Friday, November 21, 2008

Economic Crisis? What Economic Crisis?

If the current economic standing of several households across the globe is anything to go by, surely the market should be catering to their needs by budgeting their offerings, providing outlets for small pleasures and the possibility of indulging into the escapist dream of sent bon without mortaging anything that is left standing to mortgage. However the above has probably been wishful thinking on our part. According to an article by Nazani Lakarani on yesterday's online edition of International Herald Tribune, companies are not especially tuned into the needs of perfumephiles who demand smaller bottles of their desired "fix" so they can collect with less guilt (just how much can one person apply in one lifetime?) and options for budget-friendly versions of packaging (refills, travel cases and similar contraptions). In a time of crisis how do the players respond?
The highlights of this article include some eye-glaring exempla of an industry which is either taking itself too seriously or not at all.

"Traditional luxury and designer brands still sell well; but at the top end of the market, the demand for personalized, custom-made luxury has spread to perfumery. "Regardless of budget, customers today seek a unique fragrance that sets them apart," said Ladan Lari, managing director of designer fragrances at L'Oréal, the French beauty products company.
I have long held that elitism is an integral part of escapism in the fragrance business; and especially in times when that escapism is within reach of everyone thanks to the Internet boom it stands to reason that someone needs to emphasize the luxurious, exclusive privilege of owning a coveted item that would differentiate the peasants from the posh (or so the unadmitted truth raises its ugly head). Several brands have played that game well and they have reaped the benefits: thanks to the Internet and the buzz of fragrance writing consumers up till now were willing to pay almost anything to own such an item. The sarcasm and deep contempt (for the plight of many consumers) of seeing this in black & white though makes me cringe a little...
"Positioning itself between the bespoke and limited edition markets, one specialized perfume company, l'Artisan Parfumeur, plans to introduce in January a line of single-edition perfumes - only one bottle of each will be made - to be sold exclusively through its flagship Paris store. The work of Bertrand Duchaufour, the in-house nose hired this year, the line, Mon Numéro, will be presented in one-off bottles designed by Pascale Riberolles, an artist and master glass blower, priced at about $20,000 for a 725-milliliter flask."
Now here is the weird part: one bottle of each fragrance, a collector's item accompanied by a matching price. And I am asking: why??? Why employ the artistry of a perfumer who is admittedly ingeniously revolutionizing the industry with his creations anyway for just what will inadvertedly become a museum piece? He can't be that bored, since he is given almost carte blanche within a niche house where he is master of all he surveys to create as he sees fit. Surely the owner of that single piece of perfume has as many chances of cracking that bottle open and ruining part of its investement value in the process as the oil problem of the planet solving itself naturally within the next decade. I am very much afraid that it will be a waste of energy, time, budget and essence in what will amount to an intellectual exercise instead of a paean to beauty. Fragrances are meant to be living and breathing things, radiating their joy, their wistfulness, their paramours within polite society's radius; not something tucked in a cellar awaiting the future generations to crack them open years later as a monetary investement in art. Attributing the artistry of perfumery into producing an artefact for an antiseptic environment is akin to sculpting a Venus of Milo for the private enjoyment of a single person in a remote village of an exotic Never Never land: a crime for and in the eyes of humanity.
"Kurkdjian's bespoke scents, conceived, blended and matured over 6 to 10 months, are priced at $10,000 for two 60-milliliter flasks, hand-engraved with a name or personal message. He also offers a service that he calls "Variations sur Mesure," mainly aimed at U.S. or British clients accustomed to fast results. "Based on a scent the client likes, I create several variations," Kurkdjian said. "The one ultimately chosen is still one-of-a-kind, but without the time-consuming adjustments. Ready in 10 days, it costs between $3,800 and $5,000."
I have no special reason to defend any nationality, but when I see such hidden contempt (yes, you read that right) for American and British clients ~no matter that I am not part of that group~ I cringe some more. Let's repeat and ponder this time: "mainly aimed at U.S. or British clients accustomed to fast results". Is it my own impression or is there a very obvious snide in this? Fast results accounting for poor taste or something, and even that "fast results" being a gross generalisation. Basta! I sincerely hope that this is not a quote by mr.Francis Kurkdjian, whom I respect and admire for his talented offerings to the world of fragrance which I often enjoy myself. He is both much too young and much too talented to be so cynical so early on. Let's just hope it was an infortunate deduction on the part of the author. I welcome any clarification should anyone want to set things straight.

You can read the rest of the article here

Article brought to my attention by Elysium on POL. Pic through the Clint Eastwood Archive.


  1. I'm very annoyed by this bespoke fragrance trend, because for the most part, it seems like a waste of talent in favour of snobbery rather than authentic love of fragrance...
    In a recent conference, Jean-Claude Ellena was less than impressed: he says that he could probably achieve the same "bespoke" results in a couple of days...
    The only possible exception, for me, would be the re-creation of a fragrance with ingredients that are either regulated or too expensive to use even in the higher-end niche products.
    Otherwise, I would much rather be taken to places I never knew I wanted to go to, by a perfumer's vision, than to have something made to specification. There's enough out there that can express my many facets!
    Also, I'm a little annoyed by the luxury turn that L'Artisan is taking. This used to be a funky, quirky, bohemian house, and that was its charm.
    And using Mathilde Laurent for creating bespoke fragrance is, as Luca wrote, a tragic waste of talent.

  2. Anonymous18:09

    Are they serious or is this a joke, who has all that money, what twats! It's clearly a case of putting the cart before the horse, how imaginative of them, lol, can you believe?

  3. Ridiculous. Especially L'Artisan veering off in this direction. It is possible to offend one's "core" audience.

    These one-time bottles will end up in Dubai, best known to perfume fans as the destination for tons of grey-market unsold "product."

  4. D,

    I tend to take sides with your views on many things and this is one of them: why change the charmingly bohemian and low-key image of L'artisan? That and Diptyque were so quintessentially boho-chic French that it warmed my heart to be handle their bottles and smell their cute products. This rather faux elitism is veering the brand into museum standard and I am all against the museum approach: want to make something pretentious? stuff it in a museum, I always say ~ironic coming from me, of all people, but there you have it! Rebolutionizing how museums work is on my dream-list of things to do before I die :-)

    Mathilde has an excellent chance with Cartier as in house nose, so it would be a sad day when she dedicates most of her time to those projects instead of creating the classics of tomorrow. *sigh*

  5. Aline,

    I am not sure if you are questioning the validity of the article or are genuinely surprised at this, but I assure you it's not unheard of to create these uber-expensive things for certain clients. Guerlain is being producing comparable products for a long time now ~it's questionable who actually buys them.

  6. P,

    I'd hate to think of it but you're probably right. Or this is an "experiment" or a project that was designed before the crisis and is now a waste of brainpower and budget to abandon now -or so they think- hence they're moving forward with it. I don't know, really. I am waiting for my sources to provide info on that score. Will keep you posted.

  7. Hi Helg- I'm in agreement. As an American, I hate always been lumped into one stereotypical group of 'those wanting "fast results"'. It is very insulting for those of us who take time to appreciate things and don't need instant gratification...

  8. To create non-creative scents but pleases the masses, or to create unique masterpieces but can only be appreciated by one person, which is worse for a perfumer? Everyone has his/her own answer.

  9. Rappleyea23:18

    I've worked for many years in the Thoroughbred business - an industry which until last week would have called a $20,000 price tag "cheap". That market plunged almost 50% at the recent breeding stock sales, and we cater to the wealthy from all over the world, including (or should I say especially) the ruling family of Dubai. My point is that L'Artisan may be a day late and several dollars short on this venture!

    Great article and thanks for your indignation on behalf of us "ugly" Americans!

  10. Daily,

    it needed to be said. Reading this (as opposed to merely hearing it in a conversation where one can interpolate their thoughts) makes it sound especially offending.

  11. L,

    I don't think BD even has to think about the first proposition (he's not creating for a masse market brand), therefore why would he be jaded into wanting to create for the second proposition? I'd love to hear.

  12. R,

    very interesting, I see what you mean (the uber-luxe market, that one)and I have to say I agree with you.

    Yeah, that comment was very unfortunate.

  13. Anonymous14:28

    Why to help a snob to be a bigger snob by offering him a $5,000 scent? This is about money - for both sides and it has nothing to do with us - perfume lovers. These companies should know that it will bring them no luck. You wrote it correctly, Elena - "cynical" is the word and it is a cynical, two-faced world.

  14. Brava, E.
    There is an expression--"calling [someone] out"--which refers to an act of exposure akin to both declaring the emperor's clothes a sham and revealing someone's statements to be fallacy or a scheme.

    Certain consumers are, of course, complicit in the scam; not just the uber-wealthy who play into the concept (perhaps they search for validation, but whether their motivation is that, ostentatious display, or something else is a topic for another day).

    Nonetheless, it IS shameful for the perfumers to focus on perfume as commodity at the same time they are trying to emphasize the juice as art. One could say that this is an inevitable consequence, since after all, the bottles ARE commodities who have as part of their purpose the goal of being sold. Yet, one feels that the purpose, message, and soul of the product/business are being abandoned...rendering the business of perfume as empty as the purchasing and reselling of nothings in finance and real estate, which have probably led to the current economic collapse.

    Hmmm...I've fallen into deep thinking about the commercial & concrete...not the sort of musings I generally associate with my Bois des Isles... ;)

  15. Fred Malle (yeah FRED) has opened in Melbourne and his treasures are going for nearly Aust $300 a pop! Its in a snob area but some of those people living around there are now trying to sell their houses etc!
    If he dropped the price to a honest number and put it in all the shops - he would do well but I predict Fred will be leaving our shores in the near future for we do not have the population the US or Europe has and most perfume bought here is , sadly, the commercial stuff seen everywhere.
    I am a "snob" of sorts I guess but we aare low on the ground here! LOL

  16. I think you hit the nail on the head, Helg. It is a contemptuous philosophy and statement. This entire endeavor is nothing less than vulgar. Thanks for linking the article.

  17. Lavinia,

    yeah, exactly...why bother?
    It saddens me that it is so. :-(

  18. S,

    this is exactly my qualm: why emphasize the art if you then go on and make something that will be incommunicado to people? Surely art demands an audience: maybe not a wide one, but it's essential that there is some sort of dialogue. If I keep the Mona Lisa on my basement and no one ever sees it and the painter makes it for me, do I contribute to art? Don't think so...
    Let's see what happens next though.

  19. M,

    I am both happy and a little saddened about the news of FM down under: happy that you will get to sample a very interesting line of scents at leasure and saddened because indeed at that price point I see many people -and I mean perfume loving people- being cut off, which is a shame.
    Perhaps however the smaller travel bottles of 10ml might do the trick? (they're sold as a triad) ;-)

  20. Thanks M, you're welcome :-)
    It annoyed me the way it was laid out; I guess it did so to many.

  21. This whole thing makes me want to go "blargh" from the pricing insanity to the "ugly" Americans comment, a beautiful example of this being the recent redo yet again of Keiko Mecheri her once reasonably priced fragrances at $80 are now $115 all because of the "wonderful" new bottle.

  22. Jena,

    I can't say I disagree....And yes, hadn't KM rebottled those just...what was it, two years ago?

  23. I understand why this is maddening, but it's funny, too. Bald hucksterism inevitably pops up wherever there are pretensions to art--or I should say "art." True art doesn't have anything to do the the pretentious, phony connoisseurship that seems to be afflicting the perfume world.

    I'm with Rappleyea--this is all about chasing money that isn't there, or will soon disappear. The impatient Americans are mostly tapped out, and even the ones who still have the bucks are beginning to feel that it is socially unacceptable to be completely idiotic with money.

  24. Anonymous07:57

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  25. M,

    it's funny in a perverse way and it irks me that a brand I like and respect resorts to such "measures" in the sake of "art".

    It would be interesting to watch how this unfolds, if at all. I was reading a report on how the market is shaped recently and how in times of crisis it's considered vulgar to display affluence in such a manner and people revert to more "intellectualised" purchases. Somehow I think they had thought of this well before and didn't back out in time (?);-)

  26. Ruth08:55

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  27. Thanks for sticking up for the Brits! Interestingly this makes me rather inclined not to buy any more of their stuff! I'm sure that will pass though.

  28. You're welcome K,
    I stick up for anyone who is unfairly judged :-)

    However, and to be clear, that comment was in relation to Kurkdjan's bespoke fragrances and NOT L'artisan's one off scents. Just so we're fair.

  29. Yes that is fair, think I was getting a bit carried away!

  30. No problem, honey. I appreciate your passion for fragrance :-))

  31. Anonymous13:28

    Hello E - I'm late to this discussion, sorry! I found it extremely interesting and thank you for putting the topic up for discussion in the way you did. Funnily enough I had a not unrelated experience recently with Miller Harris who sent an email out to those on their list informing them of their latest exclusive and seasonal candle the notes of which sounded lovely. I scrolled down to discover the thing (a CANDLE) was £250!! I think it had molten gold lettering, but still, it was a candle. I rather huffily wrote to them saying I thought it was in poor taste with the financial situation as it was and unsubscribed from their emails. It is not on the L'AP scale but I believe it to be similarly cynical. Hope you're well! donanicola

  32. N,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting, not late at all! (always happy to hear from you).
    What you're describing is exactly what has been bothering me for so long: the people in the industry read boards, they see the enthusiasm and they try to harness that into sales. It maddens me to see people respond with a desire to pay whatever they demand from them as much as seeing the companies churn out stuff at a ridiculous price point! And it's not as if everything is made of natural iris butter either!! :O


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