PARIS — Sillages Paris — the first start-up L’Oréal’s new venture capital fund, BOLD Business Opportunities for L’Oréal Development, has taken a minority stake in — was founded online to shake up the traditional fragrance model.
The brainchild of Maxime Garcia-Janin, who launched the brand in November 2017, Sillages produces customized fragrances based on artificial intelligence and machine learning with input from perfumers.
“What we wanted to do was revise French high perfumery through digital,” the 27-year-old told WWD.
Garcia-Janin had previous stints at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and L’Oréal beauty brands before beginning at the French beauty giant’s incubator in Station F, the global start-up hub in Paris, in June.
“I always have been fascinated by fragrances,” he said, sitting in Station F’s vast central hall. “It’s kind of crazy the power that it has and all the industry behind it, the savoir faire, the perfumers. When I first saw a perfumer’s lab it was at Dior, and it was amazing.”
Garcia-Janin was wowed and seduced by the vials, colors, odors, creation and science all poured into the mix of perfume making. But he recognized fragrance as an industry in great flux: “No one was really doing something about it.”
He noted how the rise of digital is changing today’s perfume market as it had done previously in the fashion, makeup and jewelry categories.
“We haven’t changed the way of creating and selling fragrances for the past 40 years,” he said, ticking off mainstay elements such as ambassadors and retailing through perfumeries, which have fast been shedding clients — not least of which are Millennials. “So I was like: I think there is something to do here.”
Further, he saw selective perfume sales on the decline in mature markets, while the niche fragrance category roars. To Garcia-Janin, this indicates people want more creative, different and qualitative scents.
“I realized for fragrance, the only real channel that is booming is e-commerce,” he said.
Garcia-Janin spoke with people to find out why they were stopping buying big luxury brands’ fragrances in perfumeries. The entrepreneur explained he was told that they were “fed up with overpriced fragrances that you smell on everyone and with standardized fragrances” that are the same as each other, due to all the product testing behind them. “Everyone [increasingly] wants to be unique,” he said.
Once more, people queried didn’t consider the quality of their scent or care about its packaging. “We said OK, there are people who want accessible fragrances, customizable, with a creative smell and [that are] really qualitative,” said Garcia-Janin. “We will be able to create the perfect fragrance for [them].”
He sought to veer away from the traditional niche segment, deeming it rather elitist with its high prices.
“There are a lot of people with good taste, but they are not in the big cities,” continued Garcia-Janin. “What do you do for [them]? This for me was a question but also a business opportunity. When you are online you can, of course, sell to everyone.”
He said Sillages offers all people anywhere luxurious fragrances at accessible prices, since there are no ambassador-related marketing or retail expenses involved in the business. The customizable scents are generated by an algorithm nourished by user input and the perfumers with whom he works — young friends from Givaudan, Mane and Robertet — to whom he gave carte blanche.
“The digital business model really makes sense because it tackles every pain point of the market today,” said Garcia-Janin.
The site, sillagesparis.com, works like this to make a scent in five minutes: First choose if the fragrance is for you or someone else. Decide if it’s to be masculine, feminine or unisex, and if it will be soft, intense or “whatever.” There’s then an option to select ingredients on one’s own.
Taking this route, people can choose three to six ingredients. With each selection, the list of other possible ingredients changes via the algorithm, made with input from the perfumers, who have validated what works best with the other ingredients picked.
Next the site gives an olfactory profile with clear descriptors.
Someone can purchase a 15-ml. bottle with three 2-ml. samples for 28 euros. There’s also a possibility to buy a 50-ml. bottle with three 2-ml. vials for 83 euros or a sample set of three 2-ml. vials for 12 euros. Each time a sample contains the personalized juice, the two others are filled with scents generated by the algorithm with a similar olfactive bent.
With the 15- and 50-ml. options, people are meant to try out their personalized scent via the sample vial and then choose if they like it or prefer to get a larger size of one of the two other juices that are of the same ilk.
“If you don’t like the one you created, you have an 80 percent chance of liking one of those two,” said Garcia-Janin.
For people wishing for perfumer input in creating their fragrance, they need just to type in the name of the scent they wear. Then the algorithm suggests two fragrances from the same olfactive family that’s created by Sillages perfumers.
Sillages’ perfumes are made in Paris, billed to be cruelty-free, vegan and long-lasting, plus include rare and natural ingredients. It offers free delivery, returns and exchanges within 14 days of reception with full reimbursement.
Sillages was inspired by the fashion industry’s e-strategy with its “I’m right to be wrong” mentality when it comes to exchanges and returns.
So far, the brand has had more than 1,000 customers, with only 3 percent asking for a refund and 40 percent making two purchases over the past 12 months.
Sillages’ perfumes are sold in France and elsewhere in Western Europe, with 10 percent of customers hailing from abroad. Its site gets about 4,000 visitors monthly and on Instagram, Sillages has 12,000 followers.
Garcia-Janin sees numerous growth opportunities for his company, including: adding more employees; entering the U.S. market — as already 15 percent of Sillages’ site’s monthly visitors are from there — possibly by the end of the first half of 2019, and building an omnichannel strategy, including the opening of an atelier in Paris to welcome guests and hold master classes.
Sillages is a perpetual work in progress, with Garcia-Janin and his team using feedback from the public on everything — from formats to pricing — except perfume creation itself.
“Sometimes, when people are in Paris I deliver [their fragrances], because I think it’s so interesting to see and talk with them,” he said.