The craze for vintage doesn’t stop at clothes and accessories. This is why niche perfume companies established long ago are growing, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
EMILY Maben is a young woman who is old at heart. At 33, she loves a men’s fragrance that’s 140 years old — Hammam Bouquet — with its whiff of gentlemen’s wool jackets and cigar lounges of the Victorian age. She scours vintage markets in London for clothes and knick-knacks more than double her age.
But more than just a personal preference, Maben, who is born and bred in England, represents a young generation who is reviving history through for vintage clothes and accessories.
And she could not have picked a better place to work where she can indulge her passion for the past. As head of marketing for British perfume house Penhaligon’s, Maben is seeing the market travelling back in time.
“In a struggling economy like the present, consumers look for things they can trust rather than a marketing campaign and a famous face. They want history.”
Established by William Penhaligon in 1870, the fragrance house sources its rare ingredients worldwide but the fragrances are made in England. It works with freelance perfumers such as Bertrand Duchafour, Olivia Giacobetti and Olivier Cresp (who was responsible for Thierry Mugler’s big seller, Angel).
“When you have only one perfumer, you contain the creativity of the brand. Every perfumer has his or her own nuances and taste. If you limit that, then the range of fragrances you produce tend to be predictable,” she says. “By having a number of perfumers, we have a bigger choice in determining what we like.”
The small players in the industry are slowly but surely giving the big boys a run for their money. Locally, more niche brands are being made available on beauty floors.
French brand Diptyque is back after several years’ absence. Creed has maintained its small but exclusive clientele. Annick Goutal is attracting even younger customers with its latest scent, Nuit Etoilee. Acqua di Parma is also here and Oman perfume house Amouage recently opened its standalone store in Starhill Gallery. And Jo Malone is set to start its local foray soon.
Fragrances produced by these specialty houses typically cost more than the average mass market brands. They cost about RM400 for a 50ml EDT and RM500 for 100ml, with a bottle fetching a four figure price tag for commemorative or special editions.
“Worldwide, the niche market is growing. The story of a fragrance is now more important than the scent or the face fronting it. I have been in this company for four years and I have seen this change,” Maben says.
“We take our business like art. There are hits and misses. Large companies can’t afford a flop, so they play safe. We can, and every flop is an experience we learn from, to make even better fragrances. That's better than just playing safe even when you sell a million bottles.”
Like most traditional perfume houses, the packaging is not gender-specific. “Consumers wear what they like and good scents are not limited to gender. Italian men, for instance, wear more floral fragrances, but that doesn’t mean they are any less manly.”
Advanced Apotheke director Lee Mun Jo says the local market is ready for high-end perfumes and the brand has opened its first counter at Isetan Suria KLCC.
“The market may not be as mature as Singapore and Hong Kong but I believe there will be growth and we want to be here when that happens.”
WHIFF OF A MAN
When it comes to men, Maben likes manly scents on them, like the house’s Hammam Bouquet or Sartorial, the latter inspired by her trip to a Savile Row tailor.
“You can tell a lot about a person from his or her fragrance. I once dated a man who wore Chanel Bleu and I knew it wasn’t going to work out,” she says with a laugh. She likes, of course, the warm leathery scent of Sartorial, a fragrance that “every man should smell like.
“I spend too much time sniffing people wherever I go, sometimes I even scare them when I know what they are wearing,” she says.
Maben has a collection of 90 fragrances but doesn’t wear any to work because she requires a blank canvas for trying the perfumes. Her favourites are old-fashioned scents like Caron’s Tabac Blond, Dior’s Miss Dior and Shocking, a 1937 creation by Elsa Schiaparelli.
“Oh, and we don’t do flankers — the summer or the lighter version of the original fragrance. Our fragrances exist only in their entireties,” she says.
What about Chanel who just cast Brad Pitt as the face for its ladies fragrance, Chanel No. 5?
“I think that’s brilliant. I can even project the ad in my head. He wakes up to a smell but the woman is not there, so he searches for her, through the trail of her scent all over Paris.”
Taking a man’s point of view, she says, is a novel and clever way of selling a fragrance. “We all want to be attractive and wearing fragrance is about that, isn’t it?”
Emily Maben on her hobbies:
“I run. I completed the London 10k a few weeks ago. I am gunning for a half-marathon. When I have time, I read and my favourite books include Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. Darcy exists in my heart.
“I also like F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The new movie’s coming out soon but I don’t look forward to remakes. They are flankers too, by my standard.”
Man, that smells good
AT a time when more men’s fragrances are smelling fruity, Sartorial, created by French perfumer Bertrand Duchafour, evokes the long lost smell of a manly, well-dressed and immaculate man.
Duchafour wanted to create a scent that would evoke the smell of a Savile Row tailor — think scissors, beeswax and stacks of fine cloth — and he created what reviewers call “a modern classic in the making”.
Woody and peppery with a slight tinge of floral in the bouquet, the scent is breathtaking, to say the least. It conjures the image of a man whose taste is refined and uncluttered by flimsy choices.
Quite simply, this is for those who know what a man should smell like.