PARIS — Indie fragrance brands from Europe are in the spotlight these days as mergers and acquisition activity heats up in the beauty arena.
“Fragrances are a hot sector for M&A right now, and large beauty firms are rediscovering it after being interested more in skin, color and nail in recent years,” said Karen Walker, senior managing director of Michel Dyens & Co., the Paris- and New York-based investment banking firm specializing in luxury and beauty.
The recent spate of deals is reminiscent of the heady M&A scene in the Nineties, with Puig snapping up Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur from Fox Paine & Co. LLC in January, and the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. purchasing Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and Le Labo from their respective founders in late 2014, as reported.
“The reason for this sudden interest…is that these brands are usually positioned in the ‘luxury’ or ‘superluxury’ segment of the market, which currently offers solid growth rates,” said Ariel Ohana, cofounder of investment firm Ohana & Co., of Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
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Investment executives and others expect more transactions.
“The big beauty companies want to move from celebrity or fashion brands, except for the most prestigious designer brands, and prefer to own their own brands with heritage or new modern concepts,” said Walker.
“Acquirers feel that some heritage brands can be revived, as it is difficult to build a history,” she continued. “Acquirers are also interested in new modern concepts led by entrepreneurs, which pave the way for long-term sales growth and which can be accelerated by synergies the large beauty groups bring, especially in distribution and retail.”
All four fragrance brands recently purchased have their own freestanding store networks and a clear story to tell. Penhaligon’s, for instance, is steeped in history, having been founded in 1870 in London.
“Bigger brands obviously have a risk of being more mainstream and less flexible, so their owners are often keen to complement them with smaller, more agile and quirkier brands,” noted Eva Quiroga, an analyst at UBS.
Multinationals and private equity firms already own the lion’s share of the more mature niche fragrance labels — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has Acqua di Parma; Manzanita Capital is the parent of Diptyque and Byredo, while Serge Lutens is part of Shiseido’s brand portfolio, for example — but there are a number of privately held brands currently ripe for the picking, although none has a visible for-sale sign. Among those based in France are:
n Creed, which celebrates its 255th anniversary this year. Olivier Creed marks the sixth generation running the business, which has created scents for the likes of King George III, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly and Queen Victoria. Creed’s children, Erwin and Olivia, are also involved in the family-owned company.
n By Kilian, which was launched in 2007 by Kilian Hennessy. The label keeps expanding its reach — both on the product and retail fronts. The brand, with a philosophy (and tag line) of “Perfume as an Art,” opened late last year three freestanding stores — in Paris; Lugano, Switzerland, and Doha, Qatar — and is gearing up to broaden its scented jewelry range, among other launches.
n Atelier Cologne, which was introduced in 2007 by Christophe Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter. The artisanal fragrance brand just closed a new round of funding worth 5 million euros, or $5.7 million at current exchange, to help bolster its business. It currently has four boutiques.
n Maison Francis Kurkdjian, the fragrance house started by Francis Kurkdjian in 2009. It takes a holistic approach to beauty, with a line ranging from eaux de toilette to scented bubbles to textile cleaning products. The label has two stand-alone stores.
Other niche French fragrance brands on the rise include Memo, founded by Clara and John Molloy in 2007, and Juliette Has a Gun, begun in 2006 by Romano Ricci.
In the U.S., sales of artisanal fragrances in the prestige scent category almost tripled between 2010 and 2014 to $182 million, according to Karen Grant, senior global beauty industry analyst for The NPD Group. She added that while total prestige fragrance revenues rose 2 percent to $3.2 billion in the country last year, artisanal fragrance sales advanced 24 percent.
Meanwhile, retailers are carving out more space for niche labels, as some of the scent brands embark on their own store expansion.
“M&A activity in the beauty space will remain high as innovation and consolidation are permanent features,” said Michel Dyens, chairman and chief executive officer of Michel Dyens & Co. “Smaller, high-growth-potential emerging brands built on social media and new concepts will drive strategic acquisitions, as well. Private equity acquisitions will continue to be strong and will help prepare some brands for the next wave of consolidation.”
UBS’s Quiroga noted large companies such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder currently have a lot of cash and are always looking for growth.
“Some of the niche brands have been growing very quickly, and I think they’re constricted by their size and how much they can expand globally,” she continued, adding: “There’s obviously a fine line between being niche and then becoming mainstream.”