High Price Point = Quality Perfume?

The Galeries Lafayette in Paris

The Galeries Lafayette in Paris

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? 

The Berkeley Flea Market

The Berkeley Flea Market

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.

Flea Market Display

Flea Market Display

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”?



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19 thoughts on “High Price Point = Quality Perfume?

  1. Tough question. Especially because I am so devoted to bargains (would I have bought Cuir de Lancome if it hadn’t been d/c and thus quite inexpensive? Probably not. And I would have missed out on something that’s become a favorite) and secondhand bottles via ebay.

    I do feel that Amouage is one of the better-value, luxury-price houses. Having said that, I have to admit that I only own a small decant of Ubar, a largeish one of Lyric Woman, and a tester bottle of Memoir Woman. By Kilians are not particularly groundbreaking or original, but they are well done, and I do cherish the travel bottle of Sweet Redemption I bought from someone who purchased and then split up the travel set, for what I considered a reasonable amount of money. I have yet to buy any Frederic Malle, but I am saving for my very own bottle of Iris Poudre once my 30ml decant, about half used at this point, is gone – because all the claims I’ve read that “such-and-such smells just like Iris Poudre, but cheaper” are dead wrong. (They don’t have that fluffy benzoin-aldehyde drydown.) I own a partial bell jar of La Myrrhe, secondhand, and that was worth every penny.

    But Le Labo and Xerjoff can go suck eggs, as far as I’m concerned. So can Grossmith. And the pricier collections within the Guerlain lines are not worth the extra cash, as far as I’m concerned, even as much as I enjoyed that Charnel Elixir Floral Romantique.

    I don’t get on with Lauders, but how I wish I did. You know I love de Nicolai in general, and I have found some wonderful bargains at Sonoma Scent Studio and Smell Bent, two indies that are relatively inexpensive.

    1. Le Labo does tend to irritate me with that price point, and I have not found anything really worthwhile in their line either. So agreed there, Xerjoff I have not tried and probably won’t- too expensive!

      Amouage sometimes confuses me but I do smell quality there and as to the Guerlains, I don’t think most of the Art et Matiere line is better than SL so you pick what you like from either of them.

      Honestly I was impressed by some US producers. Neil Morris, but also quite impressed by Shelley Waddington, and by Liz Zorn. Fair prices for good stuff. On the other hand there are still materials that only Guerlain can really knock out of the park:ylang-ylang and some other high end things. L’Heure de Nuit is L’Origan but it’s a great modernized, lasting L’Origan.

      Plus some middle of the road stuff is fun, Boyfriend was, and I kind of like the old White Linen 😉

  2. If I had to pick one perfume I own as “most luxurious” based on quality, it would have to be vintage Diorissimo extrait, in one of those small pebble minis. The bottle and the juice are both in perfect shape (it was never used); when I put some on the back of my hand for the first time, my hair stood on end at the sheer glorious beauty of it. That little bottle is my very, very, very special occasion perfume.

    I paid $15 for it on fleabay.

    My bottle of Ambra Aurea was a special splurge and was worth the price (especially for a hardcore amber lover), but I haven’t been impressed by other perfumes from Profumum.

    For a house that consistently provides luxury that’s worth the price, I suppose I’d have to pick Chanel. Coromandel, Sycomore, Eau de Cologne, 31 Rue Cambon, and 28 La Pausa are all gems from Les Exclusifs that are cheaper than most niche releases at the moment. Cristalle EdT is a classic chypre that’s practically bargain-basement at $75 for 60 ml; and don’t forget No. 5 Eau Premiere (for those of us who can’t cope with No. 5 in its classic format).

    Yves Rocher has some very inexpensive fragrances that are simple, uncomplicated, and made with quality ingredients – Fresh Rose is a lovely sheer citrusy rose that’s never sour or synthetic (100 ml for $15.50, sheesh) and Neroli is a cheerful not-too-sweet citrus on a light powdery (non-laundry) musk base. OTOH I’ve heard that their So Elixir (violently purple juice) is terrifyingly awful.

  3. Diorissimo, especially vintage is SO beautiful. I know, my mother wore that when she at long last gave up Tabu. Lucky you to have gotten that little bottle.

    Agree with you on the subject of Chanels. They are really very good. I tend to forget them because in my part of the world all I ever smell of Chanel is Coco Mademoiselle. But you’re quite right there are also Cristalle and No 19.

    Yves Rocher has been good and reliable for years. We used to love his things, and I think you can go a long way and do a lot worse.

    Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is another reasonable perfumer with such a wide selection. Her Nourouz is so good in fall too.

    1. I didn’t mention DSH as a bargain because my favorites are generally not cheap – they’re full of natural florals which are expensive. (I love Rose Vert and Oeillets Rouges… though to be fair I also love La Fete Nouvelle which is cheaper.)

      And yes, Chanel is worth it – I suppose it was that I was thinking Ultra Luxury SuperSpendy Niche, which Chanel is really not, and Guerlain is really not except with those Art et Matiere and Charnel Elixir collections.

      1. Yes you can spend a lot with Dawn but it’s usually worth it. Her Scent of Peace is $ 23.00 a sample but with Dawn you generally know you are getting something good.

        I still love Pink Gardenia and American Beauty.

  4. Amouage is my favorite luxury brand, I think their perfumes are worth the money, especially if you either want to have just several bottles scent wardrobe or buy decants from splits.
    Other than that… I do not mind perfumes being expensive – as long as they smell good (not cheap!) and are packaged appropriately. I can buy a plain decanter bottle, a tester or a simpler refill but I want the original bottle and box to show that the brand cared. A perfume that costs two-four times more than Tokyo Milk’s perfumes cannot look worse than those bottles/labels!

  5. Which makes me curious what you think of Le Labo since they do not exactly go out of their way over packaging;-)

    The Amouages are always impeccably turned out, lovely flagons and boxes, and I like the presentation of the Lubins, ( own Idole) also aren’t Ineke’s bottles nicely packaged? I still love the looks of Gilded Lily and Evening Edged in Gold.

    1. I dislike Le Labo’s bottles and that’s why I do not plan ever to own any. Instead I vote for buying splits from huge bottles – which makes them more reasonable.

      I think that Ineke makes great packaging. I own two big bottles – Field Notes From Paris and Hothouse Flower – and I think they look more expensive than perfumes cost. And Floral Curiosities collection is beyond cute.

  6. Aftelier?

    I know that many people dislike naturals because they don’t last long enough, but I have recently decided that Aftelier Cepes & Tuberose is the most beautiful perfume readily available in the United States.

    1. Aftelier is a very good choice-actually I’m surprised none of us thought of it- but I know what you mean. Personally I love Honey Blossom and Secret Garden, and Sepia too. They are gorgeous and you can buy her minis for fifty which is expensive but about right for perfumista use!

  7. The purchase about two years ago of an 8 ml decant of vintage Dioressence is a big marker for me in my perfume explorations. If something THIS good can be had for so little money, I asked myself, why bother with niche, which can be so expensive and so disappointing? (Well, so can vintage, but on the whole the risks are much lower, I think. And with a disappointing vintage purchase, I may feel disappointed by I don’t feel ripped off.)

    Value for money brands for me are Bottega Veneta, Robert Piguet, Hermes (mostly) and (still) Estee Lauder.

    1. Adding: of course I still do sample niche, but much less than I used. As the prices climb, I’m always worried I’ll fall in love with something I can’t afford. 🙁

  8. You know I really like your point about vintage as opposed to niche. Generally you can get wonderful scents for relatively small amounts of money in vintage, and when so many niche perfumes are re-treads anyway… which is why I think people who are fascinated with perfume should start by smelling French classics so they don’t end up wearing ten versions of Shalimar (unless they collect them) and paying for twenty.

    Robert Piguet did not come up but while we’re at it, this is one of the houses that sells extract versions of their perfumes-always a good sign, and Estee Lauder is so reliable and really good. Which reminds me that I must smell Private Collection again 🙂

      1. PC was very nice I owned a bottle (Really Blacknall! Do you buy food ever? Well all I can say for myself is I’d probably be twenty pounds fatter if I didn’t buy perfume.)

        The extract was by far the best of Tuberose Gardenia, but it had nothing to do with Private Collection, which was a green floral.

  9. Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes I would include in there, specifically for Zelda. And Ormonde Jayne, though they just hiked the prices up. Can’t explain why, it’s just the equation of visceral love vs price that stacks up for me in the luxury balancing act. Conversely, I fell hard for Ambra di Luna by Ramon Monegal, but the price of those is sticking in my throat for now. 😉 I do plan to buy PHI Rose de Kandahar by Tauer, even though I have no idea what it costs, haha!

    1. I’d second Shelley Waddington, she is really good and someone to watch. All I know of the Ormonde Jaynes is the Ta’if you sent me and I am doling that out to make it last 🙂

      Ramon Monegals have not really made it onto my radar. I saw them in NYC last week but didn’t spray being too taken up with SL bell jars, and Andy Tauer I have not loved, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think he is value for money. A little Tauer goes a long way.

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