This may be an irrelevant question for perfume enthusiasts, since we tend to like what we like defiantly*, no matter how odd or old or inexpensive it is, but for the rest of the world, a gap is opening up and getting wider between what most of us smell of and what the very rich can, and sometimes do, waft.
The concept came home to me last week when the water company sent a man over to fix our water meter. He was an affable Jersey guy who went right down cellar and got on with it. But his scent, that was a different matter.
It was omnipresent, it stayed on the main floor with me, while simultaneously laying down a serpentine trail behind him every time he surfaced to get something out of his van. In was powerful, it was pervasive, it had monster sillage, and boy, did it last! It was a combination of sweat and Bounce.
The cat hid.
Not from the man, who she came to greet in her usual friendly fashion, but from his smell. She didn’t reemerge until I’d aired out the house for two hours, and even then she high tailed it out the door, and I still caught a whiff of Eau de Water Co. Technician at intervals. This is what it is to smell like a working guy: the smell of Industrial perfumery, alongside whatever natural odor the person has already working inside their personal atmosphere.
Industrial perfumery isn’t easy, and it’s been pointed out that the big oil supply companies make more money off of scenting a product like dish-washing liquid or Tide, than they ever will off of the next Calvin Klein perfume. It’s a matter of the bulk sale for the Tide, as opposed to the smaller sale for the Calvin. Volume counts for a lot even in the fragrance industry.
And it’s not that industrial perfumery is necessarily uncomplicated either. “Our base in fine fragrance is alcohol,” Thierry Wasser Guerlain’s in house perfumer has said, “It’s easy to work with. Their base is stink-ammonia, soap powder, bleach. Imagine how you have to think about the life of your fragrance. If you do a detergent, it has to smell good in the box, in the washing machine, after the dryer, when you iron, and in the closet.”**
Does any of this perfumery successfully cross the line into fine fragrance? There have been ads recently suggesting that you could just ditch that expensive bottle of Parvenu and use…deodorant instead? Degree makes Sexy Intrigue, or Delicious Bliss, or even Classic Romance, all for the price of your roll-on. It doesn’t end there, either. Fab makes a detergent that smells so good, they’ve run an ad in which a model washes her dress in lieu of spritzing before an evening out. Price, well, bound to be a lot less than anything niche.
There is even Francis Kurkdjian’s Acqua Universalis in detergent form with matching fabric softener, if you want to apply the same tactic at a more elevated price point.
Increasingly this is the perfumery you really smell around you: fabric softener, sun block, detergent, deodorant. Which makes me wonder just how much difference will there be between how people smell in the future? Will it smell democratic, ie industrial perfumery, or will luxury a la Amouage, change the rules, and open up an olfactory gulf between the classes? Will we give up aspiration or respiration?
Me? I use Free and Clear myself.
*Including self with my JR Watkins in Lemon Crème fetish
** Quoted from Perfume, by Cathy Newman