How Cartier's Léa Vignal-Kenedi is leading the way for the global fragrance industry
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How Cartier’s Léa Vignal-Kenedi is leading the way for the global fragrance industry

How Cartier’s Léa Vignal-Kenedi is leading the way for the global fragrance industry

Léa Vignal-Kenedi, managing director for fragrances at Cartier Parfums, is overseeing the global strategy for fragrances at one of the world’s most iconic jewellery houses

cartier lea vignal kenedi

With over two-and-half-decades operating at the highest levels within the fragrance industry, consider Frenchwoman Léa Vignal-Kenedi as one of its foremost powerbrokers. She began her career in the Nineties with Yves Saint Laurent Beauté and it’s where she learnt some of her fundamental guiding principles. “I joined the perfume division of YSL in 1997. At the time, Yves Saint Laurent was alive and very involved in the entire creative process. He was certainly one of the most artistic fashion designers, taking inspiration from the likes of Van Gogh and other great painters. It’s there that I learnt how to connect an artistic side with current culture, and then translate that essentially into a product,” says Vignal-Kenedi.

It’s an experience that has proved invaluable in her present role as the managing director for fragrances at Cartier Parfums, where she works as the business brains behind the French company’s global perfume division. She oversees functions including marketing, operational strategies and commercial activations for all its fragrances.

At Cartier, Vignal-Kenedi works alongside the legendary nose of the brand, Mathilde Laurent. “We are the only jewellery house to have an in-house perfumer. I work closely with Mathilde and a creative team within our accessory design studio,” explains Vignal-Kenedi.

She notes that the entire process from idea to bottle-on-the-gilded-shelf takes a few years. At Cartier, a brand that traces its roots back to the 1800s and a fragrance division whose history goes back to the Eighties, the maison does not reinvent the wheel each time it debuts a fragrance – another trait she learnt from Yves Saint Laurent. “When he (YSL) thought about a new project, he would first go through the brand’s archives – and that’s exactly what we do at Cartier too. Today, when I start the process of a new fragrance with my team, we start with the history of the brand, and look at the archives of the maison.”

She cites the example of La Panthère de Cartier, one of its best-selling collections. “When we decided to relaunch La Panthère – it previously existed in our portfolio – we really had to continue to tell its story, but make the product relevant to the present time. We needed to make the client discover what are the animal notes in perfumery and what is the concept of femininity at Cartier. And so Mathilde worked around the concept of felinity – feline and floral. That is how the idea for it came about.” It came to market in 2014, but the process to get it out of the door, she explains, took four years. The challenges were on two fronts. Mathilde who was working on the anomeric side of the fragrance was constrained by the fact that recent regulations prohibited her from using certain natural ingredients that were allowed previously, and so she had to develop synthetic alternatives. On the other hand, Vignal-Kenedi’s role had to find a manufacturer who could execute the bottle design which is sculpted from the inside. The duo persisted and Vignal-Kenedi is confident that the La Panthère will become an enduring legacy fragrance for the brand.

Revisiting its archive is something that Cartier did to good effect earlier this year too with another popular men’s fragrance called Déclaration. The brand went back to its original Déclaration from 1998 to debut the Déclaration Haute Fraicheur earlier this year which is a variation on the classic.

cartier fragrances

Vignal-Kenedi leads the global strategy when determining the messaging for worldwide markets and says that China and the US are the fragrance markets that are on the rise. “The European region is still one of the biggest [fragrance markets], but China is really picking up. We’ve been expecting China to become a key player for years. It’s not a surprise that it is happening now, but the rate at which it is happening is surprising, especially within the last two years. China is expected to become either the biggest or the second-biggest fragrance market after the US by 2025,” forecasts Vignal-Kenedi.

As she notes, the culture and motivations for buying fragrances is starkly different in the US and China and one of her main tasks is to tap the zeitgeist in each of those two markets. “The fragrance culture in the US comes from the likes of Bath & Bodyworks and so it’s very clean, pure and fresh. In China, clients are looking for more sophisticated and signature fragrances, for singularity and the power of owning a piece of the Maison Cartier.”

Apart from the US and China, the market that Vignal-Kenedi knows has tremendous potential is the Middle East. “At the start of my career, I was in charge of the Middle East region for Shiseido, and Jean Paul Gaultier. What strikes me about this region is the ability of our partners here to listen, learn and implement very quickly all the expertise and the knowledge we give them with regards to the execution of the plans,” says Vignal-Kenedi. She says Cartier fragrances have had considerable success in its regional markets including the UAE and Kuwait, though Cartier’s push in Saudi Arabia is poised to grow rapidly.

“We’re going to have a very successful year in Saudi. We will expand our network and have pop up fragrance stores [in Saudi] too. Next year, we are planning to present the unidentified scented object experiential concept for Saudi too,” she says about a concept that involves a floating cloud of perfume seen in an installation in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2017 and then in the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2019 months before the pandemic struck. Cartier’s focus on the region also means that special limited-edition versions of its iconic perfumes like La Panthère have been created specifically for the Middle East.

Read: Voices from the top: Sophie Doireau, CEO, Middle East, India and Africa, Cartier

Among the key challenges cropping up for Vignal-Kenedi and her team is tackling the issue of sustainability, through the use of ingredients as well as the packaging itself. “With the Rivieres collection, we achieved a formula with plant-based ingredients containing no artificial colours. We wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to create beautiful projects while being responsible. In about 18-20 months, 100 per cent of our pillar lines we make will also be completely refillable and reusable. The challenge here is to ensure the quality of the bottle is maintained so that you can reuse it as long as you want to.”

One of her main battles is currently resisting the noise within the industry that is pushing for the exclusive use of natural ingredients in perfumes – something that she’s clear is an impractical objective. “Synthetic molecules in perfumes will always exist. We need to be true to what perfumery is…and perfumery is chemistry. Chemistry is about making the best with a combination of materials that are synthetic as well as natural. The objective is really to find the right balance between the two,” she offers.

Vignal-Kenedi’s strategy for the brand means also looking beyond fragrances themselves and into product diversification strategies – a good example can be found in the Les Nécessaires à Parfum Cartier cases that were introduced in May last year and designed to fit nine Cartier fragrances, including La Panthère, Déclaration, Pasha Edition Noire, Oud & Santal, and Pur Magnolia, among others. With the accessory, as with the idea of reusable bottles too, Cartier is selling not nearly a fragrance that dissipates over a day, but a tangible piece of the maison itself.

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