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. Continue reading

Casta Diva

We always got them in February in Rome, silly fluffy little bouquets that made some people sneeze but which delighted others.  They were so bright and saffron and yellow, after a Roman winter of greige and beige and gray, mimosas in flower markets signaled an abrupt change of season.

To this day, mimosas are the true heralds of spring to me.  I may appreciate snowdrops, but they are northern flowers, and go along with winter jasmine, in dense yellow starred hedges, and primroses.  None of them have much scent.  The yellow winter jasmine has no scent that I can detect.  Every year I try to smell snow drops, but it is an undignified exercise at best, with me bending nearly double and failing to smell anything after all.  If I’m going to pretzel myself, it’s probably a better bet to wait until the lilies of the valley are  in bloom, then I’m sure to get a payoff for my impromptu yoga position.  It should be called the Ostrich. Continue reading

The Specialists

Ever notice that some perfume firms simply are better at certain kinds of fragrance?  I’m thinking of the fact that if you want a wonderful oriental, Guerlain still is pretty hard to beat (Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue), or that gourmand scents are the strong point of Parfumerie Generale (Aomassai, Cadjmere), or that even though Dior makes periodic sorties into enemy held territories, like the oriental, they are usually only partially successful, e.g. Dioressence, or that… but I expect by now you’ve got  the picture.

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Frankincensely, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn

Incense perfumes seem to be the dividing line between true perfume enthusiasts and everyone else.  For the great majority of the public, incense perfumes smell like Church- especially if they are Catholic- and, curiously, seem to have otherworldly associations even for people who are not religiously affiliated.

Frankincense is in the vanguard in this perfumed assault on heaven, although I find in reading the notes that one perfume on my list contains no frankincense.  This is Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marrocain.  It does have everything else that he could crowd into a sacred conference room: coriander, petitgrain, lemon, bergamot, jasmine, cistus, geranium, cedar, vetiver, vanilla, patchouli and ambergris.  Wow.  I could swear that was frankincense in there out-whiffing everybody else – but no havana.

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Sometimes perfume houses get on the wrong sides of critics.  For reasons that aren’t entirely obvious, this seems to have happened with the house of Creed.  I’ve read some truly vituperative reviews of Creed scents on perfume sites.  It was unclear just why the writers were so angry.  Was it the price?  Creed is expensive in general, but quite frankly, so are a lot of other perfumes on the market these days.  In fact I sometimes think that the complaints about quality and luxury have resulted in a rash of scents priced around the $200.00 mark, whether or not they deserve such a figure.  So what makes Creed stand out?

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