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Sexual Sugar by Michael Germain (Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail)
Sexual Sugar by Michael Germain (Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail)

Scent of a success story Add to ...

Michel Germain is an amiable Ottawa dad of three boys, aged 9 to 14. He's also the brain behind a fragrance line that's been a top seller for more than 15 years.

The former engineer says he fell into the biz because his wife, Norma, couldn't find a fragrance that made her feel beautiful and sexual. Hence Sexual, which boasts accents above the e and u so the pronunciation sounds something like Sex-zhu-AL.

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Now he is expanding the brand with two new creations: Sexual Sugar and Sexual Sugar Daddy. Okay, everyone, get your giggles out now.

On the day we meet, Germain, 46, is smartly dressed in a black sport jacket, black jeans and a black and white gingham shirt. After a few sips of herbal tea, he reaches inside his distressed briefcase and hands me two sparkly boxes - one black, one pink. He insists that I try Sexual Sugar (Sexual Sugar Daddy is for the guys) and that everyone (myself included) will be smitten by its "yummy, huggable" scent.

Truth: I like Germain, a passionate creator and savvy pitchman, better than his fragrances. Names aside, they are designed to woo in a way that borders on cliché, like rose petals strewn across a bed.

For Germain, this seems to be exactly the objective. Sugar's tagline: "It does the flirting for you." Not convinced? He's willing to guarantee "Hugs and kisses or your money refunded."

Both belong to what the industry calls the gourmand category: It includes mouthwatering accords of vanilla, caramel and candy. Sugar smells like dessert filtered through an air freshener: Wild berries, sugar-coated orange zest, passion flower, fresh roasted almonds and crème brûlée are the listed notes.

Sugar Daddy sounds intriguing in theory - crystallized grapefruit zest, cinnamon bark, caramelized praline, French lavender, leather and sweet tobacco - but I get eau de prom.

Of course, Germain is aiming for a mature clientele and is adamant that a fragrance line named Sexual is not geared toward the tween demographic.

He talks about creating the right "accord of aphrodisiacs," but the scents come across as too contrived to arouse any primitive olfactory receptors.

On the one occasion Germain created an entirely all-natural fragrance, however, he says it proved too unusual for his customers. Apparently, they did not respond favourably to the bouquet of essential oils.

"I can put together a fragrance that is unbelievably off-centre, but the problem is that people aren't as adventurous; in the fragrance world, it's more evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary," he explains.

This is akin to saying people would rather drink soda pop than a full-bodied Bordeaux. But then again, the Sugar series will probably sell well, if only as a cheeky holiday gift. (The line is sold exclusively in Canada at the Bay and is also available at Macy's and Bloomingdales.)

Personally, I'm more interested in how Germain managed to become such a player in an industry that a) is underrepresented by Canadians and b) is dominated by designer and celebrity brands.

"We broke the mould," he says of his first scent, which was formulated by acclaimed nose Sophia Grosjman as an exotic floral citrus hybrid. It's the most successful in my view, thanks to an ultra-feminine marriage of Egyptian jasmine, Japanese osmanthus and Bulgarian red rose.

He adds that Sexual pour Homme was the top men's fragrance at Bloomingdales for four years. That scent plays up tulsi - also known as Indian basil - which is revered for its medicinal properties.

I suspect it's just exotic enough for men who want something deeper than sporty cologne. Still, its positioning as a "love potion" is likely more of a selling point than the blend of Italian bergamot, French casaba melon and Asian sage.

I spent an evening wearing Sugar on one wrist and Sugar Daddy on the other and felt compelled to apologize to anyone who came too close. Granted, I'm probably not Germain's target. I prefer my fragrances more suggestive. They should arouse curiosity rather than broadcast intent.

Germain's success is proof that people really like his scents. I take issue, however, with the notion that this is what sexy smells like. Sugar and Sugar Daddy may do the flirting for you, but they come across as a little easy. It's far sexier to play hard to get.

 

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