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Robot Love: Paco Rabanne’s Phantom Looks to the Future of Fragrance, with a Nod to the Past

Published August 4, 2021
Published August 4, 2021

Paco Rabanne has been a winning fragrance franchise for Spain’s beauty-to-fashion group Puig. The latest launch for men, Phantom, is a possible new pillar that the family-run company hopes will emulate the bestselling One Million, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI).

Phantom—described as Paco Rabanne’s first “connected” fragrance, and the future of perfumery—comes to the sales floor in the guise of a shiny silver robot. And for anyone old enough to remember Lost in Space, the concept might remind them of the robots from that cult series from the 1960s.

There is more than a little nostalgic retro charm in the new line. That is no surprise given that Paco Rabanne was a futurist from the get-go, always challenging the fashion status quo and creating space-age looks from the most unlikely materials, being truly avant-garde in the sixties and beyond. A clue was his first Manifesto Collection in 1966: “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.”

But Phantom is less about then, and more about the here-and-now—and what’s to come. “When I think of Paco Rabanne, I don’t think retro—I think revoluton, rebellion, and renaissance,” says Julien Dossena, Artistic Director of Paco Rabanne since 2013.

On the perfume side, Puig has also encouraged disruption, following a lead set in 1969 when Paco Rabanne’s first women’s perfume Calandre introduced a metallic rose “inspired by cool cars and hot sex.” Pour Homme in 1973 pioneered the aromatic fougère fragrance family in masculine perfumery while, in more recent times, the trailblazing One Million and the gender-fluid scents from PACOLLECTION have channeled the aspirations of Gen Z.

“When I think of Paco Rabanne, I don’t think retro—I think revoluton, rebellion, and renaissance.”
By Julien Dossena, Artistic Director, Paco Rabanne

Technology built in

Phantom, is from the same mold, but this time with technology built in. The robot has a chip in its head and the touch of a smartphone brings it alive, allowing the user into the Phantom universe.

The near-field communications chip (widely used, for example, in contactless payments) is embedded in the spray caps of the 100ml and 150ml bottles. It opens up exclusive content curated by Paco Rabanne such as interactive filters, personalized playlists, augmented reality, and interactive games.

This novelty, along with the retro-futurist design, could give Phantom covetable status and make it a collector’s item, if Puig plays its cards right with the next few launches on the drawing board.

A campaign filmed by director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, featuring models David Trulik and Kris Grikaite, blends pop culture and sci-fi classics. Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” remixed by 2ManyDJs, plays against an LA party backdrop filled with hybrid creatures. Puig says that with Phantom, Paco Rabanne is “creating the most feel-good story ever told by perfumery” embracing difference and the freedom to be yourself.

Jerome Leloup, Vice President Paco Rabanne chez Puig, commented: “Phantom is the brand’s most ground-breaking launch yet (that) will propel us into a new era.” Puig, which recorded sales of €1,537 million in 2020, down 32% (like-for-like) compared to 2019, expects to see new momentum in that new era, and is looking to its own, rather than licensed, brands like Paco Rabanne, Carolina Herrera, and Jean Paul Gaultier to get it.

Pushing creative boundaries

Phantom needs to deliver on the hype, and crucial to that is the juice. Going under the bonnet of the cool bottle design, Puig says this is the most powerful, long-lasting fragrance ever created by Paco Rabanne. To achieve that, the brand reached beyond the know-how and artistic sensibility of its creators and experimented with unexpected scent pairings.

Phantom was developed in partnership with the $5 billion turnover NYSE-listed International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), using a combination of neurosciences, algorithmic tools, and AI to help push the boundaries.

For example, the AI program allowed the creative team to use 10 times the amount of the vintage molecule styrallyl acetate typically used in modern perfumes. The high concentration, combined with custom-blended lavender, heralds a futuristic aromatic scent mostly made with ethically sourced ingredients. It was tested on men aged 18-35 to discover which emotions it aroused. Some 45 million brain measures later, and it seems that Phantom elicited the highs of sexiness, alertness, and energy.

Most fragrances for men belong to the aromatic family. Phantom is no different, but it has been tweaked with the help of AI and neuroscience, and paired with lavender and a green flash of lemon. Puig claims: “The feel-good effect of the ingredients has been scientifically demonstrated.” The way they’re combined is designed to activate brain areas associated with seduction, attention, and vitality. It’s the first time a Paco Rabanne fragrance has been designed this way.

Four perfumers combined their expertise to accomplish this. Loc Dong came up with the lavender and green citrus idea; Juliette Karagueuzoglou contributed her natural-ingredients knowledge; and Master Perfumers Dominique Ropion and Anne Flipo fine-tuned the formula.

First outing in travel retail

Puig decided to launch Phantom in the travel retail channel first from July 1 before rolling out to local markets starting in August. An odd move perhaps given the lack of travelers in airport stores. Puig Vice President Global Travel Retail Kaatje Noens explains: “One of Puig’s main strengths is our ability to build brands, and travel retail is the ideal brand-building platform. Our omnichannel campaign will leave travellers truly immersed.”

Puig is not holding back. In the world’s top airports more than 100 Phantom animations have been taking place in EMEA, Asia Pacific, and the Americas, with more coming in August and September. The campaign uses eye-catching decorations, promoters in silver jumpsuits, touchless fragrance discovery, personalization, and a “Dance with Phantom” retailtainment game.

It is Puig’s most ambitious travel retail campaign to date, and the first to use a 360° digital approach. Prominent digital activations incorporate social media, digital ads, paid geo-targeted social media and influencer activity on TikTok and Instagram designed as a takeover of the full traveler journey this summer. The “always-on” approach is meant to maximize Phantom’s awareness. The influencer campaign alone is expected to reach six million travelers through to September.

Puig has invested heavily in Phantom and is hoping for a big payoff as it seeks to recoup lost revenue due to COVID-19. The company has also put the spotlight on Carolina Herrera’s new masculine fragrance 212 Heroes this summer through a series of travel retail activations in the Americas.

Puig expects a significant recovery this year, with sales forecast to surpass the record €2 billion set in 2019. Since January 1, 2021—following the incorporation of the brands Uriage, Apivita, and a 50% stake in Isdin—Puig has also reorganized its business into three divisions: Beauty and Fashion, Charlotte Tilbury (in which a majority stake was announced in June 2020), and Derma.

Under the new structure, the company is aiming for €3 billion in revenue by 2023 and €4.5 billion by 2025. By then, the portfolio is expected to include two near-€1 billion brands (Paco Rabanne and Carolina Herrera), and two with sales of €500 million (Isdin and Charlotte Tilbury).


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