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Ex Nihilo: Where High Tech Meets Perfumery Craftsmanship

Published May 26, 2024
Published May 26, 2024
Ex Nihilo

A blank slate is often the best canvas for a new idea. Ex Nihilo, which derives its name for the Latin expression for “created out of nothing,” delivers a personalized, modern, luxury approach to fragrance, “inspired by both the creative avant-garde and the French spirit of pure refinement.” Offering carte blanche to the noses it works with, the house has achieved smash success in a short period of time. To date, the brand has launched 50 perfumes and generates $60 million in annual sales, with stockists including Harrods and Galeries Lafayette as part of its roughly 300 points of sale.

Sylvie Loday (an engineer by trade and former Global Account Manager at Givaudan, the company whose perfumers Ex Nihilo creates fragrances with), Olivier Royère (who worked as a banker prior to co-founding the brand), and Benoît Verdier (an ex Marketing Communications Director at Enies Group) are the brains behind the brand. Verdier met Royère on the benches of research university Sciences Po, and the duo become friends with Loday soon thereafter, and as self-proclaimed fragrance heads, making a collective decision to leave their jobs behind for an entrepreneurial perfume adventure in 2013. Their first store opened on the prestigious Rue Saint-Honoré, an eye-catching retail entry for a newcomer brand.

Blue Talisman is the newest addition to its lineup. Launched in honor of the brand’s decade in business, the fruity citrus scent crafted by Jordi Fernández contains notes of mandarin, ginger, pear, orange blossom, and Ambrofix. The aptly named The Hedonist is another Fernández creation, this time with Akigalawood (a bioscience-based Givaudan captive reminiscent of patchouli) at the forefront, complimented by bergamot, cedarwood, and vetiver.

Fleur Narcotique, hailed as a go-to by Hailey Bieber and Jennifer Lopez, is one of the most well-known and beloved perfumes in the lineup. Inspired by “the new Rive Droite woman,” or the affluent, chic resident of Paris, the concoction is a sensual peony flower wrapped in peach and musk. Quentin Bisch is the nose behind the creation. Lust in Paradise, courtesy of perfumer Louise Turner and inspired by the French Riviera, is a lychee, pink pepper, white cedarwood, and amber, floral fruity creation. Ex Nihilo has further flexed its creative prowess through collaborations with visual artist Amanda Charchian, creating Idle Hour, an exclusive scent (only available at its LA and Paris stores) inspired by her day-to-day life in LA. While the decadence of rich ingredients and craftsmanship saturates the fragrances, they never become a parody of perfumery or too ostentatious, delicately walking the tightrope of extravagant yet wearable creations. The house has worked with over 16 different perfumers to date, and credits each nose on the online product description for each perfume.

Another key differentiator in Ex Nihilo's catalogue is the Osmologue, a robot which allows for the on-demand personalization of fragrances in the house’s Initiale and Babylone collections (through the addition of boosters to pre-existing formulas) at its 7 flagships across major cities including London, Dubai, New York, and Paris. The technology allows for precise weighing and blending of ingredients, with an interactive element. Bottles are topped with engraved caps made of onyx, buffalo horn, and mother of pearl, with laser engraving options available for the glass bottles as well. A blend of the brand’s signature Pantone 293 Blue walls, brass shelves, and white Calacatta marble countertops, each Ex Nihilo store is also a visual sight to behold. In honor of its 10th anniversary, the brand opened a new residence in Hong Kong, with prospective expansion plans set on the Asian market as a whole. 

This year, Eurazeo took a minority stake and invested 25 million euros in the brand, bringing on board its international network across the US, Europe, and Asia, as well as digital capabilities, to boost the brand’s global presence.

With a decade in business under their belt, Verdier sat down with BeautyMatter to discuss maneuvering overnight success, revisiting high perfumery, and the key to fragrance disruption. 

What defines luxury in 2024?

A subtle mix between tangible notions of rarity, durability, know-how, and more abstract feelings  linked to an intimate experience. Personalization is a core trend, as [perfumes are] close to the skin, intimate in our lives. Our fragrances are crafted with meticulous attention to detail, offering a sensory journey that is both refined and unique. It's a form of self-expression and indulgence that speaks volumes without saying a word—a discreet yet powerful statement of personal luxury that reflects your personality and I hope will transcend time. 

Eco-consciousness is nothing new but it is a must-have. The question is how do we make it more appealing and “luxurious” for people only obsessed by exclusivity and limited editions? How to make sourcing and social consciousness sexy and luxurious? But more importantly, how do we make it banish greenwashing for real? Using more biotech ingredients could be an answer in our case.

Digitalization is also organic with luxury today. In a social media world, we make the difference with our capacity to transform a physical, overly sensitive experience into something interactive and relevant that people can live through a smartphone screen without betraying the beauty of perfumery.

How do you blend the creative avant-garde with French refinement; how do you find the balance between wearability and originality?

Our goal since day one is to revisit high perfumery through our specific Parisian avant-garde aesthetics. In terms of olfactory criterias we are known for our skills: addictive top notes, wearability, long-lastingness of the sillage and super comfort. We also propose different layers of understanding: we are straight to the point, but the more you spend time to smell the more you will find a twist and subtle details in our creations. We always start each creation from a blank page without any creative limits. 

It means focusing on state-of-the-art craftsmanship as well as bringing the best of technology with a focus on personalization. We source and experiment with the best ingredients in the world: both natural, like rose of May (Grasse), or iris pallida (Tuscany), but also captive ingredients taken from biosciences. Finally, we are trying to connect with the best of the two worlds, and to do so we work with an amazing crew of top perfumers among the world’s best here in Paris to maintain a balance between pure creativity and ultimate wearability on the skin.

How would you describe the working synergy between yourself and your other two co-founders?
Challenging but quite organic! We have different personalities and background, but we complete each other perfectly. I met with Olivier more than 20 years ago on the benches of a university in Paris. When we met together, we were all industry insiders at different levels and collectively decided it was time for us to quit our respective jobs and do something more exciting by our own in the fragrance world. It was really an entrepreneur adventure since day 0! We were longtime fragrance heads and just wanted to create the luxury house of our dreams, trying as much as we could to bring a new energy to it. We had the opportunity to find an amazing space on Rue Saint-Honoré et voilà!

In essence, the combination of Sylvie’s rational engineer background, Olivier's international perspective, and my creativity and communication skills has allowed Ex Nihilo to stand out in the world of perfumery, offering fragrances that are not only masterfully crafted but also resonate with a global and diverse clientele.

"Being disruptive to me can be seen in many ways, but fundamentally it is the search for creating the most unique of the experiences."
By Benoît Verdier, co-founder, Ex Nihilo

What have been the biggest challenges and changes in 10 years of running the company?
We are quite a young company because contrary to what people think, we are only 10 years old. Fast success can also kill you, so not growing too fast, maintaining our highest level of excellence is also our obsession. If I look backward, our biggest achievement was to create a wonderful high perfumery house from nothing, open a flagship in the coolest luxury street of Paris, and create amazing fragrances that became iconic like Fleur Narcotique. In the future, we would like to see more flagships in the world (we have seven now) and still propose this unique ultra-luxury experience potentially being more digital and of course even more sustainable.

How important is celebrity endorsement when it comes to the success of a brand?

Talking about niche it really depends, because although it was not really in that culture we are pleased to have famous clients. But we have never sponsored celebrities on a global scale. We had the tremendous luck that Hailey Bieber made Fleur Narcotique her signature scent, she’s been wearing it for a few years and often shares it on her social media channels. Another perfume she loves is Lust in Paradise, and when she speaks about it on her Instagram, it makes a lot of noise. But apart from that, everything is very organic and based on word of mouth, we are very proud that what you see on the media about Ex Nihilo comes from the heart of great individuals, famous or not: industry insiders, beauty editors, and celebrities all over the world.

What are your bestsellers across which markets and through which channels?

Our most iconic creation since years is Fleur Narcotique, but recently Blue Talisman, launched last September, became our number one in a lot of countries. 

It is a straightforward scent but has an infinite number of olfactive facets: subtle freshness of pear and bergamot on top to trigger addiction, a little shot of Ambrofix to make the link between the ingredients, and a fatal overdose of musks as a spectacular finish. We boosted its top notes—they give you this little thrill and when you want to take a break, a few sniffs of its musky base notes give you a reinsuring serenity.

Despite its exclusive ingredients, I like to wear it casually all day long, it’s a bit like wearing a jewel or an expensive watch on a white clean T-shirt.

How important is coming from outside the fragrance world to being its disruptors? How do we disrupt fragrance in 2024?

Surprisingly, not being perfumers helped us a lot to think out of the box and bring fresh and disruptive ideas about the fragrance experience as a whole 360° journey. Honestly being disruptive to me can be seen in many ways, but fundamentally it is the search for creating the most unique of the experiences, creating your future memories.

Our experience is very holistic, it starts in-store around the discovery of materials, the Osmologue (our customization device), and our scented collections created by the best perfumers in the world packaged into innovative materials with a unique graphic twist! We found this classic image of the omnipotent creative director is quite outdated. And because you are more creative and efficient when you work with people who complete your own skills. We have the freedom to draw our inspiration from many fields in the artistic community such as fashion, architecture, industrial design, and photography.

What do you look for in a collaboration partner?

Today the market is oversaturated with all these so-called collaborations, which look to me more like marketing stunts. We have been collaborating with emerging artists for 10 years now and we carefully create an organic link, looking for authenticity like we did with US photographer Amanda Charchian. Each of our collaborations is a “carte blanche” given, we like to provide this creative opportunity to young talents from all fields. I like to think we are more genuine and long term than most other brands.

How is technology shaping the future of fragrance?
At a global level we all want to be unique and to get the most personalized products. It’s particularly true among the young generation. A fragrance has no functional benefit; it’s before all a matter of perception, subjectivity, and art. So, I would say the personalization trend is going to grow.

I see a rise in quality as well, with the niche brands taking power in the market, but finally, I think that what people want is to feel an experience and live a true olfactory moment with fragrances. With the rise of Instagram and TikTok I’m sure people will be even more educated and will help us to be more creative to satisfy them.

What made Eurazeo the right investment partner and how are you hoping to invest the funds for the future of the company?

After 10 years, we were well-established, but still quite small and very exclusive. Now, we want to give a new momentum, Eurazeo was a great fit in many ways, including corporate culture and on a personal level. Geographically, a strategy is to grow Ex Nihilo’s presence in the US and soon in China, as well as elsewhere in Asia and digitally. [Eurazeo is] expert in growing mid-sized companies into something bigger. They bring a lot of knowledge that includes consumer-related data. We are very excited by this new chapter!


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