EX NIHILO was founded in 2013 by entrepreneurial trio Benoît Verdier, Olivier Royère and Sylvie Loday. Together the three were inspired to create an alternative to the luxury fragrance products, combining Parisian tradition with a bold new avant-garde approach. EX NIHILO (meaning something out of nothing), was born with the vision of disrupting the industry with high-end fragrances that offer a new approach to personalised luxury.
Bringing together some of the industry’s finest perfumers and the most splendid raw materials EX NIHILO set about creating a new line of fragrances that would offer an intimate more personalised alternative to anything that was already on the market.
Today, EX NIHILO has around 250 points of sale around the world including three flagship stores in the Middle East. The brand is going from strength to strength but managing to stay true to its roots with a steady growth that doesn’t alienate its existing clientele. Within each store, clients can discover the art of personalisation with an exclusive process that allows each customer to create their own scent in store. Known as the Osmologue Experience the process invites customers to personalise their chosen fragrance from the collections, to create something unique for them. The full process is done in store and customers can walk away with their very own perfume in just minutes.
Co-Founder Benoît Verdier was recently in the Middle East to mark the opening of the brand’s two newest stores in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Verdier has been surrounded by fragrance his whole life having grown up in the home of perfume; Provence, France. He is involved in the creation of new perfumes and works very closely with the perfumers to define new additions to the collections. As Verdier passed through Dubai we were lucky enough to spend some time with him to discover the store and the special Osmologue Experience. Here we find out more about that process and the continued growth of the brand.
How would you describe the universe of Ex Nihilo?
I would say that the focus of the house is to promote French avant-garde – we want to enhance the traditional aspect of high perfumery, using the bests materials and the respect that there is for that. We work with 16 master perfumers and we like to be disruptive in the experience we propose. We have a strong focus on personalisation and want to create an environment for our clients that represents France, but has a modern touch. Something minimalistic and contemporary, educational in a good way, entertaining and showing the backstage side of high perfumery.
What can you tell us about the Osmologue Experience you offer and why do you think this is so popular with customers?
The Osmologue Experience allows clients to come into our stores and have this unique experience to create their own personalised fragrance. The customer will come in and have a private consultation with our team, sharing their likes and dislikes when it comes to perfume, and engaging about their feelings, memories, and special events in their lives. Then we will prepare a personal fragrance to suit all your needs and tastes. We used a super-accurate technology that allows us to get the best results and you won’t have to wait for months to get your fragrance, we will create it in the store and you can take it home with you in minutes. You will receive a certificate of authentication with the details of your perfume and then you can come back and get another bottle once the first one is finished! The final touch is choosing the cap for your bottle to for a last touch of personalisation.
We are the only house offering this service on this scale and at this speed in the world. We initially developed this technology around nine years ago and we now have a new and improved version. It is a technology that originally comes from the industry and we managed to downsize it, and this is the very first time that a house is able to propose it directly to the client. It was a challenge to make the machine that creates the perfume much smaller than it is in its industrial form and we also wanted it to be convenient for our teams to use as well as being spectacular for our customers. It’s also a good way for us to understand what our customers like and to build a relationship with them.
Can you share a little about Ex Nihilo in the Middle East?
We of course have our flagship store here in The Dubai Mall, we just opened a new boutique in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and this month we have a store opening in Doha, Qatar, so we are expanding a lot in the region. The Middle East is a strong focus for us at the moment as well as Asia which is the area we are looking to expand in next as we believe it is the future of perfumery.
Tell us about the store aesthetic what is the mood you are trying to convey?
Today we have six flagship stores around the world. We try to have the same mood within all of our stores but in each destination, we try to bring in elements of that city. Our customers are very international and we want to give them a reason to visit all of our stores.
For example, our store in Los Angeles features rough concrete on the floor, so we have this rough element combined with elements of French aesthetic. The store in Paris has more of an art gallery style with a very cool environment. The store in Taiwan is more open with lots of space, and the new store in Doha features white marble and is inspired by a Parisian apartment – high ceilings and lots of light. In the middle of our stores, you will find the main ready-to-wear collections and around the sides, you can discover our limited edition and exclusive creations.
Tell us about the store exclusive fragrances you have in each destination?
To celebrate the launch of each store we design a limited edition fragrance. So for the Riyadh store, we launched a new edition of our Outcast Blue fragrance. For the Outcast Blue Edition Ambre, we worked with a Spanish perfumer Jordi Fernández who is actually based in Dubai. He took the original Outcast Blue fragrance and customised it amber to make it even more relevant for the region. Each exclusive fragrance is only available in the stores it was designed for and this also gives our customers a reason to visit all of our destinations. Today you can buy almost anything from anywhere in the world so this is a way of keeping that exclusivity. For each fragrance we have special packaging, and special engraving on the bottle and everything is customised for that destination.
You work with 16 perfumers from around the world – how do you choose the people you work with and what do you look for?
Many of the perfumers we work with we immediately clicked with because when they see our presentation and they realise they will have creative freedom, this is incredible for them. Often many of these perfumers are working for huge companies who have strict guidelines so when they work for us there is much more room for them to be creative and of course, they like that. We work with a vast range of perfumers, some of them are very famous, some of them are not famous at all, and some have grown with the brand. When we choose who we are going to work with it is first a matter of their availability, but also a matter of their personality, style, character and the feeling and relationship we have with them.
When I brief each perfumer I write a synopsis of what we are looking for, and I work on a story board with the concept. Sometimes I’ll share a specific inspiration, it could be a movie or a piece of music, or sometimes I will share a material or ingredient. So I share this with them, they come back to us with an olfactory proposal, made of five or six different options and then we will choose from there.
How do you remain a niche brand but continue to expand without alienating existing customers?
It’s a good question and one we ask ourselves every day. Of course, at some point, you have to develop as a brand and you can see that we are all around the world today, but we try to keep that exclusivity by remaining high-end and offering personalisation and limited edition and collectable fragrances. We have 250 points of sale around the world today but we are very strategic about where we sell our fragrance. I think if you start a brand as being super exclusive and high-end and work down it is much easier than starting too low and trying to build that credibility, so I think we have done it the right way.
Who is the Ex Nihilo customer?
They are men and women who appreciate quality ingredients, bespoke services, they like to find unusual or collectable pieces. They understand what we do and they are craving special and unique things.
What can you tell us about sustainability at Ex Nihilo?
We are always looking for new ways to be sustainable. We have already tried out some ideas and we are working to understand what customers want from us and also educate them. We already use a lot of sustainable materials in our packaging including the foam that the bottles are encased in. We have tried to reduce plastic as far as we can and even the gold foil that we use on some of our boxes is recyclable. There is still a lot to be done but it is a constant process.
Can you tell us about the lab-built ingredients used in Hedonist?
Our Hedonist fragrance features another way of looking at sustainability. Within this fragrance, we have an ingredient called Akigalawood which is directly derived from Bio Science and was made from scratch in a lab. So instead of travelling the world and using natural ingredients that not only cause a large carbon footprint to transport but also can be very limited and difficult to find, we decided to create our own ingredients in a controlled environment. We love to mix the best of synthetic ingredients with the best of natural ingredients so we have natural bergamot and a natural extract of ginger, and the final ingredient is synthetic, made from biotechnology. It’s really interesting and it is something that I think we determine the ingredients of the future.
What is your personal favourite fragrance?
I like Outcast Blue and Hedonist. But I am already testing out the future creations for the next two years and I am already in love with some of them!
What else is in the pipeline for the near future?
I don’t tend to layer two fragrances together, but I’m very interested in testing ingredients together and also layering oils. We have mists in the collection that you can add to your fragrance. Personally, I am more classic in the way I wear fragrance. I use them on my clothes not so much on my skin. I don’t recommend to used fragrance on your hair.
How would you describe Ex Nihilo in one word?