian brands are doing well, too. Bombay Perfumery, founded by Manan Gandhi in Mumbai, retails in more than 14 locations, in select locations including Chamiers in Chennai, Le Mill in Mumbai, The Amethyst room in Pondicherry and The Project Café in Goa.

Gandhi, whose family owns Associate Allied Chemicals, a company that has supplied perfume ingredients to global companies for years, studied perfumery at Grasse. He told WWD that with production in France, and bottled in India, the inspiration was to bring together a “contemporary Indian brand.” However, he has chosen a different retail route. Rather than stand-alone stores in malls or high streets, Gandhi chose to launch his brand within existing stores that carry Indian-inspired brands.

Bombay Perfumery

Bombay Perfumery at Vayu Design for Living.  Courtesy

Gandhi has also focused on making the fragrance names resonate with local buyers. Some of the fragrances are named after cities, like Madurai Talkies, for instance. (Madurai, in Southern India, is known for its unique jasmine sambac). The fragrance, priced at 3,900 rupees, is described as “memories filtered through tones of sepia. A woman with flowers in her hair. A suitor dressed like the hero from the movie they’ve both come to watch. Or rather, live.”

While Indian consumers have largely had a preference for global brands, Gandhi is looking at the new customer, who is looking to be “unique and distinctive by making local choices.”

The eight sku’s range from 3,900 rupees to 4,100 rupees for 100-ml. edp.

The perfumers working on the brand are a draw as well, including Alexandra Carlin, Jacques Chabert and Pierre Kurzunne, who work for leading brands such as Givenchy, Guerlain and Chanel.

Gandhi is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “Some of the best fragrance ingredients come from India, and get exported because there are no contemporary Indian brands that are paying homage to them. These include sandalwood, tuberose, jasmine, so many others. This is a huge and growing market for ingredients that are very well suited to the weather,” he remarked.

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