According to Olivier Creed, Créateur Parfumeur of The House of Creed, becoming a perfume-maker is not something that can be learnt or invented. You have to have it in your blood, he says – and as the sixth- generation descendant of the founder of the Paris-based perfume house, he should know. He worked with his father James Henry Creed to learn the trade, and his 36-year-old son Erwin has already contributed to the creation of new fragrances in preparation for taking the top job.
The fragrance industry is dominated today by fashion and celebrity brands which spend enormous amounts on promoting their products. Yet Creed stands out as a discreet family-owned perfume house which is dedicated to the creation of highly original fragrances of extravagant quality.
For many years, it was one of the best-kept secrets of the perfume world, patronised by Europe’s crowned heads, leading politicians and famous film-stars. Over the years, it has produced over 200 original hand-made fragrances, and is now gradually expanding its market through a handful of exclusive boutiques and stands in high-end stores such as London’s Harrods and New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue.
‘What differentiates us is the quality of our perfumes,’ says Olivier. ‘Our sales were up 70 per cent last year, because we have a very loyal consumer base. Customers range from more traditional older clients to sophisticated young people, and most of them come back year after year.’
Copied by other perfume houses
‘When we launch a new fragrance, it is immediately copied by other perfume houses. But we use mostly natural ingredients – more than 90 per cent – which we source from all over the world. Most of our rivals buy theirs from suppliers who sell mainly synthetic products.’
The House of Creed was founded in 1760 by James Henry Creed, a London tailor who supplied the English royal court with custom-made clothing and scented leather gloves. The first Creed fragrance was Royal English Leather, created for King George III so that he could inhale the glove’s fine aroma when resting his chin on his gloved hand. Creed rapidly became popular with the aristocracy and Queen Victoria appointed it an official supplier to the royal household.
Under his grandson Henry Creed II, an innovative perfumier, the company’s clientele grew to include other European monarchs, including France’s Emperor Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph and Empress Sissi, and Queen Christina of Spain. And at the invitation of Empress Eugénie, The House of Creed moved to Paris in 1854, where it became a court supplier.
The following generations spread Creed’s reputation to leading political figures and celebrity clients. Tabarome Millesime was created for Winston Churchill in 1920, and eventually released to the public in 1999. And in 1948, Vetiver was created for US President John F. Kennedy while he was still a Congressman. Fragrances were also commissioned for film stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly – she was given hers as a wedding gift by Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Perhaps surprisingly, Creed fragrances were not made available to the public until 1970, when Olivier Creed opened a luxuriously appointed boutique in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. Today, it has boutiques in London, New York, Dubai, Kuwait and Las Vegas (opened as recently as March 2016), and another is already planned for Teheran. And in addition to marketing its products through exclusive distributors, it now sells its products online.
Olivier started his career in the perfume industry selling perfumes door to door, and understands how much work goes into building a brand. One of his first creations was Aventus for men, one of the company’s most popular fragrances in its history. He has also created Green Irish Tweed for men and Millesime Imperial for women – as well as introducing a range of grooming products such as perfumed oils and deodorants.
The company employs some 200 people in France, making its perfumes in-house at its Fontainebleau production centre south of Paris. It manufactures many of its own essences using the traditional infusion technique of mixing, macerating and filtering the components by hand, before bringing together the ingredients with alcohol. This production technique has been abandoned as too costly by the modern perfume industry, but it enables Creed to maintain the superior quality and the originality of its essences.
Today, aged more than 70, Olivier Creed is still creating perfumes, with tailor-made fragrances for some clients. He travels extensively to seek out the best ingredients: pure rose essences from Bulgaria, Turkey or Morocco, Italian jasmine, irises from Florence, tuberose from India and genuine Parma violets. ‘Some ingredients such as patchouli vary in quality from year to year. So when we find good quality, we buy sufficient to tide us over the bad years.’
Like many smaller fragrance producers, Creed has received repeated invitations to sell – but unlike others, Olivier is not ready to do so. The family owns 100 per cent of the business, and it is, as he says, their name on the bottles. Erwin, who acts as commercial director and travels widely to represent the company, is being trained by his father to succeed him as Créateur Parfumeur.
He believes that opening more boutique stores will help the business to continue its growth. ‘It is the best way to capture clients. No-one can copy us there, and we have control from A to Z.’ The company’s motto says ‘From father to son since 1760’ – and Olivier sees that as the way to continue Creed’s tradition of excellence.