Erwin Creed is not one to mince his words. In Singapore to launch the Aventus Cologne, an updated iteration of the bestselling scent, the self-professed former “Parisian bad boy” did not hold back on what he perceives as wrong in the niche fragrance industry. And why would he? As the seventh-generation perfumer at the elite House of Creed, Erwin’s words hold merit. Founded in 1760, Creed first found its roots in custom tailoring for the English Court, before it expanded into haute parfumerie that catered to royals and society’s upper echelons.
With today’s insatiable appetite for the niche, independent fragrance houses have seen an explosion of popularity. This spells both good and bad news for legacy luxury houses like Creed. “As a perfumer, we like competition from other brands. But there are some who don’t know what they’re doing,” laments Erwin.
Integrity and authenticity
Erwin specifically disparages mass makers in the niche fragrance industry. “We don’t need people who make 20 perfumes in a year,” he says with an incredulous look on his face. This is a look that’s warranted, considering a quality scent takes a full year to create. It is a practice that Creed adopts. “Last year, we didn’t launch anything. This year, it’s the new edition of the Aventus cologne. Too much novelty kills the novelty.”
He gives an example of a company that spawned two perfume brands with 40 scents in a span of three years. “I don’t like people who make a lot of things [in the hope of] finding a jackpot.” Like fast fashion, Erwin believes “creating things to sell them fast is not good for planet earth.” What he hopes for in the perfume industry is more people who are educated about perfumery. “Take your time to make the perfume. Believe and trust in what you do. Don’t make things quickly, with no identity”. Conversely, Erwin tells us about the brands he respects for different reasons. These include Frederic Malle, Diptyque, Byredo, and Cire Trudon.
Authenticity is another issue with the mass-making of scents. Gesturing at a painting on the wall of the suite where we held our interview, he gave Picasso as an example. “Today you have twenty little painters in the back [of the room] while Picasso tells them what to do. So you can buy a Picasso but it’s not really made by him.”
He highlights transparency as another concern. “Most perfume brands pay a company to create the fragrances for them. They’ll say things like: “We use the best rose, the best jasmine”. But when I tell them to show me the formula, or the factory, they say no,” he says. He likens this to a perfume brand he chanced upon in Dubai. When asked about the origins, the staff could only answer that it was made in Paris. Probed about where exactly, they were unable to answer.
“If you don’t know, don’t say b*****t,” he says.
The reluctant scion
Erwin didn’t always nurse this burning passion for the industry. Like many heirs, he wasn’t immediately drawn to the business. “I wanted to do something different from my family so I could prove I could do something more,” he says. He goes as far as to admit: “I was a little lazy before. I was more focused on my racing and motorsports.” The turning point was a gradual realisation of Creed’s true potential. “It was also important that I not just think about myself, but others as well,” he continued.
As the seventh generation of Creed’s ‘father-to-son’ legacy, Erwin is in no hurry for all the glory. He assures us that his father is still active in the business as the Master Perfumer, a role that he will take on in due time. Instead, what’s on his plate now is global expansion of the brand. He regularly jet-sets across the world in order to “establish the brand”.
Despite this accelerated expansion, Erwin is careful about the visibility of Creed, particularly with the location of its retail spaces. “Now I travel with and for the business. In the past, I saw photos of people in our stores. But I didn’t even know where they were located”. Awareness aside, he says “it’s important for us to be strong in all the right places”. A challenge he faces is selecting an optimal location with good human traffic, with a reasonable cost of rent, as well as a good retail experience. “The price of our perfumes are not cheap. If you have a beautiful counter, nice salespeople, you don’t see the $300 price tag you’ll spend on our perfume”
When asked if he sees Creed as a legacy he’d pass on to his children, he is quick to agree. But getting there requires navigating new challenges pertaining to today’s world. “Making perfumes uses natural resources. But if you use them in a big quantity, it’s a complicated [situation for the environment].” “My problem is how to maintain the identity of the brand while being more modern. But it’s difficult in terms of packaging and recycling. How do I keep the brand like this while doing what I have to do for my kids and the next generation?”
Still, fans of Creed (and there are many) will be heartened to know that Erwin has no plans to alter the brand’s DNA. “I like what it is today. We can change but very minimally.”