Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian breaks away from a traditional view of how scent should be experienced.
Impacting the Scent Market

Is there a new trend toward simplicity in breakthrough fragrance packaging?

Today’s newest scent makers are breaking the mold and carving out their own unique niche. With a market flush with designer and celebrity scents, the new guard have a different story to tell. In true pioneering spirit, they’re both provocative and seductive, and are showing signs of the breakthrough challenger brand.

A challenger brand is about change and progress: creating the new and defining the way forward. Think impact and the immediate, energy and revolution—a true challenger brand makes you sit up and take notice. Speaking of perfume, this should make you smile. Care for a bottle of scented bubbles? The perfumer Francis Kurkdjian makes violet scented bubbles for children, to introduce them to the idea of scent through play—grown-ups love them, too. He first released his bubbles in a Taoist temple in China at Shanghai Expo 2010 in the style of a truly innovative new brand.We’re seduced with this playful new language that breaks away from a traditional view of how scent should be experienced.

Nasomatto’s spare design features caps crafted from a variety of materials including stone, Bakelite and wood.
In perfumery as in all luxury arenas, yesterday’s challenger brands are today’s icons. Think of Chanel No 5, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Torso bottle or CK One—they’re now brands complete with heritage, symbolic meaning and deep-rooted cultural identity. Yet each started out on the challenger path because each cut through the established design aesthetic of the time (not to mention the status quo) and people loved it: whether it was the simplicity of No 5, the body form of Gaultier’s torso (said to be inspired by Madonna) or the provocative industrial look of CK One. Today’s challenger scent brands are showing signs of working to some of these challenger design principles, too.

The first is simplicity. A simple, clear-cut visual message is required to cut through the clutter so a new brand can be seen. In perfumery, bottles are often overdesigned, because they are as much a part of the story as the scent and the face. The new guard acts differently, often with simply designed bottles—the blank canvas behind (or inside) which lies the story.

Heeley, a new Paris-based perfume house led by the British born designer, James Heeley, follows this principle. His Extraits de Parfums are spare, squat bottles, with a glossy black cap, matte black label and silver type. Yet the inspiration behind his scents is rich with imaginative stories. L’Amandière is, as Heeley puts it, “a portrait of spring”—all almond blossom, bluebells and hyacinth; Bubblegum Chic is a “sexual fantasy” bursting with jasmine and strawberry aromas. But thanks to the unadorned bottle, the wearer is left to create his or her own fantasy.

Stockholm-based fragrance house Byredo pushes the boundaries of scent design.
Nasomatto is another example of this new, spare design. Each bottle is simple, with caps crafted from a variety of materials including stone, Bakelite and wood. They seem to complement tone to some of the scents’ somewhat obscure names, printed off-center—China White, Absinth or Narcotic Venus. And the result is provocative and new. Nasomatto is a rebellious perfume house that actively challenges our established ideas about scent. They’re innovative, and force the user to think about scent in an entirely different way— absinth as perfume?

The fourth innovator for this piece also challenges our ideas about perfume. His name is Ben Gorham and his Stockholm-based fragrance house is called Byredo. Gorham originally trained as a fine artist, and after a chance meeting with a perfumer, he decided to pursue scent making. His creative vision has driven a number of collaborations, which have pushed the boundaries of scent design.

One of the most inventive was with the creative studio M/M.They presented Gorham with three visual prompts: a block of solid ink from Asia, a photograph of a Japanese master practicing calligraphy and a utopian formula drawn on a piece of Korean traditional paper. The brief was to create a scent inspired by these visual clues. The result was rich, redolent of the smell of ink, with incense, patchouli, honey and amber—the olfactory rendition of an unexpected set of triggers. He has used his signature bottle, simplicity itself, but with a nod to the big idea: a stroke of ink daubed by a Japanese paintbrush across its iconic black and white label.Iconic brand in the making? It’s possible.

About the Author

Jonathan Ford is a designer and creative partner of Pearlfisher;