Smell plays a significant role in our memory, mood and emotion, which is why we refer to it as our 5th sense. People have used perfume, oils and lotions on their bodies for thousands of years in lesser or greater amounts depending on fashion trends and impulses. The global fragrance industry is estimated to be worth $40 billion. Today women and men use perfume daily and switch scents depending on the season, their mood and events.
The French have been known for decades for their skills in the art of making perfumes. And now thanks to Orn Perfume, we get to witness the beginning of a generation of new Designers who fusion existing trends with their personal heritage to create a wonderful product, allying scent and design.
I had the privilege to sit with Fah Ruengskul, co-founder of Orn Perfume. Shortly after we met, I realized that behind this pretty and shy lady lies a power house! Fah is driven by a strong sense of purpose and it is reflected in all her accomplishments.
Before we delve into our interview, tell me where you got your inspiration for Orn Perfume?
Both my partner Orawan Pisitkasem and I are from Thailand. Logically our inspiration came from what we know best, Thai women. Their strong connection to beauty and scent motivated us to create a line of fine fragrances.
How did you and Orawan meet?
We met in 5th grade back in Thailand. We went to the same all girls school in Bangkok. Her and I were more than friends, we were like sisters and we even looked alike!
What was it like to be in an all girls school?
The best years of my life! You wouldn’t believe that I came out of such conventional school! Apart from an academic curriculum, we were taught very traditional skills like fruit carving, Thai dancing, making flower garlands, etc… It was great fun and we learned an artistry that is sadly disappearing.
But from the beginning it was clear that Orawan was an Artist and I, a Scientist (with a passion for art)!
She moved on to study Communication and I studied Pharmacy. My entire life, I struggled between balancing science and art in my life. As I was studying Science, I polished my writing by composing poems. I published my first poem book when I was 17 and the second at 18!
It looks like you have a perfect balance between the right and left side of your brain!
Yes I took a test which revealed that my brain works equally on both sides. I don’t do anything perfectly but I guess I can say that I am well-rounded.
How did you career evolve?
After I finished my pharmacy school, I went on to do an MBA because I really wanted to do marketing. I have always had a good sense of knowing what I want to do and what I have to do to achieve it.
I decided that I wanted to work for Unilever, the best Marketing ‘school’ in Thailand! Luckily I got a job there and moved my way up from Marketing trainee to Global Brand Director based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After almost 15 happy years with them I decided it was time to move on. Like I mentioned before I have a good sense of what to do next for my career. I had decided from the beginning that as soon as I had learned enough I would move on and do other things.
I then opened my consultancy firm in Bangkok with a friend which became quite successful. I had it for 2.5 years and had to make the difficult decision to leave it behind to move to Switzerland. I tried working remotely but it was too difficult, especially because our clients were typical Thai. So I decided to sell my shares and start something new. Instead of managing big Corporate brands, I created my own brand!
Did you know that you wanted to get into perfumes?
Not really! Orawan and I had always stayed in touch and saw each-other whenever possible.
Right after I moved to Zurich, she told me that she wanted to create her own Soap brand! After countless numbers of brainstorming sessions, we concluded that fine fragrance would be the direction to take. And the design should reflect the Art of Thai flower making, once Thailand’s trademark.
Our research indicated that there are no Thai brands in the perfume world. We are known for our Spa products but not for our Premium Luxury brands.
But the burning question was “Do we have credibility to launch in this market?” “Do we stand a chance against all the existing brands?”
And in order to succeed we had to find a point of differentiation. Luckily I still had my connections at Unilever, and perfumers in Paris. My experience at Unilever also came in very handy because I was in charge of innovations within the powder detergents category which involved researching scents.
Who does what?
My friend, clearly an artist, is in charge of the design and scent. And I am in charge of the marketing and strategy.
How do you pick your scents?
We start as any typical marketer would with our consumer in mind. Who would buy our perfume and why? How would they feel when they wear it? Our goal is to create an emotional experience that can change depending on the mood. Could be sexy, sensitive, sassy, etc..
We have 8 perfumes with distinct personalities and descriptive.
All of our perfumes are made in Paris by world-known perfumers.
How long from ideation to production?
It has taken 2 years but the scent was ready within a year! We got delayed by the design of the packaging, which is our area of expertise!
Can you describe the design?
Art of floral. While the fragrance is quite universal and everyone can enjoy it no matter where they are, we wanted the design, our point of differentiation, to remain Thai, flowery and girly.
The thought behind each design is that it should be so pretty that you would use it in your house as a decorative item. But this idea required finding a team who could really understand us, interpret and bring our dream to life. And finding the right supplier took us a lot more time than we expected. Each material comes from a different place but the final product is assembled in Thailand.
Do you have a scent for men?
Yes we have Groom. But it’s quite unisex. Girls also love it and use it all the time. The press in France and Switzerland picked it as their favorite one, which I really didn’t expect! But we found out later that Nathalie Lorson, Perfumer of Groom was selected Perfumer of the year in both France and Italy, which explains it all! French noses are by far the most sophisticated in the world – they just know!
What is your tagline for the brand?
It wasn’t easy to come up with one because we created a new category – creating harmony between scent and product design.
We also wanted our tagline to educate our consumers about our products in one sentence and making them understand that they are not only buying an emotion but also a piece of design. So after a few different renditions, we came up with “Orn, Perfumed Ornaments for Body and Home”.
What do you want to be known as?
Products that can carry perfume.
Orn Cares. Tell me about it.
This business came out of passion. If the goal is to nourish us, it should nourish other lives as well. At this point in time we are not interested in creating a business that would harm others while benefiting us.
If Perfume is the heart of the business then the sourcing of it should be the core. Luckily the perfume houses that we work with all share the same philosophy and only use ingredients that lie within the sustainability scope. This way of thinking and doing benefits everyone – the crop is better, the farmer can charge more for his products and we get a better quality of ingredients.
The bottles are not 100% sustainable unfortunately which aggravates me but I still haven’t figured out how to get around it. We have to accept the limitations we have to work with and try to improve whenever and however possible.
The candle is also creating a bit of a dilemma. Our wax is a mix of Paraffin and Soy because our brand proposition is about Design and Look. And with a 100% soy, it’s difficult to make the look of the flame pretty. It creates a black smoke which also hinders the scent.
But we keep researching and innovating to find a solution.
What is your vision for the future?
We would like Orn to have an international presence and make people happy. The borders are disappearing and it’s not about where you are or come from but rather about the connection, the common tastes and philosophy.
I want Orn to be for anyone who enjoys the art of beauty. I believe in good and beautiful environments. The little details that can elevate your mood, your disposition. As functional as we are we also human and driven by emotion. As we say in marketing, there is “The Right reason and there is the Real reason!”
We are Affordable Luxury. “We want to sell to use the money to create good stuff.” (quote from an article I read). I don’t want to make nice things to make money but to make money to create nice things 🙂
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