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Zealot Crusader

Much Ado About Nothing: Perfume Cost

Rating: 2 votes, 3.00 average.
The average person who walks into a perfume store, or a perfume counter at a department store, tries or is shown several things by the salesperson, makes a choice or takes some samples for a later choice, and life goes on. Sometimes you have that person on a mission that knows what they want, and they're less likely to explore or be talked into something, but the bottom line is they smell something and they like it, they make a purchase or don't, and that's the end of the show folks.

Do you think the authenticity of ingredients or the subtle nuances of how the perfume will progress throughout the day makes that much of a difference to their decision making? Nope. Should it? Well maybe, depending on the intensity of their interest, they may be fine with a less-than-magical dry down or a linear zero-progression scent. Furthermore, the cost of the ingredients and the process used to combine them into perfume makes for good marketing fluff when prattled off by a learned salesperson, but it doesn't truly or deeply affect the customer, and should it? Again maybe, depending on the intensity of interest in that particular tangent of perfume and why it is that person seeks out perfume.

What I'm getting at here is perfume hobbyists sometimes make a larger-than-life deal out of what the stuff in their perfume costs, where it was sourced, and how difficult or laborious it is to produce that stuff when justifying their favorites, and I don't mean perfume price necessarily, I mean perfume cost. Traveling to far-flung regions to procure rare specimens of deer musk pods or civet, back-alley dealings to attain illicit Mysore sandalwood or ambergris from the black market, and plucking rose pedals to make rose jam from the royal gardens of some Sultanate somewhere without getting caught and beheaded, all that plays a part in the -cost- of the perfume. Factor in the laborious efforts to hand-macerate, infuse, or tincture these ingredients for months and years at a time, and an esoteric image of an almost mythical perfume the cost of which to make is incalculable emerges.

But what about the art of blending a perfume itself? The time it takes learning on one's own what smells good together and how much of one thing versus another thing can make or break a perfume? People go to school for this sort of thing, or at least apprentice under another accomplished perfumer, and don't forget the fundamentals of chemistry needed so you can actually work with materials too volatile or potent to just be dropped in by the pinch or squeeze. Oh wait, that means synthetics doesn't it? We can't have those, because they're a sign of inferiority, a mark of illegitimacy, and their use decreases the cost of perfume making, therefore rendering it "cheap". It has to be done the hard way, or it doesn't smell as good, like boiling your own stock from bone rather than picking up a high-quality soup base from the store when you're preparing a dish.

You can't use coumarin, you have to scrape your own tonka beans and distill your own tonka absolute for that fougère you're making, because I, Lord High Rosybottom McNose can smell a synthetic tonka from a real one, and I'll hold you accountable for treason in the court of high perfumery if you don't. I get it people, I really do, and it's yet another facet of the exclusivity pride of ownership monster that niche perfumers have fed and raised with their marketing, but with pedigree and provenance replaced with sourcing and method. Can you spend all that time creating all the essences needed to make a totally natural fougère, chypre, or something simpler like a rose/amber oriental perfume? You sure can, and economy of scale plus cost of investment means you can charge a pretty penny for it too, and you should! A small percentage of people will buy into this as they do with homeopathic medicine, but it isn't a standard by which everyone else should be judged.

The big Achilles heel in the argument that totally-natural hand-made perfumes are the new alpha, and that everything else made with even a smidgen of the aromachemicals produced in the last 200 years is the inferior beta, is that it calls into question the validity of every advancement in Western perfumery since the first eau de colognes trundled out of Farina's shop in the 18th century. You can't just take a steaming dump on generations of advancement in art without some objective fact to back it up, because a more fundamental and costly way of creating perfume isn't objectively better, since all-natural perfumes have way more limitations in variety and lifespan of the perfume itself (both in shelf decomposition and in quality/longevity on the wearer), plus spending more manual effort making something smell like rose doesn't necessarily make a more convincing rose perfume does it? You can't have artifice without art.

There's a reason these chemicals came to be in the first place, and this is long before health and safety restrictions or cost-cutting entered the equation to make them a requirement for some governing bodies. Perfumers wanted to create things they couldn't create before, and like any artist, wanted to push the envelope and explore their craft in ways not possible with their previous tool set, so they therefore made more tools. Yeah, perfume making became easier and less-costly in the long run over the years from these advancements, and obviously more varied perfume styles emerged, but if you sit there and tell me you can smell the difference in a double-blind test between some of the finest synthetic ambers or musks available and the real deal once both have been carefully blended into a perfume, I'd say you should put down perfume collecting and start working in the industry, because you are in an extremely small minority of noses my friend.

I think the point here is people confuse cost with intent. The most passionate perfumers make the most memorable work, whether they're working with a catalog of Givaudan captives or shelves of tinctures like an apothecary, and their intent isn't always to produce something with notes found in nature. The original Jicky Guerlain (1889) was meant to be a totally abstract perfume, and even though smart noses can still pick out natural-smelling notes, that wasn't the intent of the perfumer at the time, just a consequence of using the materials at hand. Along that train of thought, work from modern houses like Calvin Klein or Maison Francis Kurkdijan (low and high end examples) showcase even further abstraction in what are accepted as largely or entirely synthetic perfumes. Additionally, houses like L'Occitane and Creed (again low and high examples) show a knack for producing natural-smelling perfumes despite being loaded with synthetics. The lines blur when you open your mind.

I hate to use that "S word" again, but it really does boil back down to snobbery, and the people who hold up houses like Areej le Dore, Slumberhouse or Bortnikoff as the second coming of Christ while casting literally the other 99% of perfume makers into the Hellfire of "cheap synthetic garbage" condemnation really don't understand the whole of how perfume itself has evolved. We've gone from the days you went to the village alchemist and got some jasmine oil to dot your wrists or neck to the modern day where jasmine can be used to extract both vibrantly clean hedione and scandalously dirty indole and applied as such in modern perfumes of disparately different personalities.

By the way fellas, you can't get hedione from a tincture and indole was first discovered not through jasmine but by treating indigo dye with oleum (oil), then later extracted from jasmine, and both are acts of chemistry relatively inexpensive to purchase. In short, the "cost" of both these developments was initially rather high, with a higher beginning investment than making artisanal perfume, but thankfully subsidized by years of accumulated research to perfumers years later. Make no mistake, I love artisanal perfume, and many of my favorites in this sector (like Andy Tauer and Bruno Fazzolari) do make use of both naturals and synthetics where relevant in their creations because it's how they achieve the accords they're after.

In conclusion, the artisanal perfume movement is saving perfume itself from the doldrums of over-commercialization since the previous niche boom has all but been assimilated into the corporate collective as a next-level pricing tier, but just as with postmodern folk music versus bands that make full use of modern recording techniques, it really comes down to the style of music, and not the method in which it was produced or cost of making the music itself that determines if you'll like it. Even related to food, you can make a cheap eye round steak taste amazing with the right preparation (see: pineapple method), or broil an expensive piece of filet mignon, turning it into a hardened lump of beef-flavored coal that can't be saved even by a crock pot. Don't even get me started on the concept of gourmet burgers...

You like what you like, and just as with people who hammer on how nothing beats vintage perfumes like classic Patou because they had enough oakmoss to get you high, or nothing beats $1200 bottles of haute luxe perfumes like Roja Dove because more money spent equals superior style, you are entitled to say you prefer 100% natural perfumes hand-made with real oud or taif rose because smelling natural is smelling better, but saying they are objectively superior to something made with a synthetic oud compound or geraniol is just delusional clownery at its stuck-up worst. Some people like raw beet sugar in their home-roasted French-pressed coffee, and some like plain old refined cane in their Starbucks, while others actually take Splenda in their Keurig-made coffee, which is a totally subjective matter of taste, just like perfume.

Updated 8th September 2019 at 09:08 AM by Zealot Crusader

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Comments

  1. PStoller's Avatar
    "people confuse cost with intent"

    Absolutely. Also, with ability/artistry. With the right talent and skill, one can make something transcendent out of virtually whatever materials one has at hand. Arguably, an artist's intent can be crass, and yet their effort can still result in a masterful product. Inarguably, an inapt practitioner with the best of intensions and materials will produce nothing of note, save by accident.

    Accident, alas, is only slightly less predictable than talent. And so it suits the convenience and conceits of both marketers and consumers to quantify quality. We want to know we're going to get something good. What's more, we want other people to know we've gotten it. So, quality comes to be perceived as the product of its signifiers, rather than the other way around.

    Yes, the true aficionado spends the time and effort to develop genuine discernment; as fine a pastime as any. But, while that discernment itself is laudable, the time and effort to develop it are, for many, luxuries they cannot afford. Even then, as with the making of a scent, resources mean nothing without ability—you may be able to afford a Baccarat crystal flacon of rare deer musk attar, but you can't buy better olfactory receptors…or better judgment.

    Those who look down their exalted noses at people clamoring for mass-market frags should remember that it's the hoi-polloi who keep the industry in the black, and that pleasing a large number of people is not an inherently bad thing, any more than pleasing the privileged few is an inherently good one. Fragrance is both a business and an art. Only the former is a contest.
  2. Zealot Crusader's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller
    "people confuse cost with intent"

    Absolutely. Also, with ability/artistry. With the right talent and skill, one can make something transcendent out of virtually whatever materials one has at hand. Arguably, an artist's intent can be crass, and yet their effort can still result in a masterful product. Inarguably, an inapt practitioner with the best of intensions and materials will produce nothing of note, save by accident.

    Accident, alas, is only slightly less predictable than talent. And so it suits the convenience and conceits of both marketers and consumers to quantify quality. We want to know we're going to get something good. What's more, we want other people to know we've gotten it. So, quality comes to be perceived as the product of its signifiers, rather than the other way around.

    Yes, the true aficionado spends the time and effort to develop genuine discernment; as fine a pastime as any. But, while that discernment itself is laudable, the time and effort to develop it are, for many, luxuries they cannot afford. Even then, as with the making of a scent, resources mean nothing without ability—you may be able to afford a Baccarat crystal flacon of rare deer musk attar, but you can't buy better olfactory receptors…or better judgment.

    Those who look down their exalted noses at people clamoring for mass-market frags should remember that it's the hoi-polloi who keep the industry in the black, and that pleasing a large number of people is not an inherently bad thing, any more than pleasing the privileged few is an inherently good one. Fragrance is both a business and an art. Only the former is a contest.
    That was very well-written. I applaud you while I eat my mass-produced Nestle Crunch bar but drink from a growler of local hand-crafted beer. Yes I know, beer and chocolate are a weird combo. There's something about it though....
  3. PStoller's Avatar
  4. Andrewthecologneguy's Avatar
    lol!
  5. Matka satta's Avatar
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