LONDON — Social media influencer Soraya Bakhtiar had started reevaluating long before the coronavirus pandemic forced the entire world to do the same.
Looking at the increasingly competitive and, at times shallow, social media landscape, she began taking a step back from her popular Instagram account, opting for fewer press trips and brand partnerships in favor of perfumery classes and frequent trips to Grasse, in southern France, where she dreamed up her new brand, Azaleo.
Three years on, Azaleo is launching as three niche luxury scents, which Bakhtiar intends to use as a vehicle to tell stories around wellness and spirituality.
“Treating yourself with a perfume is going to become a luxury to make you feel good. It’s not about having to smell good, it’s about self-care and being true to yourself,” said Bakhtiar in an interview.
It’s a proposition that feels especially relevant today, when consumers are looking for a little more meaning and substance when they shop.
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That’s exactly what Bakhtiar has been offering these past few months. As the pandemic delayed the spring launch she had planned, she focused on the world of the brand, offering insights into astrology, online crystal workshops and Instagram Live conversations around healing and self improvement.
“I tried to set the mood and introduce elements that reflect what the brand is about, from the crystals to collaborating with an astrologist on posts. I’ve been building a community around all those elements and now the perfume can just seal everything together,” said Bakhtiar.
“It was a blessing not launching earlier, as we are now talking to a different consumer,” she said, adding that she’s come to know how she and the consumer have been evolving through the crisis.
The finished product appears to be as thoughtful and well-considered as Bakhtiar has promised.
The scents that mark the launch will be sold exclusively online on the label’s web site, which channels the soft-edged, otherworldly spirit of the brand with touches of pink and illustrations of the sun aplenty.
The bottles come tinted in shades of pink and orange, with engraving instead of stickers and bottle caps that resemble a planet in space. “When you look at what’s out there, most perfume bottles are black-and-white with a sticker. They don’t have a lot of identity,” she said.
The debut fragrances have been designed with “a layering story” in mind, in response to a gap in the market that Bakhtiar said she noticed early on.
“Everyone is promoting layering, but none of the fragrances [out there] has actually been created to be mixed together. It’s just really a marketing tool to sell two perfumes, instead of one,” she said, adding that she chose to include a base that can work on its own, or complement the other two scents on offer.
“We want to give the choice of layering — or not — because some people are very loyal to the way they wear perfume. They’ve been wearing the same scent for 10 years. If you tell them to forget what they’ve been wearing and now wear two perfumes, they just won’t be into it.”
Bakhtiar designed the perfumes with complementary notes and chose softness and subtlety as the common thread.
The base, dubbed Voile de Lune, was created to be “a second skin” of sorts, with fresh notes and a touch of intensity with musk.
“It’s the feeling of the moon caressing your skin and that piece of fabric that’s soft and dreamy,” said Bakhtiar.
The second scent is called Sun to Soul and aims to capture the feeling of “summer in a bottle” with floral, fruity notes reminiscent of holidays. But it’s not too sweet, like so many floral scents on the market.
For the third scent in the collection, Bois Boheme, Bakhtiar wanted to use creamy, milky sandalwood and add the right dose of sweetness, with notes such as black pepper, juniper and iris.
The scents were developed with an independent perfumer in Grasse, who allowed Bakhtiar to be present in the labs throughout the mixing process in order to create something completely customized for the label.
Each perfume retails for 150 pounds, so Bakhtiar was keen to keep the brand niche and with a limited online-only distribution, despite the risk this potentially entails.
With more than 126,000 followers on Instagram, the majority of whom are avid luxury shoppers, she has been able to create a certain degree of demand around the brand from the get-go.
This is more than another Instagram-driven brand, though, with Bakhtiar looking to chart a path and delve deep into the niche perfumery market.
“The niche industry isn’t really niche. You see all those brands now at duty-free, but perfume has to be special, almost secret. If that means selling less then I’m OK with that. I can [always] create a more mainstream product that belongs in duty-free if I want to have high volumes,” she said.
As the brand takes off, Bakhtiar said she will look to make the shopping experience even smoother with samples that can be mailed out, as well as expanding the brand’s feel-good, spiritual universe into other products in the future.
“I don’t want the brand to be about perfumes only. We can move into candles, body, hair, anything that revolves around smells and scents or goes on the skin. I was even thinking about going into jewelry,” she said.
“This time at home gave me so much perspective on how we’re going to come out of the crisis and I wanted to create this ecosystem that beyond the products, is also about wellness and mental health.”