As a Bay Area resident, I am fortunate to have access to one of the most carefully curated independent, artisanal, and niche perfume boutiques on the West Coast, if not the country, Tigerlily Perfumery. Antonia Kohl, the effervescent owner and engaging salon / event host has an uncanny knack for unearthing emerging indie talent, supporting her deep collection of thriving brands, and creating a unique retail atmosphere to welcome and engage clients.
Recently I asked Kohl which brands are trending at her store. “Right now there is an embarrassment of riches in terms of exciting emergent brands, like Zoologist, Papillon Perfumery, and Kerosene. What I see as growing trends are the interest independent brands and gender neutral scents over the mainstream houses and traditional classifications.”
Kohl and I talked about the notable interest in iris, osmanthus, cardamom, and saffron. Kohl also discussed a shift in men’s preferences, noting that “men have been enjoying gourmands and exploring florals (especially rose).” Finally, we discussed the impetus for my last visit to the shop—animalics (fragrance profiles with notes that mimic animal secretions, often described as dirty, leathery, musky, even dank). “Vintage-style animalics and chypres are doing well with beautiful scents such as Salome and Dryad by Papillon, Chincilla by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, and Ma Bete by Eris,” says Kohl.
At a cocktail event organized to celebrate the expanded selection of Victor Wong’s Award-winning Zoologist Perfumes at Tigerlily, a group of us smelled (and re-smelled) mesmerizing fragrances. Ellen Covey’s Bat, the mineral, cave-like, moist and earthy scent with surprising fruit accents gets a lot of attention, as does the newer, less dirty version of Beaver. Civet (Shelley Waddington) certainly lives up to its name, as the addition of a coffee bean note and an atmospheric jungle effect softens and rounds out the scent. I love the vintage edginess of the galbanum-forward Macaque by Sarah McCartney.
But the most compelling story about the brand is Wong himself; his honesty about what has worked and what hasn’t. And while he may be committed to an olfactive profile personally, he recognizes there are times when he needs to appeal to a broader audience. Wong, in a 2016 interview with the New York Times regarding the re-launch of Beaver explains:
“A lot of people thought it was interesting but said that they would never wear it,” he said. The smell of damp pelt (and the not-so-subtle bodily connotations of the name) made some customers feel uncomfortable rather than swaddled in the dense odor.
So Mr. Wong asked Mr. Bartlett to revisit his formula, and this fall they released Beaver 2016, a riff on the original idea but with more “fresh air and river top notes to make it more attractive.”
Wong’s transparency about the challenges in the indie market signals a shift I suspect we will continue to see. While indie perfumers have the luxury to push boundaries with statement fragrances and overdosed notes and accords, gone are the heady days of seemingly personal indulgences and experimentation without commercial consideration. (Though, of course, there will always be a few outliers.)
What remains important and critically necessary for the success of an indie fragrance is the accessibility of the perfumers to their audience be it at an event or online. As Kohl explains, “the brands that perform most consistently in our shop are those that have accessible and engaging perfumers. While we put energy behind every brand we work with, we do see that in-person events and consistent, friendly activity on social media creates a more dedicated customer following for a perfumer.”
Lisa Wilson, owner of fragrance advisory firm Scent&Strategy, develops fragrances for all categories. Her 25+ years of experience include advertising, consumer products marketing, multi-platform strategic fragrance development, and natural fragrances. Her work has won numerous industry awards.
Antonia Kohl's Tigerlily Perfumery is located at 973 Valencia Street in San Francisco, California.