#CNILux: Building A Luxury Brand In The 21st Century

While it may seem hard to comprehend, David Crickmore, CEO of luxury perfume house Amouage, and Sybilla – founder of her eponymous fashion label – have notched up almost 70 years of experience in the luxury and fashion industries between them, and this afternoon, the pair shared their wisdom on ways to build a brand both profitably and mindfully.

Having been in Oman now for 11 years heading up the rebranding of 34-year-old Amouage, Crickmore has proven his credentials when it comes to reinventing a brand for the 21st century. In his own words, the brand was “dusty and tired, it had grown old with its customer and failed to capture the support of the younger generation coming through. While doing something was clearly necessary, we didn’t want to alienate – we wanted evolution rather than revolution.”

He set about changing the aesthetic of the bottles to make them look less Arabic in appearance to appeal beyond the Middle East; introduced new scents that harked back to, but weren’t dominated by, the ancient rose, frankincense and myrrh of the brand’s homeland; and he hired a new creative director, Christopher Chong, an opera singer at the time, no less. Having come from a non-olfactory background, Crickmore wanted someone with the same broad outlook and thought it would be a good fit since perfume is all about notes, an intended pun referencing the important arrangement of a perfume.

Crucially, Crickmore wanted to reposition the brand as one that, although it would remain rooted in Oman, was not defined by its origins and could stand alone.

“We never considered it our job to bring Oman to the world, as that is the role of others. We saw it to be the reverse, to bring others into Oman,” explained Crickmore. “We are today a brand that happens to be based in Oman, rather than a brand that tries to sell Oman internationally. There’s a subtle difference.”

He is, however, all too aware of the pitfalls of moving in the international perfume world with “brand loyalty disappearing fast” due to “the flooding of the market with a new perfume popping up every month” leading to “customer burnout and an entire customer rejection” of the category.

“We believe that the world is very fragmented, and as a result we try to form positive communication with our clients,” he said of the brand, which this year boasts 20 standalone shops and 35 shop-in-shops in key cities around the world. “Promote communication, not block it, and to focus on what unites us, not divides us. We believe that it’s our differences that give way to true creativity.”

Striking a similarly positive note, Sybilla – who presented her first collection in 1983 and went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated designers of the Eighties and Nineties – explained that after her 10-year hiatus in the Noughties, her objectives have changed.

“I think that what I want now is to serve, to be useful,” she told Suzy Menkes. “When I started in the Eighties, it was about me. Now I want to be of use and make clothes that can give strength and jobs and even protection for women. I want to make pieces that last a long time in the wardrobe, clothes that can become friends and can be nourished. That’s what is important to me.”

At a time when the fashion industry is in flux, the designer is trying to discover new routes to success that are socially and environmentally conscious, but also honour time and respect.

“I was approached by an American brand recently and I was trying to figure out why they wanted me, and they said because you have respect, and we can’t buy that – and that was a nice compliment,” she said. “But questions soon started to be asked about money and margins, and that is the story about what is happening in the world now.”

“I would love to help find new ways to work,” she continued. “I think we need a word from this industry about what is going on in the wider world – I want to figure out how to play the game now.”