Hubert Burda Media

Smells Exclusive

Ultra-exclusive private labels can only be tracked down by those in the know

To those with discerning taste, luxury is more than just a price tag. These days, when money can buy just about anything and everything, luxury refers to that which is rare — often with a beguiling artisanal heritage and is, of course, of exceptional quality.
In the realm of beauty, an indulgent regime does not necessarily mean owning an array of products from boldfaced brand names. A new wave of cutting-edge beauty junkies want lotions and potions that communicate something about their identities, similar to the way their clothes and accessories are a reflection of their personalities.
Cue the rise of the ultra-high-end perfumes created by cult perfumeries, such as the L’Incendiaire range by Serge Lutens, Le Labo’s City Exclusives and Penhaligon’s Trade Routes collection. Consider these scents the crème de la crème of the perfume world — made with the finest ingredients and the most exacting production processes to create olfactive harmony. They are to the perfume industry what haute couture is to prêt-a-porter.
Certainly, the idea of a high-end fragrance collection is not new, with many designer marques boasting of such ranges, made all the more exclusive because they can only be found at select flagship boutiques and points-of-sale. Renowned perfume critic Chandler Burr traces this back to the launch of Hermessences by Hermès and Armani’s Privé range in 2004. Three years later, Chanel launched the Les Exclusifs range, which was closely followed by Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection. These days, there’s also Dior’s La Collection Privée and Guerlain’s The Private Collection to look out for. One could arguably view these high-end ranges as the luxury houses’ equivalent to the complex fragrances produced by cult perfumeries.
And now, it appears that cult and independent fragrance houses are raising the stakes by introducing their own ultra-exclusive perfume ranges. But is it really possible to create a bottle of fragrant juice that is more exclusive than what’s already available in the market? The answer, it seems, is yes.
Ingredients are a key reason why these perfumes are so valued. Fragrance Du Bois’s Privé collection are devoted to interpretations of oud, widely regarded as one of the most exclusive ingredients in a perfumer’s arsenal.
Says Jimmy Lim, head of multi-label beauty boutique Escentials: “Very specific ingredients are used in the creation of the scent as it’s all about a precise and complex symphony of scents that form the final fragrance. The creation process is more intense, in terms of the time and effort required. Often, the ingredients curated and used in these ranges are also very rare in existence and are available only in very small quantities.”
For example, French brand Serge Lutens is launching the first scent from its L’Incendiaire collection in Singapore, with only two bottles of the first scent available. Created with a rare blend of resins, saps, ambers and tarmac, each bottle will retail at $750. In comparison, a bottle of perfume from the brand’s main line costs about $200 to $300.
Indeed, with Bulgari’s premium Le Gemme collection of six perfumes — an olfactive interpretation of rare jewels that the bijoux house is famed for — some of the ingredients have even been rescued from extinction.
Daniela Andrier, master perfumer and creator of the Le Gemme collection, says: “Le Gemme is a singular, very luxurious collection, if only owing to the cost of some of its components. There is even an ingredient, which comes from vetiver acetate that, in some regards, I have helped save, as its production was due to be stopped because of its cost.”
In a similar vein, Penhaligon’s new Trade Routes trio, which is inspired by the precious commodities traded during the British colonial era, is made with rare processing techniques to create scent effects that would not be otherwise possible. The overall effect may not be obvious to a casual observer, but makes all the difference to a perfume connoisseur.
Exclusivity can come in other forms as well. Each of the nine scents in Le Labo’s City Exclusives are available only in the boutique of the city they are inspired by, which means collectors have to be globetrotters too.
Taking a slightly different approach, the creators of M. Micallef perfumes view the entire product — from the scent to the bottle — as a work of art. This is why the label offers Exceptional Pieces, which are commissioned-only perfume bottles that are created in collaboration with a Swiss jeweller, decorated with 24k gold, and semi-precious and precious stones.
Alternatively, co-founder and artist Martine Micallef can also paint customised designs and messages on crystal perfume decanters upon request. The scent in these one-of-a-kind bottles can either be chosen from the label’s existing range of perfumes, or a bespoke scent can be concocted.
With such a wide array of options available for serious scent fanatics, one thing’s for certain — the world of haute perfumerie is alive, thriving and never before this vibrant.
Says Lim: “The premium ranges mostly appeal to the loyalists of the brands as they fully embrace the brand philosophy and what it stands for. This in itself creates a private and intimate ‘conversation’ and relationship between the customer and the brand, and hence elevates the experience of perfume-making to an art.”