Pricey Niche

peacockThere’s a very odd thing going on out there in the world of perfume: niche fragrance prices are rising.  This year the cost of a 50ml. bottle is well over a hundred dollars US.  In fact, and in the interest of consumers, it’s worth pointing out that this hike comes at a time when many commodity prices are falling, natural gas, metals, pork, corn, etc, and when inflation in the US is running at or below 1.7% (the Federal Reserve’s target is 2%).  So, why are perfume prices up so much?  Is it demand, is it production costs, is it the dollar/euro exchange rate*, is it something that someone outside of the business can’t calculate, or are we…just being suckered for the sake of fashion?

If we are, then the suckering is pretty intense.  If you take an informal sampling of prices from various online retailers: Luckyscent, Beautyhabit, Parfum 1, and Aedes, what you find is that on average a  1.7 oz. bottle of perfume (by which I mean either an edt or edp concentration usually) costs just short of $US 140.00.  Some companies will sell you larger bottles at similar prices, but actually, the margin on an already high margin product is huge here.

Take the case of Neela Vermeire**, a current favorite on many perfume sites and blogs and no doubt a charming person. Many people adore her creations composed by the ubiquitous Bertrand Duchaufour.  The price is $US 250.00 for a measly 55ml edp of say, Bombay Bling.  I have not smelled any of her scents, but at that price, more than the cost of some Guerlain LE’s, I’m not going to either.  However, she’s far from the only perfume house to charge serious prices.  Amouages are consistently priced very high often well over $US 300.00 for 100mls., so are the Puredistance perfumes,  many Italian lines, including that of the talented Hilde Soliani, sell for about $US 185.00, Profumums are higher still, usually about $US 240.00 for 100mls.

Several new lines are particularly expensive.  Jul et Mad leave Ms. Vermeire in the dust, charging $US 280.00 for 50 mls, and Agonist, though not among the most expensive, still expects $US 195.00 for most bottles of 50mls. Old hand Clive Christian has never been shy about high prices, currently 405.00 for 50 mls. of V for Men.  Finally, all of these people look like amateurs placed next to Shalini which will sell you 2.2oz of Shalini in a presentation bottle for $US 2,500.00.

If I wanted, say, to smell mangoes, reputedly a big component of the Bombay Bling (to return to my first example) I could always buy Jean Claude Ellena’s Un Jardin sur le Nil, for $US 66.00 at Beautyencounter, or Annick Goutal’s Folavril for more mango and tomato leaf at $US 78.00 at FragranceX.  I could opt for The Great Inca Priestesses for my mango fix, dropping $ 98.00 for one of the last Pierre Bourdon composed fragrances.  I could even go for Demeter’s Between the Sheets for full on mango fruitiness at $US 23.00 even if it only lasts a half hour.

Not every company is so quick to over charge.  Child, that blockbuster from the left coast, sells for $US 98.00 for the roll on oil, and that’s almost certainly part of its success.  Parfums de Nicolai has consistently been reasonably priced for very good value.  A 100 ml. bottle of her colognes still goes for between $US 40.00 and $US 50.00, and you can buy her Vanille Tonka, which is classified as a perfume because of its concentration of oils, at $US130.00 for 100 mls.  Caron, a personal favorite of mine, will sell you their extracts in the little 7.5 ml bottles for $US100.00, and I can attest to the fact that those bottles usually take me a year or two to empty (though ymmv) and have long lasting power on skin.

Among niche newcomers, there is Mary Greenwell whose Plum and Lemon are composed by Francois Robert who did nearly the entire line of Rosine perfumes. They are not only unpretentiously named, but at $100.00 a bottle with purse sprays available, pretty reasonably priced as well.  You can also find fair deals for good perfume at Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, or CB I HATE PERFUME. Reasonable prices have been a continuing mark of good sense at Parfums d’Empire.  Marc Antoine Corticchiato’s work is  handsome and tasteful.  Eau Suave is one of the best rose perfumes out there, and at $75.00 for 50mls. quite affordable.  There are bargains still to be found from the Miller Harris line, which suffered from losing US distribution some years ago, and which sells the stellar Geranium Bourbon, L’Air de Rien, and La Pluie.

Nobody has to pay these outrageous prices for good perfume, and that doesn’t even address the issue of perfumes which are fine, but simply out of style: true chypres, most green floral perfumes, and floral aldehydes.  You can find them online at Etsy or Ebay for little money.

But $US 250.00 a bottle? I never thought I’d see the day when Solange Azagury-Partridge’s Stoned  in their great kitschy chic bottle (avec diamond dust) looked fairly priced at $US 285.00 for 100 mls., but  next to the Shalini?  I’d go with it.

What do you think are fair prices for niche scents?

*Many currency traders scratch their heads over this exchange rate.  A lot of them think the euro and dollar should be at par.

**I’m not trying to pick on one perfumer here, Ms. Vermeire was simply the first I saw charging over $200.00 for 55mls.

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30 thoughts on “Pricey Niche

  1. Agree with every word. In my browsing I notice that $180 seems to be about standard now for a niche 50ml bottle.

    In the list of alternatives to all that madness, I’m glad you mentioned the Nicolais. And Sonoma Scent Studio and Atelier can be added too. And then there are the underground favourites: Molinard Habanita; Rochas Femme; Niki de Saint Phalle; Cuir de Lancome; Fendi Theorema; Anne Pliska (I have not tried that one but I have heard it praised often). Cuir de Lancome and Theorema are d/c, but can still be bought online for under $100. In the case of Cuir, I’m feeling smug because although the prices are going up and I wish I’d bought it years ago, I did snap up a bottle for $49 on eBay just last week. And speaking of leather, I notice that Lauder’s Azuree is getting harder to find. It is too harsh for me, but I appreciate its quality. Buy it while you can.

    I just cannot afford even $150 a bottle for perfume, plus shipping, but with fragrances like these on my shelf, I don’t feel I need to. Anyway, I buy a lot from the decant services. Love them.

    1. You’re absolutely right about Sonoma Scent Studio and Atelier, don’t know why I overlooked them. Rochas Femme is a perennial. Sometimes I wonder why people get so excited about le Parfum de Therese when they can always buy Femme for so much less? The Cuir you had a legitimate bargain with- lucky you.

      Anne Pliska was wonderful when I wore it, but the rumor is that it has been refo’d, and is no longer as good. I’d look for the older bottles in the funky gold caps on Ebay. Of course if you don’t mind paying 250.00 or so you can buy Oriental Brulant from Guerlain- although that’s pretty much the same thing!

        1. Well that’s good to know. You can’t go to far wrong with Anne Pliska especially if you are an Obsession fan, but I’d try the body creme first if you’ve never worn it.

  2. I agree. I’ll never have time to wear all the things I have now, bought (thankfully) 4 or 5 years ago during that first flush of lov…er, obsession. Rosines, Rochas, Guerlains, all for less that $100 for 100 mls. Then there are the vintages and the online discounter purchases. I bought one 50 ml bottle of Amouge Lyric for Women at ScentBar for $250+ — the only such purchase I’ve ever made — and now am shocked to see so many fair-to-middlin’ things going for that or more. It may be that the new regulations are pricing the naturals in the stratosphere — let’s hope it’s not plain greed. Anyway, with these niche scents you mention, it’s decants for me now.

    1. The prices you could pay for really good perfume just a few years ago make me want to weep. You really did the right thing inadvertently buying when you did, and at least you have the luxury of knowing it.

      In my case, not so much. Take Il Tuo Tulipano, three years ago 75.00 for 50 mls, now 200.00 for 100 mls. This hurts, and the result is that I don’t buy.
      You can still find the odd Guerlain online for under 100. UN Air de Samsara for instance a pretty chypre scent for about parfum1.

      I never consider Frederic Malles or Amouages because of their price point. They’re good but, not so much that I can afford them. And we have outrageous sales here sometimes. I picked up two Lutens once because, “They don’t understand them here,” as the harassed SA at Neiman’s told me. But fortunately I was fluent in Bargainese.

  3. Ugh. I don’t even want to talk about this. I have no coherent remarks to make, anyway, just a collection of random thoughts.

    I just bought a 20ml decant of Iris Poudre, which I adore, feeling guilty about it because it is roughly $3/ml, but happy that I didn’t have to buy a whole bottle. (I tried to find substitutes, I really did, but nothing quite hit the spot…)

    My new bottle of Silences edp Sublime cost approximately $80/100 ml, and I thought that was a reasonable price. And you know I love certain de Nicolais and SSS fragrances, partly because they’re such good value.

    I *have* sampled the Neela Vermeires and will say that they are really lovely and unusual and long-lasting, plenty of naturals in there. But am I buying? Nope. (BTW, Bombay Bling is at least as much floral as it is mango. As a fruity floral it is considerably lusher than most things on the market, and a very happy perfume into the bargain.)

    My most expensive purchase to date is my 100ml bottle of Memoir Woman via ebay; it’s a tester and I paid $240 for it. Ridiculous, completely ridiculous. And yet I could not resist. At one point I was “saving up” for a Malle fragrance, and then I decided that I’d rather have 10ml of Carnal Flower and 20ml of Iris Poudre and just wear those along with my 15ml decant of Lyric Woman (a third gone, now). When they’re used up I can reconsider.

    1. The trouble is that the perfume market is like the real estate market now, you have a budget, the realtor shows you something you love that’s way over it, and hey presto! Your budget is blown sky high!

      It seems that the only way to love Amouages or the Neela Vermeires is to either decant, or split, because every other option is just too expensive, so I sympathize with you alright. It’s hard not to smell a lot of perfume and not develop expensive taste.

      Oh, and I gathered that the Vermeires were really nice scents, out of the ordinary, but then so is the whole Frederic Malle line and I’m already priced out of that!

  4. I definitely agree with this. It’s frustrating to see how many of the new releases are over $200 for 50ml. I’m at the point where I don’t even sample them anymore, I’m so annoyed. The new fragrance Hedonist sounds lovely, but at that price point….. forget it. My upper limit for a 50ml size is about $120. It’s got to be pretty spectacular if I’m paying $150-$160. (Thank goodness for the online groups, and people who offload mostly full bottles for great prices. In the last six month, I’ve purchased Heure Exquise, Traversée du Bosphore, Ninfeo Mio in 100ml, and Like This, all for less than $50.)

    Count me in as another fan of Parfum d’Empire, and Sonoma Scent Studio and Parfums de Nicolai and other lines that do beautiful work without costing an arm and a leg.

    1. Hedonist sounded too luxe for words and so I never considered trying it just in case I really liked it-which at the higher price points can be a disaster.

      120.00 used to sound expensive to me but now sounds almost reasonable and periodically have to pinch myself, to keep the prices in perspective. People do drop bottles off, as you say, for big discounts and those are worth buying. Etsy increasingly is a not bad place to shop I find, especially for those out of the way old Balmains or Lanvins. Otherwise there is always Ebay! But 200.00 and up is beyond me.

      1. Albeit, Hedonist is very pretty but it’s not amazing enough for me to consider buying a bottle….. it would have to bring tears to my eyes for me to do that :)))

  5. Perfumes are luxury. Luxury isn’t supposed to be affordable. Perfumes aren’t a necessity. If we cannot buy $200+ bottle – we shouldn’t. Most of us cannot fly first class, buy Hermes scarves, Bottega Veneta bags or Louboutin shoes. And it’s OK. I think that the feeling of entitlement is fundamentally wrong. Most of those who complains about the price of niche perfumes actually could afford that expensive bottle – if it’s a bottle of the best perfume ever (for them). But only one bottle, not a collection. Collecting – and I don’t know how else to call having more than a couple of bottles of perfumes at the same time – is an expensive hobby and I don’t understand from where comes a notion that it should be any other way. If anything, let’s bitch about the price of the education or healthcare.

    1. True but, then how do you account for the perfume houses which manage to deliver quality at a reasonable price point? Parfums de Nicolai for instance? Are they “non-luxury” brands? (Which is OK by me.)

      My complaint has more to do with the sudden rise in cost of perfumes against a backdrop of steady prices elsewhere in the economy. I’m not sure that the rises are due to quality upgrades, but to perceived demand for luxury perfume. In other words, I don’t think it’s an accident that the growth in perfume sales from the last five years or so was in high end perfume. A lot of houses want a piece of that action.

      1. Being a person who was raised under the socialism regime and who’srelatively new to all that “free market” stuff, I feel a little awkward saying that to you – a native inhabitant of this economy, – but I donot see any other way of putting that: it’s a free market. A company has no obligations to make their services or goods available to everybody or even to justify the price tag they put on those. Companies have different business models, different goals and different possibilities.
        As you didn’t want to really throw a stone at NVC, I don’t want to pick on PdN but I have to say that their bottles and labels do not convey “a luxury product” to me. They might still be good but they are on the different level of consumer products.
        Any company can charge any price fortheir creations. It’s our right as customers to vote with our wallet.

        1. Well you are certainly correct about the PdN bottles not reading luxury- as you tactfully put it. They’re fugly, sadly, and sometimes I decant PdN into prettier bottles.

          Yes, any business can charge whatever it wants to, but I did note that prices on perfume began to rise very fast after Luckyscent and some other niche retailers went online. Is this good/bad for the industry as a whole? We’ll find out.

          1. You are right about the sharp rise in pricing, and it will be interesting to see if the consumer agrees that these fragrances are truly worthy of their inflated price points and if it will be sustainable for these houses.

            As someone else commented, it is happening in real estate as well – the houses on the market are suddenly worth twice as much as they were a year ago – go figure. They say higher asking prices are being driven by “increased demand” – but I sense that a lot of the hype and flurry behind this so-called “increased demand” has been generated by those who have the most to gain. 😉

          2. Yes, have noticed the curious price increases in real estate as well. Those too may prove unsustainable as interest rates rise, but fortunately you don’t have to buy perfume with a mortgage…yet.

            Those perfume houses which have thought about pricing carefully will weather this, but many that over price may not hold on long term, and it’s very hard to move back upmarket if you once move down. I like the policies of the companies who concentrate on the perfume rather than the package. I can’t wear the bottle after all!

  6. This is a tough subject. Undina is right. Complaining about the price of luxury goods is a bit absurd. On the other hand, I think that some Perfume houses charge ridiculous prices for goods that may not really be worth it in the end.

    I think that because we have access to these really expensive perfumes through samples, decants, splits, and sharing, we fall in love with something that we probably would not be even exposed to, and not even know we were missing out.

    I am trying to think of another segment of luxury goods where you can have a ‘taste’ on a regular basis, and become lustful for that item. Maybe wine, or food.

    I think we are so incredibly lucky to have found a way to try and get to use expensive perfumes through the savvy of the Perfume Loving community. Cheers to all of the fume heads out there who love to share and help with splits, or sell decants from their own supply for a reasonable price. Cheers to Surrender to Chance and The Perfumed Court for allowing me to own 2 ml of something completely out of my league. I feel damn happy about that.

    1. I become lustful for wine and food tidbits very easily! And I do take everybody’s point about luxury goods by definition being expensive, but think maybe too many firms are crowding into the “Luxury niche” sector, and wonder what this will do for the business of perfume on the whole.

      Since I’m as old as I am, and have smelled lord knows what since forever, I can say that few of the niche firms are really that innovative. If they are, they soon find that the market won’t “follow them” and they fall into line producing J’Adore and Angel look a likes just the way everyone else does.

      Like you, I think the generosity of the perfume community is wonderful, and that the decant services do help a lot of people stay on budget. Like the late, great Schiaparelli, I think every woman should have a fashion budget. It keeps us chic!

  7. I’d have to say I’m on board with Undina and Tora’s thoughts on this, Blacknall. I think that people also forget that some of these companies (Amouage, Puredistance and Frederic Malle, for instance) have boutiques that, I’m sure, cost a pretty penny to maintain. And I like the idea of going to a city and going into a fancy boutique, just because I enjoy that kind of experience. Plus, I’m simply for companies and individuals having the freedom to create and sell their goods in any way they dream. In a free market, the sellers still have to figure out a way to get buyers – still have to compete with other companies for the buyers’ dollars – so the buyer really has a voting influence, so to speak.

    But I do hear what you’re saying when you mention companies like PdN and Sonoma Scent Studio who are selling wonderful perfumes at a wonderful price point. And I would say to you, as a blogger, it’s within your power to make people aware of these companies and win people over to them. And that’s a great thing to do! And maybe that’s what you’re doing with this post, in which case I sincerely applaud your effort. That’s my kind of activism.

    One thing great about the perfume blogging community is that we do love to share, no matter our differences in opinion. If you ever care to try Victoria Minya Hedonist, drop me a line with your address and I’ll hook you up, little lady! 😉

    p.s. Guess who I heard from today? Sweetest Olenska, who mentioned that she misses you.

  8. So delighted to hear that Olenska contacted you! Have to go and e-mail her at once.

    Adore boutiques myself and just spent some considerable time in the lovely Caron boutique in NYC, where I was, ahem… buying niche perfumes. Um well, here’s the thing, I do like my luxuries too.

    They have a “living wall” there which gives you the novel experience of a big shot of oxygen right there on Lexington Avenue! Inhaled plenty.

    On high end perfume, I’d say the real luxury perfume companies will persist in maintaining a high standard of quality. If they care enough about their products and customers, they’ll succeed. The ones who don’t, probably won’t last.

    1. Chiming in again (this is such an interesting discussion!): I agree with your last point. Some companies may go under; that is how the market works. There may be a correction in the high end market eventually. Perhaps the success of the decant services indicates that there already has been such a correction – or a modification, you might say. A high demand for high-end luxury from people who can’t normally afford it is being met by the decanters and splitters, taking advantage (as do many of the niche houses themselves of course) of the worldwide distribution and low overheads now possible over the internet.

      I’m fascinated by the idea that if you lust after a Chanel dress there is no point snipping off a few inches off the hem. You can’t wear that! But if you lust after a Chanel perfume – 31 Rue Cambon, for instance – you can purchase a few mls for not much more than the price of a sandwich and a cup of coffee and it’s just the same as owning a whole bottle.

      And you have a choice. You can save ALL your spare money for just one full bottle of 31RC, as Undina suggests, or you can spend the same amount on dozens of samples and decants of a great variety of perfumes.

      Some people argue that this undermines the true meaning of luxury, and maybe they are right. I must say I’m happy with this new economy.

      1. Your comment is an intriguing one. I have been thinking for some time that possibly the work of the decanting services has been distorting the numbers of niche perfume sales- in the US market anyway. And now there is the phenomenon of internet direct shopping which, as you say, brings down the overhead Suzanne mentioned, or rather, underwrites it.

        It may be that while Undina is right in saying you can afford that one big bottle, she may be slightly wrong about the collecting, in the sense that what people are collecting is not bottles, but samples and decants. As you say, going that way is relatively inexpensive. It’s also fun- unless you lose your heart.

        But that’s the risk all Casanovas run: ultimate fidelity.

  9. “Niche” doesn’t impress me. Having worked in the perfume packaging industry, I learned that the juice is a tiny percentage of the total cost of creating a perfume. Most of the money goes to packaging, advertising, and marketing. Tack on more bucks for the parent company’s image; add the qualifier “niche” and you can charge even more. So I’m suspicious of labeling perfume a “luxury” product. It’s not like special perfume elves in magical forests are hand-milking the nectar from exotic flowers and compounding the bottles one at a time. Fragrance is mass-produced, and everyone has access to the same natural materials and aromachemicals. It’s obvious there are companies large and small that have managed to produce well-made fragrances at reasonable price points. What’s the difference between them and the overpriced brands you mention? Level of greed? So I look upon the cachet of niche fragrances with a rather jaundiced eye, and use the following criteria to decide whether I buy a fragrance: Do I like it, consider it well-made, and is it within my budget? True, a company is under no obligation to make their products affordable to me, but I am also under no obligation to buy them.

    1. This is interesting! I knew that the cost of marketing and packaging was a large proportion of a perfume’s final cost, but didn’t know they made up most of it. Hm. That is sort of sobering, and does make you worry a bit about niche perfumes. Maybe it’s better for those companies not to focus on packaging too much.

      Agree about your criteria for picking a product to buy, budget does make up a part of my selection process ,and presentation – although I enjoy it – is a lesser concern. ( In fact I will decant, or keep prettier old bottles filled with colored water as factices, while happily spritzing from my fugly de Nicolai and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz bottles!)

      1. I’m surprised you’re surprised! 🙂

        I always assumed that wasthe case (based on my knowledge of how it is in cosmetics). Last year Victoria (Bois de Jasmin) posted an article about the same topic (with some numbers): .

        I don’t think though these numbers apply to small niche and indie houses: with the volume they produce everything should cost ten-fold for them.

        But regardless of all that, if I do not like the perfume I can care less if it was made with tears of the last virgin and the brand had to pawn their heirloom jewelry – I won’t buy it.

        1. Yes in the end, whatever it is it has to be good, and always has to wear well (my sticking point, and the reason why I can’t buy Andy Tauers- though they’re distinctive).
          Do you have a price you simply won’t go over? Or do you suspend economy measures if a perfume is sublime?

          1. Sorry it took me that long to come back and answer the question – it’s very hectic time at work.

            Where I am now in my life, I do not put any real limit to the price I might pay for a perfume that I love (not just “like”, not “nice to have”, etc. but love) but I’m less and less inclined to pay a FB price for almost any bottle now. With decants I don’t think I’ll go beyond $4/ml.

          2. Agree about the love factor. Personally, will pay up to 200 or somewhat more for something I adore. But then sometimes the adorable’s truly inexpensive. One of my favorites is L’Aimant which cost me…9.00 plus shipping!

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