As India becomes increasingly sophisticated and refined, creating luxurious perfumes comes with new challenges.
While the industry used to look to the West for inspiration, it has become important to look for inspiration within each market itself.
“If you want something more luxurious, it takes more time for you to work on a signature,” said Mathilde Pellissier, regional marketing manager for fine fragrance in Asia Pacific.
She added: “What is synonymous with success in term of luxury is taking the heritage of a country to connect with a local concept, but giving it a western twist with design and communication.”
Rich with inspiration
To understand fragrance in India, Symrise sent a team from Singapore to India to sniff out local ingredients and soak up the culture.
“For us, it was really important to explore the culture. Every aspect of it from food to religion and rituals to flowers. We want to discover aromas from India that are omnipresent in their lives,” said Pellissier.
The team discovered local ingredients such as nagarmotha, which produces the smell of cypress, and kewra, the fruit of the pandan plant.
They also rediscovered ingredients that resonated with Indian consumers. “Most ingredients are flowers, spices and woods… There was a lot of jasmine as well as marigold, which was something we did not highlight enough before,” said Pellissier.
Additionally, the trip confirmed what they already knew about India: “There is a lot of smell in India, so perfume in India needs to be extremely impactful. If you have a fragrance, it needs to be strong, intense and long lasting. It needs to last six, eight hours long.”
Snapshot of fragrance in India
While brands used to position fragrances with a strong sensual message in India, the strongest messages are now about empowerment and self-confidence.
“Love and sensuality was always a key message. Fragrance was used to appeal and seduce. Now the message has completely changed. Products are positioned to make you better. It’s about self-confidence and achievements.”
The change is attributed to India’s large population of millennial consumers. Pellissier estimates that about 45% of India’s population is less than 25 years old.
“They want progress in the country. They don’t want any more inequality. They are super open-minded about things like homosexuality and transgender issues. They want diversity and tolerance.”
Many of these people, she noted, are young adults who have studied abroad and are now returning to India to seek out the many opportunities open to them.
Interestingly, male consumers dominate the fragrance market in India, said Pellissier: “Men use more perfume than women. For them, it’s totally okay to buy products positioned for women. It’s not a matter of [marketing] but olfactive liking.”
Like in most countries, India is also seeing a rise in the middle class, Pellissier noted. “Tier two and three cities are evolving and consumption is changing. Today they have malls with international luxury brands. There are local brands launching premium products as well, and these brands can influence the world because India is a country everyone is looking at.”
In light of this, Symrise will be expanding its capabilities in India. The company currently has an office in Mumbai and is bringing over know-how and technology.
For instance, the company recently sent its EVERTRAIL technology, its patented way measuring the trail of a scent, to Mumbai.
One of its plans in 2019 is to send more of its international perfumers to India to meet its customers.
“Perfume is related to emotion, feelings, history, memory... To build fragrance you must build a story around it. The best way is to experiment and experience it. From far away it’s complicated. We have to find this balance between an international and local team.” explained Pellissier.
China: The new frontier
Symrise does not plan to stop with India. The next stop on its Asian tour is China, a difficult market it is hoping to crack.
“China is much more complex. The difficulty is that people there are not used to wearing perfume,” said Pellissier.
She elaborated that most perfumes are bought as gifts or as a status symbol to display. Hence, bestsellers in the market include prestige names like Chanel or Dior.
This makes it challenging for Symrise to understand the Chinese scent preferences, she said.
“Bestsellers are bought for ‘image’ but clearly behind that the fragrance is not always liked. It makes it difficult for us to understand and define what they like in China.”
So far, Symrise has determined that Chinese consumers prefer fragrances that are light, delicate and fresh.
“Something that will not annoy your neighbour,” said Pellissier. “It needs to be intimate.”
Still, the company does see massive potential in the market. “We see that the Chinese are really into Jo Malone and niched fragrances. They are buying, but we need to create a demand. Most Western brands don’t adapt to the Chinese market.”
Currently, the firm is working on a project that will be launched in Hong Kong later this year, said Pellissier.