Not everything is plainly black and white, including the fragrances crafted by Jacques Cavallier for Bulgari.
Fourteen years after the Italian luxury jewelry brand tapped the master perfumer to channel white Himalayan tea for the scent Eau Parfumée Au Thé Blanc, he returned to conceptualize black tea of the Chinese province Yunnan in a bottle with an intense cologne called Eau Parfumée Au Thé Noir. The new fragrance, which recently entered Bergdorf Goodman and will launch at Neiman Marcus next month before rolling out to Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s in October, contains notes of damask rose, patchouli and oud wood.
“Black tea is evocative of something mysterious and deep, never dark and I believe that I have successfully managed to translate this olfactively,” said Cavallier, continuing, “It was obvious for me to write the history of black tea with oud wood; this noble element conveys density and strength, it prolongs the effects for an extended period and provides an exceptional fit.”
Bulgari Parfums managing director Valeria Manini admitted Au Thé Noir isn’t for the masses. “It’s not an easy fragrance,” she said. “If you ask me, ‘Is it a commercial fragrance that everyone will love at first smell?’ I would say, ‘Absolutely not.’ That’s why I’ve instructed retailers to put it in discerning hands. We have the opposite strategy of a commercial blockbuster.”
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For LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned Bulgari and for the perfume business generally, Manini underscored the importance of releasing complex fragrances such as Au Thé Noir to push the envelope. “We have to decide if we only want to be a commercial player or if we want to bring added value to this category. Do we want this category to be seen as a commodity category or should we show that there is a tradition of unique raw materials?” she asked. “It’s like wine. At a certain point, you decide you want to elevate the tradition of winemaking. In fragrance, we are at the same stage.”
The oud wood in Au Thé Noir is emblematic of Bulgari’s efforts to bolster the Eau Parfumée collection that now consists of five unisex scent offerings. It’s actually Agarwood, a resin that forms in the native Southeast Asian tree Aquilaria. Manini highlighted that Au Thé Noir features pure Agarwood extract, a scarce and expensive ingredient.
“Many fragrance brands today have oud, but it’s an interpretation of oud,” she said. “It took time to find the natural oud and to find it under the right conditions. We wanted pure, natural oud, and we knew we wanted it to be quality and to be grown in a sustainable way. We had to connect with partners in Laos to make sure if they cut a tree, they plant more trees. It’s done very sustainably.”
Au Thé Noir won’t be the biggest sales producer for Bulgari Parfums, and it’s not supposed to be. If it matches the performance industry sources predicted for Eau Parfumée Au Thé Bleu, its predecessor in the Eau Parfumée range of fragrances inspired by teas, Au Thé Noir could generate $16.7 million to $18.9 million over the next year.
The fragrance is expected to be available at roughly 300 doors in the U.S., and 5,000 to 6,000 retail doors at most globally. Similar to prior Eau Parfumée scents, it will be found in Bulgari’s amenities programs at its signature resorts and hotels as well as other premier hotels and airlines worldwide. Au Thé Noir is priced at $97 for the 2.5-oz. cologne, and $48 for both the 6.8-oz. scented body lotion and 6.8-oz. shampoo shower gel.
“When you have a portfolio, you have part of your portfolio that generates high revenues and, when you are in luxury, you invest another part of your portfolio in the high-end culture of fragrance,” said Manini. “We have to bring out high-quality fragrances with rare ingredients and a kind of exclusivity.”