As luxury lifestyle and fragrance house Acqua di Parma launches a new cologne, Charlotte Phillips meets its CEO Laura Burdese to talk changes in the market, staying 100 per cent Italian and unlocking the potential of the brand
The very words Acqua di Parma are synonymous with la dolce vita, bringing to mind lazy, blissful days sipping Aperol Spritz on the Amalfi coast and shopping in Portofino. The lifestyle company offers a taste – or a smell – of Italy, all exquisitely presented in the sleek, heavy packaging that you see in the best hotels and on the smartest dressing tables around.
The brand also produces brightly coloured towels, decadent candles and beautiful leather goods, but it’s the fragrances we’re particularly partial to. The company began in 1916 with the Colonia collection: a light, fresh scent that has become iconic today. As for the products in the Blu Mediterraneo range, they smell like every Vilebrequin-clad, good-looking European Adonis you’ve ever come across.
Much of Acqua di Parma’s success derives from the formidable business savvy of Laura Burdese, the brand’s CEO. A native Italian, Burdese worked at L’Oreal and Calvin Klein Watches and Jewelry before joining Acqua di Parma back in October.
“There have been dramatic changes in luxury fragrance,” Burdese says, “with digital, e-commerce and distribution changes, but the most important shift is customer behaviour. It’s positive for us because it’s the niche brands that are booming, not the mass market. The brands with a story to tell.”
Fittingly, for the first time, the new Acqua di Parma campaign depicts a real family, starring British model Will Chalker. The campaign uses “emotional storytelling”, says Burdese. “That’s what the brand was missing.”
The campaign launches the latest men’s fragrance, Colonia Pura. “It is full of mineral notes. The idea is to represent fresh, mountain water, rather than salty water, like in other fragrances.” In its gorgeous, minimalist bottle, the scent is utterly colourless. It stays true to the brand’s origins – it smells of citrus, summer and hedonism – but is more youthful than other fragrances. “It’s a light fragrance. People today don’t want to mask; it’s about helping you to shine.”
The brand’s core demographic is the nifty little acronym, “‘HENRY: high earning, not rich yet,’” Burdese says – a term also used to refer to Obama voters during his first presidential campaign. She continues, “Acqua di Parma is exclusive. We don’t follow trends: we are refined and understated, and the people who buy us have a cultured understanding of fragrance.” They’re roughly 35 to 45 years old, 60 per cent male, and are looking for high-quality products with soul. “They love beautiful things. They don’t buy brands, they buy what they like. They buy meaningful things that resonate. Acqua di Parma has always had this sense of being unmarketed – people have to know it.”
And why do they want a scent at all; let alone a seriously high-end – not to mention expensive – one? Well, scent is important, Burdese says, “because it expresses one’s personality and unlocks a window into a favourite time or memory. It’s the final touch to your outfit, it makes you feel complete, while letting your essence shine through.” Her potion of choice? “I wear different Colonias, depending on the season, but in summer I love Blu Mediterraneo Fico di Amalfi. I gravitate towards scents that are unisex or more masculine.”
Scent makes you feel complete, while letting your essence shine through
Burdese is particularly proud that all Acqua di Parma products are 100 per cent Italian, handmade and true to the notion of real craftsmanship – “that’s super important”. Each fragrance takes around two years to complete. The three core assets to the brand, she tells me, are the colour yellow – “the colour of sunshine, we own it” – the bottle, and the logo. The logo on each bottle is slightly different; each is made by hand, so the spacing is not as perfect as if they were churned out by a machine.
Burdese’s goal is to grow and unlock the brand’s potential. “The UK is our second biggest market after Italy, and then France. Europe has 65 per cent of our market, so we are going to make big pushes into the US and China. In China, fragrance is still smaller than the beauty industry, but it is growing. We want to double turnover by 2020.”
It’s a lofty aim – but as Burdese says it, in her charming Italian accent, I feel it is entirely possible. And as I ponder this, in grey and dreary London, there’s only one thing for it – a spritz of Colonia Pura, to transport me straight to the Italian Riviera.