Turning luxury fragrance on its head, Ex Nihilo is no ordinary Parisian perfume house. Harriet Charnock-Bates sat down with co-founder Benoît Verdier to talk inspiration, ideas and where it all began.
As you don't have a background in perfumery, how did Ex Nihilo come about?
Olivier Royère and Sylvie Loday, my two co-founding partners, and I, all shared the simple desire to create perfumes and products that we dreamed about but could not find. Passionate about fragrance, and having worked in the luxury industry, we believed that real luxury should be unique, exclusive, elegant and of unreserved quality. However, we also wanted to challenge stereotyped luxury. Not being perfumers allowed us to think out of the box, without any constraints or frustrations. So as soon as the opportunity arose, we left our jobs to focus on launching our dream brand.
What inspirations did you draw upon when launching the brand?
We took inspiration from the best of French savoir-faire and collaborated with both renowned and emerging talents from Givaudan. Ex Nihilo is an alternative Parisian perfume house which celebrates the unexpected and offers a ‘disruptive’ approach to luxury fragrance.
Ex Nihilo of course means 'out of nothing'. What brought this name about?
We were looking for an impactful but somewhat obscure name that expressed our state of mind at the moment we started out. It serves as a manifesto to how we like to think ‘differently’ and love the idea of being pure challengers. It is also a brand statement to when we opened our first store at 352 Rue Saint-Honoré among such prestigious neighbours. Nobody was expecting us, and then voilà, there we were.
The branding is quite striking. What were the influences behind this?
Today, it seems the use of Baroque and 18th century design is used by anyone who wants to appear luxurious, authentic and French. On the contrary, we chose striking graphics and a colour we could appropriate ourselves; something strong that would express our French identity. Villa Majorelle and Yves Klein were big influences.
We opted for a typography and design code inspired by modernism. We love the geometric, clean lines from the Art Deco movement and we wanted it to be simple and sophisticated, but at the same time unexpected. We achieved this by combining classic elements, such as gold embossing, with something more technical (the high-density foam packaging). Attention to detail is integral to the brand. For example, we have the same pattern that is laser cut on to the foam packaging boxes engraved on the bottle caps as well as hallmark stamps reflecting their precious nature.
Purchasing a demi-bespoke Ex Nihilo fragrance is a true sensory journey. What gave you the idea for this?
Today many people claim that Normcore is a key trend, but you can personalise everything around you in your daily life at an industrial level: from your pair of co-lab sneakers, to your car, or your clothes…and tomorrow with 3D printing you will be able to create your own objects. With Ex Nihilo, we want to go back to the essence of luxury, when personalisation and an incredible level of service, really belonged to luxury. It took time to make the perfect dress or the perfect fragrance. We created an exclusive ritual with our unique Osmologue - a high-precision dosing machine using innovative technology found in professional fragrance laboratories. This allows our clients to personalise their fragrance with an additional raw ingredient of the highest quality, either highlighting one of the existing olfactory facets or adding a new creative twist.
Outside of perfume, what inspires you?
Collaboration is in our DNA and we draw our inspiration from many fields in the artistic community. From architecture and design to photography and even gastronomy. I also love France in the 1970s as a whole. There was the Concorde, the Citroên SM and even President Pompidou commissioning artists to work for him at the Elysée while he was driving around in his Porsche instead of coming into the office. It was such a flamboyant era!
When it comes to designing a fragrance, are there any notes you find yourself looking to over and over again?
I’m a Vetiver person at heart. I love the way it can be both classically masculine yet become even more interesting when given a subtle, feminine twist, like what did Guillaume Flavigny did with our Vetiver Moloko and the addition of a milky accord. Olivier loves the citrus family and the freshness from the Orange Blossom variations. Sylvie’s favourite smell is White Musk, but I know she loves the floral overdose Quentin Bisch achieved in our Fleur Narcotique.
Who would you love to create a signature scent for?
I would love to make a fragrance for Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice. Other creative dandies, such as Lapo Elkan or Pharell Williams, would also be more than welcome to come and visit one of our boutiques.
Find Ex Nihilo Paris at Harrods' Salon de Parfum and at 352 Rue Saint-Honoré 75001 Paris