Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK — The fragrance world is going online.
After watching waves of beauty pure plays come and go, a group of private investors has returned to the original proposition that knowledge is the most salable commodity.
Firmenich, one of the world’s leading fragrance suppliers, has become the principal backer of an informational Web site called Osmoz, as in osmosis.
Billing itself as the “the first thematic portal dedicated to perfumes,” Osmoz will make its debut March 29 in Paris. At first, it will be run by a staff of eight out of its Paris offices and broadcast in French and English. However, the group is thinking about adding Italian, Spanish and German. Within six months, Osmoz intends to open a New York office.
The chief executive officer and directeur general is Celine Verleure, who worked as a marketing executive at Kenzo and was one of the founders of Jean Paul Gaultier’s Web site.
Osmoz is being designed as a resource for fragrance fans. There will be an encyclopedia, providing history and information on ingredients, production techniques and olfactory groups, as well as a listing of brands and fragrances. A search engine will allow users to do their own research on the fine points.
An in-house editorial staff, working with freelancers, will produce a magazine, featuring product news and interviews. There also will be chat rooms for those who want to luxuriate on the subject of their favorite fragrance. For the truly obsessive, there will be interactive perfume games. And there will be a guide of Web sites linking fragrance with related fields, such as fashion, home decor and art.
But the heart of the proposition will be a club, which will serve a dual purpose of providing a data base. Verleure said she hopes to build the club membership up to 150,000 within two or three years.
Once the database is formed, advertisers can do targeted marketing, she noted, running ads for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Home pages can be created for advertisers wanting to draw a particular demographic.
Osmoz hopes to interest companies in buying banner ads, doing advertorials, mounting promotions and staging sampling campaigns.
Verleure noted that at the end of every fragrance launch story, which will be provided for free, the reader will be able to click a button and get a sample.
Patrick Firmenich, corporate vice president in charge of fine fragrances worldwide at his family-owned firm, said the plan is to make the Web site profitable within three years. Firmenich is now the major investor, but the company is trying to recruit others.
Firmenich refused to discuss financial terms. However, industry sources estimate it could cost $5 million to $8 million initially to put up a site like Osmoz, and the tab easily could run to $25 million.
In philosophical terms, Firmenich sees the Web site as providing a long-range benefit for the industry in general and Firmenich in particular. Noting that the traditional fine fragrance market is flat at best, he said: “We believe that more educated consumers will lead to more fragrance usage in the end.”
He asserted that Firmenich will be an invisible presence on the site and the editorial staff will have complete independence. Perfumers will appear on Osmoz, but their affiliations will not be identified.
Moreover, the supplier will not use the site to trumpet its role in fragrance creation. “Firmenich will not be mentioned,” Firmenich said flatly. “It’s not a function of the fragrance houses to be known the to the public.”
However, he is dying to know more about their public, their desires, their tastes and their newly forming shopping preferences. “You can’t go wrong by knowing more about the consumer,” Firmenich remarked, “and by educating the consumer.”