A Bit of Fun With The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal contacted me last week for a short interview on perfumes. It was for a piece in their Market Watch section pertaining to the issue of refills. Not the Kilian sort of refill bottles but, specifically, Thierry Mugler‘s “Source” where you take your existing bottle of something like Womanity, go to the store, and refill it directly from a pump dispenser.

Mugler's The Source dispenser. Photo via Fragrantica.

Mugler’s The Source dispenser. Photo via Fragrantica.

The journalist, Charles Passy, and I had a lovely chat about the industry as a whole, from the impact of celebrity fragrances on industry sales, the changing habits of women when it comes to having a signature scent, and what would be the benefit to Mugler in having the refill system at all. I talked about the pressure to stand out in the increasingly crowded market, and how little it cost Mugler to produce his fragrances on a mass-scale, such that the discount would be far outweighed by PR benefits and by standing out.

He asked me if I thought this trend would expand to other perfume houses. He isn’t a perfumista himself, so I explained the differences between the commercial sector inhabited by Mugler, and the niche world where fragrance prices average around $250 or more, going up to Roja Dove prices. Can you see Roja Dove offering to refill his $900 perfumes from a 4-pump dispenser? No, nor can I.

His article was published today, and a number of things that we talked about were covered. I was mentioned with a direct quote at the end. It was a fun experience as a whole, but being cited in the Wall Street Journal of all places is even more of a hoot:

Still, some industry observers wonder if a perfume brand tarnishes its image when it offers refills. The obvious reason: the concept takes a luxury good and turns it into a commodity. And it’s why a perfume blogger who goes by the moniker “Kafkaesque” doubts the trend will extend to super-pricey fragrances — as in those that run well beyond $200.

“They want to be seen as something luxurious. They don’t want the impression of a fountain drink,” says the blogger.

If you’re interested, you can read the article for yourselves:

How to save 40% on perfume or cologne: More fragrance brands offer refills — at big discounts off original bottle.


36 thoughts on “A Bit of Fun With The Wall Street Journal

  1. It’s nice to see you quoted in the article. As for Mugler, it’s a great marketing strategy and I like the environmental friendliness of reusable bottles. I suppose the closest cousin in the upscale fragrance market would be Caron urns? I’ve never tried to refill an empty bottle though. And even if the boutiques allow refilling, I’m sure that there would be no discount on the fragrance!

    • I think it’s a great strategy for someone like Mugler. I don’t think it would work well for others in a higher bracket. Caron definitely has its urns as something comparable, but there is a history, price, exclusivity aspect that makes that quite unique, I think. The urns are only in 4 shops worldwide, one in NY and 3 in Paris. Plus, in all honesty, their “refill” situation looks completely different! Baccarat urns with gold in a shop that has chandeliers! It doesn’t look like Mugler’s futuristic soda fountain machine. LOL. More importantly, as you noted yourself, the whole point behind Mugler’s thing is deep discounts. Caron would never offer a massive price cut on their Urn Extraits! 😀

  2. “They want to be seen as something luxurious. They don’t want the impression of a fountain drink,” says the blogger. I love this quote. Congrats on your quotable status!!! Good job!

    • Thank you, my dear. The chap seemed rather amused by that comment, too. As a whole though, he seemed to find the whole niche world a bit bewildering, and there was a moment of stunned silence when I said that some fragrances can be $900 to $4,000 in price. ROFL. No, soda fountain refills are definitely not something that I think Roja Dove, Amouage, Clive Christian, Puredistance, and the like will be pursuing any time soon.

  3. It’s very nice that they quoted you correctly, and I certainly agree with you. The experience of a fragrance purchase often begins with the location and it’s decor, the SA, certainly the box (inside and out), and the bottle all add to the pleasure we take in delighting ourselves with this luxury. Maybe not so much of a luxury, in fact, as it does feed the soul. What next, drive through windows?

    • I agree, for the niche world, it is definitely about a multi-faceted experience that encompasses everything from the decor of a store to the look of a bottle. The more important aspect, perhaps, is the theory of Perfume as Art. As I told the chap, a lot of perfumers who make fragrances at this level are driven by a vision of perfume being actual Art. Yes, money matters, but some of them justify their pricing because their creations are also intended to be unique, original Art. You don’t sell Art at a massive discount in a fountain store dispenser like Diet Coke or, to give your equally great example, at a drive-through. Mugler wants to stand out from the Rihanna fragrances and Sephora ones that he’s competing with. Niche is a whole other world with very different driving forces.

      • We are fortunate to be able to enjoy the art of perfume, and to have access to fine writers, like you, who share your joy and knowledge. Before I studied interior design, (my profession), I studied art, and I do agree, that perfume is a form of art that can add not just beauty, but dimension and definition to our lives.

  4. Congrats K! Excellent pub for you. The WSJ picked the right authority – you – but only skimmed the surface. Aside from your brilliance, and the many witticisms I am sure you shared which did not make the final cut, the article is a perfect example of modern PR in which one (1) and only one company – Clarins – sent out a PR release and in an effort to create some web-zine traffic the WSJ decided to make this one company’s PR release a “trend” and releases a zine headline titled “How to save 40% on perfume or cologne.” So shallow a reader can’t even get wet. [and yes, I do not count Bond’s long-time buy 2 get one program as news]. Remind me to contact the WSJ. I have one (1) thing I need to talk about. I am happy though, as people are talking about perfume! Yay! and K is famous!! Double Yay!! Jeffrey Dame in Scottsdale, feeling a little rambunctious.

    • My God, it actually WAS because of a PR release, yes, and the situation unfolded pretty much as you described! He said so, in fact! Brilliantly astute of you, Jeffrey!

      Like you, I was thrilled that the Wall St. Journal was even talking about perfume as a whole! I did talk to him about a lot of other things, like the theory of Perfume as Art in driving the niche world and its very different set of considerations. I also mentioned the fact that quite a few fragrances nowadays as centered around liquor or alcohol, since he said that was his main area of interest. So, I brought up everything from Kilian’s Apple Brandy to the new Vodka on the Rocks, and others boozy fragrances, in hope that he would get inspired enough to write about that aspect later on and separately. I doubt it, though. The world of perfume didn’t particularly seem to interest him, despite his brief perk-up at the mention of Apple Brandy.

      He also seemed quite perplexed at things like men being BIG spenders in the modern/current world of perfume, how people like Justin Beiber could single-handedly drive US perfume industry sales, and the price structure for the niche world. He clearly thought the whole thing was a totally alien world. Pity, because it would be great if the media talked about perfume outside of “How to save 40%” on commercial brands. And yes, I was rather surprised by that headline too. I know it’s “Market Watch” which focuses on money, but still!

      • the only money issue market watch is focused on is driving traffic hits to their web site so their ad rates can go up. They’re not interested in saving consumers 40%, it’s just a headline people will click on. For your next post on Kafkaesque make the title “THE TEN BEST FRAGRANCES TO WEAR NAKED” and watch your traffic pop!

          • Both. The fact that the mainstream media cares only about the numbers (whether the cost of cheap perfume or their own numbers via ad sales) mirrors the very nature of the commercial world that they cover. Which is why we should be glad the niche sector tries to aim for something different. Yes, they care about money and numbers too (especially if they are “niche” within quotes like Tom Ford with its multinational conglomerate backing by EL), but the true niche world is driven by more artistic considerations. And that is inspiring, as I know you will agree. 🙂 So, the answer for all of us, is probably “both.”

        • Haha, you are an evil, evil man, Jeffrey, and I love it. I’m not even sure what WOULD be the 10 best fragrances to wear while naked. I can think of 3, but I’m now rather intrigued by what may qualify. LOL. (And yes, I actually AM going to ponder this issue. 😉 🙂 )

          • That actually would be a pretty fun game! I’ll see about having a Question Game post on it when I finish my DSH fragrance series.

            And DEFINITELY no selfies! 😀 Think about the potential visual trauma. That’s all I need after my WordPress issue of 10 days ago. lol

  5. Congratulations! 🙂 The Mugler “display” looks quite like the soda dispensers at gas stations where I live. It’s a turn off to me, even without wanting something “luxurious.” It certainly doesn’t inspire my thinking that the juice might be something of value. For one thing, what are those colors? I really don’t want blue or purple perfume! But, I am not the average consumer, and I presume that’s who the target audience is, though I could see this being popular in a Walmart, not a Barney’s or Saks. On the other hand, I have no idea what the average upscale buyer wants these days. . .

    • Well, I can pretty much bet (as can you) that the average upscale buyer doesn’t want something that comes out a dispenser like the Mugler one! I think that is rather a sure thing, even if we’re not talking about a Roja Dove customer. I can just imagine the stink-eye and raised eyebrow that someone like Kilian Hennessy would give to a contraption like that one. 😀

  6. That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you to get quoted like that. Great quote too. Now that you’re all sorts of famous are you still going to remember us little people? 😉
    I like Mugler but I really can’t stand that whole dispenser thing. Calling it a soda fountain is pretty accurate. I would not get my fragrance that way even if my bottle was refillable.

    • Heh, “famous.” I think my Warhol fame number may be at 7 seconds. Actually, 3 seconds? One single second? LOL.

      Re. Mugler’s Source, I think it’s brilliant for the sole fact that people will talk about it. Talk about how much they hate it, talk about the looks, or even, potentially, go to check it out from sheer curiosity if they are in a place that carries it. That talk is worth its weight in gold for him and his PR teams, I have no doubt. Worth every bit of the discount that he offers. Clever, clever, clever. And, you know, for the youthful perfumista who goes to Sephora, doesn’t have much money, and wants to stock up on Alien? I’m sure it’s a valuable option, financially speaking. For Mugler, the whole thing is a Win-Win. Really brilliant strategy for him, imo.

      But, yes, the dispenser is rather hideous looking, isn’t it?

  7. I understand why it wouldn’t happen in the niche world, but it sure would be nice to refill my empty bottle of Hard Leather for 40% off. I promise I would still consider it art and I would still respect it in the morning!

    • ROFL, so funny. 😀 I promise I’d respect it in the morning too, if I could have a magical Hard Leather dispenser that came with a discount. LOL.

  8. OMG I love this blog! I have been collecting and wearing perfume for years and thought I was the oddball because very few people knew growing up wore perfume on a daily basis let alone collect it.
    I am so grateful for the Internet to allow me to read that others share my long time love of perfume.
    As for the refill dispenser, in my opinion, it takes the romance out of perfume, but will probably sell to newbies and people who wear only Thierry Mugler’s frangrance–if there are such people.

  9. So glad they came to “the” authority on perfume for their info! 🙂 Love it!

  10. Wonderful! Congratulations on hitting the big time! Now don’t let the fame go to your head! 😛 Hee! You know, I really do get the exclusivity piece and not wanting to be likened to a fountain drink (fantastic quote, BTW!) but it really would be cool if more perfumers offered a refill program – even if it required the buyer to pay the cost of shipping and return. Perhaps it’s not worth it due to the length of time required to get through a bottle, but I have to imagine we pay a lot for the bottles and packaging — to say nothing of the material waste generated by new bottles and packaging. Plus, some of my bottles are beautiful and I hate to toss them when they are empty. Yes, I realize I could save them but I’m the opposite of whatever a pack rat is so I don’t like saving things that don’t have a discernible purpose.

    But I digress! Congratulations and thank you for sharing the article. They couldn’t have picked a better or more deserving person to give their insight!

  11. The Wall Street Journal … whoa! Congratulations on being interviewed and getting quoted in their article, Kafkaesque!!!!!

  12. Congratulations, Kafka. Well deserved attention! I look forward to The Naked Series. 🙂

    • LOL, “The Naked Series.” That sounds so terrible. LOL. And thank you for the congratulations, my dear.

  13. Wait, a question. I’m none too keen on the Mugler Fountain (it looks far too much like the local soft yogurt dispenser shop), but I thought some brands actually did perform refills, like Neela Vermeire. I’m nowhere near refilling my Trayee, but I would guess it’s a bit more “magical” in that you ship off your bottle and get it filled by them and resent to you???

    • You’re right, Neela Vermeire does offer that option. She is either one of the very, very few, or the only one. I can’t remember which at this time. The reason is her size and how she is involved with everything right at the source. Larger companies don’t have that freedom or flexibility, and certainly not commercial perfumers. As a whole, the focus of the WSJ piece was more on the option of an in-store dispenser where all the masses could go, straight to “The Source”, as opposed to the rare mail-in situation. 🙂

  14. And, um, no to the selfies, but test to the Naked List. I would scare off the entire readership.

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