Molecule 01 is nothing short of a fragrance industry icon. Lauded for everything from being an invisible scent that makes you more attractive to the opposite sex to completely revolutionizing the way the general public perceives synthetics, the debut fragrance of Escentric Molecules has remained a bestseller over a decade after its launch. While the product, which made the brand a household name, is still going strong, the subsequent launches present five equally exceptional pairings, comprised of a singular Molecule and an Escentric formula that incorporates this ingredient into a more traditional fragrance structure.
Describing itself as a celebration of “perfumery as the art of chemistry” and a masterclass in fragrance construction minimalism, Escentric Molecules maintains its highly unique brand identity in a densely populated industry. Everything from the campaign imagery to the (cap-less) bottles is pared down to the basics, with the brand’s creative director, Paul White, continuing to uphold its science-driven aesthetic across launches. Escentric Molecules brands itself with binary codes and chemical structures instead of supermodel faces or natural raw material close-ups. It is this faceless advertising that makes it so universal, fitting across a range of ages, gender identities, and personal tastes.
The man behind the range is Geza Schoen, who finessed his skills as a perfumer at Haarman & Reimer (prior to its merger with Dragoco to become Symrise in 2003) before branching out on his own. Based in Berlin, Schoen is an olfactory polymath, tending to not only his own brand but a variety of other fragrant endeavors, demonstrating a versatility and ingredient knowledge that has built the basis for Escentric Molecules. Rewinding to pre-bestseller status days, the perfumer recounts the brand’s rather modest beginnings. “I had a few savings from my previous life in the fragrance industry. We started off in a very humble fashion, borrowed a friend’s workspace, and bottled and crimped the first few thousand bottles ourselves. That was it,” he states.
The rise of Escentric Molecules mirrors the upsurgence of niche perfumery. Founded in 2006, the brand came up alongside other brands such as Nasomatto, Byredo, By Kilian, Francis Kurkdjian, and Ormonde Jayne. Prior to that, there had been L’Artisan Perfumer (founded in 1976) and Frédéric Malle (started in 2000), but the rest of the industry landscape was dominated by the mass market, Schoen notes. In a world of convoluted press releases and gimmicky packaging, his brand offered a breath of fresh air, tapping into the zeitgeist of a consumer audience that wanted a fragrance that subtly enhanced them, rather than clouded them in a suffocating cloud of heavy parfum, or a characterless, almost sanitized citrus. “I think we came up with a radical approach towards fragrance which still has fans worldwide. People seem to like the simplicity we offer, especially with the five molecules we did so far,” Schoen explains. This approach embodies a timelessness that has maintained the brand’s popularity despite different shifts in fragrance styles.
One such trend is the resurgence of natural perfumery. Despite Escentric Molecules’ synthetic-driven approach, Schoen sees the brand in “happy coexistence” with this side of the market. “Naturals are cool and fabulous, yet a fragrance which is purely natural will always lack certain aspects of sophistication. You really need both to have a satisfying fragrant experience,” he comments. Consumers and industry alike have also become increasingly focused on ingredients. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) regulates the use of ingredients across the industry, be it via setting safe maximum levels of an ingredient or banning them completely if they are deemed toxic. Two of the ingredients which fell prey to the latter in recent times were oakmoss and lyral/lilial, leading to a cross-industry reformulation of many products. The future looks to be filled with more of these challenges, forcing perfumers to find new alternatives when it comes to creating fragrance. In January of this year, IFRA released an additional 25 standards, totaling 216 that perfumers must comply with. “We will see lots of standard aroma chemicals disappear, being struck off the perfumer’s palette due to restrictions and changing health and safety opinions,” Schoen comments. “It’s not good, but also presents a challenge to find new solutions for new fragrance compositions.”
In a fast-paced industry which sees thousands of releases flood the market every year, Escentric Molecules goes against the tide. Molecule 01 was 15 years in the making, while the latest release took 3. Launch timings are evaded in favor of a more organic process, and the choice of aroma-molecules around which to release a pairing is a meticulous one, for not every ingredient has the complexity (or lasting power) to stand out on its own. Thus far, the chosen few have been Iso E Super (a smooth, woody scent), Ambroxan (the mineral and animalic alternative for ambergris), Vetiveryl Acetate (a refined version of grassy vetiver), and Javanol (a sheer sandalwood).
The latest outing, Molecule 05 & Escentric 05, presents a new chapter for the brand. While the molecule in question is Cashmeran, which shines on its own thanks to a musky coniferous character, Escentric 05 “is not just an homage to the molecule, but also a fragrance with an environmental background. It describes a summery moment in the mountains by the sea on a Mediterranean island with all its odors — fresh, herbal, woody, and dry,” Schoen explains. Whereas previous Escentric launches were focused on constructing a fragrance around the aroma-molecule, 05 has a more specific narrative, namely that of Schoen’s coastal memories. Despite lucrative acquisitions of indie brands such as Le Labo and Frédéric Malle by beauty conglomerate Estée Lauder, Schoen is determined to keep his company completely wholly independent. “I wouldn’t ever consider selling Escentric Molecules. We are our own bosses and it is all fabulous as it is right now,” he states. “Better than ever before, actually.”
Photo: via Escentric Molecules