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Cannes during TFWA: Europe’s Unexpected Niche Fragrance Trade Show

Published February 19, 2023
Published February 19, 2023
Sarah Colton

“Cannes during TFWA,” as it’s known among niche fragrance players, has become the de facto third annual European niche fragrance trade show, alongside Esxence (Milan, Italy) and Pitti Fragranze (Florence, Italy). Lacking formal structure, definition, or even a name, this improbable “odd couple” arrangement involving two separate yet intertwined annual gatherings ticks the most important trade fair boxes for mature niche fragrance players, and seems on course to thrive over the foreseeable future.

Before The Existence of Cannes During TFWA, There Was Simply TFWA (Tax Free World Association).

Founded in 1984, TFWA is the world's biggest duty-free and travel retail association. Its purpose is to provide a business platform for all categories of products sold in travel retail and duty-free shops worldwide—spirits, fashion/accessories, cigars, chocolates, and of course, high-end, luxury fragrances generally referred to as “masstige” perfumes. At the time of TFWA’s creation, and even as late as the 1990s when TFWA took up residence at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, “artisanal” or “niche" fragrances were hardly even a blip on the worldwide fragrance radar.

The Arrival of Niche, or Artisanal, Fragrances on the World Scene

When niche fragrances began to grow in importance in the early 21st century, two European trade shows were founded: Pitti Fragranze in Florence (2003), taking place in the autumn and catering to new, unknown, often experimental niche fragrance brands; and Esxence in Milan (2009), taking place in the spring and catering to niche fragrances in all stages of development.

In Europe, the distinction was clear. TFWA was for masstige fragrances. Pitti Fragranze and Esxence were for niche fragrances. This tidy arrangement didn’t last long, however, because in 2010 a handful of mature niche fragrance brands and distributors in search of wider visibility than what they were getting at Pitti and Esxence had the bright idea of coming to Cannes during the same week in October that TFWA was taking place, to see if they could do business with the same high-powered industry professionals in town for TFWA. Individually or in groups, they set up “shop” in apartments, hotels, yachts, and sometimes simply at café tables in the immediate vicinity of the Palais des Festivals, and … it worked! Over the ensuing years, the number of niche fragrance brands coming to Cannes during the week of TFWA increased significantly. Today, this unofficial gathering of niche players in combination with the official TFWA event has become known as Cannes during TFWA.

Why is Cannes During TFWA So Important For The Independent Niche Perfume Industry? Heres the Word From Key Players.

Silvio Lévi, co-founder of Esxence and founder of fragrance brand Calé, told me: “Because of the specific market for TFWA, Cannes during TFWA is an interesting moment of comparison and exchange for both the masstige and the more selective markets. As a distributor, I can meet many of my suppliers in person in a few days and at a key moment of the year to take care of the pre-holiday trends, discuss expectations and plans for Q4 and the following year. As a brand owner, I can meet new and existing international partners.”

Johann Vitrey, distributor, retailer, and Principal Managing Partner at public relations agency Sesame Sarl, echoes this sentiment, adding: “Cannes during TFWA is essential for us as a distributor and retailer because in a short week’s time we can meet key players for the worldwide industry.” For François Hénin, retailer, franchiser, and brand owner of Parfums Jovoy, Cannes during TFWA is an indispensable business opportunity. "It’s frankly impossible to imagine not going to Cannes. During this short week, we meet players we might not see anywhere else: our brand owners, distributors, suppliers, journalists …The quality and quantity of information we get is very important about the industry in general, and helps us decide what to do going forward,” he enthuses.

Emphasizing the importance of its industry crossovers and timing, Clayton Ilolahia, Evaluation and Communications Manager at Fragrances of the World, notes that Cannes during TFWA “offers a unique crowd and ideal place to launch products for the late summer and early autumn seasons. I don’t know of any other fragrance event where this diversity of brands is on show at this scale. With the rhythm that niche brands tend to launch novelties, this positions Cannes during TFWA as an ideal place to launch Q3 products since so many distributors, retailers, and fragrance industry players are coming to Cannes for the TFWA.”

For Chantal Roos, co-founder of fragrance brand Roos & Roos, the casual, welcoming atmosphere of Cannes during TFWA is key. “Every year we set up a showroom in a junior suite at the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic, and contact our friends. We love the intimacy this provides us. Cannes during TFWA has always been important to us and our brand Roos & Roos since the first day of our existence five years ago, because we can meet and expose our brand to people in our showroom, or more casually in cafés or at parties.”

Main entrance to TFWA  -  Palais des Festivals

Cannes During TFWA: Inside The Official TFWA Event

The official TFWA event takes place inside the Palais des Festivals, a vast and luxurious building complex. Located at the epicenter of Cannes’ famed beachfront property known as La Croisette, the Palais des Festivals is bracketed on its western side by Le Vieux Port de Cannes Marina, and on its northern side by the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic, which is directly across the street. Continuing eastward from the Palais des Festivals, the Boulevard de la Croisette stretches for more than a mile along uninterrupted white sand beaches, palm trees, luxury boutiques, hotels, apartment buildings, and restaurants.

Inside the Palais des Festivals, printed directories guide visitors to individual brand stands located within color-coded “villages" on several floors and mezzanines. The entire complex is well-appointed with bars, food halls, balconies, meeting rooms, auditoriums, and a press office—all the trappings of a full-service, luxury trade show.

Although the vast majority of perfume brands exhibiting inside the TFWA structure are in the masstige category, a small number of niche brands have begun exhibiting inside the official TFWA structure over the past several years. I called upon four such niche fragrance brands in the Palais des Festivals: Etat Libre d’Orange, Parfums Dusita, Panouge (which owns Isabey, Jacques Fath, Matières Libres, and Masaki), and Maison Rebatchi. While circulating among them, I saw an enormous number of visitors, witnessed sales, and felt a healthy buzz around each stand, no matter what time of day I was there. At the Etat Libre d’Orange stand, the brand’s founder Etienne de Swardt enthused, “Following several years during which we showed outside TFWA, we moved inside six years ago and are very happy with the move. For me, Cannes during TFWA is a time-travel machine with a delicious past and a superb future.” For Parfums Dusita founder Pissara Umavijani, this was the second year inside the official TFWA structure, after four years of exhibiting outside. “Showing inside TFWA is important to me and Parfums Dusita because it has opened doors and my perspective to another world, and new opportunities for my brand to grow,” she proclaims.

For Rania Naim, Art Director at Panouge, it’s the holy trifecta of niche fragrance trade shows that delivers the ideal results. "Cannes during TFWA and Esxence are complementary and essential for us, as 70 percent of our distributors attend both. We’ve been presenting within the TFWA structure for many years, and this is extremely important for our bottom line, because in addition to our niche brands, we also show our masstige brand, Masaki,” she states. While visiting all these brands, I ran into old friends, such as fragrance reviewer Sebastian Jara (@theperfumeguy), and met new ones such as the team from Panama-based retailer Premium Portfolio, and the team from Shanghai-based Façon Parfums.

Cannes during TFWA: Outside The Official TFWA Structure

The vast majority of niche brands showing in Cannes during TFWA work outside the official TFWA structure. Cannes during TFWA 2022 was no exception, and I visited as many as I could. Who and where were they? How many were there altogether? Nobody knows for sure! And herein lies a major difference between being inside and outside the official TFWA structure. Inside TFWA, like other formally established trade fairs, including Esxence and Pitti, published lists inform visitors about paying and vetted participants, and where their stands are located within a defined structure. The lack of an official list of participants operating outside the official TFWA structure meant that the only way to find out who was there, and set up meetings with people I didn’t already know, was through a grapevine of shared “scoops” with other perfume players—primarily journalists and bloggers.

Based on compared notes, I came up with an estimate of approximately 120 niche brands exhibiting outside the formal TFWA structure. Tracking down and setting up interviews with more than 100 unaccounted-for brands meant that things were complicated to say the least, and herein lies the only major complaint I heard while there. Between sleuthing, scheduling a meeting, finding, and getting to a showroom that might be located a half mile from the previous one, it took a hell of a lot of last-minute time and organization. Even so, people often arrived late or had to cancel. For those who measure steps, my average daily count from October 2-6 was 18,000.

Whether this lack of coordination after 10 years of semi-communal coexistence is innate and desired by this group of perfume “outsiders” whose identity as niche players is closely linked to independence and playing by their own rules, or part of the growing pains of what began as a “spontaneous happening,” remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that over a period of almost a week, I heard numerous suggestions for improvements as players hurriedly greeted each other while racing from showroom to showroom along La Croisette and adjoining streets, in elevators, and on piers. Even so, gorgeous weather, views and walks along sunny beaches, enticing window shopping, and cafés and restaurants with some of the best food and drink on the planet, kept moods high. Among positive elements, this equates to plenty more room to grow in the years to come. As Vitrey noted, “There were more showrooms in 2022 than during the past few years, and based on conversations during the event, I believe there will be many more next year.”

Top row left: Entrance to a typical apartment building on la Croisette
Top row right: Invitation to the Sesame/Zarkimiya showroom
Middle row left: Invitation to the Plume Impression showroom
Middle row center: Chantal and Alexandra Roos, founders, Roos & Roos
Middle row right: Stefania Giannino, co-founder, Nobile 1942
Bottom row left: Céline Verleure, founder, Olfactive Studio
Bottom row center left: The Venezia 1920 team
Bottom row center right: Silvio Lévi, founder of fragrance brand Calé
Bottom row far right: Murat Katran, owner and Creative Director, Nishane

Cafés and Bistros: Small Talk, Big Business

As Levi points out, “A notable vitality of Cannes during TFWA is the increasing and massive amount of business being conducted in cafés.” Indeed, what better way to start off, close out, or break up a long day than an informal meeting in a seaside café? Fragrance spritz with a twist of Aperol Spritz? Ah, yes! In addition to showrooms in apartments, hotels, and yachts, a much appreciated, trademark feature of Cannes during TFWA is the significant amount of business that takes place over drinks at cafés and bars. Matt Moore, owner of Texas-based fragrance house EastWest Bottlers, agrees. “Every aspect of Cannes during TFWA is important for growing our distribution beyond our native USA environment—including, and perhaps especially, the café scene, which is excellent for networking, trend spotting, and having fun!” 

Matt Moore, owner EastWest Bottlers (left) and Thomas De Monaco, Creative Director of Thomas De Monaco Parfums  (middle), who stopped over in Cannes after visiting Luxe Pack in Monaco just long enough to meet a few friends for a coffee. Among these friends was Sebastian Jara (@theperfumeguy) (right).

Indeed, one of the most highly ranked features at Cannes during TFWA is café conversations. For Chantal Roos, "The easy proximity of cafés is so nice because you might just happen to run into a friend who’s sitting there. Then you start to chat, and they might say, ‘You know, I have a good distributor in Argentina.’” Ulrich Lang, founder and owner of fragrance brand Ulrich Lang New York, agrees. “Absolutely! The niche action takes place at the Café ZOA, Café Roma, and Café Agnelli—a trend that was already looming in 2021. Distributors appreciate having more time with a brand owner over a sit-down coffee or meal, instead of a brief time slot in a fair cubicle. Cafés are also the place where you can casually meet hot influencers and perfumers.”

As for myself, I began most mornings with an 8 am coffee (the first of many) at Café Roma or Café ZOA, directly across from the entrance to TFWA at the Palais des Festivals, an excellent perch from which to talk business, get a word in edgewise, and meet passersby. Followed by appointments inside and outside the TFWA building, lunches, more coffees, more appointments, quick drinks, parties, dinner, maybe a swim.

The Fun and Efficiency of a Café Encounter

The mini video below, “The Fun and Efficiency of a Café Encounter,” illustrates the singular energy for which Cannes during TFWA is so well appreciated. Cue the following scene: It’s 8:30 am, Ulrich Lang and I are at Café ZOA across the street from the TFWA entrance, discussing strategies for his most recent fragrance, Lethe, and my new book, Bad Girls Perfume Notes. By chance, Andreas Wilhelm, independent perfumer and owner of the fragrance brand Perfume.Sucks, shows up with his newest experimental fragrance Perfume.Sucks X Sasha Frolova (with pink latex notes, no less!), followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of two fragrance editor/influencers, Nadja Schmik (@its_nadja_time) and Daria Syumko (@yourperfumeguide). Within 15 minutes, two brand owners and three journalists have sampled fragrances from two brands, checked out a recent book launch, and caught up on the news of the day.

The Fun and Efficiency of a Café Encounter

Journalists, Influencers, Publishers, Perfumers, Retailers, and Agents: The Buzz

Another indication of the importance of Cannes during TFWA is the sizable group of journalists, influencers, publishers, perfumers, agents, and retailers circulating around Cannes like free electrons. Indeed, the buzz surrounding this open and personable group can be heard and felt up and down the Boulevard de la Croisette in showrooms, cafés, and evening parties where shared ideas and scoops rhyme with dazzling views and flowing champagne. Miguel Matos, whose many hats include perfumer at C De La Niche, brand owner, and journalist at, confides that for him an important part of Cannes is picking up on trends among commercial and mainstream brands. Claude Gratianne, CEO of ZGO Perfumery in San Francisco, notes that complementary to his attendance at Esxence, Cannes during TFWA offers unique networking opportunities and exposure to a broad perspective of the entire industry. Lorena Milanes and Alejandra M. de Vita V. of Premium Portfolio Perfumery, Panama, assert that Cannes during  TFWA is essential for finding upcoming brands and partners, while continuing to build on existing relationships. Jérôme Herrgott, agent-owner of Spray Conseil, credits the Cannes experience with helping him define new objectives for the coming year, while Schmik claims that experiencing Cannes during TFWA is essential for capturing the essence of niche fragrances for her followers. Meanwhile, Mandy van Rootselaar, Commercial Director, and Nienke Scholten, Editor, are ecstatic about the positive feedback they’ve received in Cannes for the soft launch of Le Parfum Magazine, in anticipation of the full launch in November.

Lower left quadrant: A sampling of party invitations from fragrance brands Atelier des Ors, Fragrance des Bois, and Nishane
Upper right quadrant: A sampling of book and magazine launches during TFWA Cannes 2022 Upper left: The sister team Bogdana and Lyubov Matvijčuk (@bogdana_blog and @Yaroslava_lecturer) presenting their Ukranian-language book Love Perfumes
Center: Olfactory publishing house Nez featuring 2 recently published books, Pot-Pourri by fragrance writer Maïté Turonnet, and Sentir le Sens by Mathilde Laurent, perfumer for Cartier Upper right: Launching my pocket-sized fragrance-sniffing notebook Bad Girls Perfume Notes
Bottom: Nienke Scholten, Editor in Chief, and Mandy van Rootselaar, Commercial Director, presenting a first-edition sneak preview of their new publication, Le Parfum Magazine.

Scattered throughout the rest of the collage – perfume players, ambiance, and more buzz: 

  1. Jean Philippe Clermont, owner, Atelier des Ors
  2. Palm trees and moonlight above the Boulevard de la Croisette  
  3. Partygoers enjoying the view from the penthouse terrace of the Grand Hotel
  4. Sebastian Jara (@theperfumeguy) and Pissara Umavijani, Parfums Dusita
  5. Cécile Zarokian, perfumer, and her assistant perfumer, Pauline Zimer 
  6. Miguel Matos, perfumer, brand owner, and journalist 
  7. Angelos Balamis, independent perfumer and brand owner  
  8. Megan Paki, fragrance consultant 
  9. Monika Cioch (@Monika_cioch), fragrance influencer
  10. Yana Zhakhouskaya, fragrance editor and influencer (@cosmetiqua)
  11. Clayton Ilolahia, Fragrances of the 
  12. Nadja Schmik (@its_nadja_time) 

Location, Location, Location

Cannes is within easy proximity to all major European capitals via the Nice International Airport (half-hour drive), as well as to Grasse (half-hour drive) and Monaco (one-hour drive). Although I did not visit Luxe Pack that was taking place in Monaco, I was thrilled to participate in two trips to Grasse, organized by fragrance consultant Megan Paki. As she points out, “Cannes is an ideal location from which to visit Grasse, the world capital of perfumery, and for gaining deeper insights into the art, design, and technology of fragrances. It’s also where local producers of key fragrance materials are based, including rose centifolia and jasmine." 

During one such trip to Grasse and the Firmenich Villa Botanica organized by Paki, our group sniffed recently released perfumes Pink Me Up and Noir by Night composed by Firmenich perfumer Marie Salamagne for the brand Atelier des Ors, while sampling champagne cocktails evoking their fragrance notes.

Fragrance writers, journalists, influencers, evaluators, and content creators from around the world enjoying an afternoon outing to the Firmenich Villa Botanica near Grasse. Left to right: Sanja Pekić, editor, writer, and translator; Rahul Agarwal, editor and YouTuber (@EternalScentJourney); Yana Zhakhouskaya (@cosmetiqua); Anselm Skogstad, founder and director, Der Duft (@der_duft); Danu Seith-Fyr, editor and writer (@danu_sf); and Megan Paki, fragrance consultant.

During a second trip to Grasse, this time to PCW (Perfume Cosmetic World), an international fragrance composition house, journalists enjoyed an intimate visit with CEO Patrice Blaizot, as well as a guided tour of the entire PCW complex with Xavier Blaizot, Perfumer and Business Development Manager. According to Patrice Blaizot, “Cannes during TFWA is the most important gathering of the fragrance industry for Perfume Cosmetic World because everyone is together at one time in one place—journalists, brands, perfumers, and fragrance companies. It’s usually cleverly scheduled to coincide with Luxe Pack in Monaco, thus attracting marketing, sourcing, and development teams as well.”

Enjoying a guided tour of the entire PCW complex. Left to right: François Duquesne, CEO of PCW West (USA); Xavier Blaizot, perfumer and PCW Business Development Manager; Sarah Colton; Olivier Lion, PCW CFO and Operations Manager; Megan Paki fragrance consultant, Nadja Schmik (@its_nadja_time), Daria Syumko (@yourperfumeguide), and Patrice Blaizot, CEO of PCW.

A Continued Energy Trailacross Europe

Immediately following Cannes during TFWA and well into late October, I continued to feel its power, as brand owners and retailers in the same mature niche fragrance category caught up with international visitors making their way home via Paris for private meetings, live Instagram feeds, presentations, and two full-blown brand launches. From conversations with other niche players, I know this was happening in other European capitals as well.

Left: Sebastian Jara (@theperfumeguy) on his return journey to San Francisco teams up with @jovoyparis for a live Instagram fragrance review.
Top right: Clayton Ilolahia (right) on his way back to Australia and New Zealand, catching up with Nicolas Chabot (center) at the launch of his third brand, Headspace, at the IFF Paris office, in the company of Paris-based fragrance bottle designer Jules Dinand (left).
Bottom right: Luc Gabriel at the launch of his third fragrance brand, Cherigan, sampling brand-inspired cocktails with Sarah Colton, recently home from Cannes.

Future Perspectives

Where does Cannes during TFWA go from here?  Onward and upward!  Starting with TFWA itself, all systems are go.

As reported previously in BeautyMatter, the 75th edition of TFWA closed its doors in “a real mood of confidence,” in the words of TFWA President Erik Juul-Mortensen. Mr. Juul-Mortensen also stated, “By the time we are back in Cannes next year I’m convinced we will be flying at full height once again.” Worth noting, as reported in the same article, is the importance of fragrances in TFWA: “Breaking down the different categories—from wines and spirits to fashion and accessories—it was clear that fragrances and cosmetics led the pack…. [And] their share of total exhibitors jumped from 27% in 2019 to 35% this year.”

From my own experience of Cannes during TFWA 2022, everyone I spoke to was extremely positive about its continued success. Many also had suggestions about how it might and should evolve in the future, either separately, or in coordination with TFWA. For starters, just about everyone agrees that there should be some kind of directory/map of the brands exhibiting outside TFWA, so people don’t have to waste time and energy discovering the brands by chance.

There are those who absolutely do not want to join a TFWA structure. Vitrey states: “To be honest, we are not going inside. Niche perfumery needs more confidential places where brands can showcase their creations in a very personalized way, offering coffee with a view!” Others envisage some kind of formal coordination between the inside and outside of TFWA. Gratianne would like to see TFWA vendors, particularly from larger companies, taking a less siloed approach to their exhibitions. “It would benefit all players if there were a more open and dynamic ecosystem for this creative and artistic industry that brings so much beauty and passion to the world,” he adds.

Lang imagines an entire “niche village" run by TFWA in the future. Having co-founded a niche trade show—Elements, which ran from 2011 to 2015 in New York and Dubai—Lang reminds us that “this fast-growing part of the fragrance industry has been neglected by the larger trade shows. Buyers are actively looking for something different now.” Matos agrees and imagines a two-tiered system which “takes into consideration the importance of the smaller niche brands by giving them a chance to be a part of the TFWA show in a separate pavilion with a lower cost.”

Schmik, speaking of the importance of the press and social media for perfumery, believes it would benefit all players if entrance to the TFWA exhibition were more accessible for bloggers and the press, as it is at Esxence and Pitti. She also believes it would be better if the evening parties were more evenly distributed over all the days, instead of the current situation in which there are “a lot of parties on the first and second days, 2, 3, 4 or more, in one evening, and then for some reason, none during the last days.”

Andreas Wilhelm would like to see more creativity in presentations. “There are so many possibilities with scent other than just fair booths,” he explains. “For instance, scent storytelling in the form of scent cinema on the street, using scents for certain scenes, etc. We could do a scent party or better!” Other ideas include bringing the unique benefits of perfume art and technology to the wider community. “My personal dream for Cannes during TFWA includes a structure in which we present the unique know-how and innovations of our industry for the benefit of science and medicine,” Vitry enthuses.


One of the most important aspects of all trade fairs is people, and Cannes during TFWA is no exception. Especially, perhaps, in the niche perfume industry, where XL dreams are housed in XS business structures, trade fairs and the relationships they engender are precious for both professional and personal reasons. It’s clear from the number of people who shared their thoughts for this article that there is a vibrant, creative, and generous community of people behind every brand, fragrance, publication, and event. One sure way to find your place in this community is to attend the trade show(s) that best fit your needs and those of your brand. Mark your calendars, people, and don’t forget Cannes during TFWA.


Esxence – The Art Perfumery Event
March 30 – April 2, 2023
MiCo, Milano Convention Centre
Milan, Italy

Pitti Fragranze
September 15–17, 2023
Stazione Leopolda
Viale Fratelli Rosselli, 5
Florence, Italy

October 1–5, 2023
Palais des Festivals et des Congrès
Cannes, France


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