You can guess from the way that I formulated this question that I am skeptical. It’s an open secret that the perfume business has very high margins. Only the handbag industry has higher ones which is why both are sold on the bottom floors of department stores where the foot traffic is heaviest. You have a large number of people getting into the scent business assuming that they will make their fortunes on the buoyancy of scent molecules.
This got me thinking though. Do we really do a good job selecting quality perfume for our hard earned dollars? If we’re buying luxury, what exactly is that? What constitutes luxury these days, and what constitutes a good price for it?
Niche boutiques like to suggest that far too many perfumes are ultra luxe and over stock them. Which leads to this sort of debacle: the Le Labo City Exclusives. I thought I was going to order some, but you know what? Each City Exclusive sample cost twelve dollars, more than MDCI, more than Serge Lutens, more than Puredistance, more than Amouages. Why twelve dollars? Well, that’s their business plan, but it’s a pricy one, and I doubt that their product is on average three times better than anyone else’s.
Manufactured scarcity is no guarantee of quality, and so I went back to my thoughts on value for money in perfumes. Few producers are working on the old Estee Lauder protocol of a fair price for a fair product which is neither exotic nor rare, but pretty and pleasant something to be spritzed every day. There are a few: Parfums de Nicolai, Etat Libre d’Orange, the Estee Lauder line, and Anne Pliska.
What about the stigma attached to cheap perfume? I think that’s a standard now, nearly all perfume is cheap. If it’s true that bare bones perfume formulas date back to the 1970’s with the release of Opium, then we’ve been living with forty years of cheese paring, and should hardly begin worrying about just how cheap our perfume is now. To remind myself what isn’t cheap, I have a vintage collection, but much of that was bought at un-chic venues for small amounts of money.
You do however have to have some contemporary perfume just to keep up to date and here is where the idea that quality equals price among perfumes breaks down. You just have to smell with an open mind. Some of the most original, best, and most memorable perfumes I’ve come across in recent years have been inexpensive. That’s just the truth.
If however you want luxury who does high end perfume (within modern parameters) that is worth the price? Not many companies. Guerlain can but does not always do so. Carons are fair value for money. Amouage can be but skews expensive. Serge Lutens is often worth the price but don’t pay the US price on bell jars. Federic Malle is better priced on his travel sizes than his full ones. All of these companies have an after market, that is, a secondary buyer if you fall out of love, simply want something new, or bought to finance future buys.
I’ve left out a host of other companies, but tell me, who do you think makes luxury that really is “worth the price”?