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The Middle East Drives Fragrance Sales

The Middle East is driving global fragrance sales, as marketers and perfumers discover more about favorite notes around the world.

It seems as if Dubai has become the new capital of world perfumery—judging from the number of brand-builders from Carolina Herrera to Laurice Rahmé and a dozen others who have either launched fragrances or drawn inspiration from there—and that is only part of the tale.

World marketers are beginning to rethink the tenets of the global fragrance business, approaching the category in a way that recognizes different scents must be created catering to different regions of the world because those populations are developing their own olfactive tastes. It is more difficult for one fragrance to sell everywhere, as in the past.
“It’s almost impossible to create something to satisfy the tastes of a maximum number of people worldwide; the taste doesn’t exist anymore,” says Jean Madar, chief executive officer and chairman of Inter Parfums Inc.

For decades, European brands and, later, some American ones called the shots on what notes were fashionable, using the clout of being in-the-know global tastemakers. But that approach is no longer viable, with consumers in the emerging markets becoming “much more demanding as they gain confidence through knowledge,” says Valeria Manini, Bulgari Parfums managing director.

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As an example, “The Far East is becoming more and more knowledgeable,” Manini says. “They are starting to impose their own taste. You can see an invasion of Middle Eastern notes.”

“We think the Middle East today is a playground in terms of olfactive experimentation,” agrees Nicolas Mirzayantz, group president of fragrances at International Flavors & Fragrances.  “It’s a new source of inspiration. It’s triggering the perfumers’ imagination and it’s triggering some new ideas,” he continues, noting that oud wood is the number-one note to come out of the region, and “the Middle East is known to use very expensive rose notes, the mother flower of perfumery.”

Comparing the resultant creative ideas to the powerhouse scents of the Seventies, Mirzayantz adds, “The notes from the Middle East are very powerful, very sensual and very bold. The trend is giving us new opportunities to explore new notes, which are very feminine and sensual, which will be one of the new trends.” Add to this the highly educated fragrance consumers, who have a taste for high-quality naturals, and the result is great news for a category that has been stagnant. “Today the Middle East is a growth engine like Brazil was up until now,” Mirzayantz concludes.

Mirzayantz agrees that global brands are discovering notes in emerging markets that they can use at home, and that they are also developing specific fragrance offerings for China and Southeast Asia.

At Inter Parfums, Madar explains, “What we are trying to do is target a certain type of consumer.” His company divides the world market into two categories. One target market is Europe, America and the Middle East. The other is Asia plus Russia.

Madar says that if a marketer wanted to do a sexy prestige fragrance, it can look like two different scents. “Sexy for America and Europe is intoxicating and erotic. But in Asia, sexy will be more like soft sensuality.”

The Anglo-Euro-Middle-Eastern taste grouping runs to vanilla and white flowers. The Russo-Asian plays more with bergamot and gardenia. As a practical consequence, Inter Parfums has started launching fragrances in two versions, beginning with the new Agent Provocateur. There will be a black version for Europe and a pink version for Asia-Russia.
“It is very important to have regional fragrance success,” says Madar, adding that another brand that might be suitable for the divide-and-conquer strategy is Anna Sui.

Bulgari’s Manini dramatizes how quickly the scene has changed. When Bulgari launched Man in Black last year, it was deemed niche because of its tuberose oriental formulation. But now, it has become a bestseller in the men’s category.
Bulgari began dissecting the perfumery world and cataloging regional tastes a year ago, starting with Asia, which was divided into thirds in terms of likes and influences.

China, along with India, likes very precious, very rich fragrances, influenced by France. Japan, coupled with Southeast Asia, gravitates toward light, fresh floral scents. The men prefer citrus-based formulas. Malaysia and Indonesia share the same tastes as Middle Easterners.

Indians like powerful fragrances, strong florals and fresh scents.

They haven’t acquired the tastes of the Occidentals yet, Manini says. But they are coming closer.

China, which is largely influenced by French tastes, is evolving rapidly in terms of olfactive knowledge, she adds. European tastes are a bit murky, with consumers sticking to what they know. “They go for safe,” Manini says. Russians prefer fresh fragrances.

Bulgari has started capitalizing on these insights with a collection of six eaux de parfum, under the banner of Le Gemme, launching in early 2016. Three, which are named Le Gemme Orientali, were designed to reflect the local olfactive tastes of the Middle East; the other three, Le Gemme Imperiali, were inspired by and cater to Chinese tastes.

Manini is now studying central Africa, a project that involves help from Firmenich, in getting a grasp of the cultural differences, tastes and raw materials.

Countries like Nigeria “love fragrances,” she says. The raw materials in the region tend to run to resins and woods, rather than rich earth florals. Saying she hopes to be ready for action by 2017, Manini concludes, “The big challenge right now is Africa.”