How fragrance can play a crucial part in developing a cult beauty brand

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Paul Ireland, senior vice president and general manager at Takasago International
Paul Ireland, senior vice president and general manager at Takasago International

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Ahead of the Cosmoprof Las Vegas presentation and roundtable focusing on how to create a cult brand, we caught up with speaker and panelist Paul Ireland to find out the important role fragrance can play in the equation.

Paul Ireland is the senior vice president and general manager at flavors and fragrance supplier Takasago International, and will be bringing his expertise to the conference presentation titled "Achieving Cult Status: Keys to Success", to be held on July 13th, as part of the Cosmoprof North America event in Las Vegas.

In this Q&A interview he shares his ideas and expertise on the role that fragrance can play in hooking a consumer to a beauty product, and keep coming back for more.

What is the principle role that fragrance plays in developing a cult brand?

In the fragrance industry, cult brands achieve and maintain customer loyalty and advocacy through a synergy of the brand’s sensory elements – how it looks, what the image is and the fragrance experience. While it is critical that there is harmonization across these elements, the fragrance experience​ is what drives loyalty. If there isn’t an emotional connection to the fragrance, the consumer will not buy it again. The fragrance is the lasting embodiment of the brand that the consumer chooses to become part of their own personal brand.

Can you explain about the basics behind the psychology of cult fragrance?​ 

It's the first sense that's activated when we're born. It can instantly transport you back to your grandmother's kitchen or your dad’s embrace. Smell is provocative and deeply connected to our emotional state—and it has a far greater influence on our behavior than we realize.

A cult fragrance isn’t created with cult in mind.  It’s the vision of creating something different, something that connects deeply to an emotion and it links the very highest level of human need (Maslow’s Hierarchy - self-actualization, esteem and belonging).  Cult Brands fulfill the high level needs of consumers and achieve loyalty and advocacy from their consumers.

A fragrance that reaches cult status speaks directly to our subconscious... meaning that the olfactory message is talking to our emotions and history without any filter. It’s about provoking and creating uncontrolled psychological reactions... It’s about attraction, addiction, and also transmission.  A cult fragrance is innovative in its olfactive character and creates a new sensory experience.

What lengths must perfumers go to in order to develop a fragrance that will lead to a devoted fan base?

The perfumers that create the fragrances resulting in a devoted fan base are like famous inventors or artists. They have the passion, confidence and experience needed to dare to be different and surprise the customer. These perfumers don’t look to a benchmark for inspiration; they experiment with new materials and combinations of materials and create from a blank sheet of paper.  They set out to take a risk and know the reward can be a fiercely loyal customer.

Has the type of fragrance that consumers really go for either evolved or changed over the years?

Consumer fragrance preference is driven by what the market offers them. In today’s marketplace, it is easy for consumers to be overwhelmed and confused with the vast number of new fine fragrances, flankers and blurred distribution channels. We have created a consumer who is always looking for something new and doesn’t embrace the art behind fragrances.  With all of the choices and “me too” launches, it is less likely that the consumer will have a signature fragrance that they are loyal to.  Looking at the top 15 selling women’s prestige fragrances of 2014, there are only two fragrances on the list that have launched since 2010.  Out of all the new launches each year, there are few fragrances that transcend the consumer’s imagination, create a true emotional connection and offer a unique olfactive experience. But, when this happens, we have the opportunity to capture the consumer’s interest with a new fragrance experience.

 And what fragrance trends might affect the cult fragrance of the future?

Trends and cult success do not necessarily go hand in hand.  A fragrance doesn’t become cult because they followed or aligned themselves with a trend, in fact just the opposite.  The fragrance resulted from instinct and designing a fragrance that directly aligned with an emotion, a need, a movement.  In the future, newfound ingredients, innovation in formulation and unique delivery systems will play an additional role in the making of a cult fragrance.

What would be your one golden rule in creating the right fragrance for a cult product?

Be bold, be brave and be different. Challenge the creative process to create something special and worth talking about.

Achieving Cult Status: Keys to Success

The two-hour session will be moderated by myself, Simon Pitman, senior editor for the Cosmetics Design brands, with guest speakers and roundtable participants: Liliana George, vice president, corporate R&D innovation at Estée Lauder Companies and Amy Levin, founder of, together with Paul Ireland.

The session will begin with each of the speakers giving presentations about their very different areas of the business and sharing their ideas about the philosophy, psychology and imagery that combines to create a brand with cult status.

The presentation will take place at the 2nd​ Floor of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Reef B, between 3pm and 5pm on Monday July 13th​. Tickets are priced at $65, while PBA members pay $50, and may be purchased by clicking here.

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