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The Race for Niche Perfume Brands Accelerates

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has acquired Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

PARIS — Creed. Memo. Juliette Has a Gun. Might one of these niche fragrance brands be a multinational’s next acquisition target?

While none of them has a visible for-sale sign at present, they’re among the privately held fragrance brands in Europe currently ripe for the picking. It’s a crop, however, that keeps shrinking in size — most recently due to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s announcement on Monday that it had purchased a majority share in Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

The news confirmed a report WWD published on Nov. 14.

LVMH’s acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, is the latest move in the accelerating race among companies vying to snap up hot niche beauty labels as the trend for premium products keeps rising. Luxury and superluxury brands also tend to offer solid growth rates, and they present an alternative for some multinationals wanting to move away from celebrity or fashion perfume labels.

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The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. has been a frontrunner in the charge for niche European fragrance brands. In February 2016, it acquired By Kilian, and in 2014 the company scooped up Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and Le Labo.

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In early January 2016, Puig purchased Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur, and L’Oréal bought Atelier Cologne last June.

LVMH was a pioneer in buying indie beauty brands in the late Nineties, but it’s not been acquisitive in that space for more than a decade. Instead, the company has been actively creating niche labels through its Kendo division, which functions as an incubator for products that are sold in the LVMH-owned Sephora perfumery chain, among other outposts.

Meanwhile, LVMH’s fragrance division relaunched Louis Vuitton into the world of perfumes last fall with a line of seven scents in extremely tight distribution — just 200 of the brand’s stores (or fewer doors than make up many niche labels’ distribution).

LVMH’s fragrance activity — which ranked eleventh in the WWD Beauty Inc Top 100 listing of beauty makers for 2015 with sales of 4.52 billion euros, or $5.01 billion at average exchange — includes brands such as Christian Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy and Fendi. Maison Francis Kurkdjian is the first niche fragrance label LVMH has acquired since 2001, when it bought Acqua di Parma.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian was created in 2009 by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and Marc Chaya with a line of 25 products and a boutique in Paris. The wide-ranging brand takes a holistic approach to beauty, with a “fragrance wardrobe” — involving everything from eaux de toilette to scented bubbles and textile cleaning products — meant for perfuming a person’s life 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Today, Maison Francis Kurkdjian has two stores in Paris, three in Taiwan, one in Malaysia and another in Dubai. Worldwide, it is in more than 40 countries, with over 30 counters and a presence in almost 500 retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Aedes Perfumery, C.O. Bigelow Apothecary and Neiman Marcus.

The perfume label, whose largest market is the U.S., registered retail sales of about $25 million in 2015, up 40 percent versus 2014.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian in January 2016 became a member of Comité Colbert, the association promoting French luxury and know-how.

“Motivated by a shared vision of French perfume making and the creativity that inspires it, LVMH and Maison Francis Kurkdjian have announced their association in order to jointly pursue the long-term development of the fragrance house,” the companies said in a statement, adding that growth will be sought especially abroad.

“Their avant-garde spirit and the quality of their creations give this fragrance house great potential and a promising future,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH.

Kurkdjian is one of the best-known perfumers today, having created blockbuster scents such as Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male and Narciso Rodriguez’s Narciso for Her. The perfumer has also conceived perfumes for some of LVMH’s own brands, including Acqua di Parma, Christian Dior, Guerlain and Kenzo.

Kurkdjian, who was made a Knight of Arts and Letters in France in 2008, stated: “I have always championed my personal conception of beauty and respect for the métier of perfumer-creator. Maison Francis Kurkdjian lets me freely express my inspirations. LVMH clearly understands the nature of our maison, and the group’s approach to custom-crafted creativity guarantees that our distinctive identity will thrive for the long term.”

Chaya is a former partner at Ernst & Young in Paris. He and Kurkdjian will continue at Maison Francis Kurkdjian in their current roles of ceo and creative director, respectively. They will remain shareholders in the house, as well.