It’s a summer Friday morning in Manhattan, and Emmanuel Saujet has just settled into a corner table at the NoMad Hotel’s atrium restaurant. Though the Flatiron District hotel is hardly a cheap place to score breakfast (oatmeal will set you back $16 here), the NoMad has no dress code—jeans, polo shirts and hoodies predominate. Yet despite that, and despite the withering New York humidity outside, Saujet is attired in his usual way: a well-cut suit (sans tie), cuff links and loafers. He is French, after all, though he’s lived in America most of his life, and imbued with that continental skill of making what is difficult somehow look effortless.
The same might be said of Saujet’s business. As the co-founder and CEO of International Cosmetics and Perfumes, or ICP, Saujet is the exclusive North American marketer and distributor for the House of Creed, the oldest and possibly most mysterious fragrance brand in the world. With its long history (Creed was founded in 1760), illustrious clientele (everyone from Queen Victoria to JFK), and cut-above positioning (1.7 ounces of a Creed fragrance goes for $350), the House of Creed is just about everything that mass-market fragrances are not.
The curiosity of it is that Creed (and by association Saujet’s ICP) occupies the perch it does by having essentially ignored all of the conventions of the modern fragrance industry. It barely advertises, doesn’t hire celebrity endorsers and keeps distribution channels extremely limited, even though broadening it would mean more sales. Saujet is an iconoclast, and proudly so.
“Everything we did since the beginning was always under our terms,” he says. “People don’t understand how we even got here.”
This fall is a heady time for Creed and ICP both, since October sees the release of Viking, Creed’s first men’s fragrance since 2010. Most large fragrance brands would have released 14 or more new scents apiece during that time.
“They have to launch once a year to kind of get the excitement going,” Saujet explains. “We haven’t launched a man’s scent in seven years. It’s unheard of.”
If forcing consumers to wait nearly a decade feels like a gamble, Creed has proven it knows how to roll the dice. Its last release for men was Aventus, which has since become not only Creed’s top seller, it is the best-selling men’s fragrance in the U.S. in the artisanal-prestige category, according to NPD Group research. And though the Paris-based company insists Viking is not a follow-up to or a competitor of Aventus, the new juice will need to row awfully hard to equal the former’s popularity.
“Talk to anyone who wears Aventus,” says Kissura Craft, director and industry analyst for beauty at NPD, “[and they] keep saying no matter when they wear it, people are always stopping them on the street and asking, ‘What are you wearing?’” Creed, she says, “hit on it” with Aventus.
Two centuries of scents
When it comes to creating fragrances that develop fiercely loyal followings, Creed has actually been hitting on it for nearly 257 years now. Founded in London in 1760 when perfumer James Henry Creed created a cologne for King George III (it’s now sold as Royal English Leather), the House of Creed is renowned for its celebrity devotees—Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Robert Redford—and its old-world approach to perfuming.
Every Creed fragrance has been created by an actual Creed (these days, by Olivier Creed, the sixth-generation head of the house). And every ingredient in the bottle has been weighed, mixed, macerated and filtered by hand. The company’s infusion technique, a centuries-old method that involves gradual heating to draw out essential oils, is painstakingly slow—too slow (and, it follows, also too expensive) for most of the dominant fragrance houses to bother with. Then there are the ingredients. At a time when most mass-market fragrances have turned to less expensive synthetics, some 90 percent of Creed’s ingredients are still natural, and the company will go most anywhere in the world to find them: roses from Morocco, irises from Florence, tuberose from India, and so on.