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Common yet odd: the rise of indie fragrance brand Commodity

Commodity celebrates common oddities. CEO and cofounder Ash Huzenlaub shares their five-year journey to the top

When you buy a Commodity fragrance, you’re probably going to 
be the only one in the room wearing it.

How do you go from creating a fragrance label to a footprint of hundreds of stores globally while retaining your niche status and indie cred — all in a mere five years? According to the team behind Commodity, a unisex brand with a minimalist approach, it all starts with cutting the marketing drivel.

“Seasonality and gender are complete fabrications of marketing and advertising,” explains CEO and cofounder Ash Huzenlaub. “Fragrance brands feel like they need to target a certain holiday or segment. For us, fragrance is about year-round wear — what you want to wear, when you want to wear it, how you want to wear it.

“We break all the rules of traditional fragrance marketing. We want to take the marketing away completely, and just allow you the experience of the fragrance.”

The presentation of Commodity products doesn’t reveal anything about the scents. The collection is divided into white, black and platinum fragrances, with simple, minimalist packaging. The bottles are identical, which allows you to focus on the scent rather than the appearance.

Even its naming convention is unusual — typically one-word names that invite reflection, inspired by the prominent notes. Wool, for instance, is warm and cosy, invoking the feeling of being wrapped in that fabric. Book takes a literary turn, “transporting you away to a world of imagination and stories while capturing that quiet moment when you’re curled up with a good book”. Seasoned nose Rodrigo Flores-Roux created Leather, which draws on black leather notes, balsamic labdanum and a spicy, woody Akigalawood. Of his inspiration, he says, “I wear black leather almost every day. I love the feeling of it, the way it sounds, the way it smells, its magnetism. My preference for leather is luxe, thick, ultra-shiny, velvety to the touch and very redolent.”

When you buy a Commodity fragrance, you’re probably going to 
be the only one in the room wearing it.

Gin with its woody blend of juniper berry, lime and ginger leaf, makes him feel like a night out, says Huzenlaub. “It’s a beautiful, crisp scent. “Even if I’m staying in for the night, I feel like I’m out.”

And while commoditisation has become a bit of dirty word these days, Commodity takes a different approach — one that will receive more attention in the brand’s communication strategy this year. “We’re not looking at it as Commodity in terms of commodities, even though many of our fragrance names take that direction,” Huzenlaub explains. “We’re looking at common oddities.

“It’s about everyday people, but if you delve into it, everybody’s unique. In the same way it might seem that our fragrances wouldn’t be that special from the minimalist packaging, but when you explore them, they’re certainly very odd and very unique.”

Huzenlaub and serial entrepreneur Konstantin Glasmacher decided to build a lifestyle brand around minimalism and stripping away from the traditional celebrity-focused marketing prevalent in the fragrance industry in 2014. It was an instant hit — beauty retailer Sephora became their first client the next year. “We launched in March 2015, and they tested us in 26 stores. I thought we’d have until at least August to determine if we were going to get more doors… Five weeks later we get an email saying, ‘You’ve sold out of six months’ inventory; we’re adding 100 doors immediately.’”

Seasonality and gender are complete fabrications of marketing and advertising. We want to take the marketing away completely, and just allow you the experience of the fragrance.

Today, Commodity has more than 50 products spanning perfume, home and body. Sephora brought the brand to Dubai late last year — its 600th store in 15 countries, while its also has an online presence in 30 countries. While that growth is impressive, Commodity is still a very small brand compared to the big names that can boast 20,000 and more stores around the world. Huzenlaub sees an advantage in that: Indie credibility. “It guarantees that when you buy a Commodity fragrance, you’re probably going to be the only one in the room wearing it.”

The agreement with Sephora Middle East brings the brand into 64 stores in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “The crowning achievement is a presence in The Dubai Mall, one of the largest fragrance destinations in the world.”

Anecdotally, he says the brand has had a footprint in the region for years — if unofficially — as tourists from the Middle East would buy out stock in locations from London to Beverly Hills to bring back here.

This year, in addition to consolidating the three collections into one to strip down the marketing element even further, Commodity is rolling out a range developed specifically for the Middle East. In keeping with its philosophy of doing things differently, the brand eschews the practise of relying on regional noses for scents aimed at this region and instead capped international perfumers to create fragrances named Script, Dusk and the like. “When they come to this market, everybody typically thinks they have to develop an oud, a musk and an amber scent,” Huzenlaub explains.

“And we will have those, but it’ll be with a completely different twist.”

Where most fragrance brands use less than a handful of noses to maintain a similar DNA throughout their fragrances, Commodity has 12 around the world. In another break from tradition, these noses are given free rein. “I am not a perfumer,” he says. “I am somebody who wants to give people the ability to create things that they’ve always been hindered to create.

“Many of these master perfumers have been creating fragrances between 10 and 30 years, but it’s always driven by the market and trend reports, or celebrity profiles or whatever. So, we tell this very select group: ‘Come to us with one fragrance you’ve always wanted to create but never got to complete because of some interference from a marketing department.’

“And we don’t touch the finished product. I take a big investment risk by putting them out there as is.”

In addition to Flores-Roux, known for fragrances such as CK Free alongside numerous Tom Ford and John Varvatos scents, perfumers include Jérôme Epinette (Byredo, Zara Home, & Other Stories), Caroline Sabas (Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian), Frank Voelkl (Le Labo, Ermenegildo Zegna, Beckham), Marypierre Julien (Calvin Klein, Loewe, Ed Hardy) and Guillaume Flavigny, who counts Comme des Garçons Black and Balmain Ambre Gris among his creations. Known as the Oscars of the perfume industry, FiFi Awards members Olivia Jan (Mimosa, Gin), Donna Ramanauskas (Gold, Magnolia, Moss, Tea, Oolong, Wool), Stephen Nilsen (Bergamot / Book, Orris, Currant) and Mathieu Nardin (Nectar) have also created Commodity fragrances. This gives the niche brand a disproportionately broad spectrum, almost ensuring consumers will find a fragrance they like among the 26 — of which nine are currently on shelves at Sephora with another eight dropping eminently.

Commodity places a premium on sustainable sourcing and being environmentally friendly and cruelty-free. “At the end of the day it’s called Commodity, but Konstantin and I represent the brand and we don’t want to be associated with animal testing, so we’ve made the important decision of not going into certain markets that require that,” says Huzenlaub.

“There’s a strong request for the brand in China, but we’ve turned that business down.”

They could circumvent the animal testing rule by manufacturing in that country, but the brand values more the fact that it’s produced entirely in France. “From the sand in the glass and the bottles to the caps to the labels to the fragrances.”

Huzenlaub is excited about Commodity’s first standalone store opening later this year in London. “It will gives us a chance to express our own brand in our own environment.”

This year will also see the launch of a full-regimen skincare range with everything from eye-cream and face wash to scrubs and lip balm. Plans are afoot to be more inclusive to the male consumer, which could possibly result in beard oils and ancillary products.

But first, a focus on communication. “We want to get it out there that Commodity is where the common and the odd collide.”

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