The Best Customer?

Original advertising for Coty Muse

Original advertising for Coty Muse

The best perfume customer,  Do such people exist?  Can they exist?  Are they us?

In the States we tend to reference Estee Lauder’s steady and entirely sensible business practices, the slow and persistent knock on consumers’ sensibilities with demonstrations, free samples, and gifts with purchase. Estee was in fact a follower of Francois Coty in all this.  He too, wanted the wide market, and bet that he could obtain it-which he did of course- and with spectacular success.  That all began though with demographic democracy by targeting the middle class consumer. That’s exactly what you don’t find anymore.  The trouble is that the perfume market in the US has become as divergent as people’s income  brackets.  You have cheap celebrity scents on one end and top out of sight niche releases on the other end, at nose bleed prices.  Never the two shall meet.  Is that sensible?

If you target the rich you target a restless demographic that changes its scents as often as its mind.  Were I selling perfume, I would want a stable bunch of customers, repeat customers, a large number of customers eg. middle class customers.  Richistan is not the preferred destination.

The bottle for Coty Ambre Antique

The bottle for Coty Ambre Antique

The mistake though, and it’s a mistake neither Estee nor Francois Coty made, is to underestimate the middle class customer. “Coty had hit upon two essentials of modern business practice-on the one hand value for money, a pre-requisite of mass consumption, and on the other the cachet upon which a product relies for its survival.” wrote Elizabeth Barille in her biography of Coty.

This was during an era when the production of perfumes was much more expensive than it is today. For most of the twentieth century the development of a perfume took longer, and the cost was concomitantly higher.  These days you have a very repetitive brief, a tiny budget, and a substantially larger sum spent on packaging and marketing, including naturally, the infamous test marketing. Cheap production by committee, results in a sea of similar brews, maybe once again, undervaluing that middle class buyer.

Coty did not market test. After his death in 1934 no doubt there was more “professional”

Special Edition of Estee Lauder Beautiful from

Special Edition of Estee Lauder Beautiful from

appraisal of new scents at his company, but for Coty the best customer, appraiser, and art director was himself. He was not alone in this methodology.  Robert Ricci who was largely responsible for L’Air du Temps the Nina Ricci classic, had a similar approach, “… the creation  and the presentation of a perfume come about only on my authority.  I decide everything:the perfume, the bottle, the packaging and the publicity. I trust only what I like, and do not rely on market research.”  This kind of perfume development is only to be found in the niche houses nowadays, and even then, so many new releases at one time, make it unlikely that any one scent is considered especially. Most releases, are yet another spritz at the brass ring.  Who knows, you could get another Angel or J’Adore by accident.

Still there must be something to be said for the slower and steadier approach, keeping many perfumes in a line and “anniversarying” some of the hits in new flagons for their long time buyers.  Look at Beautiful for instance, in its elegant new flask.  There’s a good deal of sense to this way of doing things.  Estee Lauder has been able to buy quite a lot of its competition lately, and you can’t do that unless you have cash and you don’t have that…unless you are doing something right for the broad middle of the market.

Do you have a favorite mass market release from the last year or two? Do you think you are part of the “middle market”?

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10 thoughts on “The Best Customer?

  1. I seem to have lost track of mass market releases and most niche ones, but I guess JM Mimosa and Cardamom might be one mid market release that impressed me. Maybe I am aware of more than I think, but my spontaneous recall is totally shot. I will wait to see what others suggest, whereupon I might be able to chime in. It wouldn’t be Alaia, mind you, but you knew that anyway.;)

    1. Well Alaia was a dud as far as I was concerned certainly. Know what you mean about new releases there are simply too many. I liked Cardamom and Mimosa too, and recently I was surprised by Tender Romance one of the Ralph Lauren flankers to Romance, which was actually a very pretty fruity floral. Even the daughter liked it- and normally she does not go for fruities! On the other hand I will never understand why everyone likes La Vie Est Belle which ought to be called Ethyl Maltol Est Belle 🙁

  2. I’m with Vanessa on Mimosa & Cardamom, but it’s the only mass-market release that I can think of.

    I was wondering in the last several years if brands actually knew what they were doing with all those endless releases or were they just doing what everybody else was doing. Is it actually that profitable? Do people buy new and new perfumes instead of using their favorite perfumes and buying the second/third/etc. bottle, maybe in a limited edition version (of the bottle, not of the perfume!)?

    1. I wonder if the business plan is right for many companies? I notice that Estee Lauder rarely takes anything out of circulation. You can still buy Aromatics Elixir and Calyx, and Pleasures and Beautiful, but how many Donna Karan Be Delicious flankers have come and gone, and as for Gold, that was bye bye before anyone had time to find it, or buy a second bottle.

      I do buy second and third bottles, not often, but do buy them, and enjoy a nice new package from time to time. A new bottle design of Aromatics Elixir (almost) makes me want to buy it until I remember how it smells.

  3. There’s a lot to be said for the Coty-Ricci approach (Lutens does it too). The message is: ‘I think this is beautiful, and I think you will too’. Not: ‘Twenty dozen random people in focus groups on three continents said they like this, so the chances are you might too. No? Oh well, there will soon be a flanker, so never mind … ‘.

    It’s that communication directly into the mind of the customer, to make him or her feel special.

    Not sure about the last year or two but I think Bottega Veneta from a few years before was excellent. Leather is unusual in a mass release these days. BV is the sort of fragrance you could wear your whole life.

    1. Lutens is so sphinx-like in his statements that I always have to translate them from the Serge back into ordinary English. He does however seem to create with reference mostly to himself and that is a welcome habit these days.

      Bottega Veneta was one of the best of that year, I absolutely agree, and reminds me of the Dries Van Noten perfume Frederic Malle did- actually that struck me as mid way between BV and Dzing- and don’t know if you caught it. Definitely you could wear any of the three of them forever, but then I love leathuh!

  4. A provocative argument. I tend to ficus on vintages but I dabble in niche, indie, and mass market perfumes. I think there is a lot to be said for Estee Lauder’s considered and careful approach. Although inevitable reformulations have occurred, a customer who has worn Azuree for forty years can still purchase her perfume at the counter, in a recognizable form. Meanwhile, I cannot begin to explain why Penhaligon has discontinued its 2015 release, Ostara, which was launched to general acclaim and designed by top nose.

    1. You’ve hit on one of the most depressing discontinuations of the past year. I have still not gotten to smell Ostara and despair of managing to find it now. A lot of producers do this, and it’s very irritating.
      Indie and Niche are always a case of grab it while you can. Even Estee Lauder does a now you see it, now you don’ t tease with Limited Editions. I’m still annoyed at them for Ginger Biscuit which I couldn’t find after two months! I guess they think we’re all up market and fickle 🙁

      1. Penhaligons (US website) has Ostara at bargain-basement prices right now – $22.50 for 50 ml and c. $33 for 100 ml.

        I snagged a 50 ml for myself; I adore the first 15 minutes of Ostara, even if the rest of it is an ordinary laundry musk on me. For that price, though, it’s worth it.

        If you’re interested, you might want to buy right away; I’m guessing it’ll be sold out in a few days at most.

        1. Thank you! That’s great news for any Ostara buyers out there, one of which I may be. Wonder why they lost this release so fast?

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