Why So Few New Classics?

Why are so many new perfumes failing to become staples in the public’s wardrobe?  It’s a good question.  We still wear perfumes that are quite old by the estimation of the Industry. D&G’s Light Blue came out in 2001, Dior’s J’Adore in 1999, Lolita Lempicka in 1997 – you see what I mean.

And it’s not as though things are vastly more au courant on the other side of the pond.  Frenchwomen still wear Thierry Mugler’s Angel 1992, or Victor and Rolf’s Flowerbomb 2005.  In fact there weren’t many I could find on bestseller lists younger than three years.  Will things like Wonderstruck or Someday survive till next year or 2014?  Sensuous in the US, a 2008 Estee Lauder release, and in France  Idylle from Guerlain in 2009, might manage  a few more seasons in the sun.  Does it  take that long for us to make up our minds that we really really like something?  Or is it that we are now inundated with product and have a hard time filtering the perfume deluge? Are we so busy bailing out our little dinghies on the ocean of scent that we can hardly tell what we’re smelling before we heave it overboard?

Anyway, what exactly is a classic?  It’s not an easy question.  Some people might excise the whole question of commerciality, but I think that’s a mistake. Sales determine which smells define a period of time. Or to put it another way, nothing says love like parting with cash.  So the 90’s smelled of L’eau d’Issey and the aughts of Light Blue. You could look at it another way and ask why it is that certain perfumes become perceived necessities.  That is, something you always have a bottle of somewhere, hoarded against discontinuation or re-formulation.  The classic is the perfume we turn to again and again.  We buy several bottles of it.

Sometimes a perfume looks like its going to become a classic but somehow misses.  Like for instance Narciso Rodriquez For Her 2002.  Why isn’t that in the top twenty?  It was popular, Narciso Rodriquez comes in a minimalist bottle,  pink and black, lightly sweet and a bit musky, what happened?  Did Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely confuse consumers by being too similar? Maybe For Her simply missed its window of opportunity?

If that was true, then what about the releases from the last year?  Things produced in 2011?  What has earned the right to stick around?  Is it merely things which are reliably pleasing no matter what, or perfumes that have some kind of quirky originality to them, some paradox that keeps us coming back to that bottle and smelling it again?  Or,  as Pierre Guillaume from Parfumerie Generale says, is the deciding factor a story that the perfume tells?

On the first basis, I suspect that Chanel’s 19 Poudre will last because it is so anodyne and inoffensive, Tom Ford’s Violet Blonde because the perfume is pretty( practically a blonde moment in a bottle), or ditto Elie Saab.

If paradox usually puts perfumes over,  then it’ll be Prada Candy or Bottega Veneta because both of them have something about them that is skewed in a rather arresting manner.  As for story telling, I can’t think of a narrative perfume on the mass market from the last two years.  A niche release from Parfums d’Empire Azemour les Orangers, may come the closest, and who knows what the sales figures are on that?

But myself I suspect another factor comes into play with these perfume perennials, and that is distribution.  Wide, wide, practically earth carpeting distribution; why?

Because, cynic that I am, I suspect we do indeed adopt what we wear and we can’t do that without enough exposure to it to know that its worth adopting in the first place.  We need to smell it on the air in staff rooms and classrooms and on our second-best frenemy.  Only then do we finally decide to wear the thing for ourselves.  We seldom find scents because we’ve gone on perfume quest like Sir Galahad.  We may call it a grail, and we may call it holy, but most of us end up with the perfume next door in the end.  Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend…anyone?

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4 Responses to Why So Few New Classics?

  1. Undina says:

    I’m not sure which best-sellers lists you were looking at, but if you check Top Selling Feminine Fragrances 2011 USA you’ll see there Chanel Chance Eau Tendre (2010), Burberry Body (2011), Chanel Chance Eau Fraiche (2010), Fendi Fan Di Fendi (2011), Taylor Swift Wonderstruck (2011) / Justin Bieber Someday (2011), Estee Lauder Sensuous Nude (2011) and Prada Candy (2011).

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Yeah, my bad, though actually the lists I was using were on Perfume Shrine. In any case, I still missed out on Lady Million in France which is 2010 and Prada Candy in the US, which hit the big time this year, and probably a couple of others, but who knows if they will all be top sellers two years from now? I was thinking along the lines of staying power, what will take hold for decades at a time? Too soon to say in many cases, but my money’s on Bottega Veneta.

      • Undina says:

        Well, you cannot have it both ways: either you complain that only “old” perfumes are on the best-seller list or wonder if the new ones will stay there for decades ;)

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          More a lead in to the question of what makes the transition to classic from the best seller list, than a complaint because if anything, I like perfumes with staying power. I also focused on the French List on Perfume Shrine which caught my attention because so much on it was old by commercial standards, Lady Million, Jimmy Choo, and Idylle were the newest there. But what sells one year, may not sell the next and what I should have done was to take the lists from say five years and figure what proportion remained on. Not a bad idea, actually, find out what has recently made the grade and become a classic, because if it’s managed to hold onto a top spot while the flood waters of new releases rose around it, then that perfume is a survivor for sure.

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