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.
As many of you know by now, Estee Lauder has purchased Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle after a two-month spending spree that included Le Labo and Rodin Olio Lusso. The sale of Le Labo — a niche brand seen as hip, edgy, and expensive — came as a shock, but it was nothing compared to the outcry which greeted the news concerning Frederic Malle. He was different, he was special, he was Frederic Malle! His Editions de Parfums was considered one of the leaders of niche perfumery, adulated for its elegance and class, and respected for its innovations. For example, it was Frederic Malle who truly made us all pay attention to the men or women who actually created the fragrances by featuring the name of the “nose” on the actual bottle, and giving them the recognition that they had heretofore been denied. Malle symbolized niche and sophisticated luxury to such an extent that the Estee Lauder news was greeted with cries of “Et tu, Brute” and claims of a sell-out.
My response was something else. The very first second, I was utterly astounded but my disbelief soon gave way to an inexplicable (and admittedly hard to explain), “I’m not surprised.” My real, main, and primary reaction, however, was to see the news through the lens of Estee Lauder as the flip-side of industry trends represented by Elizabeth Arden and Coty. Most of you will probably wonder what on earth they have to do with anything but, as I’ll explain here, the Frederic Malle acquisition symbolizes the way the industry leaders respond to market changes by diverging into two, very separate, polar opposite directions, and that may be telling for the future.
As a result, the focus of this piece will be as much on the perfume industry and its market changes as it will be on Frederic Malle himself. I’m afraid that means quite a lot of financial information and business figures from the middle section onwards, but I’ve noticed a definite trend over the last 8 months that I think is significant. The Malle acquisition accompanied by the latest Estee Lauder quarterly earnings report seems to underscore my theory, to my eyes at least.
There is a new Reuters article on the situation involving the EU regulations, but this one focuses heavily on what the response of various perfumers or perfume houses, along with measures that they’ve taken to deal with the potential oakmoss ban. In Part I of what seems likely to be an ongoing series of mine on this issue, I focused on Frederic Malle versus LVMH, Chanel, and L’Oreal, based on various reports by Reuters’ Astrid Wendlandt. This time, she has spoken to other perfumers like Parfums d’Empire‘s Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, Maurice Roucel, and Patricia de Nicolaï in a piece entitled, “What’s in a scent? Perfume makers adapt to EU rules.”
However, what I found most intriguing of all in the article was Ms. Wendlandt’s subtle hint of a potential bias in the SCCS group (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) whose original 2012 proposals started this mad dash towards increasingly draconian EU restrictions. So I looked into the group, and Ms. Wendlandt may have a point. I’ll discuss all that, as well as provide analysis from others regarding the iffy science underlying the SCCS’ theories. There will also be a brief tangent of my own to look at the wealth of several perfume companies who would seem to have every incentive to join in a united front against the EU measures, but are doing next to nothing.
I’m happy to report that the avant-garde Italian line, O’Driù, will be arriving shortly at Luckyscent. It is the first time that O’Driù (hereinafter spelled simply as “O’Driu” without the accent) will be available in America.
For those of you who have never heard about the line, O’Driu is a small Italian niche company founded in 2010 as part of a project by the Pleasure Factory, a specialty communications company. All of O’Driu’s fragrances are made by Angelo Orazio Pregoni, who I find to be a truly fascinating chap. I wrote a little bit about him in my review of the bespoke fragrance, Peety, and about how sincerely he seems to believe in a more experimental, avant-garde approach to perfumery. A bohemian, intellectual, mad scientist who likes to think outside the box and who has a rather wicked sense of humour, if you will. (I still laugh when I think of his bio page on the O’Driu website.)
His creations are highly original, extremely concentrated, and almost purely all-natural. Many feel like extraits more than eau de parfums, and most have something like 96% fragrance oils, absolutes, or essentials. Some of the note lists include lyrical descriptions that are almost more like poetry than something you’d normally find in a perfume pyramid. One perfume, for example, Leva is said to include: “the nightmare that reveals the pleasure,” “a smell in the wood,” or, simply, “under the sun.” What is under the sun, I have no idea. (Also, I’m dying to know what note is symbolized by “a bath in the water,” which is supposedly one of the notes in the super-rich, tobacco, earthy, vetiver, licorice scent called Ladamo.) Whatever the actual ingredients turn out to be, I fully expect they will add to the unexpectedness of the fragrance bouquet. Since I wrote about Peety, I’ve had the chance to try a few more of Mr. Pregoni’s perfumes, and I can tell you that they are full of surprises. Continue reading