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An Augmented Experience

Hermès Parfumerie rethinks fragrance shopping

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When my colleagues and I travel to New York and are able to secure a few spare hours in the city, the first thing we do is go shopping. And by “go shopping,” I don’t mean we hop in a cab and head to the nearest Uniqlo to stock up on chic basics. By “go shopping,” I mean we check out the latest and greatest in what the city’s retail experiences have to offer. (Okay, and maybe that Uniqlo trip still happens along the way.)

Last week I was lucky enough to have a few solitary hours to myself when I scoped out all the buzzworthy retail goings-on – the Polo flagship on Fifth Avenue (to die for), the brand-spanking new Microsoft flagship (Apple look-alike? I plead the Fifth.), the Macy’s Herald Square millennial mecca and the new Hermès Parfumerie in the upscale Brookfield Place. Being a self-proclaimed junkie for a good sensory experience, it’s the Hermès Parfumerie that won my heart and has me performing a show-and-tell for anyone who stops by my desk back at the office. 

Sensory experiences are one of the hot topics du jour, and rightfully so. In a world where our smartphones are seductively whispering our names every minute, causing us to ignore the physical world, fickle shoppers require an experience that’s interesting and memorable enough to pull us away from our magical devices and – hopefully – spread the good word. So what does Hermès’ first flagship for its much-loved perfumes entail? 

The Hermès Parfumerie is considered the brand’s scent library. It’s elegantly simple, yet full of brand-correct details. The exterior is primarily glass, allowing views into the entire space. A signature scarf is backlit against the storefront, keeping a consistent brand element that ties this store to the luxury brand’s other locations. A projected emblem graces the floor at the entrance, while a “Perfume Librarian” greets you to walk you through the store experience. 

The first thing you notice is the metaphorical garden on the left, as gardens are important to Hermès’ perfume heritage. On the wall above the garden is a dynamic digital feature of an artist – currently local Brooklyn-based, mixed-media artist Daniel Gordon. Each artist is concurrently featured through the store’s augmented reality app.

That’s right, Hermès created an app exclusively for this location. Entitled “Liberty 225” as a nod to the store’s address, the app is used to reveal hidden surprises throughout the store, enhancing product displays with stories that tie into the artist’s as well as the brand’s heritage. Quirky glasses that trigger a playful horse-headed selfie (an homage to the brand’s equestrian background) remind you that the brand still has a lighthearted side. 

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The backlit shelving allows the perfume bottles to glisten like delicately colored jewels. The store sells its myriad scents in the form of various perfumes, candles and bath products, which can be custom packaged in a variety of different boxes. The store offers bespoke scent creation, where you can not only custom create a signature scent – an “Hermèssence” – but package it in the vessel of your choosing. 

The back of the space features the luxurious Le Bain Hermès product, where everything from the sink to the stool to the trashcan is perfectly appointed in Hermès fashion.

Perhaps my favorite little detail was a simple display tucked away on a built-in shelf. What looked like pencils in a porcelain container were actually balls of wax that contained their line of home scents. “The Shop Around The Corner” was custom made for this location, pulling inspiration from all the flowers outside the small markets and bodegas New York City is so well-known for. My Perfume Librarian, Monty, even allowed me to take a sample home! It’s small but clever touches like this that made me fall in love — taking the typical scent-smelling experience and adding a unique spin is not only fun in the moment, but makes that moment memorable and sharable. 

After Monty guided me through the space, I couldn’t string him along any longer – my conscience made me exit, since I clearly wasn’t going to make a purchase. I loved my time in the store, though I had a few curious questions after departing. Why New York’s Financial District for the first flagship for the scent collection? Why not SoHo or Fifth Avenue – let alone Paris – for the French brand? I assume it’s to capture a high-end, international audience that will travel through here on a regular basis, but it’s still an interesting decision.

Also, the brand’s augmented reality app seems like a younger spin. This feels like it’s for a target audience much younger than the customers I expect will shop here. What is the overlap of the app-using customer and the customer who will make purchases? Perhaps it’s their gateway to a younger customer base through a less expensive product? While the price point is still high, it’s not as expensive as their popular silk scarves, much less their Birkin bag. Finally, the artist will change seasonally, but will the garden display change, as well, to influence the mood? That question’s a little less pressing, but I still wondered, nonetheless.

The sensory world of scent-selling is a largely growing, rapidly changing market, and Hermès has undoubtedly set a benchmark for others to match. I can’t wait to see how the experience influences the industry.

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Mary Lynn is an integral member of the Brand Communications team at Chute Gerdeman. Her skill at developing and expressing brands through visual communications and strategies has defined many of CG’s most successful projects. Mary Lynn is a champion of Chute Gerdeman’s social media presence, having originated, designed and set the tone for the Gerdeblog. Today, she leads the team, collecting and commenting on trends, industry and design. Prior to joining Chute Gerdeman, Mary Lynn worked at Interbrand for clients such as AT&T. Past experience also includes fd2s inc. and MeadWestvaco, where her primary projects included designing Disney-licensed school products. Mary Lynn was one of VMSD’s 2012 Designer Dozen, has been honored with design awards and published in various industry magazines, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

 

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