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Carine Roitfeld Breaks Into Perfume

The collection of seven genderless fragrances, called ‘7 lovers,’ is now available on Net-a-Porter as well as her own website.
Carine Roitfeld | Source: Courtesy
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  • Bloomberg

PARIS, France — It's no secret that celebrity fragrances sell: since the epic success of Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds in 1991, which still generates around $47 million annually for Revlon according to market research provider Euromonitor International, fans have more options than ever to smell like their favorite A- and B-listers. Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, and even Antonio Banderas have cashed in on lucrative licensing deals with industry titans Coty Inc. and Puig SL, which account for 19 percent of the $51 billion global fragrance market between them.

And yet, this mass appeal and affordable accessibility can mean legions of men and women all whiff of the same pedestrian blend of fruit, flowers, and alcohol, which has led to an upturn in desire for more niche, artisanal scents. The latest entrant: Vogue Paris editor-in-chief and style siren Carine Roitfeld, who on Monday debuted her eponymous line, Carine Roitfeld Parfums.

The collection of seven genderless fragrances called "7 lovers" is now available on Net-a-Porter and her own website. Unlike mass fashion brands such as Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, or Yves Saint Laurent, she didn't partner with LVMH, Estée Lauder Cos Inc. or L'Oréal Groupe — with 21.1 percent market share between them — but instead opted to foot the bill and retain creative control for a chance at a more unique product. In the last five years, luxury fragrances have outpaced cheaper options in most markets, according to Euromonitor.

To keep it premium, Roitfeld kept it close. “It was important to me that the collection was entirely launched by myself. I am grateful to have had so many prestigious fragrance houses and investors offer to provide financial support for this, but as this was very special and personal to myself,” Roitfeld said. "I said no to all offers. This was never driven by money. It is about passion and legacy, and it is how I have always done in everything I do.”

When pressed further for how much she personally invested in it, the tastemaker and creative director played coy: “We are French as you know and French people never talk about money,” she quipped. The cost of creating a niche fragrance line is steep. Holly Tupper’s new eight-scent collection Cultus Artem (staring at $550 a bottle), for example, cost upwards of $300,000 to develop. (“I’m an artist,” says Tupper, “I don’t keep very good records,” but she expects to turn a profit in three years.)

In terms of ingredients, no costs were spared.

As founder of style magazine CR Fashion Book and co-founder of CR Studio, a full-service creative and production agency whose clients include Chanel, Yeezy and Dior, Roitfeld is well-versed in high fashion, but a novice when it comes to creating perfume. As a result, the project took eight years to develop, while companies like Inter Parfums Inc. churned out over a dozen fragrances in 2018 alone.

To get the right scent, Roitfeld along with her son and business partner Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, collaborated with perfumers Aurélien Guichard, Pascal Gaurin, and Yann Vasnier, who each worked on different scents. The trio brought to the table a well-balanced mix of commercial and niche success having crafted designer department store favourites such as Issey Miyake Pleats Please and indie hits like Ex Nihilo’s Citizen X. “I did not want to rush the process and knew that in order for the line to be successful,” says Roitfeld. “I had to work with those that had the experience.”

In addition to risk and development time, one of the challenges of being completely independent is that “you don’t get outside or third party perspective that can help challenge you to create the best product,” her son explains. For that, they turned to industry insider Frederic Pignault, who was comfortable telling them what was working and failing, in addition to testing with a stable of well-connected friends.

The seven unisex scents are inspired by Roitfeld’s great loves, both real and fictional, and favourite cities—Paris, London, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, Buenos Aires, and St. Petersburg. Vladimir, named after her son, is a woody, masculine blend of Moroccan Orris (a rich, earthy flower which takes three years to dry before the scent can be retrieved) and amber, while George is an eclectic green mix of cannabis ScentTrek (patented, lab-created cannabis smoke), violet leaf absolute and oakmoss absolute, which are natural extracts rather than a blend of natural and synthetic molecules. And without corporate deadlines and budget-conscious beauty executives to report to, the team took risks. Hand-picked Immortelle flower from southern Europe, for example, has such an intense herbaceous odour reminiscent of hay, it is normally used as an accent, but in Sebastian, it was used as a key ingredient.

“In terms of ingredients, no costs were spared,” said Pignault. “With no restrictions, we were able to let our imaginations run wild, which I am sure made Vladimir nervous, but in the end, it was the right path.”

“I needed artists who could understand where I was coming from and where I wanted to go, what I wanted to express,” said Roitfeld. The results are rich, moody and in khaki-coloured glass bottles ($285 for 90 mL) that resembles a flask, perfectly capture her signature smudged eye makeup and black wardrobe.

By Aja Mangum; editor: Justin Ocean.

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