Wednesday, 3 December 2014

'Something Very New York' - An Interview With Kelly Kovack Of Odin

I'm not sure how it's perceived in the USA, but here in Britain, Odin seems to be one of those brands which are always slipping beyond the reach of most people's radar. Its portfolio is sizeable and it's stocked in one of London's best perfumery departments, yet it rarely seems to generate much interest amongst scentusiasts, even though many of its wares are worthy of attention. This low profile could possibly be on the brink of a transformation: the brand has just released a so-called 'White Line' - currently consisting of three fragrances - set apart from the signature 'black' range.

To launch this new venture, one of the brand's founders, Kelly Kovack, flew into London in May. When I caught up with her at Liberty, she explained that the decision to create a separate line of scents was prompted by the fact that "things were getting to a place where merchandise was a wall of black boxes." With the White Line, the aim is to create "fragrances that were definitely approachable and wearable for men," she explained, but which also had "a pretty, clean simplicity." Given that this marks something of a departure from the brand's origins, I continued our conversation by asking Kovack if she still considers Odin to be a creature of New York.

Kelly Kovack: Yes. The four of us who created the brand [Kovack, Paul Birardi, Eddy Chai & Larry Paul] are New Yorkers. Not by birth, but we all chose to live there. We've all been there for 20, 25 years, so New York is our home. Our sensibility is very New York. We all travel a lot. We definitely have a global sensibility to how we develop, but I think that also comes from being in New York.

P: What is a New York sensibility, olfactively?

KK: If you take a fragrance that has one founder and one vision and one sensibility, there's a natural cohesiveness that happens. At Odin, we're four very different people and we have four, very big, opinionated personalities. So I think sometimes we agree on a fragrance, and sometimes, only one person likes it, but they're really adamant about it, and they won't let it go, and we all trust each other. And to me, there's something very New York about that, about the dynamic, and also in the fact that we're not looking for consensus and that we're willing to take risks.

P: So the New York-ness is more in the process than in the product?

KK: It is definitely in the process, and I think it comes out in the product only in some of the risks we take, in launching fragrances some of which are a little odd.

P: If you have a fairly strong 'New York vibe', do people 'get' you in France?

KK: They do. We weren't sure they would get us. But they do. They're very traditional and very serious. They really get us in Russia. And in Germany. And we've just launched in the Middle East.

P: Do you consider yourself to be a niche brand?

KK: Yes.

P: So are you worried about the opportunistic proliferation of niche?

KK: That's quite a provocative question. Shall I give the PC answer or say what I really think? I think that for me, it's really exciting. I think, when we started, we were really fortunate in that there were a handful of really beautiful brands that kind of carved the way for niche: Frederic Malle, Byredo, Le Labo*. We knew that we were going to live side by side with them. We're so thankful for them doing the work that they did in creating the category, because it made our launch that much easier.

P: But are you worried about the future?

KK: I think we're all in the same place. It's a big market, it's a big world. There's enough money to go around for everyone, and I honestly think that, at the end of the day, regardless of how crowded a category gets, there's always the opportunity for a brand well done. But I will also say that I think the bar to get into the market and be able to get taken seriously has been raised, because I don't think it's as simple as hiring a phenomenal perfumer and showing up with a fragrance. Niche is about approaching things in a different way, either the experience with the consumer, or your relationship with the perfumers, or how you're talking about fragrance. It's not just by virtue of the fact that you're small. So I think that if you don't show up with a really compelling story and some really great products, you won't be successful.

P: Finally, would you say the internet has been important to you?

KK: Online press has been huge. I think that blogs are hugely important for us. I think that one of the things about blogs that sometimes bums me out is there are a lot of people who comment about a fragrance, and I know for a fact they haven't smelt it. I think there's an element of that. As a brand you can't control it, but if they're going to dislike it or love it, you want them to have actually smelt the product.

[Odin's White Line consists of Efflora, Milieu Rosa and Vert Reseda, all of which were made by perfumers at Drom.]


PS Please be sure to come back tomorrow for a very special, 24-hour draw.

* This interview took place before the announcements were made that Estée Lauder are purchasing Le Labo and Frederic Malle

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