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
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.
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.