From L’Oréal To The Entrepreneurial Life: Sam Cheow Goes Indie With High-Concept Aromatherapy Brand Necessary Luxury
During 15 years at L’Oréal, Sam Cheow held no fewer than 11 roles and shaped numerous brands, including Maybelline, Redken, Matrix, Pureology and NYX, where he was most recently senior vice president of global product development and innovation. As the esteemed beauty futurist’s positions shifted, a fascination with aromatherapy never left him.
“I blended together a combination of five oils. I have sleep issues, and I used the oils on my pillow to help me have a restful sleep. I would also disperse it into the air on airplanes to calm down babies,” says Cheow. “When I tried it on babies, it really worked. I gave it to all my colleagues who entered motherhood, and they loved it. I had a nice little following at work.”
The corporate environment at L’Oréal provided Cheow professional stability, but the death of his husband Gordon Avard from lung cancer almost three years ago led Cheow to reevaluate his life and career. Simultaneously, as a beauty industry insider, he noticed the indie insurgency and extension of beauty products into health and wellness. He felt compelled not to hold his aromatherapy habit on the sidelines as the beauty sector transformed.
“My job was amazing, but it was time for me to do something else. My husband’s death was a big change and driving factor. I didn’t want to wake up some day and think, ‘Oh, my God, I should have done that,’” he says. “Of course, I could have launched a makeup or skincare brand, but I really wanted the brand to have a genuine story that I related to and believed in, and that’s why I launched Necessary Luxury.”
Necessary Luxury specializes in aromatherapy products with bold attitudes and limited runs designed to promote desired emotional and physical states for customers seeking scents that their peers aren’t drowning in. It’s starting with six products: five so-called mindset mists (So Fucking Good, So Fucking Gorgeous, So Fucking Ready, So Fucking Lit and So Fucking High), and a body oil (Feel Good). The mists’ prices range from $88 to $100, and the body oil is priced at $50 for a travel size and $111 for a full size.
“I wanted to create more purposeful aromatherapy geared to the mindset and wellbeing of an individual.”
“I wanted to create more purposeful aromatherapy geared to the mindset and wellbeing of an individual,” says Cheow. “If I woke up in New York City today cold and lethargic, how could I shift my emotions and mindset to have a brighter mood by using essential oil blends?”
Only 88 of each of the brand’s aromatherapy fragrances will be produced, and the countdown to their extinction is recorded on Necessary Luxury’s website. As of Sunday, for example, 79 out of the 88 bottles of the private reserve blend So Fucking Good were already purchased. One to two new fragrances are scheduled to be released monthly.
“It is not about staged scarcity. It is about living the moment we are in, launching innovative and artisanal concepts to surprise and delight our clientele with ingredients that are highly relevant and on-trend,” says Cheow. He notes Necessary Luxury’s here-and-now product philosophy enables it to develop products tailored to the seasons or holidays like Valentine’s Day without being stuck with them for too long. In addition to the fragrances, the pipeline is filled with a tincture, skin cream and supplements.
CBD or cannabidiol, the constituent from the cannabis flower that doesn’t produce a high, is a go-to ingredient for Necessary Luxury, which is pioneering CBD in the fragrance category, but Cheow points out it’s not a CBD brand. (Outside of Necessary Luxury, he is focusing on CBD at Global Cannabinoids, a wholesale CBD distributor that’s appointed Cheow chief product innovation officer for hemp and CBD skincare.) Necessary Luxury’s synthetic-free blends incorporate ingredients such as rose geranium, lavender, frankincense, holy basil and sandalwood sourced from the countries known to cultivate premium versions. Cheow invests in the ingredients rather than splashy web design and bottles.
“It is my vision to create a cult brand and stay that way. In my professional career, I have seen so many cult and indie brands transformed into megabrands, and they began to become like everyone else—another brand. And that’s the last thing I want for Necessary Luxury.”
“I don’t spend a lot of money on fancy packaging and advertising because those are unnecessary marketing costs,” he says. “I’ve been in the business long enough to know those are the things that drive costs, but the costs should come from the expensive juice and the essential oils that I source for it.”
Cheow revealed Necessary Luxury on Istagram in November before beginning to sell its products on the brand’s site in January. There are no plans to place it in major retailers. Cheow is less concerned with propelling sales than establishing Necessary Luxury’s fierce following of customers he describes as empowered to take control over their wellbeing and customize fragrances for their distinct preferences.
“Revenue is the last thing I worry about. I have a nice profit margin without having to deal with a retailer. It’s a very sustainable model,” he says, elaborating, “As a startup and micro brand, I do not intend to scale. It is my vision to create a cult brand and stay that way. In my professional career, I have seen so many cult and indie brands transformed into megabrands, and they began to become like everyone else—another brand. And that’s the last thing I want for Necessary Luxury. I want to be able to offer very unique product offers and maintain a close relationship with my customers.”