Sillages, L’Oréal-backed startup, talks customisation and fragrance: interview

By Lucy Whitehouse contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sillages, L’Oréal-backed startup, talks customisation and fragrance: interview
Sillages is a rising independent fragrance startup working in the customisation space that recently caught L’Oréal’s eye - the multinational has backed it via its recently launched BOLD corporate venture capital fund. We caught up with the brand’s founder, Maxime Garcia-Janin, in this exclusive interview.

L’Oréal’s BOLD fund is specifically aimed at taking minority stakes in innovative startups with high growth potential. On the launch of the fund in December, Sillages was announced as its inaugural investment, with L’Oréal acquiring a minority stake in the company.

Sillages is a French startup offering an online service to create customised fragrances based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Why is fragrance well-suited for customisation?

With customisation now well established as a key trend for beauty and personal care, we asked Garcia-Janin whether fragrance is a category particularly well-suited for the rising consumer interest in bespoke products.

“I think it's one of the beauty category where customers' request for customization is the strongest, because a fragrance is basically a statement about who you are. A fragrance should by definition different for everyone, yet, the fragrance market today is very mass & concentrated,” the brand owner explains.

“More and more customers are fed up with standardized and overpriced fragrances that you smell on everybody. This is where Sillages Paris comes in!”

“We create special fragrance for special people. We are the first brand to sell customized fragrances online. On our website, clients can create their personalised perfume with the help of our perfumers, test it at home, and get a free return & 100% refund if the scent is not a match. Thanks to our algorithm & machine learning, only 3% of our clients ask for a refund.”

Leading innovation

Garcia-Janin suggests the latest shifts and innovations that have been seen in this space depend on the rising capabilities of digital within beauty.

“To me, digitalization & customization are linked,” he confirms. “Thanks to digital, you can push the boundaries of customization like never before. Each brand needs to integrate those new digital skills in the development process. At Sillages, our customized offer is built with perfumers, but also with web developers and data scientist.”

sillages 1

Online-only, the appetite is there

Going back to setting up the company, Garcia-Janin suggests that despite his hesitations, the industry was ready for a digital fragrance concept.

“I thought the main challenge would be to convince suppliers & investors that it was possible to sell fragrances online-only,” he explains.

“But surprisingly, people in the industry didn't need to be convinced, and were actually waiting for an innovative project that would make fragrances relevant again for the new generation of customers. I had a lot of support from major name of the industry really early-on in the development of my company.

“When we launched the brand, we sold in one month what I expected to sell in a year. It was super exciting but also really scary. Super-growth needs to be managed really carefully, especially when you operate an online business: one mistake, one bad buzz, and everything is over.”

Key opportunities in the coming period

Garcia-Janin suggests that in the coming few years, the company is looking at potential expansion into the US market, and is also planning to build a more omnichannel offering.

“We are always working on improving our digital experience and customization process. We are also thinking about the USA, since 10% of our website visitors are from there, even though we don't deliver to the US.

“Finally, we are working on an omnichannel strategy, to allow our customers to experience our brand online and offline.”

Sillages: Quickfire facts & figures

  • 14900 Instagram followers
  • 3% refund rate
  • 12% clients from Western Europe
  • 88% clients from France
  • Launch date: November 2017
  • Employees (size of company): Only 2, we are a startup! We work with freelancers mainly. We are now expanding and recruiting more people.
  • Products (how many): We don't communicate on the number of ingredient matches on our algorithm. We constantly add new formulas and matches to our algorithm, to offer the best customization to our clients.
  • Retail channels For now, online only​. We will open an atelier showroom in May in Paris, so that people can create their fragrance online and smell it offline.

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