by: Yi Shang
Xiujuexi founder, Christie Shen
While American perfumistas have wonderful events like Elements Showcase, and Sniffapalooza, Italians enjoy Esxence and Pitti Fragranze, and the French visit the TFWA World exhibition and conference… somehow it always feels like there is not much going on for perfume lovers in the Asia-Pacific region.
This might have been the case a few years ago, but thanks to Fragrantica I had the chance to interview Christie Shen, founder of Xiujuexi (嗅觉系, which can be loosely translated from Chinese as olfactory style). She is a passionate woman who tries to bring the wonderful perfume world to more and more Chinese audiences.
Xiujuexi 2016 exhibition guests, staff, and volunteers group photo
SOFIA: Hello Christie, first of all, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. What we’ve learnt is that you organized the Xiujuexi Perfume Exhibition in Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, on 21-23 October 2016. This exhibition fully utilized the structure of Duolun Museum by occupying three levels. It showcased nearly 2,000 bottles of mainstream and niche perfumes and brought perfume workshops and bottle-signing to the audiences. This is the second cooperation between Xiujuexi and Duolun Museum. Congratulations for organizing such a successful exhibition! Firstly, I’d like to know more about this exhibition and Xiujuexi. For the benefit of those who could not attend, can you please introduce this exhibition to us, and what are some of the highlights?
CHRISTIE: What sparked our initial desire to host Xiujuexi Perfume Exhibition is that, in China, except for those perfume bays in shopping malls, you don’t have a place for learning about perfume. However, due to the goals of the salespersons, shopping malls are not the ideal place for learning about perfume culture or to exchange user experiences. Therefore, we organized Xiujuexi Perfume Exhibition. All you need to do is to buy an entrance ticket, then you can smell two thousand perfumes, take photos, jot down notes… all at your own pace. We also invited a few famous niche perfume founders from some European perfume brands, so the audiences can interact with them face to face. Many visitors brought their favorite perfume here, to show the founders what loyal fans they are. Then it is followed by the founders signing their bottles and having photos taken alongside their fans. This is a quite meaningful experience.
A perfume fan having her bottle signed at MDCI stand
SOFIA: Can you share with us how Xiujuexi, as a company, has developed from a concept to now?
CHRISTIE: Early on, we noticed that there was little perfume variety in China, and most perfume brands hadn’t got into the Chinese market yet. If you wanted to buy some perfumes, your first challenge is inconvenience, secondly, you won’t know if you’ll like a scent or not if bought blindly. Therefore, we believe that the possibility to test-smell a perfume is very important. Especially for the copious amount of niche brands which have no counters in China.
SOFIA: As the biggest mediator for brining overseas perfume to the Chinese consumers, what is Xiujuexi’s main business model?
CHRISTIE: We directly negotiate and obtain rights to represent and distribute some overseas perfume brands. What’s important is that the brands need to be ok with our model of using the Internet — after promotion, we allow perfume fans to test first, then decide whether to purchase. Currently we have two brands giving us exclusive distribution rights in China, they are MDCI Parfums, and Chabaud, respectively.
SOFIA: In the exhibition, Xiujuexi chose to go without cabinet counters, in order to foster a relaxed atmosphere, and let people smell things freely. On top of that, I learnt that there was no pressure to make a purchase. In today’s world where nearly everything has a touch of commercial aims, why did Xiujuexi choose to make smelling perfume an experience? Also, why did you prioritize perfume as an art for enjoyment?
CHRISTIE: Maybe it is because I was initially just a perfume fan myself. When you love something, and then get into that industry, you bring a sense of humanity and sentiment. In fact, I’m a bit more in touch with my feelings in my company and I do those things that logical people see as a waste of money with no immediate financial gain. However, I believe what we do will have long term benefit.
SOFIA: I’ve learnt that all the perfumes for this exhibition are from someone’s private collection. Is it yours? If so, just out of curiosity, how did you get interested in perfume? Do you have any stories to share?
CHRISTIE: Yes, they are my private collection. I’ve been collecting perfume for about seven to eight years, and I have collected quite a bit. Since I am in this industry, such collection is nothing I can boast for, especially when compared to what many others in a similar position can achieve. The only difference is that we are more eager to do things, and organized an exhibition.
I remember the first ever perfume I smelled is Cool Water for Women by Davidoff. At that moment, I was so intrigued by how a perfume can mimic the scent of water. And from then on, I’ve been studying perfume, and never looked back.
Perfumes from a private collection being showcased at the Xiujuexi Exhibition
SOFIA: In order to fulfill the needs of the Chinese market, Xiujuexi is selling perfume in small sizes; in addition, you developed new packaging for some perfumes, for example, we can see MDCI perfumes have new labels and they come with corresponding Chinese brochures. Therefore, for those brands pondering whether to get into the Chinese market, can you talk about the needs of the Chinese market? Is localization somewhat a must?
CHRISTIE: The Chinese market has seen drastic improvement in their level of perfume knowledge. I think it is mainly due to Internet celebrities and the economical mode associated with it, and more and more convenient ways for media and communication. These days, if you have a great product, it will sell due to how easy it is to spread the word over the Internet. Therefore, this is a great opportunity for niche brands.
With regard to localization, we respect what a brand’s wishes are. Different brands have different cultures; some have more open-minded approaches when cooperating, and are willing to give the distributor the rights to localize a product. This is the case with MDCI, thus their new packaging and brochures in Chinese.
SOFIA: In the exhibition, besides niche brands’ founders and a perfumer, Xiujuexi also invited famous bloggers who have huge followings, popular idols from a reality TV show, like Shao Mingming, Ge Weiyin, and online celebrity shopping anchors who do live broadcasts. I guess some of these guests can seem unlikely for an exhibition, from a more Western perspective. Can you please share a bit about the Chinese market with regard to the Internet celebrity phenomenon?
CHRISTIE: According to some research, China has the world’s number one Internet market. Mobile shopping contributes to more than 90% of e-commerce transactions. Therefore, for this exhibition we thought: if all focus was on the actual exhibition, we could at most reach the people who attended the exhibition. But what if we added in live broadcast at the same time? We would spread to the Chinese netizens. Therefore, we invited two popular idols, and several online celebrity anchors. They guided their fans through the whole exhibition over their screens. What differentiates Taobao’s [Chinese eBay] live broadcast platform from the others? The difference is that whatever product the anchor is talking about will show up on your screen, and you are only a few clicks away from successfully purchasing it. We got thousands of orders through such seamless instant purchasing function. We’ve also thoroughly experienced the impact of live broadcasting events.
SOFIA: Talking about the Chinese perfume market, according to your observation, how’s Western perfume doing there? Is there any trend in what the Chinese like?
CHRISTIE: Generally speaking, the Chinese still like fresh, light and elegant perfumes. Some themes are naturally preferred by the Chinese, for example, osmanthus, gardenia, bamboo and so on. However, as the Chinese consumers are having more and more improved knowledge about perfumes, top selling perfumes here will also have great quality, because simply relying on marketing won’t get any poor quality perfume to withstand the market.
SOFIA: What difficulties will perfume lovers face when buying perfumes in China? What are some of the common ways to buy perfumes here? And what’s an average consumer’s biggest perfume concern?
CHRISTIE: For one, people are quite concerned about the price; another concern is the variety of perfumes one can choose from. Nowadays, more and more people are buying online. I guess an average perfume consumer would be most concerned about how to pick the most suitable perfume for him/herself.
SOFIA: Xiujuexi aims to be a bridge between the Chinese perfume market and niche brands. Why niche? What’s the current situation like, and what kind of future do you foresee for niche brands in China?
CHRISTIE: There’s a “blue ocean” opportunity with niche perfumes. There are so many varieties and background stories, and there are many strongly artistic ones. Many famous salon brands had their very niche days. We are like talent scouts, just like how the Chinese proverb puts it, we are the Bole looking for our Maxima horse. There’s a lot of fun doing it. Niche perfumes are seeing more and more acceptance and popularity in China. Some famous salon perfumes are no longer niche, they metamorphosed into successful commercial brands. It’s quite exciting to see how a perfume brand’s grown.
SOFIA: Whether we like to put it this way or not, we can notice certain popular trends in the perfume world and fashion world. For example, many brands have been quite focused on raw materials like oud recently by launching deep oriental perfumes; whiles a few years ago, it seems many were eager to get on the rose & patchouli bandwagon. So in the newly emerging Chinese market, is there any popular trending scent? Or do you see people self-group by more abstract themes, like “artistic girls love Keiko perfume?”
CHRISTIE: Indeed, trends converge in the fashion world, like this year’s oud trend, and many designer brands launching their exclusive collections. But the majority of Chinese consumers’ preferences are unchanged: fresh, floral and gourmand perfumes are still preferred. With regards to abstract self-grouping, it happens when a brand has at least three or four perfumes sharing similar characteristics, then people give that brand a summarized personality, and that brand in turn becomes the spokesperfume for a certain group of people. Such progress also makes the brand’s personality increasingly clearer.
Inside Xiujuexi Exhibition
SOFIA: Do you have any tips or suggestions for the Chinese perfume lovers? No matter if they’ve been hooked for years, or just started showing some budding interest.
CHRISTIE: I hope everyone can thoroughly listen to his/her olfactory preferences. Don’t let a brand’s fame, price, bottle design, or any other outside elements influence how you feel about a perfume. Of course, this is based on the premise that one has smelled quite a lot of perfumes, otherwise the grass is always greener, or the next perfume is always better. Be confident of knowing that what you want is based on experience, same with anything else.
SOFIA: Christie, is there anything I haven’t asked, but you’d like to share with our readers?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think I’m very lucky because I’m doing what I love as a career. I hope everyone can bravely go after their heart’s desire, and leave no regret in life.
Thank you Christie of Xiujuexi for taking time to answer our questions!
Company Name: Shanghai Beilei Trading Company, Ltd.
Contact Person: Miya Shen
Phone: 86 021 57746128