But increasingly, the perfume connoisseur is forced down the vintage or cult-brand route because the perfume halls have become places of despair and commercial overkill, devoid of innovation and inspiration.
— Bethan Cole on the creative bankruptcy of mainstream perfumery. Read the rest in today's UK Times.
The article sounds a bit harsh, even though I agree with the sentiments of “me-too” fragrances and dilution of brands by bringing out various “summer versions”.
A large percentage of the population just wants to smell nice – they dont really care as to how complex the creation is or natural the civet cat gonad-extracted note of civet is in their perfume. That only matters to perfume connoisseurs, who are far less in number.
Some recent designer fragrances which I think were great or unique (all for men):
YSL M7 (2002)
YSL M7 Fresh (2005)
YSL Rive Gauche Homme (2003)
Dior Homme (2005)
Caron L'Anarchiste (2000)
L'Instant De Guerlain Pour homme (2004)
Lovely by Sarah Jessica (2005- not all celeb scents are bad)
One doesnt need to drop $200 on a Lutens bottle to smell good !
“Lovely” wasnt for men
Great, succinct article. Says what is moaned about on blogs and forums every day. I'm so glad to be an indie perfumer who has the ability to present something unique and truly my vision to the public without bean counters and market focus groups dictating my art.
Wonder if the big houses will ever change, or all lumber along, like elephants to the graveyard?
I agree with Cole and zztopp! As a fragrance fanatic, I like scents that are different and unique and I've noticed in the past couple of years that a lot of the new fragrances have become “cookie-cutters” of something that was just previously out. I'm afraid there's a generation of women out there who may not appreciate chypres and resins or the classiness of Chanel.
Despair? Oh, come on.
Would agree there are plenty of decent scents to be found at mainstream houses. More than plenty. But sympathize with Ms. Cole…if you even try to keep up with the 600+ new releases every year (that is, if you try to smell most of them) it is hard not to end up feeling disillusioned with the whole industry. There is an awful lot of uninspired crap out there, and way more than there used to be only because there didn't used to be 600+ new fragrances a year.
Ha, they are lumbering along on their way to the bank. I do think even those inside the industry agree that there are too many new releases, but it is hard to see how any one company can afford to slow down. But yes, if I were a perfumer, I'd rather be in your shoes.
LOL…ok, fair enough. But I've been near tears in Macys myself after smelling the 10th recently released fruity floral
I like different and unique too. I'm not sure this generation of women *wants* chypres and resins and the classiness of Chanel, or at least, not in big numbers. As near as I can tell, what most women want is D&G Light Blue.
Yes, but have you noticed the rise in the total number of “niche” houses ? Have a look here:
Thats FORTY niche houses (not counting Bond no. 9 and the recently announced houses covered in the Basenotes news section a few weeks ago) !
Thats a helluva lot – so its not just designer houses contributing to the crap thats giving Ms. Cole headaches. And quite a few of the niche houses launch over 5 fragrances per year, which to me is a lot – can they still be creative with such a large launch line up every year? Arent niche houses supposed to be small and focused?
It seems that nowadays anyone can get a bank loan, set up shop and launch a “niche” line.
Oh, I agree entirely. There is more than plenty of niche crap out there too, and lots of the niche lines could use some self-editing. It just isn't as noticeable — you don't usually get 3 flanker scents within a year the way you do with a big celebrity scent, say. And by the way, I give big kudos to SJP for not releasing a follow up to Lovely right away.
It is akin to haute couture though, although luckily price isn't such a barrier for niche scents as it is in clothes, but some of these indie scents are wonderful works of art that stun and amaze and create a stir but most women don't necessarily want to smell like that. For instance Lutens Datura Noir thrills me and I would always want to have it nearby to sniff and even wear when I'm working at home, but I don't want to go round smelling of almonds and coconut in quite that distinctive way. Now Fleur d'oranger is a different matter! I'll impose that on anyone and everyone it's so delicious!
The blogs are full of admiration for many of the Lutens, for instance, or Malles, declaring that they love to sniff them but feel overwhelmed/ their personalities swamped/ or just plain unwashed! Along with the admiration is plenty of repulsion too!
I think how we smell is so intimately part of our sense of ourselves and how we want to project that self on the world – even more intimate than what we wear because the sense of smell is primitive and animal, possibly the first we have as a baby nuzzling for her mother.
Actually on a slightly different jag – do you think there is a diffrence generally between what American women want from scent and what the Europeans enjoy – and the US market drives the business I suppose like everything else. I was wondering about how many of these French niche scents seem to feed into the fear that so many women have of body odour? (the shaggy armpit debate perhaps?)
It heartens and amazes me that a large house like Guerlain once issued a scent like Apres l'Ondee (one of your all time favourites Robin?) and that it sold in enough numbers for it to remain on the counter for so long (although sadly withdrawn now I think). But that meant that there were enough women choosing to smell like a magically damp wood in spring. It's a lovely lovely thing but it takes a woman of rare distinction these days to wear it instead of something more recognisably pretty. Non?
Fabulous blog, keep up the good work helping the rest of us find our way through the jungle – even though the latest crop of crap brings you close to tears………..
Apres L'Ondee is still in production, only no longer in any concentration other than EdT. I adore it. Hard to say if it is an all time favourite — I have so many all time favourites. Certainly in the top 50.
On the American vs European women thing — it is always said that American women want cleaner, fresher fragrances, and that French women especially demand a bit of something dirty in the their perfumes. And, that Americans want massive sillage, French women want subtlety. Still, when I read lists of best sellers, I don't see much variance these days. Perhaps all of these differences have been erased by now? Or perhaps most companies just gear their products towards the larger US market. More likely, in both the US and France, we are getting products that are geared towards the massive Asian market.
I agree with you that some of the indie scents create repulsion as much as attraction. But all scents do: I recently had to move tables at a restaurant to escape the suckerpunch sillage of a nearby diner wearing Amarige, and that's far from being an indie. You can always smell Angel at 20 paces, and loads of people hate that.
I think Bethan Cole's point stands. It's not that mainstream scents are necessarily bland, but that they are generic. When your perfume is designed by a big commercial flavours & fragrances company that also chucks out air freshener plug-ins, washing-up liquid and carpet powder, it's being made with a commercial rather than an artistic priority. Most perfume buyers have untrained noses, and will simply sniff whatever's sprayed on them in they duty-free lounge or the local pharmacy. The notes that make the biggest impact at the top of a fragrance are fruits, florals and sweet cakey smells, thus the vast majority of new fragrances are fruity florals or edibles. If you want something different, you have to go beyond the big high street stores. In boutiques, there's no need for the perfumer to capture your attention in the first five seconds: therefore, they have the time to develop more interesting smells that develop over time.
Re: American versus European scents. I think this is a really interesting question, and would definitely agree that there's a difference. These are massive generalisations, but it seems to me that American women have a stronger predilection for “clean” smells (fresh, fruity, floral, perfect dentistry), while European women prefer “dirty” smells (chypres, woods, animalics, liberal attitude to body hair). I'm European, and I definitely fall into the “dirty” category – though in the nicest possible way, of course!
It would be interesting to know how this might relate to the dominance of heavy rose, sandalwood and incensey smells in South Asian perfumery, and the ozoney, ethereal notes of modern far eastern tastes.
You can still get Apres l'Ondee, by the way – apparently, there are enough of us around who still want to smell like magically damp woods.
Whoops, sorry Robin – hadn't read this when I posted the below, and I've kind of repeated you…
No problem — looks like we were typing at the same time
Thanks Robin – it's so interested to hear that in bestselling lists both sides of the Atlantic there's not much difference in the scents that appear. Of course it depends what scents appear as it's not an entirely true depiction of people's free taste in the matter what with the ubiquity of advertising. But I do think that our appreciation of scent comes from some deep instinctive place that luckily even advertising doesn't entirely control.
I hadn't thought of the effect of the burgeoning middle class consumers in India and China – what a HUGE market that is and will continue to be – how in your opinion does it affect the American and European perfumeries?
Oh – and a belated Happy Birthday – Hooray for mysterious, wonderful, insightful Scorpios – passionate about everything and loyal to the end! Have you done a piece on astrology and scent? I fear there's really something in it……..
J, I went looking this morning for some best-seller lists for France and can't find any, although I've read them in the past. I'll have to keep looking to see if I'm remembering correctly.
The Asian market is definitely driving all these light, fresh flankers — Euphoria Blossom, Prada Tendre, etc.
Thanks for the good wishes! I know nothing about astrology, except that when I read excerpts of John Oakes book on perfume & astrology, I found that most of the perfumes he recommended for Scorpios didn't suit me. Can't remember now what they were!
I'm European too (well English mum and Norweigan/S. African dad) and I am trying hard to get dirtier! (My house doesn't need to try – books and cobwebs everywhere….) I really agree about the tiresomeness (and then nausea) caused by too many generic scents and also how quick decisions in the usual department store set-up militate against the discovery and love for more complex scents. It's only recently that I have discovered the joy of getting decants from eBay and living with a scent over a few days. How differently they behave over time – how I feel too at different stages of that scent's life. Often my opinion will change, sometimes quite radically, and of course the more complex and “dirty” the scent the more I have to allow my nose time to appreciate it – or not. I too have fallen in love at first sight with the flighty sweetness of a Marc Jacobs, for instance, when really I should have looked over in the corner where that smoky, dishevelled poet was brooding.
I think I'm going to have to get a decant of Apres l'Ondee as I only got a quick spray as I was flying through John Lewis and I couldn't live with it long enough to get to know it. I ADORE damp woods – have a wonderful one outside at the moment – I just have to get used to them behind my ears.
For Jane & Catherine:
Best sellers on Sephora France:
L de Lolita Lempicka
Hugo Boss Signature
Nina Ricci Nina
Best sellers on Sephora US:
Aquolina Pink Sugar
Vera Wang Princess
Philosophy Amazing Grace
Calvin Klein Euphoria
Robert Piguet Fracas
Smoky, dishevelled poets, eh? Oooh la la. Makes me think of Comme des Garcons Man 2… Miller Harris Tobacco Flower… or Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque… any of which will enhance the smoky poet in your life.
Decants are a great way to get to know a scent, I agree – especially as perfume counters aren't as good at handing out samples as they used to be. (These days, they'd rather just chloroform you with a big squirt of whatever passionflower/ambery goo IFF have just mass-produced for some fashion designer, grab a fistful of your money, and leave you wandering off in a daze before you've even got to the middle notes.)
Apres l'Ondee is definitely worth a try. The only other fragrance I've ever tried that attempts the same thing is Demeter's Wet Garden (I think you can get it in Liberty), which is a nice enough room-spray, but a very weedy patch on Apres l'Ondee in the cologne form.
Wow, interesting stuff. Thank you!
Definitely a sweeter tooth (nostril?) in the US, I'd say, but I'd have a very hard time arguing that the US scents are “clean” and the French ones “dirty”. On the other hand, I might be able to argue that French producers – Guerlain, Hermes, Dior – make generally “dirtier” smells than American producers – Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, etc.
In fact, most of the things on the list seem predominantly safe (as you'd expect for bestsellers in any country), with the possible exception of Fracas, which is a rather intriguing choice and full of personality. I'm impressed it sells that well. Must be the tuberose.
Thanks R, that's really very kind of you to have tracked this down – how great to see a golden oldie like Fracas there. Good taste America! On the European side, my heart lifted when I saw Nina (thinking it one of her classics) but sadly no! The site for this scent is enough to make any grown woman run screaming for the gutter – it is so fairytale false, sickly sweet and infantile. I hope the scent isn't half as bad. I wish I knew the Lempicka, will look out for it, and I've never heard of Pink Sugar but perhaps that's one that hasn't travelled well? Food for thought. Thanks
J & C, I was glad to see Fracas too. Of course, this is Sephora, so this is a “young” best seller list, and I can only assume we'd see something very different from a more mainstream department store.
Pink Sugar is just that, by the way: sugar. Smells like slightly scorched cotton candy.
Actually Catherine, talking wet gardens have you tried Diptyque's L'ombre dans L'eau? I really love something about it, it's wet and woody but with roses somewhere on the air. So many scents, too little time…..