Takasago Talks Fine Fragrance Restructuring


1 Tasago
Luc Malfait

If the fine fragrance industry were a circus, the newly-assembled team at 93-year-old supplier Takasago—the Japanese-headquartered flavor and fragrance dynasty—is aiming to be its acrobats.

Risky, highly sophisticated and necessitating significant investment is how Takasago’s just-recruited vice president of fine fragrance, Frederic Jacques, describes the category. And the company has renewed its commitment to perfumery globally via a restructuring at its highest corporate echelons.

Previously divided by region, going forward, the company will now be organized by category, Jacques said in an exclusive interview at Takasago’s New York headquarters. Luc Malfait, the president of Takasago Europe Perfumery Laboratory—who is based in Paris and to whom Jacques reports—now leads the fine fragrance category globally.

“The rebirth of Takasago’s fine fragrance division started in Paris a few years back with the recruitment by Luc of key people like Francis Kurkdjian, Marie-Lise Jonak, Arnaud Roche and, more recently, Antoine Lie. This effort is translating into a flourishing business today,” Jacques said. “Now that we have the financial and corporate support, we want to bring that same energy to our U.S. business.”

2 Tasago
Frederic Jacques

Of its strengths, Jacques points to a number of international blockbusters—including Cool Water—as well as Takasago’s distinguishing Asian heritage. “We are a public company that operates like a family,” Jacques said, “particularly with regard to how we treat people, time and money.

“There is a protective and loyal ownership that values its employees; strategies are born over a careful and extensive period of time; and investments are more long-term. We see a healthy company as profit-making but also focused on sustaining itself and its employees. There always has to be a balance between performance and development.”

As an alternative supplier to its larger competitors, the Takasago team sees itself as deep listeners and inspired illustrators of brand identity, said the company’s U.S. fine fragrance creative director, Olivia Bransbourg.

3 Takasago
Olivia Bransbourg

“When we sit down with our clients, there’s a challenging exchange of ideas and passion. Cinematically speaking, the brands are telling their stories, but we are scoring the movie,” she said.

“This yields a custom-made offer, not the prêt-à-sentir or ‘ready-to-smell’ creations that are so often the non-confessed sin of fragrance labs who want to be all things to all people and behave more like financial institutions than creative partners,” Jacques added.

And in an industry overwrought with noise (roughly 1,200 fragrances launched annually) and paralyzed by rationality (market testing and consumer surveys), Takasago’s disruptive mindset is a unique point of difference, Jacques said. “Our best spokespersons are the brands we’ve worked with and the products we’ve co-developed, like Elie Saab Le Parfum, ColorsByKenzo, Givenchy Gentlemen Only and Le Beau Mâle with Jean Paul Gaultier—all launching at the beginning of 2013, with many more to come.

“Ultimately,” Jacques said, “I feel this industry is not taking the risks that final consumers would like us to take. And without that risk, the market disengages.”

Fundamentally, Jacques is guiding Takasago’s corporate refocusing and creative evolution by assembling the right team. He said that the company will add two perfumers, as well as amp up its creative, evaluation and marketing divisions.

“This business—as any business—is about people,” he said. “Within the next six months, we will finalize a team of experts who believe in creativity, and who allow intuition to be a part of the decision-making process. We want to be the other supplier,” Jacques concluded, “the inevitable alternative to the big three, maintaining a challenging spirit.”


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