Interviews Interview with Mark Crames Demeter Fragrance library

Interview with Mark Crames Demeter Fragrance library

02/02/10 21:22:15 (9 comments)

by: Michelyn Camen

In 1993, a new concept in fragrance named Demeter, (now known as the Demeter Fragrance Library) was introduced by perfumers Christopher Brosius and Christopher Gable, that rocked the fragrance industry; they were linear fragrances that captured a memory or experience most everyone can identify with, but were shocking to wear.

With names like Dirt, Funeral Home, Holy Water, their irreverence and disparity to the time honored tradition of classic perfumery, turned the idea of scent upside down and paved the way for niche fragrances that didn’t always smell “pretty.” Today, Mark Crames, the Ceo and President, continues the “legacy of linear “and speaks candidly with Fragrantica about the evolution of this break-through brand.

The Company's name honors the Greek goddess of fertility and of the earth. Why was this name chosen?  

Mark Crames: The original mission of the Library was to capture and catalog the scents of the garden and nature, which certainly seems to be within the pure view of the goddess. Today I think the name has become associated with our unique perspective of making scents inspired by real objects or experiences.

How has Demeter Fragrance Library changed from its inception, when Christopher Brosius, co-founded The Company? How has it stayed true to the original values?

Mark Crames: When Christopher Brosius and Christopher Gable (who is still associated with the company) started Demeter they started with several unique concepts:

  • Fragrances inspired by real objects was radical enough, from a design perspective. But the idea was inexorably intertwined with a much more powerful concept, the fact that our sense of smell evokes our most powerful sense memories. Consequently, making fragrances inspired by real objects and experiences would be emotionally powerful, and choosing such a fragrance uniquely personal.
  • Unusual and evocative names were a different kind of assault on the senses. Fragrances with names like Dirt, Funeral Home and Holy Water created additional associations, and edginess.
  • Linear scent design: fragrances that express their nature immediately, and do not change over time.
  • Accessible and affordable fine fragrance, and a mission to expand the everyday use of fragrance.

We still follow all those principles, but we continue to expand upon then, licensing iconic candy and other objects, like Play Doh; and pursuing our mission of making fragrance more accessible and affordable by expanding our distribution. 

Demeter was one of the first lines to capture a particular odor or a specific memory in a bottle. Can you tell our readers, why smelling like dirt, tomatoes, or rubber is so appealing?
Mark Crames: There is so much evidence that our strongest emotional responses are to our sense of smell that I think it is simply accepted science at this point - it is just the way we are wired. Consequently, smelling idealized versions of even everyday objects like Dirt or Tomatoes can bring back intense feelings associated with those objects.

So when the associations with those objects are positive, the feelings evoked by those scents will be both positive and intense.

The company is called the Demeter Fragrance Library. What is the literary connection?

Mark Crames: More analogy than literary. The idea is that just as you would go to the Library to get information on almost any topic of interest, you would go to DFL to get any kind of scent you wanted, “no matter how odd or unusual.” I admit, however, that we have modified that to WEARABLE scents, a nod the today’s commercial realities.   

I first discovered Demeter at the specialty store  Henri Bendels, NY in the mid 1990s, and of course later the line was sold in the hip trendy chain, Urban Outfitters, Later and even today, some of the fragrances are sold at Sephora. Now you are selling to the mass market and to drugstores. What led to this decision?  

Mark Crames: It goes back to our original mission, who is to make more fragrance affordable and accessible - if you want to be accessible you need to be where people shop. Additionally, we have always been to lowest price prestige fragrance in specialty or department store distribution. So as things have changed over the years, and drugstores sell every designer fragrance and $60 skin care, it seemed like the right time. Plus, we are still in the experimental stage, doing promotions rather than permanent placements.

In the world of fragrance, 50ml of a perfume can top $1000. Yet, many celebrities (who can afford to pay $$$$$) wear your scents. Can you name a few celebs and their favorite scent?

Mark Crames: This all anecdotal, but Drew Barrymore wears Gin and Tonic, Clint Eastwood, Kate Moss and Sharon Stone wear Dirt, Stella McCartney wears Lettuce and Tyra Banks is a fan of Cinnamon Buns.     

When the company started it was based on single notes concept, Dirt, Tomato, Rubber, Baby powder, now you have expanded into multiple note scents, such as Redhead in Bed, Funeral home, was this a shift or an evolution?

Mark Crames: I am not sure this was a shift; I think it was underway even before I bought the company in 2002.  My recollection, quite honestly, is we were already doing that more complex scents (Angel Food, Birthday Cake, Wet Garden, Gin and Tonic), and I just identified it. The critical point to me is that they remained linear, and therefore identifiable and accessible.

Please explain why you chose to license the name of famous brands - Junior Mints, Dots, Hershey’s even in apparel with Hot Kiss?
Mark Crames: Junior Mints, Dots, Jelly Belly, Hershey, Play Doh - they all share common qualities that made them attractive go Demeter:

  • Unique, recognizable smells
  • Not commonly considered as a subject for wearable fragrance, and therefore something of a surprise
  • Iconic, recognizable names 

So to me, these were logical extensions of the Demeter concept. It just happens that a lot of candy fits those criteria. And the Hot Kiss experience proves we should stick to the above criteria. 


What are your best sellers?

Mark Crames:
Baby Powder and Pure Soap have really separated themselves from the rest of the Library. Laundromat and Sex on the Beach also sell very well, as do the original classics, Dirt, Tomato and Grass.

When it was launched Demeter was certainly a novel concept and a 'niche' fragrance that was sold to only a few specialty stores. Would you still consider Demeter fragrance Library a niche scent even though it’s widely distributed? 

Mark Crames: I think we play a unique role, in the hope that we can remain niche despite wider distribution. If things work according to plan we will have 6 to 9 fragrances that have broad distribution and great commercial success. And then we will have to settle for only have 240 “niche” scents…

Can you please talk about the concept of your collections... such as ”Sweethearts”, “Happy Hour”, “La Vida Latina”, “Herbology”? 

Mark Crames: The Collection concept was intended to make the fragrances into groupings based on common themes, rather than the traditional, and I think somewhat misguided, current fragrance categories. And again, it is an evolving concept that I hope to refine and make more inclusive in the coming year. In the end, our purpose is to make locating the kinds of scents you like easier. Whatever we can figure out that will make that easier, is what we will do.

Do you use noses for the scents?

Mark Crames: All the fragrances evaluations are done in house, and some of the fragrances themselves are blended in house.   

What is your personal Demeter Scent?
Mark Crames: Depending on my mood, I will wear Humidor, Patchouli, Dirt or Bonfire.  

Many of us who follow you on Twitter and Facebook enjoy reading about the DFL scent of the day and its historical connotation. You use social media as part of your marketing strategy, how effective has it been? 

Mark Crames: Fragrance of the Day is less than a year old and is continuing to evolve. 

             They tend to fall into three categories:

  • Holidays or commemorative days, the more obscure, the better. An example was Apple Pie this week, for National Pie Day.
  • Commemorations of a famous Birthday or Death, especially one associated with a particular smell or play on words, like Fresh Ginger for Ginger Rodgers Broadway debut.
  • Historical factoids, my personal favorite, again the more obscure the better. Recent examples include the 1981 inauguration of President Reagan for Jelly Belly (He was a HUGE Jelly Belly fan) and the colonization of New Zealand in 1840 for our New Zealand scent.

As part of that evolution we have started the question of the day, inspired by, and related to, the Fragrance of the Day. Social media is all about real interactivity, and that is our goal. I don’t have to sell you fragrance on Twitter and Facebook. If I can get you to get the Demeter concept, we will sell plenty of fragrance anyway. I consider these interactions so critical that I manage 90% of them myself.



Before now, when could the CEO of a company like Demeter reach out to so many users in a truly personal way? 

Mark Crames: It is always one of my favorite parts of the day. 

With all the censorship of ads, and sensitivity to mature themes, especially in mass market, it seems almost miraculous that Sex on the Beach and Redhead in Bed are not considered too provocative. What are the limits in your opinion?

Mark Crames: I no longer have any judgments on such matters. We had problems with Sex on the Beach when another fragrance house was using an image of a naked woman with her hands tied behind her back. Sephora, however, was willing to push the envelope, and it was a fantastic success.

But a few years later, when we did Cannabis Flower, that was the “wrong kind of edgy.” At least until a season later, when an LVMH subsidiary (Fresh) did Cannabis Santal; then Cannabis was OK. So it is totally contextual and always moving and changing. 

Congratulations on your recent Women’s Wear Daily award for the Best Mass Fragrance launch. You won over a slew of celebrity scents… and big company launches with a lot of money and marketing behind them. How do you feel about this honor?

Mark Crames: The WWD Award was great vindication for what looked like a risky strategy 18 months ago, but we could not say we were about expanding the daily use of fragrance, and then not have a plan to be where people shop. The biggest complaint we always get is that people cannot find us.
But I also think part of the reason it works is because we are moving forward in a few places where we can get the kind of space and location we need to succeed. 

If we try to outdo the designers at what they do best, we will not win. We still have to be smarter, and then pick and choose our spots.


What is next for the company... please shares something we haven’t read :)

Mark Crames: Well, you caught me... We are launching a licensed brand that we are not ready to announce... but it is an iconic trademark. I can tell you that our direction for spring will be citrus, and in particular, apples.

Images: Demeter Fragrances, SearchNetMedia

Michelyn Camen is a New York City-based writer and consultant who is a former Brandweek Marketer of the Year and Ad Age 100 recipient. She slipped off her power suit to pursue her passion for beauty and fragrance. Camen is a fragrance specialist and the owner of FifthSense N.Y.C., where she consults for niche luxury, fashion, beauty and fragrance companies.  
She is the Editor-at-Large, a top ten fashion e-zine and the Fragrance Editor for Michelyn is  the former Senior Contributing Writer for Sniffapalooza Magazine, the former New in Niche Columnist for Basenotes and was the Editorial Director for Beauty News NYC & LA. Email her at


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scentual healing
scentual healing

fresh ginger sounds just the ticket.. what a fabulous company... I do wear dirt.


How utterly facsinating! Just when you thought you've smelled it all! Now I must go a check out the line. Superb interview as always, Michelyn!


I am in Washington DC and we just had a record snowfall. I own Snow, so that is what I am wearing... I also like honeysuckel and the herbalogy fragrances


Thank you, Mark and Michelyn, for the interview! This is unique live library of scents, good idea!

They don't last long, but they express their names, and my memories very well.


I love the passion of the ownerMark Crames, and that he had the idea to bring less expensive perfumes of good quality to many places... i have been wearing dirt for ages, and it really brings back memories of being a child and not caring if my clothes got all mussed up. it smells earthy, not filthy. I wonder what the next fragrance is. great interview...can't wait to read your next one


Thank you Michelyn for this exclusive interview.

The concept around the products is very unique and impressive to a non-consumer of Demeter such as me.



A provocative concept in perfume. The interview was fascinating, and I'll be interested to see how Demeter continues to evolve. I had a chance to sample some of the scents from Christopher Brosius a few months ago and my reactions ranged from enthusiastic to actually being physically put off by some of the aromas. I think that giving customers a large number of perfumes to choose from, as described here, is definitely a good idea.


Very fun!

Whenever I encounter the Demeter scents in a store, I can't seem to pass by without sniffing or spritzing a couple as I go. They truly are a "pick-me-up" every time I smell them!


It was so nice to see the interview.

Shame however that the shipping from US is so expensive, and that outside US you cant really find 95% of the fragrances. Accessibility obviously does not seem like a priority here, maybe it would be worth decreasing shipping prices down?

And customer service is certainly something to be improved.

Nevertheless, great interview, it was good to read about the concept!


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