A RARE BOUQUET

Oman 2014 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to David Crickmore, CEO of Amouage, on the luxury perfume market, brand refinement, and global consumer trends.

What is your personal background and how did you come to be at Amouage?

I have an extensive background in luxury goods. I started out in retail, on the fast-track promotion scheme at Liberty's of London, and have since held positions at various companies, taking in Simpsons of Piccadilly, Harvey Nichols, Dunhill, Pringle, and Ozwald Boateng. My métier in the latter half of my career became company or brand turnaround, and that is why I was interested in the opportunity presented by Amouage. This brought me out to Oman in 2006 to turn around the fortunes of the brand. I could see that Amouage's range of fragrances clearly had the potential to be marketed and retailed successfully on the world stage. The packaging of the products, however, was at that time too recognizably targeted to the Gulf market, and not relevant enough to the contemporary, international consumer. Amouage attracted me hugely, as my background in brand turnaround and product development led me to feel there was a genuine opportunity to create something unique.

How has Amouage developed from its Omani origins into projecting an international retail strategy?

Today, we are an international brand based in Oman. All our decisions are based on our international strategy. Britain, Russia, Europe, the Far East, and all our successful locations sell to indigenous audiences. You can never design for a specific region in this day and age with the amount of information available to everyone globally and with taste levels becoming homogeneous. I believe it is important not to define one's brand as being limited to any specific region, which is why we do not create products for any specific market or region. There has been a paradigm shift in retail and product development as international markets and consumer demands have converged. Of course, areas of the world have certain taste or product differences in desirability, but the overall message of any luxury brand is the same these days worldwide. Arab consumers have the same aspirations as consumers from other regions; they are all international consumers, particularly at the luxury end of the market where we operate. I believe that prior to my arrival and that of our Creative Director, Christopher Chong, Amouage had rather forgotten this and the product presentation had become rather irrelevant to today's consumer. Amouage today has a brand that is aspirational, relevant, and crucially displays a presence that will flourish in the international context. We sell around the world, from Sydney to Santiago, and we have created our own style rather than purely following trends. We are proud to be a brand with a Head Office based in Oman, but we now have five international sales offices around the world, all with product design, packaging, and branding created in London.

“We do not follow trends in the choice of our collections as we believe we have, to a point, become trend makers."

What is the creative process behind Amouage's fragrances?

We work with various producers across the world, in Grasse, Paris, New York, Geneva, and beyond. Our Creative Director Christopher Chong handles the entire design process for every fragrance, from conception to realization. His inspirational and creative brief, which kicks off the process, can take ideas from a myriad of sources, from music to literature, fashion, interior design, art exhibitions, and movies. Once the brief is created he then puts this to our “noses" to prepare their fragrance submissions. This can be anything up to 250 individual fragrances, all created to express the inspirational brief. There are then various meetings to adjust the intensity of certain notes until the final five fragrances are chosen, which are then reworked and refined until around two or three for each gender stand out. Only at the end of this arduous process of refinement and gradual elimination are the final perfumes presented to me, each with a male and female version. Then, Christopher and I ultimately decide together which fragrances will form the final two and will become the new fragrances for the coming year. We tend to launch two mainline fragrances (a men's and women's) per year and one Library Collection. The Library Collection is a really unusual juxtaposition of often rare or exclusively created notes that are presented as highly complex and unique fragrances. The Collection is Amouage's comparison to fashion's Haute Couture, and was developed to express the true mastery of perfume creation. The ongoing success of each launch within this Collection has surprised even me!

How would you characterize Amouage's fragrance collection today?

Our fragrances certainly have their own voice. We do not follow trends in the choice of our collections as we believe we have, to a point, become trend makers, since we know some other brands follow us and try to replicate our fragrances as closely as possible. This we see as highly flattering, but of course we guard our product secrets and recipes very closely. Our fragrances tend to be oriental and we have several wonderful chypres in our women's collections, but we also have amazing white florals and rose-based scents too, such as Honour and Lyric. We are renowned in our men's range for creating woody, spicy fragrances, one of the most successful being Epic for men, amongst others. Our current product portfolio incorporates around 26 fragrances, of which seven are in the Library Collection. We believe that with our increasing collections we are now seen as an important player in the world of luxury “haute parfumerie."

How important is the quality of ingredients in Amouage's fragrances?

The ingredients we use are the best and often the rarest available. Throughout the whole development process the only focus of the perfumer is to create something beautiful and unique. At that stage we do not consider the cost of the ingredients, as we believe our responsibility is to create something truly special. The cost only becomes an issue once the final fragrance has been chosen. This allows the noses to be highly creative, and we know that in this way we will get only the very best submissions from them. Our materials are sourced from all over the world, and working with Amouage is something the noses really enjoy, as they are allowed the opportunity to explore the most exotic ingredients. Only the finest of ingredients, both natural and synthetic, are used in creating our fragrances. In fact, synthetic molecules are becoming very popular in the fragrance industry today because they provide limitless creative possibilities. The level of concentration we include in the fragrance of the actual perfume concentrate is, we believe, one of the highest in the world.

What has Amouage done to capitalize on its success in the fragrance market in terms of diversification?

I believe that Amouage can move into other product categories that are accessory-related, but not restricted to fragrance. Of course, by increasing our retail presence, we are also able to add on product categories such as the bath and home collections and the recent addition of leather goods ranges, in high-grade calf and exotic skins, hand stitched by artisans in Florence, the home of the best quality leather goods in the world. Leather goods from Amouage have been readily accepted and are now proving to be successful with our consumers, which leads me to believe there maybe other opportunities for diversification in the accessories market in the future, so I would say, “watch this space."

What is your vision for the future of Amouage?

My vision for the future of Amouage is pretty simple. Today, we have around 250 employees, with approximately 100 in Oman. We will have 20 shops around the world by the end of 2013 and I plan to double that at least in the next five years. I want to have a retail presence on the right opinion-forming high streets in capital cities around the world. We shall continue our wholesale development, working with the best partners in a controlled environment, with clear brand identification wherever we sell. Brand awareness will continue to grow among our target audiences as Amouage further establishes its name as one of the top global luxury retailers. I believe there are further product categories that we could develop successfully and market in our own shops. Of course, in market terms, we have still not broken into certain key markets, which will be our main focus in the near to medium future. These markets include China, Japan, and South Korea, all of which we believe are good potential markets for the brand. However, we are biding our time as far as this is concerned and making sure that we find the right partners with whom to work to bring about a successful and impactful entry with long-term potential. Our brand has a métier that consumers have recognized and bought into, and the brand DNA is clear. There are areas for Amouage to build, and this industry demands that we keep constantly abreast of creative trends and developments. We aim to be a trailblazer, plowing our own furrow with a reputation for innovation and a cool market image.

What opportunities does Oman have to develop a reputation in the luxury market?

Oman has a fantastic opportunity to develop itself as a luxury tourism destination. However, there are serious obstacles to this progress due to the lack of development, especially in the hospitality sector. The road network and airport infrastructure are beneficial for the economy, but the foundations for tourism must be put in place to capitalize on this potential. It is one thing to have a huge capacity airport, but if we don't want it just to be a terminus for travellers flying on elsewhere, and there is a serious intention to diversify the economy into high-end tourism, then we need many more luxury hotels to house the potential influx of tourists. There just aren't enough in Muscat, and so I believe more focus needs to be placed on developing Muscat, first and foremost, as a seriously up-market destination, with interesting experiences and facilities for a sophisticated, international travelling consumer who will be availed of all the facilities and needs such a consumer would expect to be provided in a luxury, international destination. For this to happen, however, requires a steadfast commitment to such a strategy in order to fast track this very real opportunity for the country.

© The Business Year - July 2013