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  1. #1

    Default what in the world is "luxury"?

    Being a fan of "Un Jardin Sur Le Nil," I keep up with interviews with Jean Claude Ellena whenever I can. But I am confused by these ideas of luxury that keep coming up in articles such as "Perfume's master of minimalism" in the Los Angeles Times:

    examples:
    "We've gone from the concept of haute-couture perfume to ready-to-wear perfume," Kerléo says. "Perhaps we're heading toward the day where the ultimate prestige will be no perfume." (this is like saying - "we have gone from tailor-made clothes to store-bought clothes - soon, perhaps, we will not wear clothes"):

    or

    What was once an elitist privilege -- purchasing a highly crafted extrait de parfum -- is no longer in vogue.

    or

    Indeed, [Ellena] represents a throwback to another time and place when perfume was a carefully crafted luxury commodity designed for elite and wealthy clientele. That his fragrances are both luxurious and accessible is a mark of his adaptability to modern tastes.

    To be sure, Ellena himself is not credited with any of these quotations. But that these concepts are dragged out so often in articles about perfume is puzzling to me. The ability to enjoy one's sense of smell is not dependent upon class. Do visual artists insist that their work be viewed only by certain people, or complain that a Mondrian becomes a t-shirt, or Guernica a postcard? It seems to me that we don't consider a person educated if they have not been exposed to works of art, music, architecture, etc, and exposed to the beauty of the natural world - indeed, education in the arts is supposed to be a part of a democratic society's responsibility to its youth. That scent is not a part of this formal education, I thought, was simply a reflection of its "red-headed stepchild' status in the realm of the senses - not because you had to be rich to deserve exposure to fabulous, well-crafted scents.

    Could it be that other senses are more democratized in the marketplace than scent is? Is there some kind of fear of a loss of fragrance industry control behind all this harping on luxury, elitism, formal education = authenticity as a perfumer, and class?

    I don't purchase "Sur le Nil" because it's Hermes, nor do I love "Mitsouko" because I can't afford anything else from the House of Guerlain. It is the scent, the experience, that I am looking for; isn't that true of most people? Perfumery is an art that takes patience and talent and time to master, I understand that. But does that mean that a well-crafted scent *should* be inaccesible to regular people like myself, and the fact that I buy it and study it and sample it, and am even so bold as to experiment with perfumery on my own, somehow "cheapen" the art of someone like Ellena? It seems to me that perfume, that scenting oneself, one's bath, one's surroundings, that enjoying the aromas of your lover, your infant, your garden, and your food, are just human (and animal) pleasures and experiences.

    I also disagree with the writer's concept of history, although my disagreement is based on instinct and not study. I did not have to get validation from anyone to roll a lemon verbena leaf between my fingers and press the oil to my wrists as a child (and that the pleasure cost me nothing did not diminish it). Although the elite class in Europe was no doubt overseeing the cultivation and import of flowers, spices and oils from "colonies" around the world, I am sure the working class continued making their tinctures and perfumes from their local environment and according to their individual and collective fancies, same as they always had. So while the purchase of the perfume may have been an exclusively elitist privilege, its possession - and the skill to make it - was not and probably never has been

    Anyway - I am struggling with understanding the definition of "luxury" in this context, and the need to bring up the idea of "luxury" at all.

    What purpose does "luxury" serve, when it comes to your nose?

    (original article: http://www.latimes.com/features/prin...,4162477.story)
    Last edited by cecile.johns; 25th October 2007 at 06:21 AM.

  2. #2
    Dependent pluran's Avatar
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    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    Never has meant a damn thing to me. I just look for things I like. Call it whatever you want.

  3. #3

    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    Quote Originally Posted by cecile.johns View Post
    Could it be that other senses are more democratized in the marketplace than scent is? Is there some kind of fear of a loss of fragrance industry control behind all this harping on luxury, elitism, formal education = authenticity as a perfumer, and class?
    Great post! 'Luxury' used to refer to elitist pleasures, today it is a synonym for mass market - pretty much the same way the term 'democracy' is being abused as a legitimation for warfare. Corporate cultivation and perpetual re-invention of the notion of luxury such as to adapt it to the taste of the masses - and vice versa - is a prerequisite for its perpetuation.

    Yet it's somewhat problematic to sustain the argument that Ellena's fragrances 'continue to be unconventional' when they have become everyday commodities and mainstream media such as the LA Times are raving about them. Hence the garbage about their creator emerging 'from his glass-walled villa perched on a wooded hilltop in the Riviera backcountry (...) that Hermès acquired especially for him'.
    Last edited by Pieter; 25th October 2007 at 07:42 AM.
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  4. #4

    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    Thank you for your great post, Cecile! Very insightful.

    To answer your question -what purpose does luxury serve to your nose- I'd say "none". Luxury is a very evocative term, but it has nothing to do with aesthetics. It says something about commodities.

    In our culture we have a tendency to confuse commodification and aesthetics. This is nothing new, it has been going on for over a century and is a typical trait of industrialized societies. Peter mentioned "corporate cultivation", I think that sums it up nicely.
    Last edited by Marcello; 25th October 2007 at 09:54 AM. Reason: rephrased
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  5. #5

    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    What purpose does luxury serve to your nose?

    Well, when a light, wispy, ethereal scent dissipates in 45 minutes - 2 hours, I don't feel as though it represents luxury. I feel as though the scent is trying to be many things to many people, because on its own, it doesn't have a whole lot of personality or presence. There is a level of immaturity that I cannot quite describe. I own and wear many JC Ellena scents (l eau d' Hiver and Bvlgari green tea being my favorites), and, although I do enjoy them in certain places and at certain times, the absence of luxury is a quality they share for me.

    When I wear Caron, the notes are just beginning to unfold in 45 minutes to an hour, and the scent envelops me throughout the remainder of the day. There is longevity, something substantive, and this difficult-to-describe quality of "this is what I am; what you think of it is of no concern to me" type of attitude with regard to these types of scents. To me, that is luxury. And I think that my nose can tell the difference.

    Frankly, I enjoy having both types of experiences available to me.

  6. #6

    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    seattlelight - interesting analogy, and i know what you mean about scents that try to be everything to everyone. i don't experience that with either of the "jardins" - perhaps it is a question of body chemistry, but they have rather long staying power in me and do develop over time - but i have experienced that with other perfumes.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    You write that it [luxury] has been going on for over a hundred years? Do I gravely misunderstand? The concept of luxury is as old as mankind itself. In a nutshell it is having something you cherish because of its aesthetic value or its usefulness and at the same time is scarce enough that not everyone can have it. Need it be more complicated than that?
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  8. #8

    Default Re: what in the world is "luxury"?

    Quote Originally Posted by mastorer View Post
    You write that it [luxury] has been going on for over a hundred years? Do I gravely misunderstand? The concept of luxury is as old as mankind itself.
    I assume you refer to my comment, but that's not what I said. I meant the tendency to confuse commodification and aesthetics, not the concept of luxury.
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