PHLUR is an Austin-based startup that is the first all-digital fragrance company. They’ve created an immersive online experience where customers view images, playlists and horoscope-like descriptions to pick their fragrance without smelling it first.
CEO Eric Korman currently lives in Austin and, prior to founding PHLUR, was president of Ralph Lauren Digital & Global e-Commerce, responsible for all digital businesses and activities at Ralph Lauren Corp. He essentially had an epiphany that fragrance was one of the only industries that hadn’t moved into e-commerce and PHLUR was born.
Coming from a background at Ralph Lauren, how do the fashion and fragrance industries compare?
Fashion and fragrance overlap from the perspective that both can transport people. Whereas the beauty and design of a garment can emotionally impact someone though, great fragrance can both emotionally and physiologically affect you. These powerful visceral reactions emanate because our olfactive bulb is part of our reptilian brain, so our sense of smell bypasses the cognitive filters our other senses – like vision – pass through.
PHLUR’s mission seems to center around sustainability and integrity of the product. What differentiates PHLUR from other fragrance companies?
We believe deeply in creating stunning scents with clean ingredients and making them available at an honest price. While other fragrance brands may deliver a product along one of those lines, we’re the first fragrance brand to take every element into account, from formulation to packaging, to provide ultimately a radically different experience. Some of those differences are not necessarily apparent when you experience the product – like the fact that we’re the first brand to work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to ensure our products do not rely in materials from threatened or endangered ecosystems… but that’s okay. We did it because it’s the right thing to do, and ultimately we believe making the right choices, will help us find the right customers who will stick with us for the long haul.
Do PHLUR products smell different than those in a normal department store?
We spend on average three to four times more on ingredients than what you would find in a similarly priced bottle of fragrance in most department stores. As a direct result, they will smell quite different. More complex, more nuanced and more likely to evolve with you through the day. Equally as important, the high quality ensures we do not need to rely on additives to ensure duration on skin.
How do you develop a fragrance? What do you think makes a good fragrance?
Our development process starts without an idea of how a scent should smell, but rather an idea or moment in time we want to translate to scent. So for instance, MOAB began with the idea of a hedonistic journey amongst friends through the desert. The concept of endless freedom of time and space. Dry arid air framed by hues of orange and deep yellows. To communicate this, we provide our perfumers with big beautiful story boards visualizing this moment, we play them music, and we provided them words, all with the objective of stimulating their other senses to let their creativity roam. So we’re a bit unique in that we do not provide any olfactive direction or reference points to our perfumers – and while this was novel for most of them and perhaps a little strange at first – it’s provided us the opportunity to develop deep relationships with them and result in creations that go beyond just a “product.” So we define a great fragrance by a scent that stirs your emotions, causes you to feel something meaningful, and of course causes you to want to smell – and feel – it over and over again.
Why are you passionate about the fragrance industry?
I’m passionate about fragrance because of its unique ability to bring you into moments deeper and with more meaning – something I’m always striving for, especially in our overwrought digital age. I’m passionate about trying to influence the industry because I believe the majority of the category is not about this idea – it’s about leveraging the equity of a fashion designer or celebrity to sell a questionable product with dated and often misogynistic messaging through a tired experience. As a result, many people are turned off by fragrance – by what’s it become en masse at scale. I’d love to play a part in helping to bring back the majesty and mystique of fragrance to people, ultimately hopefully enriching their lives along the way.
What is your ultimate goal for PHLUR?
To present to people an entirely different way to think about fragrance. To help them move beyond the celebrity and mass department store counter, and reconnect them with an art form that dates back to the days of Ancient Egypt, but in a completely modern and thoughtful way.
What’s your favorite smell?
My children after a day at the beach.
Austin-based Kaitlin Street is currently the EIC Editorial Assistant at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a student at The University of Texas at Austin.