Luxury fragrance in China is no longer simply the added benefit of a high-end spa day. Like the rest of the world, China’s younger, rising middle class consumers are taking an interest in perfume as they increasingly seek to personalize their lifestyles and broaden their knowledge of the industry through traveling abroad.
But while perfume in general is witnessing growth in the market, niche fragrance is more of a standout performer. Globally, niche perfume, which includes brands like Estee Lauder’s Jo Malone and French label Diptyque, saw a 15-percent annual rise in sales. Marking this industry growth was LMVH’s purchase of a majority stake in independent French perfumer Maison Francis Kurkdjian this spring. The China market is a major focus for the company as it works to expand its reach around the globe, according to Reuters.
As cultural attitudes are changing about perfume in China with more consumers exposed to fragrance brands abroad and with disposable income to spend, what was once a small industry is now growing steadily. Euromonitor International’s April 2017 report on fragrances in China cites that its niche fragrances have enjoyed a privileged position among consumers in China with the help of KOLs.
Also fueling this market are influential companies like ScentPage, the subscription service that with the help of KOLs and social media spreads the brand stories and culture behind fragrances, as well as give tips on how and when to use them.
ScentPage, founded by Chinese perfume experts Xinxin Cai and Song Yuan, launched last year shortly after Xinxin returned to Beijing from working with perfumer Puredistance in the Netherlands. He met his business partner Song Yuan at a perfume convention in Milan and together they saw opportunity in China to spread perfume culture to a market already exhibiting interest in “the unique” in other luxury industries, including cars and fashion.
Xinxin said that to find another Chinese expert and enthusiast in the perfume industry in Europe is rare. Song is a professional perfume reviewer from Beijing who has written English-language reviews for the likes of About.com and Vogue and boasts around 1,000 fragrances in her personal collection. Xinxin, himself, has about one-tenth of that amount—he told Jing Daily is collection shrank when he traveled abroad because too many bottles would weigh down his luggage.
It’s partly around this problem that ScentPage was born. The app gives consumers access to smaller (5 ml) bottles so that they can safely sample perfume without having to worry about committing to 100 ml bottles from brands they had never heard of or know so little about, especially during their travels overseas.
ScentPage works with both niche labels and big name brands like Hermes, and to help guide online subscribers, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire that uses an algorithm to match a fragrance with them based on their personality and daily needs. Xinxin said this helps consumers without any experience with the industry ease into it.
“These consumers don’t go abroad that much and they know a lot less about perfume, so of course you have to make it fun for them, and then they say ‘Okay, this is something cool, I want to know more about it,” he said. “If you make it way too professional, they think it’s boring.”
The other key aspect of the subscription app is that the service is much more affordable while still giving consumers access to luxury brands. Entry-level subscribers can join for 99 RMB a month (about $15) for two 5 ml samples per month.
“To our target market, perfume is something they can live with or without, so that’s why they won’t spend too much money on something that they think can’t change their life,” Xinxin said. “So that’s why we make our platform really accessible because we want to expand to people who have never really used or tried perfume.”
Xinxin said that in his experience, so far niche perfume still makes up only a very small portion of the perfume industry. Yet, it’s enough that even big name luxury brands and groups are taking note in the way LVMH has. At this year’s China Beauty Expo, luxury brands exhibited an expanded product portfolio to answer to Chinese consumers’ demands for more rare and unusual fragrances.
For example, according to China Beauty Expo’s website, MCM launched its Infinite Collection this spring, while Estee Lauder acquired three additional perfumers. Meanwhile, Jo Malone and Diptyque have been expanding their store count, generating interest through pop-up activities in China’s key cities such as the Diptyque ice cream cart outside its Sanlitun store that featured flavors matching its popular fragrances.
“So we can see people are already getting used to [niche fragrances] and they are curious about it because they want to be different,” Xinxin said. “That’s also a trend in the Chinese market nowadays—consumers want to be a bit different, special, and they want to have a lifestyle.”