updated 27 Aug 2014, 05:18
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Thu, Aug 07, 2014
Urban, The Straits Times
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Haute perfume
by Gladys Chung

With its new Le Gemme collection of six premium eau de parfums, Italian luxury label Bulgari's 22-year-old perfumery arm has come of age.

Priced at $499 for 100ml, one of the most expensive in the market, and bottled in glass flacons that resemble ancient Roman urns used to transport precious materials, Le Gemme is the brand's first haute parfumerie line.

Bulgari's other fragrances usually cost around $160 for a 100ml bottle of eau de toilette and around $200 for a 100ml bottle of eau de parfum.

The Le Gemme collection is stocked exclusively at Robinsons Orchard and the Bulgari boutiques at Takashimaya Department Store and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

"After two decades, we now have the competency, knowledge and the right team to develop haute fragrances," says Ms Valeria Manini, the brand's fragrance business managing director who was here in May for a trade exhibition. "Bulgari Parfums is an adult now."

There are 25 Bulgari perfumes, and they make up about 25 per cent of the brand's total business with a global retail value of around one billion euros (S$1.7 billion).

With this premium line of perfumes, Bulgari sets itself on a par with other branded perfume houses such as Chanel, Guerlain and Christian Dior, which also sell pricey high-end fragrances alongside its masstige variations.

The premium perfumes of these brands cost at least $250 for 100ml - regular perfumes are priced at less than $200 for 100ml. They are mostly made with quality and rare extracts, and smell unique.

Some brands such as Christian Dior and Chanel loosely term their premium perfumes as "heritage" scents, as they take their cues from the label's milestones.

Likewise, for Bulgari, Le Gemme is a direct reference to the rare gems the brand has been crafting into jewellery for more than a century.

Each fragrance is named after and inspired by a semi-precious stone - Ashlemah (amethyst), Amarena (tourmaline), Noorah (turquoise), Lilaia (peridot), Maravilla (citrine), and Calaluna (moonstone) - and the scents are inspired by the ancient trade routes that the gems have traversed through in history.

The Le Gemme scents were created by German nose Ms Daniela Andrier over three years. She was also behind Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (2003), Maison Martin Margiela Untitled (2010) and Prada Candy (2011). Ms Andrier is the first female perfumer to create a complete line of scents for Bulgari.

"She has a feminine signature with lots of depth; she can give colour to a fragrance with emotions," says Ms Manini, 47, who joined Bulgari Parfums in 2001 after her time at Cartier International, Ebel Watches and Ungaro Parfums.

"With Le Gemme, we wanted to explore each gemstone's history, and symbolic and therapeutic powers.

"When you look at an emerald which is found in the Amazonian forest, it has the energy and vibrations of the earth it comes from. And Daniela had to capture the same with the perfumes."

The most expensive ingredient used in the Le Gemme collection is a compound extracted from the prized root of the iris, and "quite a lot of it" is used in the Ashlemah and Noorah perfumes. Generally, quality iris root butter can cost around US$490 (S$610) an ounce.

The Le Gemme collection is just a gilded tip of the brand's bigger plan to create bespoke perfumes in customised bejewelled bottles for the super-rich.

Currently, out of all the world-renowned branded perfume houses, only Guerlain provides a custom-order perfume service.

In March, Bulgari launched Opera Prima, an uber-luxe perfume with citron, lemon and orange flower accords bottled in a flacon made with 100g of gold, embellished with more than 25 carats of diamonds and topped with a 250-carat citrine. It is for sale for 260,000 euros.

The bespoke scent alone costs 50,000 euros. The cost of the bottle is dependent on the materials used.

Still, the bulk of Bulgari's perfume business is dependent on the line's masstige scents that are created by renowned noses such as Spain-born perfumer Alberto Morillas and Jacques Cavallier from France.

Over the years, the brand has churned out bestsellers such as Aqva Pour Homme, Omnia and Mon Jasmin Noir.

The masstige scents are doing well but Ms Manini expects the way consumers buy their scents to change soon.

"We're in an era of heavy consumption and people get bored easily. But eventually, people will want a signature fragrance, not something they would discard after two days.

"Our sense of smell is one of the first things we develop as babies, and it brings with it a lot of emotions. At the moment, people are disconnected from that.

"But I expect to see a trend where they will become more connected and faithful to fragrances with a stronger character, and feel that they are at one with their perfumes."

This article was first published on August 1, 2014.
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