Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back to the Future (of Fragrance this time)

Shaping the market of scent is not within our capacity, however mapping it is. And it seems like our antennae have been tuned to all the talk lately about a shift in consumers' tastes and a seismic change due to the increased information received by the Internet. This manifests itself with many signs, which we will tackle one by one.

First of all, the reign of "celebrity scents" is coming to a slow end. (Those are fragrances bearing the name of a famous person, produced by a couple of companies excelling in that brief, like Coty or Parlux). It's not simply that perfumistos, people with an acute interest in fragrance, are getting completely jaded and being vocal about it on online fora. It's also that there is simply too much celebrity juice out there.
In the article "Celebrity Scents Fall Out of Style: So Over It" by Carmen Nobel in the author stipulates that "Tagging a perfume with the name of a celebrity goes back to the days of Coco Chanel. But the trend got a little out of control after the success of Jennifer Lopez's Glow, launched in 2002". After everyone and their grandma and their grandma's cook having a celebrity scent in the works, from athletes to actresses/musicians and authors all the way to reality-games-participants, it's getting a little tired and lots of people do not see the glamour or the relevance with certain celebrities.
The stats are a little shocking and show the proliferation of what seems like an oversaturated market: "In 2005, there were some 20 celebrity fragrances on high-end department store shelves, and by 2008, there were at least 47, according to Karen Grant, a beauty industry analyst at the NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y. And those were just the fragrances in the "prestige" and "premium" brackets, those that cost at least $50 and upwards of $75 per bottle, respectively."
The analyst also foreshadowed that the celebrity scents which would do well in the near future would be only the ones which are packaged in fancy presentations (Harajuku Lovers being an example)

But people are also avoiding perfume altogether sometimes: Too much juice sometimes produces a saturation across the boards. In an quizzical article on the Frisky fragrance shizophreniac (by her own playful admission) Erin Flaherty prompted by a no doubt exaggerated statistic (NB statistics can be manipulated the way one wants them to) intelligently discusses whether fragrance as a concept is knowing diminished popularity lately: Has perfume gone out of style? "When it comes to women and our relationship with fragrance, there’s something I’ve noticed lately, and it makes me wonder how many women out there wear any perfume at all? [...] the whole douse yourself in perfume before you leave the house thing hearkens back to another era. A lot of 20- and 30-somethings I know just don’t bother.[...] A recent NPD report showed that prestige fragrance sales in the U.S. are down 10 percent. This could just be due to the recession, but still. There’s also our generation’s obsession with individuality: Maybe we don’t all want to smell like the latest designer fragrance (or God help us, Britney Spears), and are more likely to create our own signature mixes using oils, a combination of perfumes, or are just content with our bodies’ own natural scents. Or maybe it’s just allergies".

On the other hand, there seems to be an indirect marketing strategy in which the familiar and old stanby, the fashion designer turned fragrance-churning big name, is used again in new and ingenious ways to provoke the response of a more aware consumer who is leafing through glossies like always, but is also interested in online information. Evidence: the latest column by Tina Gaudoin in the Wall Street Journal Magazine which tackles the Italian designer Giorgio Armani and his illustarted talk about scents and sensuality. (I admit I had no idea he had been in medical study at any point in his career! The things one learns...But I do adore capers!!!) Are the people reached that way more likely to sample his latest venture, Idole d'Armani?

On the same issue of the same medium there is another interesting piece about the most prized spice, saffron, a literal stamen by stamen worth of gold foil due to the labour-intensive harvesting. Saffron notes in fragrances have known a surge in niche releases and the reason is not hard to see, judging by the culinary effect the red spice possesses: "Comparing saffron to other culinary objets d’art is a nonstarter. Drugs are more appropriate. Too much and a dish overdoses on flavor. In excess, it can even become toxic. “Eating handfuls of raw saffron will shut down your liver,” Sharifi warns. But a tenth of an ounce, say, what AndrĂ©s might add to a saffron cake, can carry a dish on its shoulders, brightening the color to a golden orange and cutting the sweetness of a dessert with its grassy, metallic punches. (And just a dash will add at least a few dollars to the price of any dish.)" Would the popularity of exotic ingredients in cuisine result in an increased awareness of "scentsorial" experiences out of the perfume bottle? After all, smell and flavour are closely entwined and the discenring perfume wearer is often an equally investigative, adventurous foodie. Could these old, nay, ancient ingredients (crocus from which saffron is extracted was known by the prehistoric Aegean populations) become the new items to replace the pink pepper, the iris and the ~synthetic, by now~ oud which have taken the niche and mainstream market by storm these past two-three years? Cheers to a new route chosen, if so, and I raise my glass to this back to the future!

So the baton is on to you: What do you notice in your neck of woods about fragrance trends? Do people wear fragrance or avoid it, what is getting chosen most, are people inquisitive about new exotic or perhaps old-fashioned scents?

pic credits:,,


  1. I believe the growing interest of groups such as Sniffapalooza and sundry perfume blogs belie the surge in awareness and popularity of scent as an accessory
    Perfume is life and life vw/o scent is practically bland and empty.
    Occasionally will I have the opportunity to meet people (mostly women) that eschew fragrance.
    I take pleasure iniscussing my passion for fragrance. Usually people are fascinated to discover the "wide world of perfumery".
    it behooves us, the lovers of scent to educate our not so sophisticated friends, family and acquaintances.
    i notice that city people are most likely to wear perfume those that live in more rural areas.
    Even my 8 year old niece Helayne adores and begs for a sample of my Shalimar extrait. Same for my 17 yr old daughter - and her friends. Perish the thought that perfume will be unworn -

  2. M,

    I tend to agree with your point that cutting off one of the senses makes life poorer. And I am all for educating those around us into expanding their palette, savouring what they come in contact with and becoming more aware of their olfactory surroundings.

    Nevertheless, the increasing demonisation of perfume as an urban source of disturbance (aka allergies accusations, background perfume perceived as "pollution" ~like noise pollution~, office bans on perfume for the above reasons etc.) is something that worries me: Have we stepped on the line between a genuine concern and a panicked, persecution mania? Where will this end?

  3. Finding that line is more like defining a zone, of course...look at perfume friendly folk vary in their perception of what is "urinous," for example, coming out of the very same bottle.

    Tied together are the struggle between the public and the individual, the range of cultural contexts and individual olfactory performance, the variety in exposure experience (we know that the more attention you pay to a given sense, the more aware it can become), blah blah blah.

    Things I notice in my neck of the woods include the sense that aromatherapy is no longer something only long haired granola crunchers subscribe to; that old cocktails are becoming accepted across the board (Swingers and Mad Men perhaps contributing to the phenomenon); most department and perfume stores around me have eliminated the "fringes" of their inventory; nobody has yet included a morel mushroom note in their perfume. (Morels are an annual sport in some of my haunts.)

    That's just off the top of my head...thanks for the opportunity for a 'think.' :)

  4. BTW, for me, cocktails are intertwined with perfume...the historical shifting of taste...the importance of your senses when getting into mixology...the progression from "frou frou" to odd/dark/difficult flavors...the sense that the appreciation of what goes into the potion is a part of the overall pleasure one gets out of an application, um, serving of the potion. :)

  5. I live in Western Massachusetts and most people I meet are unscented. The scented people I meet are usually wearing either dept. store or patchouli. Spent the previous 15 years living in the DC suburbs--seemed to be about half scented, half not. Very diverse area--esp. N. Virginia--so the sillage was diverse as well. Drugstore, niche, exotic oils...I'd often be intrigued by what wafted from men and women who had immigrated from SubSaharan Africa, Middle-Eastern countries, India. Miss those scents!

  6. My Italian neck of the woods - well, limited idea. Definitely, there's quite a choice and only in Florence itself, there are three small fragrance companies and several large ones or those related to fashion houses. Not that I'd be sniffing people too much but I do notice. The other day, there was an uninteresting lady on the bus wearing most likely Une Fleur de Chanel - so, either a collector or a Chanel afficionado. I also notice interesting scents - at least I hope I know a good one from a bad one.

    Back home in Czech Republic, for rather complex social reasons, people go for mainstream. If I say it in a really simplified way,those 40+ years of communism just weeded out good taste and installed some sort of faux egalitarianism which frowns upon something off mainstream, like, 'hey, look at them, they are pretending to be better than us, let's kick their arses'. There's barely any local perfumes and general crowd, as I observe from the bestsellers at Sephora and places tagged as such, goes for well-known names. The most interesting street experience was a lady that wore something very very vetivery - the vetiver mania hasn't really reached the general area mostly populated by interchangeable florals.
    I'm quite an active member of the [only] online community. Made of CK maniacs, Dior maniacs, Guerlain maniacs, there are a few people who are into Lutens or Annick or L'Artisan. There are not many people who would be more than superficially educated, who'd be interested in perfumery in general... and it's a perfumista place. I suspect that the general public doesn't really care much.

  7. ... and now off I go to the fragrance fair, I promised Helg to take notes and refer.

  8. Hello again -
    this concept of " to perfume or not to perfume " really strikes a sensitive chord with me .

    I make ir my personal mission to share my believe that of course cleanliness is next to Godliness - perfumes. colognes and the like are and always have been an integral part of Good Grooming.
    Western Massachsetts, nonwithstanding , shame on them. I lived in Syracuse, NY for many years. Perfume was worn for the most part. Even by nurses. I was one of them.
    I try to educate those who are ignorant . I think peopleexposed to culture and sophitication would partake. Living in the country doesn't excuse oneself from the fine pleasures of life - perfume being one of them.I do maintain that people WOULD care if they wetre exposed .

  9. Anonymous14:00

    Dear E,

    My impression is that there is less fragrance being worn in general. When I do get a whiff of something, it SEEMS to be the latest fresh/floral release on the market. I say SEEMS because I stopped sampling new releases some time ago upon realizing that everything new smelled the same, at least to my untrained nose. So, when I do smell something on the subway, it usually smells like what I smelled on the subway the week before and it is rarely remarkable.

    On the other hand, environmental fragrance (candles, sprays, diffusers) seems to be proliferating and the scents there are far more adventurous and interesting. More encouragingly, people seem to be buying the strange and interesting home fragrances.

    On a related note, I am rather surprised at how large the sophisticated perfume market is. I am rather new to the perfume blog so perhaps my surprise is simply naivete, but I think there is a sizable population searching out the interesting and weird. My question, then: Is niche still niche?



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