The perfume industry has a notable history of using sex to sell its products — think Calvin Klein’s Obsession or Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium — but a few artisanal brands are taking a counter-cultural approach by focusing on very unconventional ideas, like the scent of milk or trash, to draw attention to themselves.
Luxury perfume house Serge Lutens, for example, created Dent de Lait (translated to Milk Teeth) in 2017, drawing inspiration from the smell of milk. Swedish grocery chain called Coop created an unusual perfume scent this past September that smells like spoiled milk in order to raise awareness around food shelf life. Now, Etat Libre d’Orange is launching a perfume called I Am Trash that aims to raise its awareness by challenging the idea of a “fine fragrance” — the product is derived from apples, roses, cedar wood and bitter oranges that have been previously thrown away.
Beginning Nov. 1, the fragrance will be sold through current U.S. retail partners like Twisted Lily in New York and Aaron’s Apothecary in Chicago. The fragrance soft-launched in mid-October in Selfridges in London and the Etat Libre d’Orange boutique in Paris. In two weeks, the nearly $150 I Am Trash perfume saw double the sales compared to other, previously released Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances, in the same time frame — it has also driven more in-store traffic, according to Etienne de Swardt, founder and managing director of Etat Libre d’Orange. Swardt declined to specify current revenue for the brand.
While a company like Etat Libre d’Orange might be a small player within the larger global perfume industry, it is part of a host of specialty perfume houses like Commodity and Creed that accounted for about 6 percent of the $4 billion U.S. fragrance market in 2017, according to WWD.
“Certain indie brands [are] enjoying an explosive rise in popularity, [but] they are needing to turn their [customers’] attention elsewhere in a bid to stay as unique as possible,” said Carla Seipp, a foresight writer at The Future Laboratory. “Anti-perfumes present an exciting and inspirational rebellion against the traditional fine-fragrance establishment and have a strong appeal for those who dare to be different.”
Etat Libre d’Orange hopes it will raise awareness through its perfume, by speaking to customers who are tired of brands instructing them on how to put their best face forward — whether it be Glossier’s minimalism or Il Makiage’s maximalism — that promise to accentuate natural beauty while still concealing flaws. Instead, I Am Trash is marketed as reveling in the idea of ugliness, while also showing that even something unappealing like discarded waste still has an aspect of beauty to it because the fragrance is still supposed to smell good.
“The consumer in the perfume industry is very into [the idea that] you are what you wear,” said Emmanuel Ferry, managing director of Ogilvy Paris, which worked with Etat Libre d’Orange to create the fragrance. “Women are starting to become bored [with] this idea of something that projects a ‘better you’ version of yourself.”
To market this, Ogilvy has also created images, GIFs and videos for Instagram and Facebook, including a teaser video that features decomposing fruits and flowers that bloom, showing that beautiful things can emerge from decay. The tagline, “The most wanted scent made from the unwanted,” will also be displayed on retail partner store windows. So far, six campaign posts on the brand’s Instagram account, which has just over 15,000 followers, has garnered almost 14,000 views collectively.
“When you don’t have that much cash, [compared to] L’Oréal, you can’t leverage your creations the same way,” Swardt said. “[I Am Trash] does not pay the bills, but it helps more with awareness.”