I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the price of fragrances. Specifically, the question of astronomical pricing in the super-luxury niche market, and people’s reactions to it. It is something that comes up whenever I review fragrances from certain brands or luxury collections, most recently the newest Serge Lutens Section d’Or parfums. For me, it’s not as cut-and-dry an issue as it seems to be for others. The “tl;dr” summation for those who want the bottom-line is that, for all my eye-rolling, $600, $800, $1000-and-up price tags don’t really offend me, I refuse to instantly, automatically condemn fragrances bearing them, and I think it’s important both to keep an open mind and to judge things on the particulars. The rest of this post will explain my thoughts and personal reasons why.
First, let me say bluntly that I am not wealthy, and I doubt that blithely buying a $600 or $1000 bottle of perfume without a second thought lies in my foreseeable future. Maybe if something really swept me off my feet and I felt as thought my life were somehow incomplete without that one magical bottle, then maybe I would save up to buy it — but I have yet to meet such a fragrance. There have been a handful of highly priced ones for which I have briefly yearned, but I have a cheapskate side that rears its head from time to time and no $800 perfume has overcome it. (Nor has it overcome the little voice in my head which mercilessly mocks the mere thought of spending so much on a bottle of perfume.)
Second, I want to state equally clearly that I don’t think the price of any of these luxury fragrances is justified on a cost-analysis basis regarding their ingredients. Of course there are some rare exceptions for things like tolas of the purest, highest-grade, rare agarwood/oud oil, but that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about niche and, typically, Western blended perfumes from brands like Roja Dove, JAR, Clive Christian, SHL 777, Xerjoff, Serge Lutens Section d’Or, and the like. In my opinion, those fragrances do not contain the sort of materials that are worth their weight in gold, metaphorically speaking. Some of the ingredients may be very costly indeed, but $600 for 30 ml or $800 for 50 ml? No.
Third, I want to emphasize that I do not think price guarantees either quality or that the fragrance will smell good. There are a lot of perfumes that smell appalling at all levels, regardless of the amount on the sticker. Back in 2013, when $600, $800, or $1000+ perfumes were less common than they are now, Patricia de Nicolai gave an interview to Fragrantica where she said:
I have to say that some brands really exaggerate with their prices. I don’t want to denounce anyone, but offering a very expensive perfume with a lovely packaging does not always mean that this perfume will be nice.
I absolutely agree. Expensive perfumes can be absolute stinkers, too. Having said that, I do think that a higher price carries a greater possibility that more expensive ingredients were used and that the fragrance will have a less synthetic, good quality bouquet, whereas as $29 or $59 fragrance from a big company or a celebrity is pretty much guaranteed to be almost entirely synthetic simply because of the way such companies break down their overall production costs. And, for me personally, heavily synthetic compositions are not “good” perfumes.
There are a lot of things that go into a perfume’s price. At its most simplistic level, it can generally be broken down into: raw materials, packaging, and marketing. (Administrative overhead and manufacturing/factory costs are undoubtedly expenses for every company, but I’m filing them under fixed “cost of doing business” for the company to function or exist as a whole, not a unique cost for a specific fragrance.) So, let’s look at the three main factors in turn.
Raw materials typically tend to take up the smallest share of the pie. I’ve had a few different perfumers tell me that privately, while others (like Andy Tauer) have talked publicly about that point. It makes sense. Not only are these fragrances typically semi-synthetic, but they’re hardly 30 ml of only the most expensive oils. None of the Western fragrances that I’ve encountered bottle pure ambergris, iris absolute, tuberose absolute, top-grade agarwood, and the like. Those materials may be used in small quantities but they’re not only supplemented by synthetics, they’re also bought en masse. When I interviewed Liz Moores of Papillon, she talked about how some suppliers had a 5,000 kilo “MOQ,” Minimum Quantity Order, for certain raw materials. That sounds like a lot, but it also means a far lower price per ounce or milliliter than you or I would pay to buy a tiny bottle of the same ingredient.
Packaging takes up a far larger percentage of a perfume’s final price than the raw materials. Bottles, lids, boxes, engraving, printing, and even the atomiser spray tube can add up enormously even for the simplest looking scent. Once you start to go ornate, like Clive Christian’s special Baccarat limited-editions, Xerjoff’s marble or quartz, or MDCI’s Limoges sculptures, the packaging percentage shoots up even higher.
Marketing is the third and often the largest component. It is particularly high for mainstream or designer brands, some of whom spend huge amounts on flashy ad campaigns. For example, think of Dior (or, rather, its LVMH overlord) paying for Johnny Depp to hawk the new Sauvage, and let’s not even start on Chanel’s $42 million Nicole Kidman commercial or the $7 million that Brad Pitt received for 30 seconds of rambling nonsense. (See, Adweek for more details if you’re interested.) The bottom-line is that the expense of those ads is passed along to you in the perfume price, and is facilitated by the use of cheap synthetics to keep production costs as low as possible.
Niche brands incur a lot for marketing as well. Andy Tauer gave an interview with The Perfume Shrine on the issue of splitting or decants (he’s vehemently against them), and he talked candidly about what goes into a perfume’s overall price. He even said that a perfume’s “inherent value” is basically “close to nothing”:
marketing is incredibly important when it comes to perfumes. Think about it. Nobody really NEEDS perfume. It is pure luxury. And at the end of the day, you want to convince consumers to pay a lot of money for something they can’t see, for something that vanishes in front of their nose. Quite a challenge really. You mentioned “a perfume’s inherent value”: Basically it is close to nothing, for most fragrances. Be it 50 $ or 500$. In the end you pay for the margin of the retailer (50% of a fragrance’s retail price), maybe the margin for the distributor (25-30%), the margin of the producer (10-20%), you pay for the publicity around a scent (free samples, ads, ..), the packaging and at the very, very end you pay for the scent (usually less than 1-2% of the fragrance’s retail price. The more expensive a fragrance, the smaller the percentage of what goes into the scent). [Emphasis in the original and by him.]
However, I think the super-luxury, ultra-exclusive fragrances that are the real focus of this piece are a rare exception to the rule because they aren’t so dramatically impacted by things like distribution costs or a retailer’s margin. They certainly don’t incur the same degree of advertising in many cases, and never anything akin to a $42 million Nicole Kidman mini-movie. When was the last time that you heard a peep out of JAR regarding any of its perfumes?
Judging by my experience at JAR Paris, the crazy pricing for certain limited-edition bottles from companies like Clive Christian, and the pricing scheme in general for brands like Roja Dove, the real “third component” of the ultra-luxury sector is the intertwined trio of exclusivity, aspiration, and fantasy. They are technically different things, but they overlap to such an extent that they are the greatest element of luxury pricing, in my opinion. They are also central to an intentionally exclusionary world.
“Exclusivity” manifests itself in different ways. In terms of marketing, it can sometimes be evident in terms of a lack of marketing. One example is JAR, but it is not the only one. One of my readers recently expressed her puzzlement at Serge Luten‘s approach to the Section d’Or parfums in a comment to my Sidi Bel-Abbes review. Not only are the new fragrances unavailable on any of the Lutens websites five months after their June releases in Paris, but she was surprised that the company hadn’t even mentioned them on their Facebook page. In point of fact, they have. Once. But, as I told her, I think the lack of extensive discussion and even the admittedly bizarre failure to make any of the perfumes available online at this time is part of a wider point: intentional exclusivity. Shiseido is the one responsible for the Lutens pricing, in my opinion, not Oncle Serge, and I think Shiseido is attempting to add to the aura of exclusivity surrounding the line, to create fragrances with cache, whispered about by people “in the know.” It doesn’t matter if the average person is unaware of them, or unable to buy them easily online with a click of the button as they sit comfortably at home in their slippers. These are fragrances who are either for people in the private luxury loop, or who can drop into the hushed, sacred confines of the Palais Royale and drop $600 or €570 in the blink of an eye without a second thought. Most of all, though, they are not fragrances for you and me.
And that is one of my main points in this post: these fragrances are intentionally and expressly intended for a different socio-economic or class sector, so our feelings about price don’t matter. Democratic considerations are not the goal. We are not the goal.
Where I’m going to get into trouble and need a flak-jacket is the fact that I’m perfectly fine with that — so long as certain requisite conditions are met. This is what I’ve termed my “Roja Dove Rule.” In a nutshell, so long as a fragrance is high-quality, luxuriously opulent, and complex, then the price will be a purely personal, subjective valuation. What is “not worth it” to one person may well be “worth it” to another. As long as those three criteria are met, then its valuation is subjective, in my opinion, even if a fragrance is “over-priced” in terms of its technical, per ingredient, line-by-line cost breakdown.
Again, to be as clear as possible, none of this applies if a fragrance is a simplistic, linear composition comprised primarily of synthetics or inexpensive materials. That wouldn’t trigger my “Roja Dove Rule” to begin with because none of the three requisite criteria has been met. (I’m also not talking about fragrances whose cost is exorbitant due to special-edition bottles blinged out with 24-carat gold, crystals, or diamonds.) What I’m talking about are fragrances like Roja Dove‘s Diaghilev, SHL 777‘s O Hira, or even something like the less highly priced Richwood from Xerjoff.
Fragrances like these are intentionally priced to exclude the average person, and that doesn’t make me angry at all. I have no problem with it, and why should I? How are they any different from a really expensive bottle of Japanese/Scotch whisky, or a dinner at a three-Michelin-star restaurant? Both are analogous to luxury perfume in that they involve the use of an expensive, theoretically high-quality consumable commodity that is thereafter gone forever. Plus, expensive alcohol, food, and fragrance all encompass a certain hedonism, fantasy, emotionalism, escape, exclusivity, and elitism. If I could afford it, would I pay $1000+ for a bottle of whisky? I doubt it. But if I could afford it, I would absolutely spend that amount and more for a dinner at one of the temples of haute gastronomy, just as someone else might unhesitatingly buy a bottle of Diaghilev or one of Roja Dove’s £950 Parfums de La Nuit. So, who am I to deem something to be “over-priced” or “ridiculous”?
Sometimes, but not always, judging seems to drive the perfume-pricing discussion, and that makes me uncomfortable. As a fragrance reviewer, I struggle in particular with the sense, rightly or wrongly, that I’m expected to automatically condemn any perfume whose price is above a certain point, or to be outraged about the price even if I think the perfume is a good one. It may well be an erroneous perception on my part, but it is a definite perception nonetheless and one derived from comments to certain reviews.
I do not see price as a binary absolute, and I refuse to automatically, immediately, and categorically judge something as “over-priced” simply on the basis of a tag or sticker. I also don’t see the point in being offended by luxury pricing in general. So long as my three requisite criteria are there, the rest is subjective and up to other people. What business is it of mine? Yes, I’m human, yes, I roll my eyes at the prices of many of these fragrances like everyone else, and, yes, on occasion, the exclusionary aspects frustrate me intellectually and philosophically, especially when something is truly exceptional. Yet, at the same time, quite paradoxically, it really doesn’t matter to me at all deep down. The simple reason why is because I can’t shake the constant question, “Am I not imposing my financial considerations or situation onto someone else?” In my mental thought process (and speaking solely about myself without implying anything in any way about anyone else), projecting values that are derived from my own personal circumstances feels narcissistic.
In a few instances, I think some of the emotions stem from perceptions of a larger social inequality. I’ve noticed the disbelief, anger, or outrage is sometimes accompanied by assumptions about the clientele, namely, that the people who buy these exorbitantly priced items are either: “the 1%” (for example, Russian oligarchs); the vulgar nouveau riche who are motivated solely by the social aspirations/price and who lack any “real” taste in actually “good” perfume; or both. That’s a lot of social commentary….
And, yet, I see the threads of it running underneath the price discussion, usually indirectly but sometimes explicitly. Yes, I’m sure a lot of Russian oligarchs and Saudi oil money drive Roja Dove’s sales. But I don’t think that is always the case by any means. I know a school teacher who saved up to buy the $1000 Diaghilev because he loved it so passionately, he just had to have it. There are many others, too, who are hardly part of “the 1%” and who have worked very hard to buy their Roja Dove, Xerjoff, SHL 777, Clive Christian, or $600 Serge Lutens L’Incendiaire.
Plus, it’s a sliding scale. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, chances are that you, too, have bought fragrances that someone outside the niche perfume world would consider to be “ridiculously priced,” even if you didn’t. By our very skewed standards, $125 is now seen as “reasonable,” practically “cheap,” while Tom Ford pricing is almost the basic standard. Yet, both of those figures would seem like an outrageous sum to people whose limit is $50, at most. Just read any Fragrantica page for one of Tom Ford’s Sephora-level fragrances like Black Orchid or Noir Extreme, and you will see numerous comments about how it’s “too expensive.” In short, YOU AND I are the elite to someone else.
The gap between the haves and have-nots may have widened to a chasm these days, and I think it justifiably warrants a lot of outrage about the things that truly matter in life, but we’re talking about a consumable commodity that is a luxury to begin with — at all price points. And, in the case of the super-luxury market, its entire premise is fantasy, subjective feeling, and indulgence, much like a dinner at Noma or a really expensive bottle of whisky. (That’s all separate from issue of cult legends with insane followings, like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, the frenzy for which has resulted not only in its own black-market but a heist as well.)
In my eyes, very understandable egalitarian and democratic values are behind the anger, frustration, or outrage in the pricing debate. In an ideal world, truly beautiful, good fragrances would be widely accessible to all. Some might argue that was once the case, comparatively speaking, but I think that is viewing the world through nostalgia-tinted glasses. When L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko came out, they were the Roja Doves of their time to the common man. Years later, Joy was famed for being one of the most expensive fragrances in the world, followed by Amouage’s Gold in the 1980s. There have always been fragrances limited to the elite and wealthy, albeit not quite so many of them. But the rise in number doesn’t change the underlying point: there have always been and always will be luxury items that are not for you and me. And, again, “you and me” is a constantly shifting paradigm itself because what is “affordable” and “reasonable” to readers of niche blogs like this one is “insanely over-priced” for someone else.
When it comes to our versions of Versailles prices, I accept the reality of it with a shrug. To me, many of these fragrances are no different than a Ferrari or Bugatti. I can’t afford them, but I’m glad they exist and am happy to admire them from afar. Judging by the many episodes of Top Gear that I’ve watched, not all gorgeous luxury cars are equal or always worth their price either, but that is a quality assessment taken on an individual case-by-case basis. It should be the same for their perfume counterparts. Blanket, automatic condemnation of an entire genre as “ridiculous” simply because of sticker shock or frustration can sometimes, in a few instances (but not always), manifest an anti-elitism that I think is just as judgmental and laden with subjective assumptions as elitist dismissal of the “bourgeois” or poor. The world is not a binary place, not everything is black or white, and sweeping absolutism rarely helps, in my opinion. The details and specifics matter. Plus, how do you know that, one day, you won’t stumble across that one magical perfume that feels truly earth-shattering and “worth it” (even if you have to save up for it) if you categorically and instantly dismiss the whole genre? Aren’t you better served by keeping an open mind, and at least trying something that appeals to you on every other level? If you really love and want something, it may take you a long time to get it, but people usually find a way.
And that’s all I’m really saying at the end of the day: keep an open mind, and don’t let price — solely by itself — dictate your perceptions. That is why I won’t automatically condemn that new $600 Serge Lutens fragrance or the latest Roja Dove $1000+ bottle as “outrageous” or “over-priced” merely because of a sticker. I’ll simply shrug, hope it’s not a stinker, and judge it on its parts. If it’s great, then I’ll completely understand why someone might love it so much that they had to have it, even at that price. It may not be me, but that’s okay, too.
gone are the days that a perfumes price reflected the essences it contained……
I don’t think a perfume’s price was ever reflective solely of the essences it contained. The bottle, the packaging, and some marketing always played a role. Look at some of the truly elaborate, opulent perfume bottles from the 1920s using thing like Lalique or enameling. Their cost had to be a big part of the perfume’s price.
(Stands up and applauds vigorously)
One of the very best posts (strike that – THE best post) I have ever read on the issue of fragrances and cost. Astute analysis, brilliant philosophical reasoning, and balanced commentary.
Well done Kafkaesque!
I’m very flattered. Thank you, NeoXerxes.
And the less said about THIS the better! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVyYC__9EQk
I have no idea as to your point. Your link is to the YouTube video of Roja Dove speaking about an expensive fragrance and his Haute Parfumerie. Yeah, so? It has no bearing on what I’ve said, so I particularly fail to understand “the less said about this the better” part of your comment.
My apologies, the above was a poorly expressed ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to a most thought provoking and typically erudite post.
The video for me represents the pursuit for ‘The World’s Most Expensive Perfume’. What I find most disquieting is what the quest for this mantle has in some isolated cases driven people to do (viz. The V1 Parfum editions featured in the YouTube clip whose creators courted controversy in the British press some years ago).
Thank you for explaining. I was unfamiliar with the story of V1 Parfum and its creators, so I looked into it. I don’t think it really applies here. The chase for “The World’s Most Expensive Perfume” represented by V1 involves a very small number of special-edition bottles whose focus is on the bling and appearance, bottles adorned with crystals and diamonds that are to be handled (quite literally) with kid gloves, and not intended to be used.
V1 Parfum and the many Clive Christian limited-edition specials which subsequently overtook the title at $200,000+ a bottle do represent the quest for “The Most Expensive Perfume” title, but they are not mass-produced bottles intended for personal use and made available commercially. As such they are what I explicitly excluded from the subject of this post which is mass-produced bottles with a very high price that are meant to be used, rather than put behind glass by one of only 50 people in the world.
I feel quite blessed and fortunate that I can without too much guilt and hesitation (on special occasions ) plunk down the black card and buy a bottle of JAR’s “shadow” or as I did last month, walk into The temple of LUTENS in the Palais Royale to purchase one of the rare new scents in one of your most recent posts.
In both instances the experience is part of why I so enjoy wearing their perfumes. At Serge Lutens I was invited upstairs to see the inner sanctum where “uncle Serge” resides when in Paris, and at JAR the ritual of acquiring a bottle of the precious liquids is for me a pleasure. These ‘rituals’ involve slowing down, experiencing the quiet and beautiful environments ( unlike the madness of a department store’s perfume department or the impersonal click of a mouse ),and the service of sales people who know what they are talking about. Overpriced? Perhaps, but when you take into account the expense of brick and mortar of this caliber, and the hand made packaging, and beautiful containers I am not at all surprised. For me knowing that I can only find JAR at the shop on rue Castiglione or in a quiet little corner of Bergdorf’s in NY makes it that much more special and worth the price. Same applies to LUTENS. When I wear these scents I am immediately transported to their beautiful shops, and the lovely time I had acquiring them. As the MasterCard add says “priceless”
Your adoring fan.
Heh, the Mastercard comment made me smile. I thought of you quite a bit in writing this, particularly regarding JAR. And you’re right about the impact of the luxury experience, the very aesthetic and atmospheric aspects of a purchase at a luxury shop, not to mention the aesthetic/hedonistic power of a really beautiful perfume bottle. They do add to the actual scent of a fragrance, and add to its specialness. I’m genuinely and sincerely happy for you that you get to experience it. 🙂
I agree with everything you have said…including the part about anti-elitism being just as judgemental as elitism…however, I still don’t have to like those prices!!! Thanks for a great, as always, read, my Beloved Kafka!!! <3
The prices are certainly far from ideal, no doubt about it! Hugs to you, my dear.
I wholeheartedly agree with NeoXerxes. Great post. I was surprised to find that you expressed my sentiments exactly! That rarely happens and it is very nice. 🙂
Awww, thank you. I’m glad I managed to capture your thoughts as well.
I truly enjoyed reading this post. It was so well-written and unlike any other post I’ve read in perfume blogs and reviews. I remember several years back being in Saks Fifth Avenue and seeing the Clive Christian perfumes. I believe I sampled the No. 1 and thought it smelled beautiful and the bottle was so opulent. However, I knew that I would never be able to afford having a bottle of it and I moved on to another counter of perfumes, some of which were more affordable. I truly can ill afford all the money I have spent on perfumes in all the years I’ve been buying perfume but justify it more so if the cost is under $200.00. Once I did save up money to buy Jubilation 25, which is probably one of my most expensive purchases, as well as a bottle of the pure perfume Rubj from Vero Perfumo. I have so many perfumes that I cannot possibly live long enough at this point to use up every bottle (unless I would bathe in them), but yet I still purchase more from time to time. It is an obsession of mine but also a great enjoyment and something that can perk me up more than buying a new outfit or pair of shoes. Now if only I had that black MasterCard…
I think the biggest barrier for the “you and I” people in this post is the very point you touched upon: one can buy more perfumes if the price of each is lower. That said, if one REALLY loves something, price…. well, we all save up. I have, you have, and so have others, because at the end of the day, we’re not talking about a $300,000 super-car or $170 MILLION Modigliani. (Talk about truly insane pricing, the art world is…. Jesus.)(Then again, I’m convinced money-laundering is fueling or driving a number of these monumental surges in art prices, but that’s a whole other issue.)
Anyway, thank you for the kind words on the post. You don’t post often, Filomena, but I’m always touched when you do because your comments always share either a certain wisdom or the feelings of someone who has truly and deeply loved perfume for a long time. (So, the fact that you found the post to be somewhat original also means something to me.) Thank you.
Excellent article, Kafka!!
You may be surprised that I agree with you on this issue. Totally. There are luxury goods, and perfume is one of them. The fact that there have been so many perfumes aimed at the middle class and the aspiring for so long has blinded most of us to the fact that perfume was never meant for the, ahem, unwashed masses. Let them stink!
I am kidding (a bit).
The only reason I bristle at these prices has nothing to do with whether there’s something wrong with them. Luxury goods have somewhat arbitrary prices. I sell art and believe me, I know that. The reason I bristle about perfume is that I WANT some of these and can’t justify spending the money when I need necessary things and live on an artist who doesn’t have a gallery in NYC’s income.
I’d like a Bentley. I’d like a vintage acoustic guitar that costs 20K (or more)! I don’t bemoan the fact that I can’t have them and I don’t begrudge those that do.
I always enjoy your “think pieces.” Thanks!!!! A great read.
You raise an excellent point about how perfume was originally something for the aristocracy and wealthy! Excellent point. I’d forgotten about that.
I hope you know this post wasn’t directed at you. It wasn’t aimed at any one person, in fact. The issue of price has just come up so often. Most recently, it was on the blog’s FB page in a discussion I was having there with a reader over the Lutens pricing, as well as some private emails from readers who don’t like to post public comments. Between all that and the comments over the course of the last 18 months whenever I cover a fragrance at this price point and what I see elsewhere in general on other sites, now seemed like the time to talk more about how I view the subject.
Oh no, I didn’t take it personally in the least! In fact, if we go back far enough, I am pretty sure I left a long comment somewhere on this blog about the price issue saying pretty much the same thing.
I know I also mentioned I couldn’t muster up the interest in reading about scents at these price points, though. I can’t, for the most part. I don’t like to engage in too much masochistic behavior is all! I try not to encourage out-of-my-league lusts.
Again, thanks for this post. I found it well reasoned and I’m glad someone is addressing the silliness of people objecting to high prices. Anyone who has a business wants to make money. It’s a lot nicer to have a high price point and give great service than to do brisk faceless sales to the masses. Really.
I am most bothered by luxury pricing when the company KNOWS that packaging a smaller quantity will make it more affordable to a larger segment of the population. Let’s take Amouage attars – they came in 15 mL (~$300) and 30 mL (~$600), and I thought these were ideal sizes considering that you don’t need a lot of it to keep you in attar-bliss for a long time. Could you imagine if the only size available was 50 mL at $4,000 and it only came in a 14k gold tipped roller ball and pretty much impossible to split?
My perfume budget will always be smaller than my charitable contributions. This personal rule removes any guilt for being frivolous – hello JAR!
LOL at “Hello JAR!” 😉 😀
Limiting things only to a large size is a frustrating tactic on the part of perfume houses because they seem to think we’re idiots. I think it was Jean-Claude Ellena who privately told The Perfume Shrine’s Elena Vosnaki that he/Hermes raise prices and/or increase the size of bottles to underscore the exclusivity of something. As if we didn’t already realise that by ourselves. Pfffttt.
Very interesting piece, now if I could just get you to try Roja Dove’s Haute Luxe for me!
If I had a sample of it, I would! That’s the ROJA one, right? I will keep it in mind the next time I order samples, and see if it is available.
Yes, this is Roja Roja or Roja Luxe, it seams to be referred to a few different ways. I don’t think you can order samples for this. I would be happy to provide one to you. I wear it daily but have often wondered what others thought of it. It hasn’t received much in the way of reviews, likely due to its price and the difficulty with samples.
I would enjoy trying it, Kevin, and your offer is extremely kind. But I always feel very awkward about receiving samples of something that is much beloved because what if I feel differently or don’t view it quite the same way? In the past, some people have had their feelings hurt quite a bit and have taken things quite personally, even though we’re all different, all have different skin chemistry, and all view things through different levels of individual tastes and experiences. There is the same risk if I review something with a sample that I bought for myself, but people don’t seem to feel quite so insulted because they didn’t go through the effort of decanting something from their own bottle, packing it up, going to the post-office, etc. So, with regard to your kind offer, I honestly don’t know. It’s a bit of an awkward situation. Even more so in this case given the fragrance’s huge cost.
I completely understand the concern. I enjoy reading your reviews because I believe you provide an honest opinion and this comes from a person with a highly developed sense for scents. I am really quite interested in your opinion and while I wouldn’t stop wearing this if you were to find it not to be of your liking, I believe I would be a little more judicious about where and when I wear it which is exactly what I’m looking to get from your review. I promise you, I won’t be offended by any result you find. In fact, I would be trilled if you could fit it into your evaluation sequence which I’m sure is quite packed.
Oh, I never assumed that you would possibly stop wearing it because of my opinion!!!! Good heavens, no. After all, who the hell am I?! But I generally feel wariness about offending someone who has been so kind as to take the time and effort to send me something he/she deeply loves. (I typically tend to refuse fully when it’s an actual personal friend, like one whose kind offer of a decant of Bete Noire from Liquides Imaginaires I recently turned down because his friendship matters far more to me than the chance to review a fragrance that isn’t widely available right now. Why run the risk, you know? You’d be surprised by how upset some people get, and how personally they take things.)
But if you say you wouldn’t be offended and if your interest is more about when/where to wear it, then send me an email (AKafkaesqueLife at gmail dot com) and I’ll give you a contact address. It may take me a while to get to it, though. I’m feeling rather overwhelmed by the flood of new fall releases that I’m trying to get through as fast as I can manage, but I’m far slower than other bloggers because I test things extensively and write even more extensively. Right now, I have more than 120 samples of things, of which 40 have been released in the last few months. Plus, in all candour, the recent Paris (and Beirut) tragedies have thrown me into a slight tailspin and impacted my planned/anticipated schedule greatly because I’m finding it extremely difficult to focus on something as superficial as fragrance. I’d actually planned a whole 7 to 10 days of leather and tobacco reviews starting today, but that’s going to be delayed.
Putting all that aside aside, if you won’t mind a possible wait of 6 weeks or so, I would love to try your Roja, so drop me a line. I’m about to leave to see my sister, but will send you my address this evening when I get home.
Fantastic and very thoughtful post. Thanks! It’s so good to read a sensible discussion of this subject. I am so tired of hearing people whining about not being able to afford Roja Dove or Lutens’s exclusive fragrances, like these gentlemen owe something to the general populace! As you point out, no perfumer owes the public a right to buy their scent. They may make it as exclusive as they want. I may one day spring for a Roja Dove. There are a a couple of the extraits I really love, like the gorgeous Lilac Extrait, but if I do purchase it I will not be angry about the price. It is what it is, and as Sunny so aptly said, it’s about the experience as much as the bottle of perfume. Thanks again for a brilliant essay on this subject!
You’re very welcome, my dear!
As always, you write a thoughtful and intelligent piece. If I think about the subject of your essay, then I am forced to admit that the emotion that extravagant pricing engenders is often envy. I also think that what makes the situation more fraught with difficulty is that we may feel we are being “teased” with other lower priced products, e.g.,if my current fragrance from Dior smells delicious, then how much better/different/exotic, etc will their exclusive fragrances be? In my convoluted mind, these exclusives are then aimed at me as well as the more affluent. They have created the desire for their market merely by being exclusive of my present experience. Does that make sense? Regardless, I can only taste at this particular affluent well. It would be so nice to experience what Sunny has experienced again…here’s where the envy comes in.
Many years ago, I lived in NYC and with my first paycheck, I went to a very exclusive clothing store on 5th Avenue that my mother had always talked about. From the moment I walked into the store, I was treated as though I were royalty. I sat on a lovely couch while a saleswoman ascertained what I needed, brought dresses over to me for my approval, suggested accessories, helped me try on possibilities, brought me a cup of tea and kindly packaged my purchase. It took my entire paycheck and It was the best and most memorable shopping experience I have ever had. It was fantasy shopping to the max. I also had that dress for twenty years.
If price reflects quality (certainly subjective)and artistry, that’s one thing. I think what angers me is when price is simply reflective of greed and the product is fairly ordinary.
First, thank you for such an honest, open, and thoughtful comment, Ellen. I was very moved by it. Second, I think it is only human to be a little envious inside. I’m sure we all experience envy at something or another. Mine flares up on occasion with regard to gastronomy and travel rather than perfume, lol, but all of us have one thing that we’d all dearly love to experience more often or more easily. So, there is nothing wrong with feeling envy from time to time. I think the key is how we process it, but enough philosophizing here.
I loved your story about the NYC shopping extravaganza. A fete and a memory to cherish! It reminds me of the courtesy, slow indulgences, and treatment of olden days, rather than the frenzied or harried way we all seem to shop today. Then again, I suppose luxury shopping is still the same in that regard, as Sunny’s Serge Lutens encounter last month indicates.
I completely agree with you about price being a problem when the product is mediocre to bad. That is when I have major issues, too. It’s not only the greed that it reflects, but the fact that the business is treating you like an idiot. But if the product is truly luxurious, opulent, complex, and detailed (my Roja Dove rule), that’s a different matter. But how can one know into which category something falls if one doesn’t try it first? I know trying things might be a frustrating experience but, if one really and truly falls in love, then there are always ways to make the fragrance more accessible. Decants, for example. And isn’t a small bit of something radiantly beautiful better than nothing?
Well my darling as usual you are exceptional! I loved this piece, and I find your views as being logical and balanced. I’m very rarely if ever moaning about prices. If I love something and I can afford it I will buy it. If I love something and I can’t afford it I might save up to buy it or then again I mightn’t. I’d love to be financially rich but I’m not and don’t envy the ones who are. I’ve long ago made the choice to count my blessings. Of which there are many. Obviously not money related most of the times. One of the most expensive perfumes I’ve tried was Puredistance M, which I liked but not loved. Passed away my sample and didn’t think twice about it. The price in that case wasn’t justified from my point of view. But I also abhor pretentiousness and extreme snobbery, so to be honest anything beyond say 500-600 $ for a bottle of perfume does seem a bit cynical to me no matter what. Even if I was rich, I’d still feel like a fool for spending this amount of money on something so evanescent as perfume. And I prefer a city break anytime to any shopping experience, no matter how special. You can buy amazing perfumes for reasonable enough pricing and I’m really happy to stay in that zone. It suits my reasonable, cheapskate brain
I’m completely with you on travel outweighing perfume as an area on which to spend large sums of money. For me, I’d never hesitate to spend money on German shepherds, travel, and gastronomy, but I struggle more to justify things when it comes to perfume. Just like you. It’s simply a question of what one values most at the end of the day. The Holy German Emperor sends you a lick and a kiss. xoxo
Love this piece. If I was wealthy I would buy a 2000€ tagged perfume but only if it matched my skin chemestry and was absolutely beautiful. I would expect the quality to be high and the service at it’s best even if I were dressed in rags.
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kirsemor, and am happy you dropped by again!
Ok, I have to agree on every single word because your point of view is impartial; judge the product by its own merits and decide if it’s worth it or if you are willing to spend the money, particularly in the Diaghilev case of the teacher.
I don’t really have an issue with excessive pricing. Some years back, long before perfume became a part of my life like now, I was into fashion. Designer and the like. There was a sense of luxury and craftsmanship and when I liked something, I ended up saving for it, pieces that I still have today and that are like brand new. The luxury was there, the moment was pure bliss, and the quality and know how remains. I have no regrets whatsoever. When I started getting into perfume, the difference between mainstream pricing and niche shocked me. And mind you, it wasn’t that big; today there are many niche and indie perfumes that are cheaper than some mainstream. I chocked just the other day at the price of Angel!!!
Bottom line is, I don’t really care if a perfume is 600, 800, or 2000$. At the turn of the millennium when niche started becoming all the rage, there was quality to be found, as well as in mainstream for that matter, but niche kind of said ‘try me, I’m just as good as mainstream, or better, but I’m offering you what they are afraid to give you’. Different approach, the wilder side of perfume, but not with such a great price difference.
And admittedly if I convert the Lutens price in euro, it’s not crazy.
Today, with more and more restrictions and globalization I feel that the quality gap is smaller. Yes, they could use the best ingredients like Amouage used to, they could have the best noses and the biggest liberty in creation like Malle. But so many perfumes are becoming ubiquitous. Brands are spurting like mushrooms. And everyone has something to say. But if you want to avoid becoming olfactory noise you either have to bring something inspiring to the table, or price astronomically, even more than necessary sometimes, to get a piece of the cake.
I’m not rich either, I wish haha, but for you or me, to spend that money on a perfume it has to be really worth it. Because we know what there is, and we know where quality lies, and we know that with more and more restrictions and aromachemicals, quality and innovation are scarcer in between; for every 10 perfumes launched how many are really great? Many people and especially nouveau riche, whom I have no issue whatsoever consider spending absurd amounts of money on anything as a social status, and in many cases the perfume reflects just that, the bigger the price tag, bigger the lust.
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t spend that much if something swept me of my feet, but given the global image of everything around, and what is to come, I have less chances than I might have had 10 years ago, or even 5. Everyone is free to do what they want, I would never say otherwise, be it a fine dinner, an aged whisky, a designer dress..
But in the case of perfume, I doubt that I would do it. I might draw a line at a certain price point, but again, if something enamoured me I’m very open minded. Just not as a general rule of the pricier the better!
Sorry for the long post 🙂
No need to apologise, as I enjoyed reading it, Alex!
As a small point of correction, the Euro price for some of the Lutens is around €570, so it’s a bit higher than what you’d get if you converted $600 to Euros. Plus, you have to remember that Lutens sells his stuff in 50 ml bottles, while the $1000 Diaghilev comes in a 100 ml bottle. So Lutens actually costs more per ml. Only SHL 777’s O Hira is higher at around $800 for a similar 50 ml. Ouch.
This is an important topic for all to consider and I appreciate your in depth discussion, as always. Would just like to add that perfume, especially natural perfume, though for me many or most perfumes are, as AbdesSalaam says: a bridge to Nature, a bridge to oneself, a bridge to others and a bridge to God. Like so many bridges in Venice, across dark and light waters, in and out of known and unknown neighborhoods, perfume reminds and connects, comforts and thrills. I don’t think it’s all a fantasy. In some times, in some moments, a real connection happens. And whether the bridge pours out of a bottle of Tabu found at a Walmart in Oklahoma for $10 or something with more zeros (plural), there can be a moment of intimate connection and I agree with you, that’s wonderful at any price. A big hello from wintery Santa Fe. Love what you do!
What a lovely description of the beauty of perfumery. I loved your bridge analogy. Thank you for stopping by and sharing it, Simone!
Sigh. I agree with the well analyzed post and all the fun comments to boot. Fact is, if I could, I would. And when I’m peeved it’s because I want it but can’t afford it (or think it is terrible:). If I may, one more reason why I think it is even important to have Old world Mercedez Benz that never broke down, Audemars Piguet and Jaeger Lecoultre watches from the 1920s, new comer Jacqui Aiche jewelry and exclusive exclusive perfume is simply this: it raises the bar of what is possible in our collective imaginary. Also, I loved the aesthetic of Xerjoff’s rutilated Quartz bottle. If a mini, it would make a stunning evening pendant with a black dress. And finally, you’re right. This blog space is also an ‘elite’ international space. So warm hello’s to all!
Can’t imagine what inspired this post, but I enjoyed it.
First, let me thank you for “Fragrance Recommendations: Leathers, Vetivers, Fougères & More”. Bookmarked it – thinking around it.
Second, to my mind, high or low prices are not bad, as long as there’s choice. Or should I say a variety of choices at all prices. Perhaps, in today’s world, it may matter where you live. Not sure that’s good.
Lastly, kind of because I’m running out of ordinals, in my humble opinion, the high end marketplace has often enabled superior craft and beyond. It takes more than rational choice and utility to enliven today, and embody your past.
With respect to not super-luxury fragrances, would that be deodorizers? Years ago I took umbrage to the term “deodorant”, and decided to only speak of fragrances. I declare not for a solution, but an enhancement.
In closing, one of my long standing “fragrances” – of a barbershop kind, is Royall Bay Rhum. Not a super-luxury, but it works for me. It shares the same shelf with Dior Cuir Cannage and Guerlain Derby. And maybe someday soon, a Patchouliful.
Muchos mahalos, and Aloha.
I’m afraid I don’t quite understand the “deodorizers” issue, Dried Squid. Are you talking about room sprays? If you aren’t, then I’m a bit lost. All I can say is that there are a lot of good fragrances that don’t bear super-luxury prices of $600, $1000 or more, and I certainly would not automatically view or classify a $125 fragrance as a “deodorizer” or room spray simply and solely because of its lower price. One of my favorite fragrances that I tried this year costs $149, and I think it is outstanding. But perhaps you meant something else?
Oh, I loved this post, and the comments! Kafka, I love your writing. And this is a timely post for me. There is a perfume I have wanted for years (Chanel Eau de Cologne). The lady who owns my favourite perfume store in the world is going to Toronto, and she is doing a special order for a few customers who want some Chanel in their lives. So re: the cost: I work in a place where no one would spend any amount of perfume because it just is not done. There is a strong sense of community, but no private luxury, if that makes sense. So even if it were a $10. purchase from a local chain store, it just would not be done. I am careful to never talk about my personal perfume interest, because it just is not the audience for it.
I am to them, what Jar is to me, if that makes sense! At the end of the day it’s up to everyone what they want to spend on their fragrance, and that can include factors like the store it’s purchased from. Ms. Sunny wrote movingly of her trip to Oncle Serge, and I loved hearing about it. I am having my purchase made by the friendly people of Perfume Plus, in Saint John, NB, Canada, and it means as much to me as Paris does to her.
And this is what I love about the perfume community: the people. Wearing fragrance is a shared pleasure. I think most people chose their fragrance with care, considering what they like, where they will be, which personal facet of their character they want to reveal or conceal. I appreciate the stories about the people and their perfumes. I can relate when someone speaks about their personal shopping stories. I can appreciate what fragrance does for memories – the Venetian bridges images were really lovely.
So thank you for your thoughtful, insightful comments about perfume pricing. It’s given me lots to think about on a cold, rainy with sunny moments, lazy Saturday morning. Now help me decide-Eau de Cologne, Coromandel, Sycamore? I know EdeC is in my future. After reading your reviews of the others I am interested to try them 🙂
Best regards to you, and to the above commentors,
I understand exactly what you mean, Carole — we are all JAR to someone out there. In terms of your exciting, upcoming Chanel indulgence, you should be able to get a few free samples with your order. You clearly are set on the Eau de Cologne as the main thing, so I would stick with that. For the rest, you should definitely sample Coromandel if you love some incense, white chocolate, patchouli and spiciness. It’s my personal favorite from the line, and one of my favorite fragrances in general. Sycomore is great if you love vetiver. But I would actually add Bois des Iles higher on the list than Sycomore unless you simply love vetiver. Bois des Iles is a fantastic Chanel fragrance, though the aldehydes of the opening can be a bit difficult (at least, for me, with my issues with aldehydes). The remainder, though, is stunning with its beautiful sandalwood plushness and creamy finish. Definitely get a sample of Bois des Iles!
Thank you for the advice-I appreciate it.
I reviewed your archives, and Suzanne’s(Perfume Journal) and decided on the Coromandel, in addition to the Eau de Cologne. I’m so excited! 2015 had some really grim moments, so while I am not wishing my life away I am looking forward to a fresh new year. I will be facing it with two gorgeous new fragrances-that is a lovely thing to anticipate.
Does Chanel really give samples? I did’t want to put any parameters on the lady who is attending the store, but I told them I was interested in Sycamore and Bois Des Iles. If someone at Chanel chooses to includes select small items, who am I to protest? Thank you for the suggestions. Aldehydes are a tricky item for me to wear and enjoy. I think First was the first aldehydic fragrance I tried that worked for me-maybe Chamade, too. The dry down does sound fantastic.
Would you ever consider elaborating on the Sysiphus reference you wrote about, in the about me section of your blog? I used to love Greek myths (I still do – can never eat a pomegranate with a clean conscience) and I am intrigued. I think I understand the concept, and while I personally feel like I am Bill Murray in Groundhog Day most of the time if you ever felt like expounding on your image I’d be pleased to listen.
Thank you for the reply. Hope your weekend is going well.
I immensely enjoyed reading this article: you did a great job conveying the arguments on the topic. And your viewpoint completely coincides with mine (and you know how people tend to like something even more when that happens 🙂 ).
I do label perfumes as “overpriced” but I do not consider prices on the absolute scale. I usually compare perfumes in the same price range. The $80 perfume might be overpriced in my book and the $280 one be just right. When I think that perfume is good (I don’t have to like it) – ingredients, bottle and packaging – I might wish it were less expensive so that I could “afford” the fifty-first (or a hundred and fifty-first 😉 ) bottle in my collection but it doesn’t make me angry that it’s not: neither I nor anybody else needs that perfume. We’re not entitled to have it.
I’m not a wealthy person but I don’t know of a perfume (not a luxury bottle made of gold and diamonds but actually perfume) that I truly couldn’t afford if I fell in love with it. So from time to time I try those perfumes that are priced above my day-to-day comfort level secretly hoping to find the one, which will defy any reasoning of “ridiculousness.” No luck so far.
My apologies for the delayed response, Undina. It’s so nice to see you, and I hope you’ve been well. I completely understand what you mean about labeling something as “over-priced” on a relative scale. I do the same for things that don’t measure up — but the key for both of us is that we do so *after* we’ve tested the fragrance in question. We’re not pre-judging it beforehand solely on the issue of price. Like you, I’ve found a number of things to be “over-priced” for its genre, relative to its peers, usually because of a lack of good quality materials, little to no complexity, etc. etc. Some Tom Ford Private Blends are “over-priced” relative to others in the same genre, but the same can be true of a $50 Sephora fragrance relative to *its* peers. So, yes, I’m totally with you on that.
I also totally agree that there is no fragrance that you and I couldn’t truly afford if we really fell in love with it. It may take years in some cases, LOL, but the real issue for both of us is clearly that little voice in our heads saying that buying such a fragrance rises to the level of “ridiculousness.” For me, I think it comes down to what one values the most, and I don’t value perfume at the level of other things where that nagging little voice is easier to silence. The amounts I’ve spent on my German Shepherds (even in the puppy purchase price of several thousand dollars) would clearly be “ridiculous” to some, but that’s what I value and it is nothing to me. We all have our areas where price is completely relative and “worth it.” For some, that’s a bottle of Roja Luxe at $4000.
Let me know if you ever find that perfume which silences your nagging voice, and I’ll do the same. Then we can plan on how to sell a kidney or two to afford it… 😉 😀
Hi…really enjoyed reading your post, very thought provoking!! And can so relate to your comments about the “elite”.
A very interesting discussion, indeed! I’m not offended, per se, at the high prices of a lot of perfumes, but I do sort of roll my eyes at some brands which charge obscenely high prices for products I feel are objectively mediocre. Obviously, it’s not truly “objective” – whether something is worth the asking price is totally in the eye of the beholder, but I do know there are literally thousands of perfumes out there, and you can find a good one for a reasonable price, just as you can find a middling one for a high price. With that said, I’m sure my perspective would be different if I were rich and thought nothing of spending $400 on a bottle of perfume. I do have some perfumes which for the typical, casual fan of perfume would be considered very expensive (though by perfume-aficionado standards might be considered standard) but for me feel completely justified in their price because I love them that much. With really high-priced perfumes, I do demand a lot more and expect to be knocked off my socks. When that doesn’t happen (and it usually doesn’t), I simply make a mental note and move on. Smelling a lot of perfumes has made me more discerning in what I am compelled to buy, and frankly now I have so much that I haven’t even been tempted because I love what I have and it can probably last me a few lifetimes! 🙂
Very thanks Kafkaesque for your knowledgeable brainy informative post. You have touched utterly sensitive part of Perfume-making industry, price of fragrance, however, as it usually happens, exquisite taste requires peculiar products where price is an inevitable filter of attention.
Interesting points all, thanks Kafka. Personally I have taken a few steps back from the perfume world for various reasons; one, budgetary, two, my interest in makeup and handbags is increasing again while my interest in perfumes is waning possibly due to three, my day job restricts some of what I can wear so I have several work friendly frags in my rotation that have personality and four, a few I have acquired this past 3 years remind me of the hard times we’ve endured and I just want to start fresh after we move back north. Also, yes, the elitism in the community rankles and not just because I can’t afford the highest end or even mid range fragrances. Some I have sampled were downright awful and huge disappointments. There are expectations and in my opinion the higher the price, the higher the expectations can be. Thank gawd for your reviews! What I have found that hits the spot for me now are vintages: they’re high quality, affordable at second hand stores and reminders of good times. And good times to come! Thanks again, Kafka.
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Wow. A lot of comment here! Great post. The most I have spent is $395 for 50ml of Dusita Oudh Infini and I don’t see myself going above that anytime soon. I do think the cost thing is out of control of late, with every brand trying to outRoja the others. That being said, if I had that kind of money…
Oh my dear, how much I love the way you write and the thoughts you make! I perfectly agree with the dimension you give to the prices of perfumes: relative. Also, I could add emotions don’t relate with materials, so if someone can afford a Roja 1000£ that makes him happy, why not? Why should I think it’s a bad thing because of the price, or Roja shoudn’t make perfumes like this for those one who can buy them?
I think much of the part is… envy 🙂 People loving perfumes would like to have a JAR, but being really “exclusive” someone just regret for the price, while the same person doesn’t care for a Valentino’s he can’t afford; it’s human, I suppose.
I always read you with pleasure
UHm, I wrote “envy”, but I think the right word is “desire” !
Thanks for this great article. According to statista.com out of the 327 million Americans, only 2 million spent above 500 USD on fragrances in total during the year of 2017. Another 5 million spent between 300-500 dollars, the price of 2-3 niche perfume bottles. The overwhelming majority spends less, by far. Annual spending was for 42 million under 50 dollars, 50 million spent between 50-100 dollars, 38 million between 100-200 dollars, 14 million between 200-300 dollars. The realm of luxury fragrances is only for people who purchase luxury in everything for confirming their social status and the aficionados, whose hobby are fragrances just like golf, cars, fishing, yachting, guns, flying an airplane, owning a horse, game hunting, gambling, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gadgets, smart phones, etc for others. 500-1000 dollars? Americans spend that amount per month on cars, fuel, mortgage, credit, pillars of your culture.
If you consider that Jesus got myrrh and frankincense and gold from the 3 magi, basically two perfume and one precious metal. Prophet Muhammad says “Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” This is why in Islam many people covet perfumes (and women) so much. In India, they also spent on fragrant incense and perfume oils since millennia, attar oils and gold. 1000 dollars per se is not that much, especially if you earn in the West. French and Italians have centuries old traditions of extracting perfume from fragrant flowers.
You have the first remaining of European alcohol-based fragrance recipe for the Queen of Hungary from 1370, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary_Water made from Carpathian basin herbs: rosemary, thyme, brandy, lavender, mint, sage, marjoram, plus the Dalmatic/mediterranean costus, orange blossom and lemon.