Scenting trouble - Documents' fashion story puts noses out of joint

The online community did not watch, but somehow managed to roundly scorn, the perfume maker's fashion show.

Photo provided to Jiemian News

Photo provided to Jiemian News

By CHEN Qirui


Documents, a high-end Chinese perfume brand, has launched its first ready-to-wear clothing and jewelry collection in Shanghai.

MENG Zhaoran, a former PR executive and founder of Documents, offered little details about where the collection will be available or how it will be integrated with the brand's fragrance products.

'Documents' New Clothes'

Whatever Documents was trying to achieve, the show has clearly fallen short. On social media platforms, people were quick to spot similarities between Documents' designs and those of their slightly more prominent peer, fashion house Balenciaga. Some called the designs "perfunctory" and incompatible with a high-end fragrance brand with products priced over a thousand yuan.

Meng started Documents in 2021 with no experience in fragrance or fashion. At that time, less than 20 million people in China were consuming fragrance. By 2025, the market is expected to reach 15 billion yuan.

The high-end fragrance market of China is dominated by foreign brands. China does have its own perfume brands, but positioned and priced at the mass-market level. When high-end domestic fragrance brands like Documents and Guanxia emerge, prices themselves serve as a form of promotion. These new brands are typically adept at storytelling, which enables them to quickly differentiate themselves from overseas brands.

Documents’s product names are quite artistic, such as "Ren Mian Shou Xin" (Human Face, Beastly Heart), "Ren Wu Wan Ren" (Nobody's Perfect), "Ba Bie Ta" (Babel), "An Fu" (Peace and Blessings), and "Rong Tu" (Rabbit Glory), common practice in the beauty industry. Fragrance products place even greater emphasis on their names. It's the name that sells the product. The actual scent is secondary.

How much is a smell worth?

This is perhaps why Documents's bookstore received praise, while its fashion show was mocked. Consumers are free to interpret the content of books, but the narrative does little for the fabric, cuts, and styles of clothing and accessories.

However, as the brand becomes more popular, customers' opinions are changing. Documents received an injection from L'Oréal in 2022, and soon opened up stores in luxury malls in Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.

One common viewpoint is that Documents is running out of good stories, and since the narrative is almost all that the brands possess, it's a big deal. Along with this comes the perception that the price of the products does not align with the actual cost and the olfactory experience one receives. Most fragrance brands face such scrutiny after overhauling their images and product lines.

Dangerous mind games

Trying to enrich the brand image with clothing and jewelry is a big risk. High-end fragrance products are all about the actual product and play with the customer's mind in terms of ingredients and craftsmanship. That's not how to sell clothes.

Once the bubble of imagination breaks, the brand image blows up along with it.