Uncovering the perfume industry

Brands, manufacturers and perfumers are the essential links that make up the fragrance industry. But how exactly do they work together?

Modified on
January 20th 2021

Samuel Fillon, Elizabeth Kupervaser-Gould

Dan Smedley @ Unsplash

When we imagine the creation of a perfume by a brand, for example Haute Couture, we can imagine a team of perfumers of the house who, alongside the designers, test many combinations of scents before landing on the finished product. The reality is slightly different.

The world of licenses

In the selective circuit (Sephora, Marionnaud, Nocibé, etc.), the majority of brands use what are called “licenses”. The parent company (eg. Prada or Valentino) who owns the brand and typically manages Haute Couture activity, authorizes a third party company to use its brand in order to orchestrate the development and marketing of its perfumes. From time to time, the parent company validates the artistic choices (consistency with the brand's style, etc.) but its authority stops there. The company managing the license transfers part of the profits to the parent company at the end of the year.

Some of these companies are very well known to the general public, others less so. Let us look at a few for reference. 

  • Puig: Nina Ricci, Paco Rabanne, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Comme des Garçons, etc.
  • Coty: Hugo Boss, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Burberry, Tiffany & Co. Marc Jacobs, etc.
  • L'Oréal: Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, Valentino, Giorgio Armani, etc.
  • Interparfums: Abercrombie & Fitch, Guess, Montblanc, Paul Smith, Jimmy Choo, etc.
  • Shiseido: Narciso Rodriguez, Dolce & Gabbana, Issey Miyake, etc.

Case study: Yves Saint Laurent Beauté. In the decade that passed since L'Oréal purchased the brand from Kering (previously known as PPR), the parent company has opted to retain the name “Yves Saint Laurent” as well as the monogram YSL. During this time, the Haute Couture house – which is still owned by Kering – changed its name – rechristening itself “Saint Laurent” – and its visual style by abandoning the famous monogram. Phew, good luck keeping track of all that!

Some brands like Chanel, Dior, Guerlain, Hermès and Cartier still have all their activities managed by the same company and even have their own perfumer, which is not the case for the others.

The composition houses

A relatively new link within the chain of perfumery, these composition houses are actually industrial giants that generate several billion in turnover each year. They comprise a handful of companies that are seldom known by the general public, yet create almost all perfumes (called “fine fragrances” in the industry) as well as detergents and aromas. To put it simply, all manufactured products that have a taste or an odor.

The 3 biggest players are:

  • Givaudan, based in Switzerland
  • Firmenich, also based in Switzerland
  • IFF (International Fragrances & Flavors), based in New York

These companies have among them the greatest perfumers in the world and are at the origin of the majority of modern compositions, whether in selective or niche perfumery (they are the same noses!)

When a perfume brand (via a license or not) wishes to create a new perfume, it contacts a composition house with what is called a “marketing brief”, a description of the properties and characteristics that the brand wishes to find in the perfume. In practice, this will often be a description subject to interpretation: “We are looking for a perfume for a woman between 25 and 35 years old, modern, urban, etc.”. The Composition Houses are eventually put in competition and then make their teams of perfumers work to formulate proposals which they believe meet the brand's criteria. The brand finally makes its choice of a perfume and then begins production.

Glassmakers and other packaging players

In perfume marketing, it is common to hear that the success of a perfume is not guaranteed onlyby its smell but by the quality of its “marketing mix”. This can be understood as the fragrance’s “universe,” which most often includes the price, the scent itself, a possible muse, and finally, thebottle. The importance of this last element is immense; it is what attracts attention in the store and makes the initial encounter pleasant – or not. In short, it is impossible to round out this analysis without mentioning bottle development. Just like the contents created by the Maisons de Composition, certain companies are responsible for the creation of the bottle. Originally, a designer was also “briefed” by the brand (or several were put in competition). In this case as well, the brief can be more or less explicit – if we take the Idôle de Lancôme brief, for example, asmartphone shape was requested to resonate with the target audience: one that is young and interconnected. Once designed, the bottle is then produced by a glassmaker such as Verescence or Groupe Pochet and a pump must be chosen from the leaders in the sector – in this case Aptar and Albea.

You now know about every part of perfume production, including the fact that creating one, fromstart to finish, involves hundreds of people and companies, and not just one high-fashion brand!

Le parfum idéal est à votre portée.