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.