Spin-offs are often judged. Sometimes, rightfully so. Most sequels are characterised as poor reformulations of its precedent – an exploitation that does more harm than good to the original. While it would be unfair to say it across the board, statistics have proven that spin-offs are not just any good. Or not as good as its original.
So when you have a new trend encouraging a movement of spin-offs in a relatively highbrow field like perfumery, it’s more than easy to scoff at it and wish that the trend will pass without need of even acknowledging its existence. But before we get our prejudices in motion, let’s see first what flankers are really made of.
A spin-off in the perfume world is called a “flanker”. Like a sequel of a movie or subsequent franchises of a TV series, a flanker is an ultimate testament that a perfume has made it big. It tries to harness the cult following of the original perfume (called a pillar), hoping to do away with the cost of meticulous research, brainstorming and marketing in launching an entirely new product. With flankers, perfume brands get to ride to the popularity of the pillar, and hopefully, entice other previously non-consumers to do the same.
Before, flankers are produced for the biggest sellers – only the likes of Envy Me can spawn Gucci Envy Me 2 (2006). Flankers were rare, adding the element of exclusivity which perfume connoisseurs so love. Today, flankers have proliferated in that it comprised 1 of 5 launches. In 2012, almost 18% or 252 out of 1,392 launches were flankers, said Michael Edward’s Fragrances of the World.
Like their pillars, flankers also come in a wide range of variety that can cater to any discriminating taste. The most common flanker would build on the same feels of the pillar, sticking to the structure and just adding one or two notes. This type of flanker would either amp up the motif or subtly downplay a specific accord.
In doing a “variation on the same theme”, the perfume brand will have the chance to tap on people who did not buy the pillar for want of that note or for being a note too much of that something. An illustration: the Flowerbomb La Vie en Rose amped up the rosy notes in the gourmand while Narciso Rodriguez for Her Delicate infused a hint of fig to the otherwise too musky floral of the pillar. Also belonging to this variety are the summer scents of popular perfumes like that of CK One. These “l’eau” editions feature lighter moods with summer notes like citrus or aqua and are very popular among younger markets.
And then there’s the variety that no one could have associated with the pillar fragrance, save for the perfume brand or the bottle. Dior Hypnotic Poison is one such example, bearing none of the distinctive notes of its pillar, Poison, and was formulated entirely by a different team of nose. This type of unrelated spin-off is usually a way to launch a new scent at a fraction of the cost.
Recently, a trend spawned a third family of flankers – reformulations of classic scents years after the pillar’s launch. This type is like a follow-up, but made decades later. A pillar’s niche market is valuable in itself and this type of flanker would capitalise on that. Younger connoisseurs who grew up dreaming to experience the glamour of Guerlain Shalimar were offered Shalimar Parfum Initial. The classic Chanel No. 5 was re-launched with No. 5 Eau Premiere while Jean Patou Joy was re-marketed as Joy Forever.
Finally, there’s the type to rise above all other flankers and perfumes even, its own pillar included. Coco Mademoiselle proved that flankers are perfumes in other own right. This flanker, which deserved a subtype of its own, is notably different from the spicy overtones of its pillar, Coco. Made by the same nose but built in a different time, Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle launched in 2001 remains one of the biggest hits ever in both flankers and perfumes history.
In similar fashion with Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, some flankers are more loveable than their pillars. If you’re not the type to nit-pick and be all highbrow about the origins of these flankers, you would even find yourself surprised that a bottle is a flanker. It proves that not that all flankers is a cheap quasi- knock-off of the original. Lauder is famous for producing flankers that are perfumes in their own right. When it released Sensuous Noir, the spin-off of woodsy oriental Sensuous, it made a statement that flankers can even be better than the original. Sensuous Noir rivals not only its pillar but also other luxury lines with long dry downs like Serge Lutens and Tom Ford Private Blends.
Flankers not only re-do perfumes. They can also re-launch scents that did not strictly come from a perfume bottle. Youth Dew Amber Nude is a spin-off of a bath oil scent, a totally brilliant reformulation of nude stockings that everybody coveted decades ago.
It’s about time that flankers are treated as perfumes in their own right. Flanker is not automatically synonymous to a cost-efficient, lazy modified version of a successful formula. They make good business sense and the fact that they do not make it any less worthy of glass shelf space.