Upmarket/Downmarket Perfume

"What do you smell?" Sherlock and friend from The Telegraph

“What do you smell?”
Sherlock and friend from The Telegraph

This issue used to strike me as very important long ago.Choice of brand was crucial.  Or so I thought at seventeen. Now this matters far less to me.  I smell all sorts of things and know that many releases are merely rehashes of earlier perfumes, and so  wear whatever strikes me as genuinely interesting pretty much wherever it came from.  But I am naive on this point because the truth is that brands and branding matter a lot.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the fatal error among perfume companies was to move downmarket.  You might think that this is counter-intuitive, but in fact it was vitally important.  If your image was exclusive you stood a good chance of surviving the economic wreck, if by contrast you decided to sell your scents in cheap retail outlets like discounters or drugstores, your chances of market share loss were pretty good.  It was Saks Fifth Avenue or bust for perfume companies then.

Estee Lauder in its dignified Upmarket incarnation...

Estee Lauder in its dignified Upmarket incarnation…

So it would be nice to think that none of this matters anymore.  I’m not so sure of that.  Many people seem to buy niche brands which haven’t yet acquired reputations.  This is fine but you have to go scent by scent.  Some are wonderful, some are merely do-overs of already quite famous perfumes done better by someone else already.  Sorting through releases becomes a difficult, time consuming business. What is good? What constitutes quality? Are you overpaying? Is what you are smelling original or worthwhile?

That’s sometimes hard to determine.  Even here branding begins to be important as a few perfumers already have more substantial reputations than others. Some  have been at this business a while and their determination is often a good indication of quality product. Others more fly by night, are less certain bets. Then there are the larger niche brands.  They often have acquired some notoriety.  Take Amouage over Etat Libre d’Orange?  You see what I mean?

This same conundrum still exists. As a for instance, consider the scene in the Sign of Three in the new Sherlock Holmes series.  Sherlock tries to home in on a serial seducer and abandoner of women, he narrows the field down to five women and asks them which brand of perfume they use?  Chanel say four out of the five, and the fifth, a maid, and a feisty character, answers, Estee Lauder.

Does being sexy take you downmarket?

Does being sexy take you downmarket?

Now some of us  asked the same abrupt question, might say: “Guerlain” or “Federic Malle” or ” Puredistance” or “Hermes” or even possibly “Creed” but we won’t say, like that maid, “Estee Lauder” though we might say, “Clinique”.  You see where I am going with this?  It’s a matter of presenting yourself to the wider world in a few syllables.  Am I an Estee Lauder person?  If so which one?  The more exclusive new series of wood and incense notes?  Or am I  wearing ( and I did once) Sensuous Noir? I’ll just bet the maid  wears that.

So put on the spot, asked by a stranger objectively what brand I wear the answer is chaotic.  Oh Coty sometimes, or Houbigant occasionally, and Caron, um, what was the question again? We have to ally ourselves with a business all of a sudden and just what kind of profile does that business have right now? Brands are social ambassadors for consumers.  You see why “Chanel” is still one of the safe answers?

If someone suddenly asked you that question point blank-what would you say?

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Upmarket/Downmarket Perfume

  1. Good question. I agree that most women want a status symbol brand.

    Perfume is an esoteric rush.

    Most people want to identify with high class, wealth, glory and all the emblems of victory.

    We also want to stay in the now, we want to be with it, to be a part of what’s in, not left behind or labeled an old fuddy-duddy. A quandary.

    Marketers strive for some form of vanity appeal. The models dress all in gold (J’Adore) or lavender net skirts with rocker heels to evoke stage lights and Broadway, or something young and energetic, anything that’s good in some form: energy, or old world Burberry plaid with history, roots, restraint.

    Or the wild child, a woman brave to break new ground. Powerful in some way.

    And the old tried and true symbols of wealth and sophistication of the super rich, those are ever popular. Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? Pure gold.

    It’s hard to resist, the vanity of the long established well-heeled brands.

    Don’t Donna Karan and Jimmy Choo and the newcomers wanna be in the Chanel bracket and claw their way to same heady heights as the classics?

    The classic fragrance brands appeal to our vanity. High price sets them apart from the middle road, so to own them is to feel one has elevated to a higher class, even for the brief moments of wearing the perfume. We all aspire.

    I’m torn how to answer and wish I could always say I wear Dior or Chanel or something cutting edge trendy for 2017.

    I wish I could say that but I can’t

    because “the real me” is still like a dinosaur who loves “Heaven Sent” by old Helena Rubenstein. They say she had tiny boxes of it dropped on tiny parachutes over New York City as promotion.

    And I love Tabu, in the violin shaped bottle, and old oddities. I love old Avon crème “Somewhere”. I love Prince Matchabelli, “Golden Autumn”. I love the old stuff as it harks back to my early days, no doubt, in a form of brainwashing. What seemed unattainable due to price or scarcity, if it has become attainable to me now, I want to reach back into the past and reclaim all I feel I lost. So I like everything almost, ha ha!!! Not that I did without entirely, but dreams exceed our grasp and all that.

    My answer to the question “What brand do you wear?”my desire to sound important makes me want to claim the most expensive, classic fragrance ever made, like “Chanel” or Fragonard or Dior or the top seller today at the finest department stores, if that top brand can even be determined these days with all the many formulae vying for the glass top counter space. One also sees so many flashing ads in slick magazines. Who is in the lead in the perfume race?

    So my answer off the cuff in hopefully humble honesty,

    is that I like most things HEAVY HEAVY, floral and heavy with persistence, like the overwhelming Tabu or Jungle Gardenia by Tuvache or Beautiful by Estee Lauder, or Angel by Thierry Mugler, or anything spicy and oriental balanced with floral. Make mine rich and voluptuous and over the top and I’m happy.

    I know this does not a serious connoisseur of fine fragrance make me, but it’s the real me.

    On the other hand, I’m also a total butterfly and cannot settle down to any one fragrance. I like variety. I like the constant change, the sharp contrast, the Green Tea or the Cool Water after the heavy orientals. I love them all.

    So I have no answer. But brand recognition does matter.

    It lifts and supports our ego to know we are linked to something GRAND.

    I think we desire a brand’s history, too.

    We all want an anointing, a spirit of success and that’s what the big perfume companies market to.

    Even if the new trendiness is just some shocking change, or youth fetish, or Goth brand, or Juicy Couture all pink and black and ballerina cupcake with a hint of Sex and the City libertine or celebrity Hollywood fabulous.

    Women want to run with the times. They want to blaze new trails other than their mothers’, then return to the fold. Everything has its season.

    We want to be a part of our own culture as well as the past.

    So my pendulum swings wildly back to the old tried and true perfumes of yesteryear’s grandeur with historical roots, to the pendulum swing of something totally new and lighthearted, the appeal of youth however simple or non-elegant.

    Youth is its own gold, but so is the historical achievement of Guerlain and Dior and Chanel and their eternal solidity of glamour so longstanding; it’s hard to exchange the old classics entirely for the latest trend.

    I think women are very molded by their peer group, the real competition in their lives. Women learn so much from each other, and are greatly influenced by what the rich girl or the sophisticated woman in their group is wearing, or the person they admire for some (hopefully good) reason, is wearing as fragrance.

    Maybe you’ve touched on the famous question even Freud couldn’t answer, but Mel Gibson movie did: What Do Women Want?

    sorry…a long comment to say,

    “I don’t know my brand yet, perhaps I never will.”

    Another good question: does sexy ad bring a fragrance downmarket?

    I’d say a qualified Yes.

    Females are so much more than raw animal magnetism or pheromone.

    Remember when pheromones were touted as the cool fragrance? Yet they never really took over the market despite their promise of scientific sex allure.

    Women are so much more than the sum of their hormones. Life is beautiful.

    I think many women rather than wanting to be paired with the lowest common denominator of the human species, as in reproductive organs, or have their identity connected merely to sex as a simple biological fact of every female on the planet and what any member of the pack already has, a fact which doesn’t set that member of the pack apart in any interesting way, well…

    many women would rather seem above it all, somewhat unapproachable and regal,

    but with just a hint of human allure so that a mere nod of sexiness in ads is better. Sex is better suggested than revealed.

    The sexual marketing has hit saturation point. I think it’s to the point of diminishing returns, if not a turnoff.

    It yells crass, tacky, one dimensional no brainer. I’m exhausted seeing so many boobs and bottoms and shameless exhibitionism for the almighty buck. Lewd images and words flood the market, the price gets lower and lower and lower. Nothing shocks. Law of supply and demand. What’s rare is wanted not what’s common.

    So sex in ads for perfume:

    A little goes a long way, like good perfume.

    Of course young women may disagree with me!! I’m not in my 20s.

    Sorry, my reply is all over the map.

    You’ve got a good question about What Brand Do You Wear. “It’s complicated” as the buzzword (already dated, ha ha) was.

  2. So the answer really is, “It’s complicated.” That’s just fine because who ever met a woman who wasn’t? Complication is in our DNA. Incidentally that’s more or less my answer too.

    As to too much sexuality in ads moving an image downmarket, I suspect it may, though sensuality is probably fine-what’s the difference? Gosh, that’s instinctive isn’t it? Anyway what was your first comment “perfume is an esoteric rush.” Yeah, well said.

  3. Great post and great question! I would say ‘a lot of Chanel’, and then leave the rest mysterious. 🙂

    And I could mention Chanel with confidence because having worn Chanel No 19 for 25 years and bought bottle after bottle, I don’t feel like I’m putting on too many airs. 🙂

    I’ve noticed among my friends and colleagues (ages 30s and upwards) that people are happy to own up to wearing a variety of fragrances and mainstream stuff, including celebrity fragrances, with no no perceived need to earn cache or declare brand loyalty. Perhaps an exception is Tom Ford – that has to be one of the coolest brands in the world today and especially young people want to be associated with it. It’s expensive and yet relatively easy to get. Not of that available-only-at-specific-stores gimmicry.

    • Tom Ford. He makes me smile just a little bit, but he has always been good at perfume (YSL NU for instance).

      I think he may have employed someone who really, really knows about perfumes. If he did then this cool factor becomes a good deal clearer. You need a seriously good art director these days. I think they have that.

      Yes, all those bottles of Chanel no 19 do add up to cachet honestly earned, and I think an Aussie independence is at work among your colleagues because consumers here are now wary of “celebuscents”, or anything too downmarket. Here Lancome rules the atmosphere with some Chanel Chance and CC Mademoiselle on the sidelines. My daughter wears Prada.

  4. Chanel is a good answer. Hermes might be better. It’s known just enough to have a certain cachet, and still a bit mysterious to many. Hermes fragrances can be worn elegantly in most situations, like Chanel. My mom would say it’s snootier. If there were 5 women, 4 wearing Chanel, I’d like to be the Hermes woman ;D it *is* sad that we have an image of the Estée Lauder woman–EE has some great fragrances.

    Ironically today I’m testing TF Ombré Leather 16. Be well.

    • Too bad that Estee Lauder tosses up an image (here noted by the BBC) because they do make good stuff. Odd too since EL is now the parent company of Tom Ford. We have an outlet for EL products down the road and they sell Tom Fords along with a large number of Jo Malones. So this is where I run into them.

      Hermes is an elegant brand. Definitely a wildcard to name as ones favorite 🙂

  5. It’s a great thought-provoking post!

    I won’t be caught dead wearing Clinique (or admitting to doing that): not because of the quality of their perfumes – I haven’t tried anything in the last 10 years – but because of the image of this company that I have in my head. I just do not consider it a luxury brand.

    If I had to quickly name just one brand (for a non-perfumista inquirer, I mean), I would probably name Amouage (I actually like it a lot, own multiple scents, and it’s easily pronounced), even though I probably have the same number of bottles for Chanel, Dior and Guerlain; and if to count travel bottles, Hermes and Ormonde Jayne. But I will not probably cop to Jo Malone (even though I own twice as many perfumes from this brand then from any other). I like Jo Malone and easily admit that, but I wouldn’t probably want to be associated with it if we were talking about just one brand: in the recent 5 years it became too ubiquitous.

    If asked by a perfumista, I would have answered truthfully that I rarely wear the same brand more than once per month – so naming a single brand would be completely meaningless.

    • Wow no Clinique either? Calyx used to be good but Happy is…well, OK, I take your point.

      You make the distinction between what perfumistas would understand and what everybody else does. Still there probably is a brand that everybody perceives as comfortable and it may not be the same as the brand with which we associate ourselves like the difference between your Amouages and Jo Malones. That is to say, a public as opposed to a private choice.

      I can go deplorably downmarket myself and find that besides my cherished Carons, what I often wear is inexpensive. But I will SAY that I wear Caron… often, er, frequently… quite a lot of the time…

      • 🙂
        “Caron” sounds good: I should probably get to try more of their perfumes to find at least one to love and wear – then I’d be able to say that I wear Caron…

        • That’s nice of you, but Caron doesn’t sound any better than Amouage these days. In fact Amouage is probably way cooler, trouble is I’m so used to mousse de saxe at the end of my perfumes …

  6. Interesting…I do get asked this question and find myself saying something like: ‘Oh, all sorts of things, too many to mention really, and mostly things you tend not to find in the likes of Boots.’ Which is as close as I come to a snobbish utterance on the matter. 😉

    • Sorry I missed this, and know what you mean.

      At this point in the perfumista’s lifespan I do wear the oddest things and not all are at Boots’ or the equivalent here, so that might be slightly snobbish, but since the things I do wear can cost less than the department store equivalents, it evens out.

      What about the brand association of Jean Paul Guerlain? He has his Exclusive line now-is that wearing more Guerlain than Guerlain? Hm…

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