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Inside Atelier Cologne’s Revamp

The niche French fragrance brand has a three-pronged strategy.

PARIS — Niche French fragrance brand Atelier Cologne is undergoing a renovation.

“The purpose of Atelier Cologne’s revamp is really to elevate our French natural and artisanal perfumery with a new expression of luxury that we’ve been closely monitoring over the last few years,” explained Stéphane Chambran, global brand general manager at Atelier Cologne.

“What we’re seeing is that [people] are moving a bit away from something ostentatious to something more about self-fulfillment, and that more and more our consumers use perfumes to express themselves,” he continued. “It’s less about owning and showing, but more about feeling and being.”

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The new brand strategy has three prongs.

“The first one is a new brand platform, which is much more poetic and luxurious,” said Chambran.

That reflects Atelier Cologne’s DNA, which is French artisanal perfumery with a high concentration of naturals. To showcase how the brand sources ingredients and crafts each scent, Atelier Cologne is using new imagery. That features a natural ingredient, which moves through a sculpture, and poetry.

Careful sourcing of ingredients remains key to the brand, as does slow crafting.

“An orange growing close to a volcano in Positano won’t smell the same as an orange cultivated in the plains of Spain,” said Chambran. “We need to source the best materials all over the world.”

The imagery will appear on Atelier Cologne’s digital platforms and in its brick-and-mortar stores.

The second part of the brand’s strategy is embodied by the fragrance Encens Céleste, which launched early this month.

“We wanted to break a preconceived idea that Atelier Cologne only makes citruses,” said Chambran. “Our take on cologne goes far beyond citruses — and that has always been the take of our maison.”

Citruses, he said, illuminate and give elegance to ingredients, adding: “But you don’t need always to launch a lemon, clementine or orange [scent].”

The brand has successfully launched other types. Among its bestsellers, for instance, is Oolang Infini.

Encens Céleste, an incense-based fragrance, was created because consumers have become more connoisseurs of perfume than in the past, especially in Asia, which is a major geographic focus for Atelier Cologne.

Encens Céleste, developed with Firmenich perfumer Marie Salamagne, also includes notes of frankincense, ginger, cistus flower, Calabrian bergamot, patchouli and benzoin.

Atelier Cologne’s Encens Céleste

The strategy’s third facet involves a new retail concept currently being rolled out that’s meant to channel Atelier Cologne’s French natural heritage.

“It plays on the most noble materials of craftsmanship, like brass, glass, wood,” said Chambran. “The design echoes the rhythms of nature. It’s very organic.”

In-store, the brand’s fragrances are portrayed as “scented poetry,” with each one’s poem printed on a blotter. The stores’ staff members are referred to as “perfume poets.”

Four locations with this retail format are opening in Asia, beginning in China, with a boutique in Nanjing, followed by a corner refit in Guangzhou.

“More to come,” said Chambran of the progressive rollout.

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He called Atelier Cologne’s new positioning “art from nature.”

L’Oréal acquired Atelier Cologne in 2016. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but industry sources at the time estimated that the brand’s annual wholesale revenues were $55 million to $60 million.

The French beauty giant has subsequently been scaling up Atelier Cologne.

“We’ve been successful especially in North Asia and travel retail [in Asia],” said Chambran. “What has provoked the revamp is that the customers have evolved.”

They are migrating toward high-end brands, which are performing well, especially in the niche category. In Asia, sales of premium fragrances are expected to grow 17.1 percent between 2022 and 2023, versus the 15 percent gain the whole perfume category’s sales are forecast to register in the same period, according to market research provider Euromonitor International.

Atelier Cologne was launched in 2009 by Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, who were inspired by eau de cologne. They elevated that classic fragrance form and broadened their product line with ancillaries and home fragrance, while leaning into storytelling.

The pair is no longer operationally involved in the brand, but remain a source of inspiration for Atelier Cologne, according to Chambran.

Today, its brand portfolio includes around 25 fragrances.

“We are very proud to have one of the most natural brands in perfume,” said the executive. “We do everything we can to nurture that.”

 “Natural,” he explained, does not just include ingredient types but how they are sourced and crafted into scents.

The executive, who did not divulge Atelier Cologne’s door count, said the brand does not currently plan to open many locations.

“We are quite fine with what we have today,” he said. “We take the time to deliver the best experience.”

As previously reported, Atelier Cologne pulled out of the U.S. and Canada in the spring of this year. In an e-mail to customers at the time, the brand said that it was entering a new chapter and would “come back with an entirely new Atelier Cologne.”

“It is a market that is very close to our hearts,” said Chambran. “The story in many ways began there.”

That’s because Atelier Cologne’s founders divided their time between the U.S. and France.

Chambran underlined that revamping stores is costly.

“We had to make a tough decision,” he said. “We could not do it all, and so we decided to focus on the markets where we already had quite a scale.”

At the time when Atelier Cologne shuttered the U.S. business, it had been registering high double-digit sales growth, but the brand hadn’t yet obtained critical scale in North America.

“We’ve had an amazing response from our community [there],” said Chambran, adding Atelier Cologne maintains a link with the continent.

Is the brand planning to relaunch in the U.S.?

“Not yet,” said Chambran, reiterating Atelier Cologne is currently focused on its revamp in other parts of the world.