Fragrance Republ!c through the eyes of Plebeian

 

Dear readers and friends, before you go on reading this post can you pause for a minute and think what you know about Fragrance Republ!c. Just try to think what you’ve heard about them and what your impression about their business is.

It’s not a trick question. If you’ve heard or read about them, what you can recall will be probably more than you can read on their website. There’s no About Us section. There is not much information about what you’re subscribing to either. The site provides minimum details allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks (and who is better than ourselves to trick us into assuming things that weren’t actually promised?)

Fragrance Republ!c is a new brand, one of co-founders of which is Francois Duquesne, a former President of L’Artisan Parfumeur. The brand operates as a “club”: you need to be a member – albeit a non-paying one – just registered, to purchase their perfumes. They call it “Free People.” With a $35/month, $100/3 months, $200/6 months (why would anybody pay for 6 months in advance when it’s exactly twice the price of 3 months subscription is beyond my understanding) or $350/year “Patricians subscription” you’re going to get every month a 15 ml bottle of a new perfume created by one of six perfumers featured on the site. I’m not sure about that part though since they don’t promise that the list of perfumers is final. And by the time I’m finishing this post the next perfume announced for April has been created by the new, seventh, perfumer, not listed initially. So for all we know it can keep going like that for each next month in one’s subscription.

Brand’s Facebook Page provides a mission statement:

Fragrance Republic Mission Statement

It’s not clear who serves on the Advisory Board in addition to “Senators”, who for $1,500/year get to be on that board for 2 months. How many permanent members are on that Board and how many can pay their way to that body that “determines future fragrance to be released”? It doesn’t say anywhere so I can’t even guess the qualification of the Board that sets the criteria and accepts the final product.

Speaking of the product, other than “no artistic boundaries” and “IFRA compliance” (as if any of these two are necessarily a good thing), there are no promises as to quality of ingredients: for all we know it can be another eccentric-molecule- or not-a-perfume-type creations. And there’s a curious passage about the delivery in Terms and Conditions:

Any merchandise purchased from our Site will be shipped by a third party carrier. As a result, title and risk of loss for such merchandise will pass to you upon our delivery to the carrier.

Nice. I’m not sure I’d want to buy anything from any online store on those terms.

When a couple of years ago Chandler Burr conducted his OpenSky experiment, I was against it. But at least it was somebody who we knew by reputation (either you shared his tastes or not) and who had to persuade us to buy every next episode of his series.

When a year ago Olfactif decided to offer a new sampling program, I was against it. But since I wrote that post, Olfactif has improved by switching from 1 ml dab vials to 2.25 ml spray samples. Also several commenters – mostly those who were new to the niche perfume world – suggested some benefits they saw for themselves in using that type of service.

With Fragrance Republic you’re offered to blind buy 15 ml/$35, 45 ml/$100, 90 ml/$200 or 180ml/$350 of unknown perfume(s) by random perfumers from a new brand, creative director(s) of which haven’t proven yet that they know what they are doing. And I didn’t even mention yet totally unremarkable packaging, completely unmemorable names and, as I suspect, close to 0 resell/swap value of those that you didn’t like.

I stated it more than once: I’m against blind buys and I constantly try to dissuade people from doing that. I understand that the thrill of the blind-buying and the anticipation of the positive outcome for some people might be higher than the disappointment they would experience from the negative result. So within the individual’s money-is-no-object limits it’s probably fine to indulge in that type of irrational behavior from time to time. But to build a business on that vice, encourage it and benefit from it – that is something that I cannot condone.

I do not believe any brand can release 12 (twelve!) great perfumes in twelve months – and keep going (even today, after they’ve released the 7th perfume, you still can subscribe for a year). But even if they are the next Amouage, Frederic Malle and Serge Lutens triune, it’s completely improbable that they will release one after another twelve perfumes that will work for you – so why to pay for something knowing full well you won’t like it? Even if you can easily afford spending $350 on your hobby, isn’t it better to reward brands that have created perfumes that you actually enjoy and want to wear than pay for the fake privilege?

Caesar Palace in Las Vegas

Oh, and in case you decide to participate in their “community of passionate fragrance users”, keep in mind that

By submitting or posting any materials or content on the Site, you grant Fragrance Republic a perpetual, irrevocable, non-terminable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to use, copy, distribute, publicly display, modify, create derivative works, and sublicense such materials or any part of such materials. […]Fragrance Republic will be entitled to use any content submitted by you without incurring obligations of confidentiality, attribution, or compensation to you.

But, after all, it’s the land of the free – so you can become a Senator if you set your mind on it.

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41 thoughts on “Fragrance Republ!c through the eyes of Plebeian

  1. Interesting to get your take on this new brand and marketing concept. I must say that I didn’t think about it as hard as you, or pay such close attention to the fine print of the deal, which does throw up some oddities to say the least. I suppose my kneejerk reaction when I heard about this scheme was that it was a fun and refreshingly new idea that would appeal either to people who like most things they try (and there are people like that out there, and some bloggers!), or to those with enough money to burn anyway. I did like the premise of artistic licence, although I agree that that can spectacularly backfire if people wander too freely in the garden of the imagination with no thought as to whether the citizens of the Republic might like their creation. I do think they were always trying to bear their audience in mind, or ‘an’ audience. They also inevitably have a price point and quality level to work to based on the subscription fee.

    I must say I did not like the snobbery implicit in the levels of membership, and while I would personally not commit to a series of blind buys like that for just the reasons you mention, there may be punters out there who really enjoy that lucky dip experience.

    • I thought about the price limitations as well but didn’t bring them up because I frankly do not know how much, for example, Amouage or Tauer perfume costs to produce. I know about $3 (or something like that) for a mainstream bottle but I don’t know how it calculates for a small niche production. But something tells me they won’t be using precious natural agarwood, rose oil or iris butter in any significant quantities… Why do I think so? They would have advertised the hell out of it if they had ;- )

  2. Hi dear!
    I’m familiar with Fragrance Republic and I tried all się perfumes that they launched so far but I was’t really impressed by any of them. A couple were OK but some smelled very artificial and chemical to me. I think launching a perfume every month is a bit too much (one for a quarter maybe?)
    You can’t sample these scents, unless you live in NYC (I think it was NYC) where they have a store/headquarters.
    The idea is nice on its own but the results could’ve been better

    Ps. There’s a misspelling in the title my dear

  3. I came across the Fragrance Republic randomly a couple of days ago. I find their concept interesting but I believe the issue is in the poor execution. I think minor tweakings can make a big difference here. For one, they could sell already marketed perfumes (niche and designer) from brands we all know about. They could sell decants of those as many of us have such big collections that buying 100ml of anything is just a waste of money.

    They could have a two-tier membership, where in the first tier you get, say 3 10ml samples, a month of niche/designer fragrances. It would be even better if you get to pick your three samples. In the second tier you get all the perks you get a Senator and maybe a free bottle a month plus the 10ml samples.

    This is something I would sign up for if the price is right and the breadth of offerings is of the size of the LuckyScent inventory. As it is right now, I really can’t imagine what market they would appeal to.

    • I tried to think of what type of “club” I would think is a good idea.
      I think it should be something like: I’m paying for a bottle or two (dependent on the price range but approximately $300/year) that I subscribe to buy within that year. In return I get to try up to, let’s say, 12 or 24 perfumes (again, dependent on their prices). After all, in retail a lot more is wasted on sampling without any guarantee of a purchase. There might be additional thing where the sooner I make the decision (less perfumes tested), the bigger discount I’ll get – either in the current subscription or for the next one. Something like that. And, of course, no blind buys above the sample size.

      • I’m a fan of any club that gives you unlimited amount of samples. In fact, when I purchase a new fragrance I’m often more excited about the samples I would get than the fragrance I’m buying.

        This is just me, however. One thing I never got is why some stores give you samples only when you purchase something. To me, it’s counter-intuitive. I think the idea of having samples is so that the customer can try the fragrance on their own and decide whether to buy it or not. What many stores do, though, is they give you the samples as a “gift” when you buy a fragrance. What does the average consumer do with this sample? Maybe they’ll smell it and toss it somewhere in a drawer and forget about it. If I, as an average consumer, just bought a fragrance, I am not likely to go right back and get another one just because I like the sample. This is especially true for men who treat fragrances like a toothpaste – it’s a functional item: when you are done, you get another one.

        Anyway, I got carried away but I’ve always been curious about this backward logic.

        • Samples are important to me as well so I’m not sure about the average customer but this particular customer gets upset when she doesn’t get samples with her perfume purchase ; -)

  4. That passage you point out about their delivery of the perfumes – that’s enough to make one doubt that membership has its perks, or that membership has any meaning at all.

    I never heard of this company before, as I’ve more or less been living under a rock lately and not paying attention to newly launched perfume ventures, but if I ever had the inclination to join something like this (which I might have seven years ago, when I was a newbie and infatuated with trying everything), your well-thought out report would have saved me from making a mistake. Because you’re right: highly doubtful that the perfumes they put out each month would be to my taste, even if said perfumes were done well.

    • Thank you, Suzanne. I really hope that sooner or later there will be a service that does it well – though, I think, it’s hard to compete with Luckyscent and STC and still be interesting and make money.

  5. Hey Undina,
    I didn’t read the fine print either but have been following some of the fragrances as they are blogged about. I LOVE the idea but haven’t yet sprung for the credit card. No reason why, it just hasn’t happened.
    Luckily I like more fragrances than I don’t and I think if one or two become hits then we could very possibly see the whole collection become important or at least collectable.
    Yes I think 12 too many, Lucasz has a good point asking for seasonal offerings.
    Portia xx

    • Dear Portia, you’re still not done with clearing your perfume cabinet from the previous spontaneous purchases – stop thinking about the next ones! ;-)
      12 would be fine if those were previously created, on their own terms, for different brands. But 12 new perfumes/year from one brand – too much.

      • Ha Ha Ha! Touche!
        Yes, 12 is a LOT. Even when Monegal brought his stuff to the world, even though they’d been around for a while it was still a LOT, too enormous top try them all.
        I think there is a fun factor though that is being ignored here. Let’s compare:
        For Jin and I on Date Night I spend $100 on dinner, $40 on a movie + $20 on a drink and snack, another $40 on supper afterwards. It’s our one night a week to spend together doing something.
        For tonights Date Night I could get a years worth of these, enjoy the fun and anticipation. Have a laugh, bitch, whatever, every month for 12 months. They are using some amazing perfumers though I’ve not explored them all or the site thoroughly.
        I haven’t bought, but not because I think it a terrible idea. I just didn’t yet. Maybe I will, or won’t.
        I do love though that you’ve made me think more about the idea. I am now far more interested in it and knowing how it goes.
        Thanks beautiful lady.
        Portia xx

        • Ok, let’s see: since it’s two of you, you spent $100 per person so you’ll have to sacrifice almost four of your personal nights out or 2 nights out for both of you. But if you’re prepared to do that – why not to buy a perfume that you’ve previously tested and liked or at least from perfumers you really like? Is it really that much fun that you’d rather encourage people about whom you know nothing than those who has previously proved to you that they could make perfumes you love?

          • Your point is taken Undina. Yes, we could buy something we have previously tried and loved. The joy of owning that would be great, yes. There would also be the fun of waiting and hoping if bought online.
            I still haven’t bought any but I’m also still not totally convinced that it would be a bad purchase for me. I know not to gift it to you, but maybe for me it could work.
            May I also say that I love this rational too-ing and fro-ing.
            We both have valid arguments and will probably have to agree to disagree but the conversation has set my head alight, in a good way.
            Thank You.
            Portia xx

            • Sure, my dear Portia. I wasn’t insisting on you not doing it if you feel like that: after all, we’re doing it for fun (as long as those greyhounds get fed and you have money left for traveling ; -) ).

              • AMEN! Yes, the dogs get fed better than the rest of the house some days and we have some lovely trips planned for the rest of this year.
                I knew you weren’t insisting, I love how you see different sides to equations than I do. You are always polite in your arguments even though you have a point to get across. One day I will meet you Undina and i think we will get along very well.
                And yes it is fun.
                Portia xx

  6. Hi Undina & Rusty.
    I didn’t mind about their “no artistic boundaries” bit, I can appreciate that. But I didn’t like anything else they said in their T&C and that was one of the reasons I decided not to participate in their club. I think almost everyone had an experience of buying a perfume sample or bottle which sounded great on the description but turned out to be an absolute disaster.I don’t want to risk repeating it over and over for 3, 6, 12 months…
    It might suit some people and if they are happy, that’s great.

    • I do not always read T&Cs but since there was almost no other information I just had to go through it. But once I did I really wouldn’t feel comfortable gaming with my money this way.

      (You reminded me that I haven’t posted any pictures of Rusty in a while. I need to rectify that soon!)

  7. I am guilty of blind-buying although I only do so when someone I trust describes a perfume that is to my liking. With this, fragrances are being shoved down my throat. I am happy to wait on the sidelines.

  8. I always love getting your take on things like this (because you think of things I don’t). In this case, I’m still a fan of the Fragrance Republic concept, for the main reason that I really like getting a completely new fragrance. It’s always a surprise, because I never read anything about it in advance, and I know that I’m not paying to smell a perfume that I could smell in a shop (with no risk). As someone who gets very excited about mail, it works for me, and the cost is reasonable, in my opinion. (I was a sucker for the Birchbox for the same reason.)

    I did want to note, because it seems like a lot of people thought the delivery terms were sketchy, that those are not so outlandish. Yes, they are not great, but people would probably be surprised how many companies have similar policies. Usually, it just means your recourse is through the shipping company, not the company from which you purchased. I’ve been paying more attention to such terms lately, because living overseas increases the likelihood of things getting lost, and loads of companies don’t offer you any sort of recourse through them if things are lost. For example, several decanting companies (which I suspect do not adhere to international shipping rules and do not have special licenses for shipping fragrance), have policies that lead me to believe they won’t refund your money or send replacements if decants are lost or (which could definitely happen) are destroyed by customs.

    I promise I’m not just sticking up for Fragrance Republic because I like the concept. :) I only wanted to bring up this last point so people didn’t assume they were actively trying to rip people off. I’m not saying it is the best customer service policy; I am only saying it is not that unusual.

    • I realize that they are not planning on making money by not sending people what they ordered and I know that some other companies have similar policies. I wouldn’t have noticed that if they had spent equal time protecting my interests. They had time for all that legal mumbo-jumbo but couldn’t explain what exactly I am getting for my money?

      You can play the same game I did with myself: look into the last 12 perfumes you tested for the first time recently. And answer to yourself would you like to have 15 ml of each of them for $350. With those that I’ve tested – I wouldn’t. And those weren’t even random samples: I got them all because I wanted to test them.

      • Good points! And one thing I forgot to say, which is that for me, the fun of the surprise does wear off after a while. (Hence, why I cancelled Birchbox.)

      • Just a thought…assuming you paid via credit card — if the subscription requires you to pay up front (which I think this one does), and you don’t get, let’s say the 4th month’s item, it would be too late to dispute the charge. If you paid for the next month’s item a month in advance, you still have time to dispute the charge and this is why for me, the “not my fault” delivery terms don’t bother me. Also, if paid via PayPal, I think there’s also a dispute channel if you don’t receive your item (although I trust credit card companies more than I trust PayPal).

  9. Hey Undina,

    It was really interesting to read your take on FR, you raised some valid points. I have to make it clear at this point that they kindly allowed me to become a Patrician through no cost to myself and I did like the fact that they didn’t make me feel pressured into writing favourable (or any) reviews for them.

    Onto the perfumes, I’ve tried 03-06 so far and out of all of them, only 03 made me want to write a blog post as I really liked it. The others were nice but they weren’t remarkable enough to make me sit at my laptop and write about them. I love the premise of allowing perfumers take free reign and design completely personal perfumes but I did have a few misgivings about the quality of the perfumes each month.

    On to a few things they could improve on:
    - Packaging leaves a little to be desired. The simplicity of the bottles doesn’t bother me and I quite like it, I think it allows for the whole collection to be cohesive and doesn’t detract from the premise of the perfumer being the most important thing about their fragrances. However, they come in a cardboard box with my address and a distributor return address printed on it which isn’t too appealing.

    - Personally, I would only be able to afford to be a Free Person as I don’t have $30 to spend on something I might not like each month and as I live in London, I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of all the events they have in NY. However, for someone who likes to try new things, the $30 a month for a new perfume each month isn’t terrible, especially if they are based in the US and could attend events etc.

    Overall, I do think its a nice premise, especially as they have meet the perfumer events every time the bring out a new fragrance and the fragrances they’ve done so far have been nice but I haven’t come across any major standouts apart from 03. They were clear when they said that I don’t have any obligation to write about them and they wanted me to try them out, which I appreciated otherwise I don’t think I would have agreed to the membership.

    Nafia xx

    • It’s not all bad, there’s something interesting about the idea but I bet you would have felt different if you had to pay for all the perfumes you tested and kind of liked one of them in the end. I still think that $30 for testing a single perfume is a waste of money. Olfactif’s model (smaller samples, 3 or more at a time) but combined with actually new perfumes, not available otherwise, would have been more reasonable. But you cannot do it once a month…

      I’m not surprised that nobody tried to push you into writing reviews: I’m not sure if any blogs would accept any samples with conditions attached. But we all feel more inclined to write about companies that were good to us – unless the perfumes we tried were absolutely horrible.

      Hopefully, with time either one of the existing services figures out a perfect model or there will appear a new service – and we, consumers, will benefit from it in the end.

      • No, your’re absolutely right, I don’t have $30 to spend every month on perfume that I might not end up liking. I would register as a free person and then if something really sounds good, I’d take the plunge and buy. I do think there is something nice about being surprised each month if you are the type of person who likes surprises and has extra $$ .

        All these companies are in their infancy and I think are testing the water a little, hopefully they will improve and become a little more accessible/appealing to more consumers and streamline their goals a little. If FR! were to spend a little more time creating fragrances and bring out 4 scents a year for example, I think more people could justify signing up. Me being a student, working in retail only one day a week coupled with the fact that I’m terribly fussy doesn’t make me inclined to join any of these clubs any time soon.

        Great thought-provoking post though, Undina! xx

  10. My big, long comment got swallowed up and now I have lost the will to live.

    Basically I was saying well done for doing such a thorough job of analysing this new concept and finding the potential pitfalls. No one can do this better than you.

    This kind of thing is a massive turn-off for me because I am sooo fussy. The thing that irks me apart from what others have mentioned above, is the fact that people can buy a place on the Board who set the criteria for the perfumers. It just feels wrong and like a money-spinning exercise.

    • I’ll share a trick with you :) Every time before clicking on Post Comment I select my reply and copy it into a clipboard. I learned to do it when I was mostly reading/commenting using my iPad – and mobile versions weren’t the best a couple of years ago. But since then I’ve been using that approach even when I write on my laptop – and it saved me a lot of nerves and efforts on more than one occasion.

      I agree, it did feel wrong that one could buy a right to vote. If it’s one person out of, let’s say, ten “real” board members – then his/her voice won’t even matter, why to bother at all to be a part of that board? If, on the other hand, most of the members on that board are people whose credentials are determined by the size of their wallet, why would anybody who cares about perfume trust their opinion on the matter? In any case, as I complained – not enough information.

  11. This drives me crazy. On a perfume level and a UI/UX level. WHY not tell people what they might be getting into? I mean, that one time Burr and his “mystery fragrance bag” activity was started up was somewhat amusing to me. Now, though, it is just annoying. $200/6 months? Somebody didn’t think about the pricing model on that one.

    Finally, if anybody with $1500 to toss around can buy their way into influencing a release, then it’s not really free of artistic restrictions anymore. Now I’m just ranting. Bah!

    • I hope in 2-3 iterations somebody will get it right and create something interesting and useful for perfume enthusiasts, new people “from the street” and industry in general. Until then I’ll keep writing about the pitfalls of the next new enterprise that tries to get our attention and our money.

  12. Pingback: Theory and practice – Fragrance Republ!c | All I am – a redhead

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