Luxury fragrance brands have long relied on big celebrity brand ambassadors and traditional ad formats. Niche fragrance brands, however, are moving away from traditional strategies and finding major success on their own terms.
For fragrance house Maison Francis Kurkdjian, the Baccarat Rouge 540 has earned cult status without a single official celebrity ad campaign. And despite not having partnerships, the brand has earned celebrity approval — Olivia Rodrigo wears it, and Drake has been rumored to wear it. On TikTok, the hashtag for the fragrance #baccaratrouge540 has received over 432 million views to date, and it was listed among the fragrance success highlights in parent company LVMH’s annual financial report for fiscal year 2022.
On this week’s Glossy Beauty Podcast episode, the brand’s CEO, Marc Chaya, joins Glossy West Coast correspondent Liz Flora to share the story of the brand’s growth. He talks about how he co-founded the brand with perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and the ways in which the brand is disrupting traditional gender norms in fragrance. He also goes into the details of how Baccarat Rouge 540 became such a massive hit, and why the brand doesn’t work with traditional celebrity ambassadors.
How the niche luxury fragrance boom tapped into a new type of marketing
“We’re not a brand, we are an eponymous fragrance house. The whole purpose of us starting the brand was to allow Francis Kurkdjian, one of the most talented perfumers in our history, to be able to express his vision freely. It seems like a very natural idea today. But you need to understand that at the time when we decided to create Maison Francis Kurkdjian [in 2009], there was a boom in our industry in the ultra-luxury fragrance segment.
People were starting companies every other day, but most of the environment was marketing driven. It was all about concepts, storytelling, packaging, design and the scent, as well as the fact that fragrance would only be a component of a bigger story, a bigger concept. For us, it was more about the scent, it was all about the scent – it was about enabling one of the greatest talents out there to express a creative vision freely, and to use marketing at the service of creativity.”
Organic celebrity discovery over celebrity ambassadors
“It’s very uncommon in the fragrance industry [to not use an ambassador]. Still today, most of the ways of operating are based on marketing, and where creativity is still at the service of marketing and marketing concepts. At Maison Francis Kurkdjian, creativity is everywhere. It’s the beating heart. Our marketing is only there to amplify the creation story. …
Celebrities are using the brand, but we also love that the public can appreciate the fragrances. I love the idea that someone very famous comes across the brand and decides freely to wear the brand the same way I decide freely to listen to music and to decide that I appreciate this artist over another. … We love creating that influence through storytelling.
We do not use celebrities because we do not see value in using celebrities [as ambassadors]. We do not see value in trying to get recognition through the paid endorsement of someone that we appreciate. The natural endorsement has so much more value. Our advertising is more about the story.”
Why gender neutrality is an old idea for the brand
“Fragrance and gender is about social convention; it is not about creation. It’s a bit like fashion. If you go back in time, men in Europe in the 17th or 18th century would wear wigs, they would put powder on their faces, they would have embroidery on their shirts, and they would have high heels. These were synonyms of masculinity. Scent-wise, back in the 17th century, women would wear more woody scents, which according to today’s or yesterday’s standards, were considered to be more masculine.”
Gender-neutral scents are usually fresh scents because freshness has no gender. Both men and women want to feel very fresh. If I give you a rose scent, in most cultures, roses are the synonym for femininity, it is the emblem almost of femininity. When we created A La Rose, it was a woman’s scent, and when Francis decided to create L’Homme A La Rose, he decided to break the convention and give men the power to also wear rose. L’Homme A La Rose could be gender neutral.”
Gentle Fluidity, which is a dual scent that we created in 2016, was also the reaction … to the debate that we had in our society about the concept of gender, about the concept of … gender evolving, where maybe men can wear makeup without becoming necessarily a woman and where men can wear more feminine clothing without necessarily turning their back on their masculinity. And women can be perfectly feminine but be CEOs and not have to pretend or act like men in order to exude assurance and power and authority.”