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De Villoutreys on Consumer Engagement

Firmenich vice president Armand de Villoutreys discussed the the sharing of information and ideas for the good of the fragrance category.

“I am not a perfumer, I am just running a perfumery house,” said Armand de Villoutreys, who is corporate vice president of perfumery at Firmenich and, as of July 1, will move up to president of perfumery worldwide. He was speaking at the recent WWD Beauty CEO Summit.

Nevertheless, in his present position, de Villoutreys led the international teams that created the fragrances Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana, Daisy by Marc Jacobs and Viva la Juicy by Juicy Couture.

De Villoutreys summed up his view of the fragrance business on the idea of competition in the marketplace. “Today, it’s not about competing,” he said. “It is about sharing information and ideas for the good of the fragrance category. It is about challenging ourselves to bring the fragrance consumer back from the brink of disengagement. Today is about growing the size of the pie.”

The prestige fragrance category, according to de Villoutreys, has lost $500 million in sales since 2000, with unit sales having dropped from 70 million to 42 million, while retail prices have increased by 40 percent. The result? When considering that consumers haven’t been trading down to other distribution channels, he said, the whole category has lost consumers.

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Citing the almost two million consumers who have left the fragrance category last year, he said: “This is a clear call to action.”

In response, Firmenich teamed with The NPD Group to survey 1,500 lapsed and non-heavy users of fragrance in the U.S. The firms found that 32 percent of the 18- to 64-year-old population are heavy users and 45 percent are non-heavy users. Two percent are lapsed, one-year users; 3 percent are lapsed, two-year users, and 8 percent are lapsed, five-year users. Those who never used fragrance represent 9 percent “and are probably lost forever,” said de Villoutreys.

“Forty-five percent of the market is at risk,” he said. “We must focus on the non-heavy users,” he added, contending there’s $1 billion to be gained on top of the now $2.5 billion U.S. fragrance market.

But, he added — of social pressures — “changes toward…self-consciousness have grown in importance in the U.S. Among women, 44 percent of the lapsed users and 25 percent of the non-heavy users agree with the statement that wearing perfume is not respectful to others. It can offend them. Forty-six percent of lapsed users agree that wearing perfume is becoming inappropriate at work.

“We must reconnect with the true essence of fragrance — put the pleasure and the emotion back in the bottle,” said de Villoutreys.