The Long Hello

Perfume counters from caffeineandprayer.com

Perfume counters from caffeineandprayer.com

In 2014 the last year for which we have completed figures, there were 1620 perfume releases.  This was up by only ten from 2013 when there were 1610.  Also, be it noted that in 2014 the number of flanker perfume releases were rising at 275 up from 245 the year previously, and that the numbers of niche perfumes dropped significantly to 448 from 540  the year before. My figures come from Perfumer & Flavorist by the way.

It’s not an encouraging picture is it? The cheap and the mass market seems to be outnumbering anything that tries to attempt individuality and the likelihood is that most of what is produced is dreck. Chemicated, direly unambitious and headache inducing, the sort of stuff that gives perfume a bad name.

Business models in the perfume world have stayed similar for a long time.  Cheap formulas and rapid formulations have been the rule for the last twenty years and more. A generation of people have grown up thinking Hedione is jasmine.

Things were not always like this.  Fifty years ago the introduction of a new high end

Crowd Scene from Wikipedia

Crowd Scene from Wikipedia

fragrance meant a certain amount of work, sometimes years’ worth.  Edmond Roudnitska took a decade to come up with Diorella by his own account.  He thought about his perfume- which in itself is a bit of a novelty by the current standards.  He had been working on two previous perfumes the innovations of which were integral to the formulation of his next one.  Eau Sauvage was the fragrance for which he had changed the choreography of perfume.  Suddenly in a scent designed for men, there were flowers and a lightness as well as a persistence that had previously never been known in masculines ( courtesy the aforementioned Hedione).  That was Eau Sauvage and my mother in law claimed it was so good she stole nips from my father in law’s bottle.

The work on Roudnitska’s fragrances went on and on because his thoughts on perfume went on and on. “Great perfumes take time” he is quoted as saying. It’s probably the same with fragrance as with any other endeavor, the outcome of anyone’s effort is only as good as the quality of their thought.  Roudnitska’s choreography for the nose was as complex as Blanchine’s for the dance, and took a long time to plan.

Now it’s not fair to suggest that wonderful things can’t also vault into the world unexpectedly, but they don’t do it at a rate of more than sixteen hundred back somersaults a year. If everyone’s efforts were at the same level of quality bell curves wouldn’t be bell curves.  You’re going to get a hoard of mediocrities at best, the perfume equivalent of barbarians shoving and pushing at the gate, or the consumer’s wallet whichever opens first.

It may be better to take some time and really road test a fragrance.  The strategy works.  Coty did and made great perfume plus billions, Roudnitska did and made molecular poetry, oh, plus a lot of money for Dior. 

Diorissimo advertising from theperfumegirl.com

Diorissimo advertising from theperfumegirl.com

Also, at the risk of spoiling another post, I think the public is developing sophisticated tastes in food and drink, which are closely related to scent as products.  Consider MacDonald’s recent poor earnings, people care about the food they eat and how it was prepared. They are turning away from fast mass market.  They are even learning about terroir and the subtleties of estate grown coffee. Don’t tell me that such consumers won’t wake up one morning, sniff, and toss the air freshener in the trash. Eventually they’ll toss the bottle of Pretty Pink  on the bureau in there too.  You know the one that always gave the kids sinusitis…

Maybe the longer slower route is best.  You may think perfume isn’t art, but it sure can be artistry and that is best not rushed.

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4 thoughts on “The Long Hello

  1. Perfect article! And I just read cafleurbon’s post about the business side of the industry-it might be of interest to you.
    In my professional life one of my responsibilities is measuring customer satisfaction, and perception of customer satisfaction. It’s really interesting to me-were you really satisfied? Was it a good transaction? Or do you think you were satisfied, without actually asking yourself why? What made it a good transaction, or what could make it better? Loads of times it comes down to the actual people who completed the transaction-the customer feels like someone listened, and responded. The human touch cannot ever be replicated by mechanical means. Robots and drones are great, and they have their place-but each person is such an individual there are not enough logarithms to express the complete range of human emotions.
    So I totally agree with you-when we wear something special, it strikes a chord for us. Or replicates a special emotion. Or it’s done so perfectly it cannot possibly not make you feel something.
    Diorella is amazing. And so is Grandiflora Michel. I believe I can feel both Michel Roudnitska, and his father’s influence, in the Grandiflora scent.
    Think back to the Carons-how much thought went into them? And how much of the creator’s personality? Even today they are recognized as a quality brand.
    I hope people take the time to learn about fragrance, and that they have a good perfume store to help develop their noses. Scent should be special, and maybe not as commercial as it has become.
    Thanks for the food for thought, and sorry for rambling on so much!
    Love,
    Carole

    • What a thoughtful comment, it was a pleasure to read!

      Now that you’ve mentioned Michel Grandiflora I feel I really MUST get around to smelling it and think Michel Roudnitska seems to have inherited his father’s gift for careful meditative work.

      So much is ground out now and worst of all no one seems very proud of their creations (with a few exceptions among niche perfumers). I was very sorry to see Frederic Malle go.

      The human touch is what we miss alright. The releases become too many and too thin, chemical, mechanized. All synthetic perfumes are not a new idea. One company in France attempted to do all synthetics back in the 1890′s or so. Perhaps predictably it failed…

  2. I completely agree with your analogy with the gradual ‘gentrification’ of consumer taste, in food and coffee. I was really struck the other day by how many luxury goods there were in even the most basic of our discount chains, Aldi. It must surely ‘percolate’ through to perfume one of these days, as sure as Araucana eggs are (naturally blue and rather upmarket) eggs.

    PS Shout out to Carole from someone else whose professional life has much to do with customer satisfaction and the meaning thereof. ;)

    • Oh I’ve seen the Aruacana eggs! In fact I bought some they were irresistible.

      Yes actually to your point about how fast high end is moving to mass market, I sometimes wonder if the process may not catch perfume houses on the hop? Consumers pay so much more attention to how things taste and inevitably how they smell. I wonder if I should roast my own coffee (lazy as I am) which should be some indication of the changing state of affairs.

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