Kostas Poulakis is relentlessly inventive. He knows very well how to increase awareness of the brand he is working for, representing the company and their products. It is one of the many demands that come with the job of being a brand ambassador at Xerjoff, a global leader in the fragrance industry. During the interview he spoke about his life, his career and the fresh challenges the fragrance market has to face.
Kostas Poulakis was born in Athens, the capital of Greece and he has had a very out of the ordinary career. He moved with his wonderful parents to the Middle East at the age of eight years old and enrolled the High School Middle East.
Before devoting his talent to the perfume market, Kostas studied law in England and obtained a PhD degree. He is Qualified as a Barrister of England & Wales at Middle Temple. After learning the basics around scent in London, he joined Fortnum & Mason, the world's most famous corner shop, where he obtained the title of the Master Perfumer in the perfumery department after 6 years of hard work.
In the last seven years he has been working as a Brand Ambassador for Xerjoff fragrance industry, revealing his creative side of his character by bringing into the market the well known perfume, ALEXANDRIA III, inspired by himself and Sergio Momo- the famous perfumer and owner of Xerjoff.
For those readers, who may not know your background, please tell us how you began your perfume path, what did you do before you were a perfume ambassador?
My journey began with a degree in Law, qualifying as a Barrister of England & Wales and obtaining a PhD in Law and the title of Doctor of Laws. A twist of fate brought me as a Christmas temp in Fortnum and Mason Piccadilly, followed by my position as Master Perfumer.
I think at this point it is vital to emphasise that I had received no formal training in perfume making at any point in my life. And did not express an affinity to fragrance in my childhood.
What was your first ‘scent memory’?
My first “scent memory" would be the scent of my dear mother and father deeply embedded in me. My mother wore Parfum D' Hermes and later Madame Rochas and Opium. My father only wore Eau Sauvage by Dior.
My first perfume was Bijan and later I was gifted, Bal a Versailles, a perfume by Jean Desprez.
Your international debut was with Fortnum and Mason as their master perfumer. Did you feel any pressure to repeat your huge success with Xerjoff?
My role as Master Perfumer entailed that I carried out consultations with clients. Thus I became familiar with Caron, Guerlain, Dior, Micallef, Clive Christian, Lorenzo Villoresi and Xerjoff to name a few.
I became familiar with Xerjoff as I was already responsible for presenting their fragrances. Thus it was a smooth transition from selling Xerjoff fragrances within the perfumery at Fortnum's to Brand Ambassador of the Brand
To be honest my role in Xerjoff fit like a glove. For myself, Xerjoff is not a job, it is a way of life and it gives a sense of belonging to the Xerjoff family. Being Brand Ambassador came as a natural sequence of my journey in perfumery.
All creative projects have their challenges. What was the biggest challenge working at Xerjoff’s perfumes?
Challenge...! I like to grow within my role. And to adapt according to The needs, wants and tastes of the times and individual clients. In thinking of challenges within my role, I remember Vivien Leigh the British actress who played Scarlett o Hara In Gone with wind. After her success her challenge was always to be as good if not better in her next role.
I relate to this as I strive to learn and to improvise my technique and enrich my knowledge in order to become better today than yesterday. I do not wish to remain static.
How COVID-19 has changed the Fragrance Industry?
As an effect of Covid19, perfume brands invested in digital channels in order to offer fragrances to their audience. As a result it was inevitable for online sales to grow. Several stores including the Salon De Parfums in Harrods, offered a unique virtual concierge experience. This entailed a virtual consultation either through zoom or video call.
This allows the staff to connect with clients and to show them the product. The problem with fragrance is that the client cannot smell the fragrance prior to purchasing.
If you had to define yourself in three words, which ones would you choose?
If I had to define myself in 3 words....humble, Blessed, survivor.
In my life I have been Blessed in so many ways, humbled by events and the love and admiration of people. And I have survived life's trials and tribulations!
Who is your target audience, how would you engage with them and which markets in the world do your fragrances sell the most?
Our clients are divided to those whom trust Xerjoff and keep replenishing their fragrances so they were repeat purchases and to those who were interested in purchasing new releases that they had not tried. To avoid blind buys, Xerjoff offered through Xerjoff Universe our company website sample kits which prospective clients could purchase prior to selecting their fragrance.
There has also been a large number of international clients who purchased exclusives without having tried the fragrance prior to buying it.
I believe this was due to the exclusivity, and the wish to own new releases. In this case bloggers and influencers promoting the fragrances may have contributed to the sales of perfume in COVID times.
How do people experience your perfumes? Which are the most popular?
Consultation at Xerjoff is the key ingredient. The Xerjoff Specialists ascertain the likes and dislikes of the client and select various scents from the different Xerjoff collections. Alongside a refreshment or afternoon tea, the particular scents are tried on the skin in order to experience the dry down and overall effect of the fragrance on skin.
Selecting a fragrance is a journey at Xerjoff. We make this smooth and magical. In the past perhaps certain fragrances were most popular such as Oesel, Erba Pura and Alexandria but in recent years clients select their scent across the entire Xerjoff portfolio.
According to lifestyle, culture, preference for woody, floral, citrus or oud, sales differ. There are clients who have their signature scent at Xerjoff, others like to try a variety of Xerjoff fragrances and then we have clients who wish to obtain all the fragrances in the collection.
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
Bakhoor burning in the incense burner.
Opium by YSL, as it reminds me of my late mother.
Alexandria Ill, inspired by myself for the love of Oud and roses.
Coffee, in the morning.
A stroll in Athens, on a summer evening.
What is the importance of fragrance in your life?
Scent is important to me as it reminds me of a special moment in my life whether happy or sad, a loved one and a mood. I choose according to the occasion or mood my scent of the day.
In Ancient Egypt essential oils and perfumes were placed in the tombs with the Pharaoh to assist in the afterlife signifying the importance of scent.
Xerjoff is admired by many people for its oud fragrances, although the brand actually creates many other types of fragrances, too. How do you approach it?
The Xerjoff portfolio resembles an umbrella with different collections. Each collection is inspired by a particular idea or event. Join the Club is based on the idea of virtual clubs such as a sailing club or a writing club.
17/17 Stone label took its name from a display at the Natural History museum in London displaying natural stones and minerals. 1861 collection based on the unification of Italy. Casamorati originates from Bologna Italy 1888. And among others we have Shooting Stars and Oud.
Shooting Stars based on a meteorite shower in Siberia. Each fragrance bearing the name of a shooting Star, Uden, Lua, Oesel. And a piece of meteorite placed in each fragrance box. Oud Stars based on the travels of the Middle Eastern Marco Polo lbn Battuta.
Oud occasionally is called " liquid gold" and valued highly by perfumers. It is embedded in the fabric of Middle Eastern culture and often signifies wealth and success. At Xerjoff, Oud is blended with amber, rose, jasmine, musk. Xerjoff V and Kemi also offer fragrances with oud, fruity notes, amber, patchouli and rose.
*Images courtesy of Kostas Poulakis