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Atelier Cologne’s Cofounders on L’Oréal, Sephora and Expanding Into China

Cofounders Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel and Robertet chief perfumer Jerome Epinette talk Atelier Cologne at the Fragrance Foundation's 2018 Creatives panel.

On Wednesday evening, the Fragrance Foundation held a panel moderated by Ann Gottlieb with Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, cofounders of Atelier Cologne, and Jerome Epinette, chief perfumer at Robertet.

Held at the Morgan Library in Manhattan, the panel addressed a variety of topics spanning Atelier Cologne’s approach to natural, elevated fragrances to how Ganter and Cervasel decided upon their signature blue color to the impact L’Oréal has had on the brand since acquiring it in 2016, seven years after its initial launch. The talk also marked the unveiling of Atelier Cologne’s new Spring 2019 fragrance.

Below, highlights from the panel.

On Ganter and Cervasel’s family-like approach to business:

I’m not a person of compromise at all,” said Cervasel. “I learned, coming to America and spending time with Sylvie here, how important it is sometimes to make good compromises. What we have always been using as a rule with Sylvie is whatever we do — creation of the scents, decision of the blue color of Atelier Cologne — is always finding the compromise where nobody feels that he or she is losing anything. We’re still doing that today within L’Oréal. We like this openness.”

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On why Atelier Cologne maintains different pricing for different scents:

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When we launched our brand, there were five Cologne Absolues [with] different concentrations and different price points,” said Ganter. “The retailers were like, ‘Not possible, it’s the same bottle, they have to have the same price.’ We told them, ‘What about wine? All the wine bottles are the same. Do you expect them to retail for the same price? No.’ We price [the Colognes Absolues] according to what’s inside. That has served us well because customers understood something concentrated at 20 percent is going to cost more than blood orange, where we use the peel when everybody else is using it for the juice.”

“What has helped us grow in a good way is we always had the strength to face the reality of the reaction of the customer,” said Cervasel. 

On how L’Oréal’s acquisition of Atelier Cologne changed the business:

“We always were very proud to say when an ingredient exists in nature, we put it in its natural form in the perfume, so of course our orange is real orange and we mention where it comes from,” said Ganter. “With L’Oreal, they were studying us. Usually they study the financial books and the sales, how much money’s in the bank. They also studied our formula. Working with them, we’ve been able to put how natural we were. We’re claiming up to 95 percent natural in the scent. Our intention was never to create a natural brand. We wanted to create a genuine brand, an authentic brand.”

On Atelier Cologne’s 2013 expansion into China:

We had been crazy enough to open Atelier Cologne China in 2013 in Hong Kong and Shanghai,” said Cervasel. “We were losing a lot of money, but we learned a lot. When we started to work with L’Oréal’s China and Korea subsidiaries, it has been a tremendous acceleration. Today, I feel we are well-positioned on this market, but without doing anything opportunist. We are true to ourselves. They love what Atelier Cologne is. We are, little by little, integrating in our product development and in our strategy the comments, the opinions, the influence of the Chinese customer. We aren’t going to change who we are for the Chinese customer, but we are integrating.”

On entering Sephora in 2012:

“Atelier Cologne was conceived as a department store and a retail brand,” said Cervasel. “We started in Bergdorf’s, Neiman Marcus, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Nordstrom. We needed to look at the evolution of the market and today [customers are] shopping a lot at Sephora. We were lucky that Sephora USA came to our store in New York and they liked us and asked us to present the brand to them in San Francisco. Not to be in full distribution would make things so hard and we wouldn’t be part of some marketing initiatives which we think are very interesting, very qualitative from a customer point of view.”

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