Like many of us, Bradenton native Kenzie Fisher's life changed dramatically in 2020. She grappled with the pandemic, made plans to move back to her hometown with her fiancé and started a luxury perfume business, rooted in sustainability, that officially launched in November.
Élu Parfums began as a passion project. An avid traveler, she attended the University of Central Florida and jumped at the opportunity to study abroad in Europe through the college's event management program. While in Paris, the hotel where she was staying offered an itinerary of things to do in the country—including taking a day trip to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. She was immediately smitten.
"It's like a time capsule. It feels like it's untouched by industrialization," says Fisher. "There are cobblestone streets and rose gardens everywhere, and the air smells like lavender."
Fisher's time in Grasse sparked an interest in all things fragrance. After college, she moved to New York to pursue a career in public relations, but kept dabbling in fragrance on the side, taking online classes, learning about top notes, middle notes and base notes, and buying various perfumes to test out.
"I loved it," she says. "But I realized there was a hole in the market when it came to sustainability and perfume. [The perfume industry] is very commercialized. It's not about the craft. There weren't a lot of perfume brands representing the craft and keeping the earth top of mind."
Enter Élu. "I thought, 'Why not take something I'm passionate about and have knowledge about and marry those two things?'" says Fisher. She reached out to Jean Niel, one of the family-owned perfume houses in Grasse, which was founded in 1779. Working with a perfumer there, she created Élu's first scent, Provence, a nod to both the region where Grasse is located and the centuries-old art of perfume-making. The perfume has subtle top notes of French lavender, middle notes of mandarin and honey, and base notes that are warm and woodsy.
"I wanted to encapsulate Provence and Grasse," says Fisher. "There aren't many woodsy lavender scents out there. It's different, but cozy and familiar at the same time."
Élu Parfums are made and bottled in Grasse using recyclable, biodegradable packaging, then shipped to the company's Los Angeles warehouse for distribution. The pandemic has complicated the process. "I originally wanted to launch in June or July of last year," says Fisher, "but the perfume fillers took two months off for vacation, which is customary in France, so there were shipping delays. Then there was a cardboard shortage, because everyone was ordering online due to the pandemic. I tried to buy boxes and couldn't get them."
"We had to get creative," she says, "but it gave us more time to perfect the scent."
As part of its focus on sustainability, Élu is part of 1% for the Planet, an international organization whose members contribute at least 1 percent of their annual sales to environmental causes. The perfume is also vegan and cruelty-free. A 50-milliliter bottle costs $165.
"It's really hard to sell scents on e-commerce, but we've had a great reaction so far," says Fisher, "and we've just added samples to our website so people can try out the perfume before buying it, because it is a luxury price point. Someone DMed me the other day and said it's a great everyday, every-season scent."
Fisher and her fiancé, Elu's chief financial officer, are planning to move back to Bradenton, where Fisher's family still lives. (Her dad runs Bradenton's Full Boat Charters.) She says she hopes to expand her line to include fragrances that evoke memories of other cities—Mallorca and Barcelona are both at the top of her list.
"Scents are so powerful," she says. "Even if travel is restricted, you can still be transported."