Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Two Sides of Dear: Demystifying Patou's Joy Perfume Promotion

Common perfume lore wants it that Jean Patou's iconic perfume Joy has been presented to the American public with the tagline "the costliest perfume in the world". This was supposed to be a slogan coined by Elsa Maxwell, the famous columnist and gossip, who thought it a great boost in 1930 when Joy was introduced to the American market at the era of the Great Depression, as the American clientele of Jean Patou shrank. It was supposed to be an undaunted affirmation of its luxury status, instantly making it more desirable over others to those who could afford to buy it. (Perfume positioning and the tactics to market it haven't radically changed over the decades, have they?)

vintage Joy perfume ad found via ebay

But "I am very moved by one detail", as the poet Cavafy would say. The perfume was composed and launched in the chic Parisian atelier of Patou in 1926, for his loyal customers. The French advertisements beautifully promote it at a later date with a French tagline "Le parfum le plus cher (du monde)". On first glance this isn't incongruous with the American tagline, it looks like an exact "translation". [Incidentally it was also promoted with the taglines "le parfum roi" -aka freely translated as the king of perfumes- and "le joyau des parfums", i.e. a parfum bijou, a jewel of a perfume.]

The wonderful thing about it is that in French the word cher has a double entendre. It would best be translated not by "costly" to denote this, but by "dear". Dear as in costly, yes, but also as in beloved, as precious. Therefore the French tagline for Joy better reflects both its exalted status in the ballpark of top quality raw materials used, but also its popularity and preciousness as an objet d'art in the hearts of those who love it and wear it regularly. It also reflects better its real price in modern market terms, as it has been surpassed as "the costliest perfume of the world", even within the Patou canon (their "1000" extrait is officially admitted as costing more to produce than the respective Joy)

A linguistic detail in the chaos of perfume writing, but an important one, I feel.


  1. Anonymous01:24

    The idea of cher as dear makes so much more sense to me-I just discovered the Patou line this January. What a revelation! Mille moved me so much-this is a fragrance that reminded me of why I love fragrance. Masterfully blended, i can smell traces of many beautiful ingredients. They appear, then disappear, then reappear-like magic. I really enjoy hearing about Patou, and i hope their re launched fragrances do really well.


  2. Hi Elena,
    I recently purchased "the most expensive perfume in the world" (not a limited edition perfume, but a readily available fragrance) which as I understand is Clive Chrisitan 1. (Not his Ltd.. edition fragrance which of course is double the cost of his gold bottle #1).

    I am happy to report that Amazon is currently offering a beautifully packaged trio of 3 of Clive Christian's fragrances: No. 1, X and 1872 for the "bargain" price of $300.00.

    As I am addicted to 1872, and have acquired an expensive habit, , I thought I would try what I have been missing...Expecting of course to be blown away by either X or No. 1.

    Is it just me? I really find both of Clive's other fragrances to be inferior to 1872. So much so, that I plan to give away the bottle of X as soon as I can find one girlfriend who can stomach No. 1 - I love doing scent tests with Clive's trio just to gauge the reaction!

    Elena, have you ever smelled Clive Christian's No. 1?
    I can't seem to find the roses...yet 1872 is a lovely rose bouquet.

    Anyway, what I am really attempting to do is recreate my own version of 1872 in my laboratory. One of these years maybe I'll get it and probably christen it "2072".

  3. Great research as usual, and it makes so much more sense.

    As pointed out, in today's niche world, with brands fighting to come up with the most outrageous and undeserved prices, poor Joy must have an identity crisis.

    But perhaps not as much as that due to IFRA. I still haven't managed to smell post IFRA Joy...


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