Imagine a perfume peddler from the 17th century thrust into today’s world.
This story first appeared in the May 4, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Actually, you don’t have to. Just ask Nicolas Cloutier to make a house call.
The president and cofounder of Paris-based beauty retailer Nose commissioned a costume inspired by etchings from the period that he plans to wear for personal meetings to present the store’s scents, culled from travels around the globe.
Elements of the getup — encapsulating the executive’s inimitable blend of the archaic and the futuristic — include an apron studded with hundreds of vials, perfumed gloves, braids of human hair — plus an iPad.
“A lot of people were asking me to visit them — either on a private consultation or at a fashion fair or different places in the world,” Cloutier said. “I have always been inspired by dark stuff, like [‘Perfume,’ the book by] Patrick Süskind, Jack the Ripper.”
His attention was drawn to 15 etchings by Nicolas de L’Armessin called “L’Habit de Parfumeur,” or “Perfumer’s Attire,” from 1697 that portray a man selling scents — raw materials and finished products — carried on an apron. Around that time such people were considered like itinerant shamans.
“We wanted to reproduce this perfumer’s outfit, but from the 21st century,” Cloutier noted.
He commissioned illustrator Damien Florébert Cuypers to reproduce the character with a modern-day bent. Accessories designer and perfumer Naomi Goodsir created the costume whose centerpiece is the handmade apron with crocodile detail that can hold more than 300 vials of fragrance — one up, one down, side-by-side in rows.
Its colors are in harmony with the Nose store on Rue Bachaumont. The green of the bowler hat nods to the jasmine in the boutique’s windows, for instance.
Cloutier’s character is to wear perfumed gloves made by Maison Fabre and a coat in the shape of a cape especially designed by Dora Zsigmond.
The apron folds and fits inside an alligator-skin bag by Goodsir that also holds an iPad for fragrance diagnosis plus vials of raw perfume materials, such as musk infusion, amber gris infusion and champaka red absolute, which can be smelled on braided human hair — chosen for its ability to capture odors— provided by David Mallett.
“We wanted to have the codes of the 17th century among our project,” Cloutier said. “We had a lot of fun doing it.”
Olivia Bee photographed the modern-day l’habit de parfumeur in the Atelier de Moulage, where major sculptures are restored and reproduced in Paris.
“A lot of people say: ‘That’s crazy you left your job as a consultant in M&A and strategy and stuff.’ And I say all the time that I thought half of my brain was used. What we try to do at Nose, [and] for me, it’s as important that the left brain and right brain work together,” Cloutier added.
Nose has ventured into the realm of fiction before. In early 2014, it created a fragrance, L’Air de Panache, for the character Ralph Fiennes played in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
“He never left the hotel room without perfuming himself” with it, and journalists were sent the scent, according to Cloutier. “There was no commercialization in this collaboration. It was just to support the launch of the movie and bring reality back in fiction, and fiction back in reality.”
At Nose, there’s a seamless melding of artisanal and high-tech elements. Founded almost four years ago as a hybrid online/brick-and-mortar concept, it specializes in personalized fragrance diagnostics generated from a database of more than 9,000 scents spanning from the 18th century to today.
Once personalized questionnaires are filled in either online at home or via iPads in store, an olfactive portrait is produced along with recommendations for five scents. One can order samples, too.
About 80 percent of Nose’s retail traffic goes online to check out the company’s site before entering the store. Once the diagnosis is done there, a summary of the experience is sent via e-mail 90 minutes later.
“The click-through rate of this is 50 percent, and people go back online after. So they close the loop,” he said.
There are about 30,000 unique visitors through the Nose site each month. On Facebook, almost 16,000 people have indicated they were at the store. The retailer’s strategy reaps financial rewards, with Nose registering growth of more than 80 percent this year.
Cloutier would not discuss sales figures, but industry sources estimate Nose generates between 1.5 million euros and 2.5 million euros, or $1.7 million and $2.8 million at current exchange, in sales annually, and that some 50 percent stems from online.
“I think what makes a success in any business is a recipe of many things,” he said, ticking off ingredients such as technology, creativity, animation and brand selection — to date, there are 70-plus labels at Nose, including Creed, Kilian, Dyptique, Cire Trudon and Memo.
Since late last year, Nose has been bolstering its cosmetics offering and expects to release its cosmetics diagnosis by September.
There’s also been a focus on the fragrance diagnosis. After starting with four iPads in store there are now 12, but at peak times that’s not enough. Staff on Saturdays was also increased from one full-timer (Cloutier) and two interns to six people. But at the most trafficked periods, Nose is reaching its limits.
“It made us think about new technology in order to handle quality and quantities,” he noted. “We’re working on a new technology, a new physical item, in store.”
That’s expected to be unveiled on June 15, Nose’s fourth birthday.