From motor-racing driver to his role in the family’s fragrance house, Erwin Creed isn’t afraid to take risks and brings a dynamic vision to his many endeavours.
For the heir to a fragrance house steeped in luxury and refinement, Erwin Creed has a surprising answer when asked to name his favourite smell. ‘Gasoline,’ he says after a little hesitation. ‘I remember lots of different smells from my childhood – those of my father’s shop and of my grandmother’s house where each room had a different smell, all of which I loved.
But I did a lot of motorbike racing when I was 14, and I still love the odours of the gas mixtures and the track. There’s something special about the smell of racing cars.’
It’s a fascination that Erwin has never quite shaken off, even at the age of 40. He recently moved from Paris to Switzerland, driven, he confesses, as much by a longing to be close to the test track where his Formula X car is garaged, as by his and his wife Melissa’s desire to bring up their two young daughters, Penelope and Paloma, in the crystal-clear mountain air of the Alps.
The son of Olivier Creed, Erwin’s love affair with fragrance started early when, as a small boy, he visited the perfume counter in his parents’ shop. Even after his parents went their separate ways, Erwin found himself surrounded by the family business. ‘My father spent more time at the factory in Fontainebleau where he was developing the production side of the business.
He had a country house there, so I visited at the weekends,’ he explains. ‘Although, when I was eight, I was completely crazy about motocross bikes, so I stayed with friends to do that. One time I went back to my mother’s on a Sunday with a broken leg.’
DE PÈRE EN FILS
The House of Creed had, for centuries, been a gentleman’s tailoring institution with its roots in 18th-century London and then Paris. But by the 1970s, Olivier, the sixth generation of the Creed family to be involved in the business, had begun to focus the family’s latent genius on creating scent. Under Olivier’s leadership and discerning nose, the House of Creed fragrance line expanded and was made available to the public for the first time.
And the boutique at Rue de la Paix, once a discreet tailor’s shop, with separate floors for men and women and smelling mainly of mahogany and camphor, became an Aladdin’s cave of bottles and fragrances, ripe with zesty top notes and basal scents that would roll in waves across the counter.
It was here with the magical smell of the tailors’ workshop, before highly tuned engines captured his imagination, that young Erwin’s sense of smell first developed. Later, at 21, having abandoned his boyhood ambition to become a professional racing driver, Erwin made the leap into the family business.
Joining his father Olivier at the House of Creed, he became the seventh generation to receive the knowledge and skills passed down from father to son – or De père en fils, as the Creed motto has it.
Erwin takes the lead in developing and promoting new products. He also travels with his father to handpick raw ingredients, visiting the fields and meeting the growers of the fruit, flowers and spices that will eventually make up the many ingredients of a Creed fragrance.
In his quest to spread the Creed name around the world, Erwin’s hectic schedule can take its toll. ‘I spend a lot of my life on the road,’ he says, ‘and when I travel I try to do as much as I can – but sometimes I travel to 10 cities in a week.’
‘I was born in 1980 in Paris,’ he says, ‘and up until the 1990s, Creed was all about romance and tailoring – my family used to design beautiful dresses and bespoke suiting. When you see the quality of those garments from the past, it’s amazing. We had a studio with 40 tailors, so it was quite complicated.
The average price of the suits we used to sell was between $12,000 and $15,000. I still have a shirt that belonged to my father from when he was 30; it’s perfect, the quality is incredible. Then there was the switch to perfume.
Creed used to be 95 per cent fashion, 5 per cent perfume and then my father switched it. I was working in the store in Paris when he started to produce perfume. From 1995, we still had one tailor in the store but there was more and more perfume.
At the beginning of our brave move into fragrances, we had to have a strong belief in what we were doing – that the perfumes we would end up with would be fabulous – that is what enabled us to keep going and succeed.
Working with the perfumers, I learnt the importance of using quality ingredients. To me, it was a good education because you become more of an artist that way; you know what you want to put in the perfume
Working with Perfumeurs
‘I didn’t go to perfume school, I learnt from the perfumers,’ says Erwin. ‘Today, you have a school in Paris dedicated to perfume. But in my father’s time, most of the perfumers started the business by themselves – in French, we say “je commence de seul etait”, meaning to work alone, to learn to create perfume by themselves. Working with the perfumers, I saw the raw materials and learnt the importance of using quality ingredients.
To me, it was a good education because you become more of an artist that way – you know what you want to put in the perfume. The focus is more on the creative than the technical know-how.
This hands-on learning experience allowed Erwin to test and explore his own olfactory signature. Yet throughout his innovations, Creed’s heritage remains key. ‘I work with my father to interpret our signature because it’s important for me to keep our long-standing customers,’ he explains.
The legacy of the brand is crucial. "Working with the perfumers, I learnt the importance of using quality ingredients. To me, it was a good education because you become more of an artist that way; you know what you want to put in the perfume’.
Today, Erwin and Olivier work together to create perfumes for their discerning customers. These millésime fragrances are produced in small batches at the Creed factory in Fontainebleau, south of Paris. It’s there that the ingredients are weighed, mixed, macerated, filtered and bottled by hand.
Erwin's Commitment To Fragrance
Erwin has played a key part in the creation of a number of Creed’s fragrances including Love In White, Virgin Island Water, Himalaya and Original Vétiver, among others. He adds a modernity to the fragrances that brings the House of Creed firmly into the 21st century.
‘My primary commitment is to seek the best quality sustainable raw materials,’ he says. ‘I travel around the world in this search – a bit like great chefs do with their dishes – because the best raw materials are essential to create a unique fragrance.’
High in natural oils, Creed’s ingredients are sourced from far and wide. There’s rose essence from Bulgaria, Egyptian jasmine, Florentine iris, tuberose from India, Haitian vetiver, Sri Lankan sandalwood and Calabrian bergamot to name but a few. ‘We use natural ingredients, so it’s a little bit like a fine wine', Erwin explains.
The quality of the ingredients depends on many factors: the sun, the soil, the rainfall, the temperature, even the location and country. We’re very conscious about maintaining the utmost quality.
De père en filles?
Another strength is that Creed has is a loyal, discerning customer base that wants something different. For Erwin, inspiration comes from everything around him – eating, a walk, a garden, a boat trip. 'Sometimes it’s travel that inspires me. Creating a fragrance is a matter of mind, inspiration and good ingredients'.
And what of the future? Would he like to pass the business on to his daughters one day? Perhaps De père en fils will become De père en filles? ‘If they are interested and want to get involved, then I’d be happy for them to take on the brand, but I’d encourage them to do whatever they want to do.
I’ve started skiing with my daughters. I love skiing but I don’t want to push them into it – I want them to take pleasure in the sport and the same applies to the business if they are interested. It’s important to give children the freedom to decide what they want to do.’
The Future for Creed
Not that he needs to think about passing on the business just yet. His sights are firmly set on how he can collaborate with his father to develop their recipe for success for the House of Creed. ‘We work with a vision for the brand, not by following consumer buying patterns,’ Erwin explains. ‘We know that if our fragrances are good then our customers will come back to us. Our customers are educated, refined people – for them, it’s all about the scent. The biggest accolade is when people compliment you on the scent you are wearing; that’s the greatest test of all.’