It seems impossible that England’s King George III, Audrey Hepburn, George Clooney, and Michelle Obama could have much of anything in common—let alone a brand they could all wear in public. No, it’s not a pair of britches. What these and countless other societal notables have all “worn” is Creed, the fragrance.
Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. After all, there’s marketing, and then there’s reverse marketing. And the latter highlights a curious maxim: The less you advertise something, the higher you price it, and the harder you make it to find, the greater the chances people will want it. Add a few sensual drops of celebrity (not paid endorsements, mind you, but actual customers) and the waiting list for Royal-Oud (Creed’s newest release, due next month) becomes easier to grasp.
Creed’s deliberative restriction of its products to a mere 87 department store counters (plus one boutique in NYC) sends a message that can be most effective. Marian Bendeth, who runs fragrance consultancy Sixth Scents, says, “If a fragrance is too accessible, it becomes ‘mass.’ If it’s hard to find, it’s ‘desirable.’”
Chanel No. 5 is hardly “mass” (despite the 1921 floral aldehyde being the best-selling perfume in history), yet Creed’s prices easily eclipse that $98 eau de parfum. So how has Creed retained its exclusivity? “Chanel No. 5 is an iconic scent,” says Emmanuel Saujet, CEO of Creed North America. “But,” he adds gamely, “we have many Chanel No. 5s [of our own].”
Creed has a heritage that most fragrance brands would kill for. (Did Calvin Klein create a scent for Grace Kelly to marry a Monaco prince in? Enough said.) Because Creed’s most storied fragrances are still made—and still made by hand, by the Creed family, and with often costly natural ingredients—Creed trains its counter people to, as Saujet puts it, “take the client back to a time very far away.”
In fact, it has to. Because the company doesn’t advertise, its survival depends on enrapturing would-be customers at the point of sale. Emmanuel’s brother, Thomas (Creed North America’s president), spends most of his time shuttling among Creed’s counters at Neiman Marcus and Saks, making sure the associates exhibit both the requisite charm and a mastery of the company storybook. “We’ll spend 30 minutes with a customer if we have to,” says Thomas, who may mention how Winston Churchill liked to splash on Creed Tabarome, and will fill your head with stories of how 30-year-old Erwin Creed ferrets out the perfect sandalwood trees in India to create Santal. “Our product is expensive,” Thomas says, “so you explain why it’s worth $270.”
And in a few cases, ventures fragrance-industry consultant Celeste Lee, he might not have to. “It’s aspirational [for perfume fans] to share something that a princess or actress once wore,” Lee says. “People like the idea that they’re wearing something that’s rare.”
And if their scent happens to be one that King George also wore back in 1781, rare is a boast they can make with confidence.