In Time For Labor Day, Fragrance With Benefits Brings Its Mosquito-Banishing Scent To J. Crew And Madewell
Olivia Jan must be very sweet. If there’s a mosquito anywhere in the vicinity of her, she ends up covered with bites.
“Even if I’m in a room of 100 people, it finds me,” says Jan, a perfumer who’s worked for more than two decades at fragrance manufacturer Robertet. “I started researching the properties of essential oils to fight off mosquitos. I really wanted to create something that smelled good, so you don’t smell terrible when you go to a restaurant or barbeque, but you’re protected from mosquitos.”
The result of her research was a blend of peppermint, geranium and cedarwood oils Jan first applied on herself before teaming up with investor and consumer insights specialist Corinne Gillespie, a friend of a friend she met on a trip to Jamaica who became intoxicated by the scent, to bottle and market it as a fragrance called NoMo under the brand Fragrance With Benefits. Four years after its launch, NoMo, which stands for no mosquito, has premiered online at Madewell and J. Crew.
“We were contacted by J. Crew and Madewell, and I have to admit it was a big surprise. We didn’t think we were big enough to be on their radar. Apparently, we were,” says Jan. “We were thrilled because we love the brands personally, and we were extremely happy and proud to do a partnership with them.”
Fragrance With Benefits hasn’t had the easiest time nailing down its retail sweet spot. The brand has largely pursued upscale fragrance boutiques and lifestyle concept retailers. It’s had some success in that arena, scoring distribution with Maison10 and Perfumariē, but has encountered challenges. Stores are frequently puzzled about where to place NoMo in their selections.
“I really wanted to create something that smelled good, so you don’t smell terrible when you go to a restaurant or barbeque, but you’re protected from mosquitos.”
“We were having rejection after rejection after rejection. It was very frustrating,” says Jan. “It’s often a problem of positioning. They don’t know if it’s a beauty product or if it’s a product that’s more of a commodity. They don’t know how to handle it.”
Jan is absolutely clear about the positioning of Fragrance With Benefit’s 100-ml. hero product and bestseller, the $85 light citrusy floral NoMo Eau Fraiche. She asserts it’s a fragrance and should be mingled with the broader array of fragrance merchandise at stores. To compliment it, Fragrance With Benefits expanded the NoMo assortment to include a shower gel and body crème, a hydrating item with a concentrated fragrance punch that’s quickly gaining on the eau fraiche.
“When people talk about it as a mosquito repellent, I tell them it’s not really that. It is a fragrance that has mosquito-repellent properties, but it’s not a mosquito repellent,” she says, noting that Fragrance With Benefits customers understand the idea. “People usually buy the fragrance because of its mosquito-repellent properties for the weekends or going on vacation, but they tell me that it becomes the fragrance they wear when they go out or to the office.”
The eau fraiche’s price puts it in the prestige fragrance segment, but not at the tippy top of the prestige fragrance segment. Scent selling for $200 or above are commonplace in that portion of the segment. Jan says NoMo’s ingredients justify a loftier price, but she purposely kept the price down to encourage people to douse themselves liberally with the eau fraiche. Jan explains, “If you use it as a fragrance, that’s fine, but, if you want to use it to protect you, you should use it like sunscreen and put a lot where you want to be protected.”
“When people talk about it as a mosquito repellent, I tell them it’s not really that. It is a fragrance that has mosquito-repellent properties, but it’s not a mosquito repellent.”
NoMo’s business has been highly seasonal. Jan details that May through September is its peak sales period, and sales surge again around the holiday season as travelers jet off to warm destinations for the winter. To spread sales throughout the year, Fragrance With Benefits plans to roll out several fragrances with various attributes. NoMo will stick to warding off mosquitos, and future fragrances will take up additional tasks. A second fragrance is set to debut later this year.
“The goal long-term is to have a range of fragrances with different benefits, but we have the luxury of being able to take our time to create the fragrances. We aren’t in a rush,” says Jan. “We really want to fine-tune the fragrances to get them right.”
Jan and Gillespie can build Fragrance With Benefits carefully and slowly because it’s their brand. At Robertet, where Jan operates at the behest of clients, she doesn’t have that privilege. She also isn’t responsible for the final calls on fragrances.
“It’s very comfortable to be a perfumer for other brands. You just do the fragrances, and you don’t have to decide when the fragrance is done. The brand decides when the fragrance is done,” says Jan. “When nobody tells you when the fragrance is done, you have to make the decision, and it’s really scary.”