L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Sephora Gamble: Did they misjudge their market?
Everyone has certain fragrances in their collection that they love or for which they maintain a special place due to their uniqueness. A couple of my favorites — among many – are scents from L’Artisan Parfumeur: L’Eau du Navigateur (discontinued), Tea for Two (discontinued), Dzing (potentially to be discontinued) , Al Oudh (still around, though not my favorite Oud) and Bois Farine. Two of those date to when Olivia Giacobetti was commissioned by the house, and when the house had a much different focus.
Tea for Two was among the more iconic fragrances and signatures known as a L’Artisan scent. Navigateur, for anyone not a regular reader of Scentrist, is a scent like few others that is steeped in richness and exudes a sense of refinement achieved by few others. Both are now history.
It was an interesting niche house. In many ways, it still is, but one recently befallen by curious decision making. It seems that when L’Artisan scores with a scent, or creates something that truly resonates with a core group, it’s quick to pull it from the market leaving many of us scratching our heads in disbelief. More curious?
They’ve decided that showcasing their scents in a boutique environment isn’t enough for the brand. L’Artisan Parfumeur is among the latest defectors to Sephora, the LVMH-owned beauty and cosmetics retailer. And if you think that I’ll say this is the wrong move? You’re correct. Let’s put this in context.
What is L’Artisan Parfumeur
L’Artisan is not a mass-market line, nor is it part of a powerhouse owned by a larger conglomerate (LVMH Group, which owns Dior, Fendi, Kenzo, Benefit). In fact, it’s a boutique house owned by a holding company (Castle Holdings) that also owns the Penhaligon’s line of scents (also nouveau-niche but with a longer history). Will it get the same shelf-space dedicated to its entire line of fragrance as it competes for attention against “Diesel” or “Le Male” or the like? Probably not. And the first fragrances to suffer will be those such as Bois Farine or Fou d’Absinthe will give way to Mon Numero 1-10 or Havana Vanille that are perhaps not as good…but that a Sephora market can relate to or pronounce.
L’Artisan is — or rather, was — a connoisseur’s fragrance line, and its presence amidst designer and celebrity scents will simply render buyers somewhat confused and probably won’t merit much attention. Rest assured, it’ll play second or third fiddle to shelf space that can be occupied by a known bigger seller.
Even more concerning? The rift that exists in the mass-market between “women’s” and “men’s” fragrances plays out at a crescendo in most department stores, and Sephora is no exception. Scents such as Dzing are actually unisex, Al Oudh certainly is, but that doesn’t equate to Sephora’s target marketing where the two derived categories are segregated within any location. During my shopping occasions and speaking to male shoppers, it’s difficult enough to get a guy to cross that unspoken line between so-called “feminine” and ”masculine” scents (despite there often being no difference).
Dare I say it gets worse? The product often sold at Sephora is secondary — either not the same quality control as their first-tier markets, or a second source for products closer to expiry and marketed to be sold quickly. Sephora generates the traffic and environment to sell as much as possible. With all due respect, it’s not the same shopping experience as having the product showcased in its correct light, say in a boutique such as Henri Bendel. It’s also prone to endure the storage and handling marked by Sephora — warehousing, hot lights, lack of temperature control, all of the factors that turn a good scent to bad quickly.
While it’s fair to say that every perfumer is in business to make money — they’re not all starving artists, and no one begrudges Castle or house-nose Bertrand Duchaufour the right to a profit — the decision is confusing and alienating to the market that helped L’Artisan become the boutique brand it is. The move to Sephora, in our view, degrades the brand reputation, and recent decisions have further alienated it from the connoisseur market that helped establish the brand.
It’s been a while since the decision was announced, and niche retailers such as Min New York have already indicated the termination of their relationship as a result of the decision. It’s also been at least a year since the announcement of their decisions to retire scents, and the replacements have been underwhelming. Sad to say, the company appears to have missed their target market with this and other decisions.
Alas, the L’Artisan we once knew is no more. Next stop Sephora. After that?