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On the Nose

When Fabrice Penot pitched Le Labo--a fragrance company built on perfumes and no hype--investors laughed. Now with stores around the globe and millions in annual sales, Penot is the one who's smiling.

This story appears in the May 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There's no false modesty about it--Fabrice Penot wanted to start a revolution with Le Labo , the fragrance company he co-founded in 2006.

How could he not? For starters, he didn't want the small, boutique brand to do any advertising--a major no-no in an industry where Britney Spears makes dozens of in-store appearances to hawk her latest as-seen-on-TV potion.

Then Penot insisted on limiting distribution to his own stores and a handful of exclusive perfume counters, another crazy idea compared with the saturation strategy of fragrance industry giants such as Armani, where Penot worked before hatching his plan.

On top of that, he refused to keep stock on the shelf, instead making each store a kind of chic lab experience: a cool, minimalist space where ingredients are blended together on the spot, poured into plain glass bottles, wrapped in a brown paper package and custom labeled like a science project, with the date, scent and name of the buyer.

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