Perfume house Amouage has made a name for itself by carving out its own distinct identity in the world of luxury
David Crickmore has been the driving force behind the success of the international perfume house Amouage for the last eleven years. Hired as its CEO back in July 2006, Crickmore brought to the table his skills as a luxury goods and brand turnaround specialist with an impressive CV that included names such the eponymous Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng, the eccentric men’s clothing and accessory brand Duchamp, Pringle, Nautica, Alfred Dunhill, Daks and Harvey Nichols.
Amouage, however, was a new challenge, as Crickmore faced the enormous task of reviving the fortunes of the brand which in his words, was just “clinging on by its fingernails for survival”.
The way forward, in his mind, was by evolution, rather than revolution, and a decade on, he has positioned Amouage’s name firmly on the international luxury map through astute and fearless product development and brand positioning. In a wide-ranging interview with Arabian Knight, Crickmore talks about the brand’s transformation and growth, its strategies, his vision for the future, views on luxury, and passions…
Tell us how you set about transforming Amouage from a regional into an international brand?
When I arrived, Amouage had become rather dusty and tired. The brand had ceased to capture the imagination of the younger consumer, had ceased being internationally relevant, and had all but retreated into the home markets of the Gulf, just clinging on by its fingernails for survival.
My brief from the owners was to relaunch the brand in all aspects; to develop a new, luxurious product and to take Amouage into the international marketplace as a recognised, respected, luxury brand.
Something radical needed to be done, but there was the risk that we would lose the few remaining clients we still had and the brand could be destroyed in the process if we changed it too drastically. The process, therefore, had to be one of evolution rather than revolution and so we considered, for a year, how we could move the product and brand on.
The first step was to hire Christopher Chong, the Creative Director. Together we set about devising a strategy to take Amouage to the world. We knew we had to be fearless, with a complete redesign of the brand and to develop new products that would appeal to a wider consumer base.
It was a daunting task and we launched Jubilation as the first embodiment of the new look. It’s success gave us the courage to continue along this path and 10 years after the repositioning of Amouage, we are delighted and grateful that the international consumer came along with our vision, as did the existing consumer and the brand today is recognised as one of the key international niche perfume houses.
As the CEO, what does your role encompass?
My role obviously encompasses the management of all aspects of the business Christopher Chong designs and creates all new products. My involvement comes right at the end of the process when he presents two or three possible candidate fragrances for any given launch and we work together to decide which one most fits the inspirational brief and the direction in which we intend taking the brand.
A year after you took over, you hired Christopher Chong, who had more of a background in music and fashion than perfumes. What made you put your faith in a newcomer to the industry?
I too knew nothing about the perfume industry when I arrived, but I had a 30-year career until then in the luxury goods field and I felt the principles I had learned for the management of a luxury brand were equally applicable to Amouage.
I wanted to hire someone who, like me, did not come from the industry. I didn’t want to be told how it should be done or how it was always done. I wanted someone completely fresh who would be able to share my vision and to move the brand forward, without prejudice.
Over his ten years with the company Christopher has become recognised as one of the consummate Creative Directors in the perfume world and that is due to his incredible attention to detail, his inspirational briefs, so loved by the perfumers and our focus on creating something special and rare, each time, often without regard to cost.
So began our voyage into the unknown for both of us and so far, thankfully, it has worked. The fear we both had at the beginning as to whether what we were doing was right, has fed the creativity of each successive launch.
Can you give us some figures that illustrate Amouage’s success over the years?
The brand has grown over 1,600 per cent in the last 10 years and it is one of the largest niche players today. We sell in 66 countries, have 22 standalone shops around the world and we are featured in many key department stores and independent perfume retailers across the world, often with a brand identified presence.
What sets an Amouage perfume apart from others? Is Amouage more popular among men or women?
Interestingly, our sales split by gender is 52 per cent sold to men and 48 per cent sold to women. This was initially a surprise for me, but one needs to factor in the love of perfume amongst men, in the Gulf, one of our major retail markets.
There are new niche brands entering the market all the time, but we believe that it is our integrity, both of the brand and of the product that sets us apart from others. We don’t rely on gimmicks to market our products, as we believe that the products speak for themselves.
We don’t follow trends. We sing our own song and as a result, our creativity is considered to be often more complex than the plethora of launches happening around the world today and whilst all perfume houses have access to and indeed use the same ingredients, it is the juxtaposition of those ingredients that makes us special.
Which is your favourite Amouage fragrance?
I have many favourites within our portfolio and I have to say that the recent launches of Bracken Man and Woman are my current favourites. The reason is because they are in the fougere olfactive segment and this is an area that Amouage has never before presented to its consumers. It is therefore pushing the bar of the brand and increasing its olfactive direction. I always like to wear something that is daring, but which is also incredibly successful in demonstrating how we can produce fragrances across the olfactive spectrum, but always with the Amouage touch.
Last year was one of the toughest in recent history for luxury goods. How did Amouage fare?
Last year was an incredibly difficult year, geopolitically and economically and this had the knock-on effect of influencing the consumer’s confidence to continue spending, in a very negative way.
The decline of three major currencies – sterling, the euro and the rouble – also contributed to a very difficult time in Gulf markets particularly as products were more expensive in Dubai for example (which is supposed to be duty free) than the duty paid goods in the tourists’ home markets. This, coupled with the declining oil price, made for a very difficult year.
I would say, however, that we suffered predominantly in the Gulf and in Russia, markets where we have never suffered before in an economic downturn. In the European, Far Eastern and American markets however we saw considerable growth and this balanced out some of the sales losses in other regions, but yes, the year ended up pretty flat in terms of growth.
How much of your time do you spend in Oman and the rest of the Gulf? How do you gauge the pulse of the global market, and where do you see the luxury market headed?
I spend 70 per cent of my time in Oman and the Gulf and much of the rest travelling to our other markets, as well as the UK.
I think the luxury market will still have a tough time in the Gulf especially in 2017, but we are already seeing a resurgence of business in Russia, a very key market for us. America is still continuing strongly and our European and Far Eastern markets are all on budget.
I think there is still great uncertainty and the continuing terrorist attacks in Europe will have a knock-on effect in terms of the confidence of tourists coming to those markets and of the local consumers as regards their spending on luxury goods. The one thing markets do not like is uncertainty, whether political or economic, and the world is a very uncertain and insecure place at the moment.
You do not target specific demographics – why?
It has always been our policy, since I arrived, not to target specific demographics. The reason for this is that we are an international brand and we want to speak to a truly international consumer. We are an international brand that happens to be based in Oman and not the other way around.
One of our best-selling fragrances, Epic, which we launched long before oud fragrances became almost ubiquitous in the perfume world, has a special Cambodian oud within its ingredients and one might say that this was developed for the Arab consumer, but it wasn’t. It was designed to take the Arabic love of oud to the Western world and we are delighted that this has worked.
We have never tried to develop a particular fragrance for a particular region or market, as we believe this would affect our brand integrity and frankly, I believe it smacks of desperation.
Amouage has diversified into leather goods and last year further expanded its lifestyle portfolio with luxury scarves. How well has the new collection been received?
Amouage has the potential to become a lifestyle brand in our own shops and if one views perfume as an olfactory accessory, this implies that we should look to other accessory categories and test the market acceptance.
The small leather goods collections have been on the cards for a few years now. They are exquisitely hand crafted in small artisan workshops in Florence, Italy, and the ranges have proved to be very successful in our own standalone shops, which is where they are sold.
The scarves are very new and are also totally handmade by silk artisans in Como, Italy, the home of the finest silk in the world. The initial reaction has been extremely positive and we hope to continue to build upon the first collection with some further elegant designs, as we go through this year.
Will Amouage be opening any new stores this year?
We have a programme to open roughly five new standalone stores this year in both Europe and the Gulf, but I can’t tell you where, as that information is embargoed until we announce the new openings.
Luxury is a much-debated word these days. How would you best describe it?
I would say the concept of luxury goods has been debased in recent years. In the old days luxury was defined as “an inessential, desirable item, which is expensive or difficult to obtain; a pleasure obtained only rarely”. Luxury can also be a state of being and defined as “A state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”.
In recent years however luxury goods have become items for those who seek to show their wealth in order to afford themselves a higher social status. It has been a state of “I have therefore I am”. I do think that this mentality is beginning to change however and the experience and emotional aspects of buying luxury goods are becoming once more important.
I believe that there is a return to the concept of “consolation” or “feel good” spending and that those feelings and desires continue to drive the luxury consumer to spend. Luxury goods might then revert to their previous existence as items that reflect emotional feelings and desires to reward oneself, rather than to dictate one’s social status. “I have therefore I am” therefore could become “I buy to feel good” again.
Founded 33 years ago, Amouage today is one of the world’s most exclusive perfume brands. What is your vision for Amouage’s future?
My vision for Amouage is that we continue to do more of the same, but better. As a CEO I am never satisfied and indeed I never should be happy with the status quo. I am always looking for new challenges. Our two-pronged approach to the global markets, firstly via our very important programme of standalone shop development in key opinion-forming cities around the world and secondly the development of brand-identified shops in outlets and sites in key international department stores and retailers, will continue.
I also intend for us to develop a greater presence across travel retail and also to increase our product offer, possibly in other categories once we have researched their potential for the brand.
Outside of work, what are your interests and passions?
I am very interested in history, and spend a lot of time reading up about British history in particular. One can learn a lot from historical mistakes about how to plan the strategic direction of a business.
I also am a real opera fan and spend a lot of time attending opera performances all over the world, especially if one of my favourite stars of the day is singing. I love the countryside and enjoy long country or beachside walks when I am in the UK. I used to ride horses a lot and would love one day to take that up again – when I have more time!
Would you consider your success at Amouage as one of your greatesta ccomplishments?
That is not for me to say. The results have been successful so far and we hope that continues, but I must pay tribute to my team, since this wasn’t done by one person alone. I have an incredibly hardworking and dedicated team of people who share my passion for the brand and for that I am very thankful.
Amouage has certainly been the brand where I have stayed the longest, so that gives you an idea of my personal passion for the brand and I love Amouage as if it were my own.