Let's say you are a fan of a certain brand of gourmet coffee that is sold in only a few of the world's coolest cafés. This brand has just decided to introduce its newest roasts. But instead of making all of them available at each café, it has allocated one roast per location so that each one becomes ultra exclusive and sampling them all would require a caffeinated tasting trip around the world.
This is more or less what niche fragrance brand L'Artisan Parfumeur has decided to do with a new series called Mon Numéro. Created by Bertrand Duchaufour, a demigod in the perfume pantheon, the eight scents have each been paired up with a different prestige retailer. Mon Numéro 10, for example, will launch at Barneys New York in September, while Numéro 8 is exclusive to Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. The Ogilvy boutique in Montreal will carry Mon Numéro 9.
Four of the scents, 3, 4 and 7 will be rolled out in October; the first two to Ludwig Beck in Germany and Harrods, respectively, and the last has yet to find a home.
There are a few loopholes. If the retailer has multiple locations (as Barney's does in Beverly Hills, Boston, Chicago and so forth), the scent will be sold at all the stores. Also, the entire series will be available at the L'Artisan Parfumeur boutiques in Paris, where I was able to smell 1, 8, 9 and 10 when I was there last month.
Mon Numéro represents a variation on the city series conceived by Le Labo, another niche fragrance brand that understands the value of limited distribution. In addition to its main collection, there are seven "City Exclusives," one for each Le Labo concession or shop in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Le Labo can now be purchased in Canada at Gee Beauty, a chic beauty boîte in Toronto's tony Rosedale neighbourhood, and for a limited time (quelle surprise), the store will be receiving a to-be-confirmed selection of the City Exclusives leading up to the holidays.
Much like L'Artisan Parfumeur, Le Labo's scents are not direct interpretations of the cities they're sold in (anyway, I'm not sure I'd want to smell like New York streets, even at their best), but they do reflect the city's spirit. Consider that Gaiac 10, which belongs to Tokyo, is a comparatively minimalist concoction compared to Paris's Vanille 44. (All Le Labo names refer to the primary raw material plus the number of additional ingredients.)
I spoke with Le Labo's co-founder Fabrice Penot last November and raised the possibility of a Toronto fragrance. His answer: In order for such a location-specific scent to be successful, the process cannot be forced or obvious.
"If we would give in and say, 'Let's make a perfume that is going to be successful in Canada because women love maple and cinnamon,' even with the best perfumers in the world and the most expensive ingredients on the planet, [you are]going to make something that's soulless," he explained.
Of course, exclusivity is a concept that befits the fragrance world. Tight control over distribution means that a scent will never saturate a market. Not to mention the fact that perfume enthusiasts are collectors by nature; the more limited the scent, the higher its perceived value.
"Once these niche brands have opened multiple locations, they're in danger of becoming victims of their own success," explained Nahla Saad, who offers the full range of L'Artisan Parfumeur at her Toronto boutique, Noor.
Limited distribution also helps thwart that deeply deflating feeling experienced by scent snobs when they discover other people wearing their fragrance. Yes, it's bound to happen, but those who take their scents seriously go to great lengths to make their scent is the ultimate expression of individuality.
If you've been wondering, there is no Mon Numéro 5; the brains at L'Artisan Parfumeur smartly concluded that Chanel's iconic scent owns that number. As for Numéro 2, an anonymous Dubai-based customer purchased the rights to it for private use, ostensibly removing it from the market. Cost: €10,000 (about $14,000). That works out to approximately 80 bottles of the fragrance (the retail price is €125 or about $200). Which, for some, may or may not represent a bargain.