Brent Leonesio turned recession lemons into fragrance juice.

This story first appeared in the June 18, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The creator of the Los Angeles-based niche perfume brand Smell Bent was faced with a major career dilemma upon losing his job last year when Il Primo Passo, the shoe store where he was a buyer, closed. Faced with whether he should stick with a fashion career he had become disenchanted with or pursue a passion for perfumery, he chose the latter.

“I had been tinkering around [with fragrance,] and I thought now was as good a time as any to do it. I put together a Web site and a collection of 10 scents. I didn’t know if anybody would buy, so I started small,” recounted the 28-year-old former designer at Cynthia Vincent.

People did begin to buy Smell Bent, which struck a chord with perfume enthusiasts on the Web and a small cadre of retailers, including and its Los Angeles brick-and-mortar outpost, Scent Bar. They were drawn to the brand’s prices ranging from $20 to $45, the playful, almost childlike graphics used in the packaging, and the complex scents.

“We feel he [Leonesio] has a great energy, a great talent, and we could see that his collection would develop over time,” said Franco Wright, co-owner of and Scent Bar, who added, “With his very reasonable pricing, we can reach a broader audience.”

Making Smell Bent approachable was one of Leonesio’s main goals. “Because fragrance has traditionally been a luxury item, what you see is these brands that are focused on high, high prestige, super high price points and a lot of high concept copy,” he said. “I wanted to make a fun line that wasn’t scary, that was accessible and wasn’t priced high so everybody could get it, but it would still have great ingredients.”

With inclusivity a priority, Smell Bent is poised to reach beyond fragrance insiders. The brand hit Urban Outfitters’ Web site this month and is slated to enter the retailer’s top five doors next month with 10 perfume sprays priced at $45 for 55 ml. Bestsellers include Prairie Nymph, which is a mix of honeyed beeswax, carnation, Clementine and musk, and Bollywood or Bust, which features red rose absolute and sandalwood.

Leonesio hopes to hit $100,000 in sales this year. “I think my brand has a finger on the pulse of what is going on right now in terms of combining art and scent,” he said. “There is definitely a youth appeal to the line. I think the price is great, and we stand out.”

Later this year, Leonesio will add to his Leisure Cruise line of scents inspired by places with a fragrance called Tokyo Mama based on ingredients from Japan. He has also been tapped by to create a fragrance for its exclusive Untitled series of one-of-a-kind items that will be centered on agarwood and launch for the fall.

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