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Zealot Crusader

Perfume: What Comes Next?

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What is coming next in the world of perfume? Where are we headed? Well, in order to understand that we need to look a bit into the past then at current events to figure out what the next moves will likely be! I originally posted this in a thread as a response to the topic question, but then I realized it was so long that nobody was going to read it in full, and decided to copy it over into a blog post instead

This is a several-pronged thing so I'll break it down.

Return of Perfume as Symbol of Status - perfume started in the West as a symbol of status for the ultra-powerful, ultra-wealthy noble houses that rulled most of Europe until the 20th century, and the captains of industry in the colonies abroad (including the nascent USA). Houses like Guerlain, Houbigant, Penhaligon's, and perhaps even Creed were all commissioned for wholly bespoke perfumes and colognes. The average "commoner" didn't even have convenient access to hot running water, so drawing a bath was a day's activity. When big cosmetic firms like Avon, Coty, Revlon, Arden, Lauder, and others started using budding synthetics like coumarin and nitromusks to reduce the cost of perfume, and ramp up mass production/distribution, prices plummeted and accessibility increased to the point where fragrance was pitched as part of a solid hygiene routine - a necessity and not a luxury - to bring volume sales over high margin ones. Designers emerged with fragrance lines to accompany their clothing, offering the "next step up" from Mom's Coty or Dad's Mennen. This is how the very existence of the "perfumista" and "colognoisseur" was even made possible: a plethora of readily-available, reasonably-priced, high-quality fragrances existed for decades.

Now, as we enter a second "Gilded Age" 100 years after the last one, income inequality and stagnation of wages for the majority 80% means more people outside of us hobbyists see perfume as an unnecessary luxury than ever (but at least we have running hot water this time). Gone are the days of the Avon lady pitching a bottle of perfume as a "good grooming essential", or the lady behind the Macy's counter suggesting that you're "naked" without fragrance, since the bulk of people aren't even doing their majority discretionary shopping in these stores anymore! The working poor, if they wear anything at all, are eating up the Bath & Body Works mists, Calgon sprays, Axe, Tag, BODman, or whatever deodorant aerosol matches their shampoo or body wash of choice. Entry and median level perfumers languish and wither, while designers become the new entry level perfume choice (as evidenced by their blandness), and ultra-luxe "masstige" at $200-$500 becomes the new "step up". This doesn't even take into account the grotesquely aureate and exhibitionistic "haute parfums" like Roja Dove or Clive Christian at $1,500 to $13,000 an ounce and up, which exponentially put more cost in the decadent packaging than the contents therein. These brands could have never existed 50 years ago.

The Strangulation of Creativity and Brand Variegation: As others have noticed, chemistry firms have gained a lot of ground in terms of power within the perfume industry. IFRA exists as a voluntary watchdog organization which has all but in name become law enforcement (especially in the EU), restricting classic naturally-sourced ingredients like Eugenol (clove), Geraniol (rose), or Coumarin (tonka), while almost eliminating the use of others - most famously oakmoss - all in the name of public safety. In their stead, we've gotten a steadily-increasing list of custom "captive" aromachemicals patented by IFF, Givaudan, and Firmenich, which require houses without their own internal perfumers or ingredients sourcing agents to hand over everything to the perfumers at those firms, greatly-narrowing the creative palette and competitive field for perfumers. This ties into the first part because as wealth concentrates and the desire for Veblen goods/conspicuous consumption by the elite grows, these firms leave the creation of perfume to focus groups, computer algorithms, and EBITDA thinking. This is where we get wonderchems like dihydromyrcenol in the 80's, calone in the 90's, Iso E Super overuse in the 2000's, and now ambroxan or norlimbanol overdoses even in the newly-emerging Designer Exclusive ranges or "Masstige" houses like Parfums de Marly.

On the flipside of this coin, you have the huge back-to-basics movement that brands like Lush, L'Occitane, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Etat Libre d'Orange, Diptyque, Atelier Cologne, Commodity, Jo Malone, and countless other boutique brands have pushed to counter the aesthetic of homogenizing designer brands that appear as more "show" than "go". Many hobbyists, including fellow Basenoters, have noticed that these "homespun" brands also have become increasingly commerical and corporate as time has passed, and oftentimes confuse "natural-smelling" with "amateur" in the way they sling perfume notes like a circus juggler. Between these "niche" brands and the prestige-obsessed "niche" brands like Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, a perfume lover in recent years feels caught between a rock and a hard place. Luckily, a more "honest" return to perfume as art has emerged with truly artisinal houses which are often 1 or 2 person operations. Brands like Slumberhouse, Fzotic, Auphorie, Sixteen92, Tauer, Areej le Dore, January Scent Project, and more seem to be filling the void being left by dwindling vintage perfume that "niche" brands claim to fill but don't. Problem is, their single-market or limited nature introduces the same predatory scalpers that plague vintage collectors, so we're back to dog-eat-dog battles in the Thunderdome regardless of what we like, unless you're okay Designer Marketing Demographic Luxury.

Reasons for Wearing Perfume Changing: Lastly, a shift in market saturation from women to men in many Western markets, and cultural shifts in thinking thanks to the ever-increasing competitiveness of our polarizing lasseiz-faire capitalism and ever-decreasing empathy due to a "connected" online society of cultivated borderline-sociopaths and introverts, has lead perfume wearing by those who do to be more about performance than style. We got a taste of this in the 80's with the powerhouse era, but a pushback led to the 90's "beige age" that slowly diversified out back to what we have now. Since mostly self-serving corporate cutthroat "bro culture" is dominating at the sales counters, with personalities like "Jeremy Fragrance" leading the charge, guys want to be as loud and fearsome to the "competition" as possible, while having the most-colorful peacock plumes as they can to "attract mates". It's Dow Jones meets the Discovery Channel and it's why stuff like 1 Million and Sauvage dominate sales. People don't care about where their sandalwood comes from or if it even has sandalwood, they just want to smell "clean and sexy" with "beastmode performance yo" and perfumers of all tiers, price points, and methods are listening.

The person who wants to smell distinct or have an emotional connection to their signature or scent of choice is dying out, just as is the overall percentage of perfume users shrinking due to economic or cultural shifts away from seeing fragrance as an essential part of a lifestyle. Sure, Basenotes and other communities will continue to fuel indie artisinal houses, fight over overpriced bottles of Patou, and splash bottles of holy water on Calvin Klein like he's the Antichrist, but we're going to become an increasingly hardcore subculture that will also be increasingly ridiculed and ostracized by society at large for having 30-300 bottles spanning entire eras of perfume rather than "one good bottle of Chanel", or knowing lavender from lavandin and arguing about the verisimilitude of Creed's history instead of catching up on the latest video game or season of Real Housewives. We're probably going to sample more, buy less, and really calcify into our favorites as time goes on, since in another decade all designers will be variants of Molecule 01, all niche a mixup between Napoleon's Bathwater or Your Sister's Backyard Patchouli, and all artisinal scents limited hand-numbered collectables that you'll have to pre-order a year in advance to avoid a 500% markup from BabyRay069 on eBay.

Or society as we know it will collapse from climate change, another Great Depression, or a world war, and we'll have much bigger problems on our hands than which flanker of a flanker matches our cardigan tanktops and cruelty-free faux fur jeggings.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have avocado toast to eat before the world ends.
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Comments

  1. DeidraRendon's Avatar
    Cool post as for me

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Loving perfume on the Internet since 2000