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Q&A: Erwin Creed on the magic behind niche perfumery

Mention heritage perfume brands and one will think of the classic few: Penhaligons, Guerlain and The House of Houbigant. Yet, an independent heritage perfume brand that has withstood the test of time is Creed.

Granted, origins of the brand have been hazy: critics online have mentioned that Creed only started producing perfumes in 1975, so the 1760 tag should be dropped. To address this issue, we sat down with Erwin Creed, seventh generation owner and perfumer of Creed on his recent trip to Singapore to speak more about the brand and what distinguishes a good perfume.

Creed Perfume
Erwin Creed (Image credit: Creed)

How has the industry evolved from the past?

I see a lot more recognition for the niche perfumes. When we started, it was more discreet. Most niche perfumes focus on a Middle Eastern style in the beginning because they want to make something strong. Stronger perfumes were seen as though the brand has many ingredients which in turn pushes the price upwards. Now, consumers are more discerning.

The perfume market is so saturated. What are some challenges facing Creed in the industry?

Although Creed has many perfume varieties, we are still an independent brand. Many brands like Penhaligons, Le Labo, Byredo, Jo Malone and Guerlain are part of bigger companies like Amore Pacific, LVMH, Puig and Estee Lauder. It is a lot easier for them because they can negotiate factors like physical store space.

That being said, Creed still has one of the best performances in the world so face a lot of pressure from big groups. I travel a lot to fight against the saturated market. I’m a little old-fashioned so I try to manage communications first hand.

What do you think distinguishes a good perfume?
Personally, a good perfume would be one that does not have an aggressive scent. When you smell it and are able to identify the notes like Bergamont and Jasmine, it is not a good perfume. A good perfume blends all the ingredients together for good balance.

Creed Perfume
(Image credit: Creed)

Other than Creed being an independent brand, what sets the brand apart?

To be honest, most of the brands don’t know what they put inside the formulas of their perfumes. For us, we have control over our own factory. Brads can tell you what roses they use and all but its all marketing. So a big part of the perfume business is marketing, the packaging and the stories that they come up with.

In the market, there are so many good brands. I wouldn’t say Creed is the best. Creed’s number one marketing strategy is our customers and word of mouth. I think 70 per cent of our customers come to Creed because they smelled it on others.

In at the end, it’s the little details make a big difference. Our suppliers might not be the ‘best’, but it is the best for us. Using expensive ingredients does not mean that it is the best. We have an identity, this is the wood we like. It’s our taste in Creed. This is our way of making perfume, we have our own ID. This is the most important.

Some critics have said that Creed is not a heritage brand.

Yes, this is a good question. The brand name Creed originated from 1760, and we started out as a tailoring business. We also created bespoke scents for the royalty as well so it was not commercial. We only started creating commercial scents in 1975, but we kept the name of the brand.

Creed Perfume
(Image credit: Creed)

What is the most difficult part when creating a scent?

I think that it’s not about making a new perfume, it’s about maintaining the quality of our perfumes. We use a good 50 to 60 per cent ratio of natural to synthetic ingredients. If we use 90 per cent of synthetic ingredients, this would not be a problem. However, with climate change and seasonal weather, it is difficult to find substitutes for the same kind of ingredients to produce the same line of scents. Before we used to have the best ginger from Jamaica, very expensive. Now, we can’t find ginger there anymore so we get it from China. We try to recreate the same scent from with a substitute product, but yes, quality maintenance is one of the most difficult parts.

Does your family heritage influence you to become a perfumer?

No, my father wanted to be a perfumer. When I was young, I wanted to be a fireman like most little boys. I also tried to build something with fashion to experiment and do something independently. But along the way, I saw the beauty of the brand, I saw who we are. Today, it’s not my brand. It’s my job to do it to the best of my ability.

Any advice for young people who want to venture into perfume

For new perfumers, they need to think and take their time. I like people who take it step by step, who are not in a rush and try to be more involved in the business. Create and experiment. We admire and we are very proud of people who have their own ID of what they want to do.

I think one important personality trait is for people to have their own opinion. I am impressed by those who are not afraid to tell me what they are thinking. If they only say “yes” when they feel that it is wrong, then they are just following blindly.

Jocelyn Tan
Senior Writer
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer who's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.
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