Olivia Jan grew up in the northeast of France, surrounded by beautiful nature and forests. She always wanted to be a perfumer, even as a child, so she moved to Paris to study Perfumery at the ISIPCA. She worked in Grasse to learn about natural ingredients, and eventually, she decided to develop a more personal company, Fragrance with Benefits in Hoboken (NJ). Meanwhile, Corinne Gillespie grew up in Brittany and studied at the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Brest, France. She specializes in customer insights for startup companies and knows a great product when she sees it. Let's meet this dynamic duo!
French Wink: Which perfumes have stayed with you over the years? What is special about them?
Olivia: It is a difficult question. In France, we grew up surrounded by perfumes. Even as a child, you have your baby cologne. I'm sure most French people have a sweet memory of the Mustela baby perfume. As a young child, the perfume your mother wears is also a determining factor in your approach to scents. In my case, my mum was wearing Magie Noire by Lancôme. I can still see the bottle on the vanity in my mind's eye.
As a little girl, I remember taking my mother's pearl necklace; I used to put it in my mouth to taste the fragrance. The pearls were imbued with the scent of Magie Noire combined with the smell of her skin. Then, much later, as a teenager, Aromatics Elixir was a turning point for me. I met this perfume at the ISIPCA perfumery school; the packaging said it had a specific effect on the mind and spirit. I got intrigued. I learned to tame this scent, and it became mine -- I wore it for many years. As a young perfumer, I studied its structure, its architecture, the way a young painter explores someone else's painting. Instead of breaking the magic, it added to my fascination and respect for the perfumer who created it. Even when I was learning about scents, I was on the quest for something behind scents. This is the reason why Fragrance with Benefits is deep-rooted in me.
What are the necessary qualities to be a good perfumer?
Olivia: All the great perfumers I know have a love of smelling and an adrenaline kick each time they smell a new ingredient or an interesting arrangement. In their mind, they are immediately processing how they could use this olfactive note in an interesting way.
How do you create a perfume?
Olivia: A fragrance is the combination of olfactive ingredients organized in a way that gives a certain effect or sensation (for example the refreshing effect of an Eau de cologne coming from the citrus, or the sensual note of an oriental coming from the combination of vanilla and patchouli, the playfulness of a gourmand or a fruity note). This is the result of a combination created by a perfumer using both knowledge of the ingredient and creativity to express a specific emotion.
For Fragrance with Benefits, the approach was a little different. If we take NoMo as an example, I had a problem that requested a solution. I was the favorite meal for any mosquito around me. It was a painful and scratchy issue! I didn't want to go to an outdoor dinner party wearing a citronella smell or chemical deet... but I couldn't find any alternative. I started by searching for ingredients with mosquito-repelling properties. Some essential oils (like lavender, geranium, cedarwood, peppermint...) have shown mosquito-repelling properties, but simply combining these essential oils was not satisfactory. I wanted to use my knowledge as a perfumer and create an elegant fragrance in the French tradition of high-end cologne while using all the ingredients I could find with repelling properties. Very selfishly, I was doing it for me! It took a long time to get it right. When friends started to ask for a bottle every time they would go to the Caribbean, I thought that I was onto something, and maybe different enough to put it on the market. At that point, I met with Corinne in Jamaica, where she put the fragrance to the test to see how mosquito-proof it was, and we decided to create Fragrance with Benefits together.
What is your strength as a duo?
Olivia & Corinne: Complementarity is really key.
What is the secret for each person to be satisfied when you create a company as a duo or as a group? Are there any guard rails that you have to put in place?
Olivia & Corinne: We believe it is important that each individual manages his areas of expertise, but is also able to help the other when it is needed. When you are a very small team, being flexible and being able to do anything is essential. It is also very important to learn from your mistakes; sometimes when we look back and we laugh because we believe that we made every possible mistake that can be made when creating a company, but we only did each one once.
What is the most beautiful moment, related to your business, that you have shared?
Olivia & Corinne: One amazing moment was at the beginning of Fragrance with Benefits. We were trying many different avenues to get attention (by contacting the press and putting advertisements on social media) but nothing seemed to work. It was in May, a Friday night, and I was supposed to go to the Hamptons to present the fragrance to some boutique over the weekend and everything got canceled; I was down and started to question everything I was doing. All of a sudden my phone started to buzz: it was an order, and then another one, and another one, and we had no idea where this was coming from. We got quickly overwhelmed and realized a few days later that we had a publication in the magazine Real Simple. This was the first time that we got a public reaction to the fragrance we launched and it was great. It was also a quick learning process for us on how to get organized to face high demand.
What distinguishes Fragrance with Benefits from what already exists in the world of fine fragrances?
Olivia & Corinne: Fragrance with Benefits offers a new approach to fine fragrance using the properties of essential oils and combines them to create a high-end fragrance. It was very important to keep the hedonic aspect on the same level as the properties.
You decided to expand your activity beyond perfumes, by creating beauty products. Why did you make this decision?
Olivia: It came very naturally to create a line with a body cream and a shower gel to complement the fragrance (all available on the French Wink e-shop). Again, I created the line for myself first. Very often my vacation involves tropical areas and beaches; that means that in the evening my skin needs some moisturizing after a shower and also some calming effects due to the sunburn (yes, it's bad to go too much in the sun). It seemed evident that we should combine all these effects with the NoMo fragrance in the body cream to keep mosquitoes away while moisturizing the skin. The NoMo cream also contains hyaluronic acid to plump the skin, marine elastin, and marine collagen to repair skin damage. The composition of the cream is made with 95% natural and organic ingredients. The shower gel is a very gentle base featuring hemp oil and using the same fragrance
as the rest of the line.
How did you have the idea of creating a travel set?
Olivia & Corinne: We both like to travel to exotic destinations, and Corinne is a light traveler: she only keeps a carry-on with her. We thought that it was convenient to have a TSA-approved travel set for short term vacations or long weekends. Once again, it was to solve a personal problem!
What do you hope for your company in the future?
Olivia & Corinne: We want to explore more benefits with our fragrances; there is a new line almost ready to be launched with totally different properties. Focused on relieving stress, we are using the properties of essential oils again.
What are the trends in the fragrance world that you see emerging for the coming years?
Olivia & Corinne: When we started Fragrance with Benefits, we were pioneers in this area, and people didn’t know where to put us sometimes, but I can see that this is becoming a new trend. I just want to say that in order for essential oil properties to be efficient you need to have them be the majority of your fragrance, and this cannot be achieved with very cheap fragrances.
How did you partner up with Myline and Claire at French Wink?
Olivia & Corinne: We met with Claire and Myline through French Founders, and we had a great connection right away. We loved their energy and enthusiasm. They also know the market very well and are looking to highlight products with a soul and a character, which is a brand pitch that we liked. We are very careful to maintain a distribution that feels right and in connection with our values, and this partnership was perfect.