An interview with: Amanda Carr
Amanda Carr is a retail trend forecaster, freelance writer and co-founder of the blogs The Women’s Room and We Wear Perfume. Alongside her 30 years’ worth of experience in the fashion and retail industry, Amanda has an enthusiasm for scent that has led her to explore fragrance through storytelling in We Wear Perfume. We asked her to tell us about the future of fragrance.
What are the most important transformations you see the fragrance industry as currently undergoing?
I'd say that the big fragrance brands have finally woken up to the fact that the consumer wants something more adventurous, interesting and authentic from their fragrance. Clearly this has been driven by the success of niche brands and their more innovative approach to formulations and quality, but I also think the scent consumer has evolved.
In particular, wealthy Boomers who have enough physical 'stuff' are preferring to spend their money on experiences. Since fragrance is such an experiential product, many have upgraded their perfume collections, spurred on by the creative innovation in the niche market, and have reengaged with scent and the new stories being told. The de-gendering of scent within the niche market has also meant that fragrance product has ‘opened up’ and luxury consumers are getting braver about trying fragrance, knowing there is no right or wrong to their selection.
I'm excited that we seem to be going through a great moment for interesting ingredients. We're seeing more emphasis on what's in the bottle and how new combinations of notes are creating ever more interesting formulations.
"I'm interested to see how the wellness trend pans out with fragrance, such as picking a scent which can make you more attentive, help you to sleep better or help cure a mild illness."
What do you think is the biggest challenge for brands now?
Sustainability is key for younger consumers and I think the industry needs to up its game. Factors such as refillable bottles, properly recyclable packaging and traceable ingredient supply chains will get even more important over the next few years.
We've managed to get super-nerdy with our knowledge on foodstuffs such as coffee and gin. We should be elevating fragrance-buying to the same levels. And, many of the scent rituals we hear about, such as picking a 'signature scent' or calling fragrances 'masculine' and 'feminine' are outdated and need modernising. There's so much that could be improved upon! I also struggle with how retailers sell fragrance. It's a sensual, intimate product which is often shoved at you aggressively on the shop floor and is stored on shelves in boxes with little clue as to what's inside. I meet so many consumers who are desperate to buy a new, interesting fragrance but just don't know how to navigate the market. Stores need to embrace more inclusive, educational and enjoyable selling techniques for scent, one which involves better education and a more thought-through sampling system.
And it needs to be fun! I loved how Glossier You's launch at its New York pop up created a theatrical, David-Lynch style experience within the store, with mirrored testing booths and articulated hands emerging to spray the scent. It was glorious.
You are an influential blogger – blogging arguably changed the face of perfumery by opening it up and making it more transparent. Will the need for transparency only continue? Could there be a backlash?
Bloggers will become the new retailers for fragrance. Consumers are much more trusting of advice from their friends (online or otherwise) than what brands say, and bloggers count as 'friends'. They are often super-informed, offer cross-brand advice, sometimes know more about the fragrance than the brand, and can help consumers unpick the confusing vocabulary around fragrance families and ingredients. It makes sense that you'd look up what your favourite perfume blogger thinks about a scent before you buy it, and once you're on their site, why not just buy it through their link? So indirectly, bloggers become a type of store. We're in the early stages of this, but I do think that we'll see more fragrance sales move online, with editorially-generated sales becoming a hugely influential factor in driving purchases, much as it now is with fashion.
On blogging too, what is the relationship for you between words and fragrance?
This is such an interesting area because we have had such a poor vocabulary when it comes to describing fragrance. Often, you'll see just a list of ingredients to try and pin down an aroma. I absolutely love it when someone's writing completely captures the essence of a fragrance for me. On Wear Perfume we always try and get to the emotion of a scent when we're describing it. But it's so personal for every wearer. We're still learning.
Visual prompts, such as a great Instagram, are a real help. We love creating a 'mood' around a fragrance with our Instagrams. There have been a few times recently that I've been tempted to buy because of someone's fabulous Instagram image and well-chosen description.
How have the ways in which we engage with scents in retail spaces changed? How is the drive for all things ‘sensory’ changing how we buy scent?
I really don't think it's changing fast enough. Department stores are all suffering reduced foot traffic and remain my least favourite place to buy fragrance anyway. Indie boutiques are great but are often challenging for younger consumers. I'm London based and adore shopping in Les Senteurs and Jovoy, but my 20-something sons, who all love fragrance, wouldn't cross the threshold of these stores because they look intimidating. The Parfumarie store in New York is a joyous experience and really understands how to engage long-term with the fragrance consumer.
I also admire Michelle Feeney's Floral Street, which is attempting to create a modern, intelligent and easy-to-read environment with her well-priced brand. I'm also very interested in what the direct-to-consumer ecommerce brands such as Phlur, Abbott NYC and Pinrose are doing in the US - they've created fantastically modern online visual identities which look very beautiful. They're innovative in how they approach sampling too, which is making purchasing online a lot more fun and less risky.
What is the place for fragrance forecasting? Do you think this applies in the same way for the niche market as it does for mass and prestige?
Everyone I meet in the fragrance industry is so busy keeping their head above water with everyday work, they rarely get a chance to step back to comp shop, look at the market properly and think about the future. This is where trend forecasters can be useful. I do think that brands who've looked forward - with or without the help of a forecasting agency - are better placed in the market currently. No one can afford to stay still and churn out an average product anymore. I love how the recent Jo Malone London English Fields collection connects with the consumer interest in 'clean eating' with its nod to wholesome grains and wellness.
I've been writing a lot about the shift in consumer attitudes towards fragrance, which brands have been slow to embrace. I’ve highlighted some of the innovative disruptor brands who are challenging the status quo. For example, I love how Parterre are growing and distilling their own botanicals in the UK to use in their fragrances, creating 'vintages' with each season's production. They also open up their growing space as an education centre and workshop.
As a forecaster I also look at the global perspective and there are some interesting brands coming out of the east, particularly in countries that have little or no recent heritage with fine fragrance. Korea in particular is looking promising with Granhand and Soohyang using ingredients in unexpected combinations.
What is the future? Is prestige stagnating and is the sky the limit for niche fragrance?
Premium and mass fragrance is run by some smart brands. I don't see them stagnating for much longer. It's taken a while for some to realise the mood was shifting, but I expect to see them re-engaging with the consumer with more relevant product.
Niche's biggest problem is getting onto shelves and in front of the consumer. There is bound to be fall out as the brands less able to adapt and those with poorer product fall by the wayside. I see no shortage of creatives wanting to get into fragrance, however, and expect many more new brands to launch and try their luck in the luxury market.
In terms of future trends, I think we'll see many more scented products, as brands expand into new ways to use fine fragrance. We've already seen an interest in hair scent. I'm also interested to see how the wellness trend pans out with fragrance, such as picking a scent which can make you more attentive, help you to sleep better or help cure a mild illness.
Photo of Amanda: Maya Glaser