Parisian independent and family-owned fragrance maison Nicolaï is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Co-founded by the creative soul of the brand, perfumer Patricia Nicolaï and her husband Jean-Louis, formerly in charge of the business facet, Nicolaï has maintained its dual independence over the years, both financially (it remains 100% owned by the family) and olfactory.
"The brand started without price constraints when it came to fragrance formulation and with a leitmotiv: zero marketing at the laboratory level. In other words, we've never done consumer tests; all our creations are tested in an artisanal fashion," explains Axel de Nicolaï, general manager since 2015.
Nicolaï remains one of the few fully integrated independent perfumery brands (with the exception of the sourcing of ingredients and the packaging). The offer currently includes 35 fragrances as well as a wide range of home scents (candles, red diffusers, oils, room sprays...). The formulas are conceived in the lab nestled in the basement of the flagship on rue Richelieu in Paris and are then sent to the company's wholly owned factory at Ferté St. Aubin in the Cosmetic Valley business cluster. "This is where the first maceration takes place before adding alcohol, the second maceration, icing and filtering—an obligation when using a high volume of natural raw materials," notes de Nicolaï.
When it comes to packaging, the design is done in-house; each new creation is screened and validated during "family meetings". The emblematic 100ml bottle is a standard model (VFA), "but as we are the only brand using it, we could almost say it’s a custom mold!" enthuses de Nicolaï. Nevertheless, a new custom mold for 100ml and 30ml formats is under study. "This would allow us to further personalize the bottle by engraving our name onto the glass," he adds. The bottles are topped with caps produced in Asia in golden zamak stamped with the initials of the in-house perfumer, PN. For its labels (matte gold with embossing and over-embossing in glossy gold), Nicolaï works with DB Technique while the tin labels affixed onto premium collection Les Sublimes are supplied by Impact Emotion and ApplicÉtains. Each bottle is adorned with a black wax stamp applied by hand in the brand’s French factory.
In terms of secondary packaging, folding cartons—and not its coffrets, which call for extensive manual work and are made in Asia—are produced by Etna Pack. On the business side, the brand has around 200 pos worldwide, including nine directly operated stores: seven in Paris and two in London. Since de Nicolaï took the helm in 2015, exports have risen considerably and today account for about 60% of sales. "Our first market after Paris (which accounts for around 40% of turnover) is the Middle East, although there are clear signs of a slowdown in the region’s luxury market". For 2020, the focus will be on developing the activity in Asia, "an effort that is in the early stages," according to the general manager.
Nicolaï opened its first doors in Japan this year and China is now in the spotlight with a new store in Shanghai’s IAPM Mall: "a strategic move for the brand". In addition to exports, expansion and renovation work is planned on the industrial side: certain production lines will double their capacity in the coming months and the filling area will be expanded. And to end on a fragrant note, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the brand launched a new perfume, Baïkal Leather Intense.