Escentric Molecules was launched in 2006 as a challenge.
Geza Schoen, a Berlin-based perfumer with a long track record in the fragrance industry, wanted to make a deliberately provocative comment on the way fragrance is made and marketed today. He was keen to de-mystify the whole process. So his proposal was this: the simultaneous launch of two scents, one a heady synthesis of different ingredients (which is how most people would understand the concept of fragrance), the other, an homage to the single note – the aroma-molecule – which determined the personality of that synthesis.
The complex-sounding concept was simple in practice. The aroma-molecule on which the original pair of fragrances was based was Iso E Super. Escentric 01 used Iso E Super in an unprecedented concentration (65 per cent) together with other ingredients, including pink pepper, lime-peel and orris incense. Molecule 01, on the other hand, contained only Iso E Super. It was, if you like, the purist’s version of Escentric 01. Schoen used a graphic design analogy by way of comparison. “Molecule is to perfume as Bauhaus is to Baroque.”
To help him realize his concept, Schoen turned to two like-minded spirits in London. He had already worked with Jeff Lounds of This Company on several special fragrance projects, including a visionary branding exercise for Bombay Sapphire gin, which was just slightly ahead of its time. And the award-winning Me Company had already created pioneering graphic work for everything from Bjork’s album sleeves to Lancome’s advertising campaigns. With the packaging for Escentric Molecules, Me Company was able to offer fascinating visual analogies for the elusive nature of the products themselves.
This same team – creative, business, design - has gone on to work on two more fragrance duos. Escentric 02 and Molecule 02 launched in April 2008. They were based on ambroxan, an aroma-molecule nature-identical to the key ingredient in ambergris, a substance which has been used in perfumery for thousands of years. Escentric 03 and Molecule 03 followed in September 2010. This time, the foundation was the aroma-molecule vetiveryle acetate, a refined vetiver note.
One thing Schoen wanted to do when he created Escentric Molecules was to bring the focus back to the substance of perfumery in an industry which often puts more emphasis on the style. The irony is, of course, that in setting out to dispel myth, Escentric Molecules has actually created a whole new mystique for itself. Another irony is that, despite Schoen’s distaste for the celebrity fragrance world, he has made something that has attracted an ardent, under-the-radar celebrity following. It would be revelatory to one day collect all the testimonials that have attached themselves to Escentric over the years.
The secret of its success is ultimately this: the relationship between each of the paired fragrances creates an effect that is intangible, tantalising, sensual and – most important - as individual as anyone could want their fragrance to be in an age of big designer-branded homogeneity. As one devotee said to Schoen and Lounds: “This isn’t your fragrance, this is my fragrance.”
By Tim Blanks