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Starting a company with nothing can be more intimidating than starting a company with millions. Fabrice Penot, the subject of this month's cover story, knows that better than anyone.
"If someone had given us $2 million to create Le Lebo, we would have spent it," he says. Penot really did start with pretty damn close to nothing: He built Le Labo, his perfume label, with little more than an idea and a lot of passion. Penot left the world of high-end retail perfume (bye-bye, Armani) to launch his own fragrance line with $30,000 in outside funding--an investment funded by a corporate bonus, a hocked car and a chorus of slammed doors.
Penot's dream of starting a perfume business was fueled by the same elements that have driven many aspiring entrepreneurs: corporate fatigue and a dream. After leaving the well-heeled, well-scented halls of Armani, Penot and his business partner, Eddie Roschi, launched their scent with a singular focus of creating product, not overhead. In a competitive $25 billion-a-year perfume industry, the two hit their stride taking on the rarefied airs--and rarefied marketing machines--of Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and myriad elite brands. But somehow Penot's unique product struck a chord with buyers, and in an economic market that largely frowned on luxury products, the $200-a-bottle label found its groove.