Friday, September 18, 2009

The Geometry of Perfume’s Future

Fragrance marketers will resort to “gifts with purchase” and nail biting as they watch sales numbers move into the end of the calendar year. No matter what the outcome, searching for signs of recovery in profit and loss statements will not yield solutions to fundamental paradigm shifts. The perfume category is diluted with smell-alike fragrances, functional products for the home and hyper regulation. Bloggers have become virtual beauty advisers for fragrance connoisseurs and search engine users, challenging the mettle of those who sell at-counter and online. Popular opinion clings to proven growth in luxury niche, but that is only a part of the potential for an upturn.

Great creations are inspired by artistry that pushes boundaries, imagination that riffs on common notions and shatters them, reconfiguring the fragments so that every finished fragrance released resonates with another; not in sameness, but in thoughtfulness that engenders respect for the art of perfumery and results in a consumer’s desire to purchase fragrance. Flankers and celebrity fragrances have become archetypal extensions of the scene in the Wizard of Oz that unmasks the “great and powerful Oz” as an ordinary person (note the latest lawsuit between Abercrombie & Fitch and Beyonce Knowles regarding her fragrant collaboration with Coty). Consumers have a distinct advantage when the curtain is drawn and the impostor is revealed; marketers need to know what existing and potential fragrance consumers want. This could potentially give loyal fragrance fans the power to determine the destiny of the category; the playing field is level and everyone has a pair of ruby slippers.

Where will inspiration for future fragrances come from? Many will be born out of carefully orchestrated synesthetic experiences that complement the sense of smell and reach beyond the gourmand approach of mixing appetizing aspects with aromatic ones. New accords and fragrance families will enter the olfactive palette enhancing emotion via the five senses. Fragrance will literally touch the consumer utilizing warming, tingling, and cooling sensations (the term “haptics” is already nudging its way into the olfactive vocabulary). Believable storytelling will infuse fragrance marketing with elements that are authentic, timeless and educational. Lastly, the paradox of collective individuality will be explored against a global canvas that encourages and respects cultures of difference; an extension of the effects of social media.

There is a wonderful example in architecture that illustrates the geometry of perfume’s future. The concept of patterning in tile work relates to the way shapes can fill a space (something akin to the way raw materials are combined to create a diffusive scent). Geometric forms that are common to traditional Islamic ornamentation appear in mesmerizing, elaborate, non-repeating patterns of ornament. These forms support the overall ornamental structure, as illustrated in the architecture of the roof of the tomb of Hafez, a famous Persian poet (note the turquoise star form).

There is a common characteristic in girih (ornate tile work) that permits non-repeating patterns to be aligned in large-scale works; one edge of each tile used in the tile work must be the same length as that of all of the other tiles used. If one considers the architecture of fragrance, there is a lesson that can be inferred by comparing it to ornamental structure; by limiting the number of repeated patterns in perfumery and creating structures that support signature we can liberate olfactive possibilities and introduce myriad creations. It is an approach that is desperately needed if the industry is to survive the hari-kari hand it may have dealt itself.