Ipso Olfacto

fragrant musings


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The Price Superiority Complex

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Anyone who’s spent enough time in a fragrance hobby knows just how expensive a single bottle can get. Oh, how naive I was when my awareness of fragrances was limited to the selections at Ulta- where a $100 Chanel was the most exorbitantly expensive fragrance option. Now, I don’t even bat an eye at $200 niches (not that I can afford them, they just don’t surprise me anymore. ) Combine an (often) expensive, niche hobby with a completely subjective way of judging said items, and you have an ideal environment for snobbery to flourish. It’s not difficult to find people who will make remarks like: “Oh, you simply haven’t LIVED until you’ve smelled Amouage’s Homage Attar ($400+)” while simultaneously snubbing their noses at your “mainstream,” cheaper fragrance choices. The reality is, you can find great fragrances at any price point, and price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

I think that there’s always going to be that need to justify spending a huge amount of money on something “frivolous” like fragrance. Although, the “mainstreaming” of many niche brands like Byredo and Diptyque have likely lessened the “stigma.” Still, there’s often this need to assert that there’s something just so objectively better about fragrances that cost 200, 300, 400(!!!) dollars than their cheaper, designer or, heaven forbid, drug-store brethren.

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Two great woody gourmands: PG Praline de Santal ($125) and Britney Spears Fantasy The Naughty Remix ($10)

But you know what? I’d pit Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose ($10) against Jo Malone Red Roses ($95) any day (Tea Rose even lasts longer.) The sweet, fruity fun of Viktor and Rolf Bon Bon ($95) can also just as easily be found in Britney Spears Fantasy ($10 at discounters.) Want a jammy, gourmand rose scent? Mancera Roses Vanille or Roses Chocolate ($100+) are lovely, but Kyse Perfumes Confit de Rose ($52) is just as beautiful (and delicious!) Anyway, you get my point. I think that you learn more by smelling more- at all price points. What actually determines a perfume’s price is much more complicated than the literal cost of materials for the liquid in the bottle, which highly varies depending on economies of scale. And just because a material is rare or hard to find doesn’t mean it will necessarily smell better to you.

Now, even though you can find a great fragrance at virtually any price- if you’re like me and sample things across the board, it’s always possible to end up falling IN LOVE with one of the really expensive ones. At that point, it’s simply up to you to decide if you love that scent enough to spend that kinda dough. It’s kind of like if you want to buy art for your home- a $200 painting from a local artist isn’t objectively lesser “quality” than a $10,000 one from a more famous artist (one has much greater resale value- in the moment, but you know what I mean.) Assuming you could buy both, you may get just as much, or more enjoyment out of the $200 paining than having the more pricey one.  And sometimes, you can only afford the $200 one. I see perfumes as a similar, artistic investment. I find Amouage Lilac Love to be delightful, but I’m not exactly in a place in my life where I can plop down $400 for a bottle. At this time, I’m fine with enjoying some scents without owning full bottles.

Anyway, my point is that, although this hobby can get expensive, you can still enjoy and explore plenty of great fragrances at many price points. The availability of decants and samples also means that we can own a bit of even the super expensive scents without committing to a full bottle. Ultimately, fragrance is subjective, and we should all go a-sniffing with both open nostrils and open minds.


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How Useful is the Term “Niche?”

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Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that somewhere down the line, we all decided that the main way us frag-heads would categorize fragrances is by whether or not they are “designer” or “niche”? Look at the description of most YouTube reviews – you’ll usually see the “designer” or “niche” designation in lieu of listing even the fragrance category (or any multitude of more relevant things about the scent…) The agreed upon meaning of a “niche” fragrance brand is one whose main focus is producing fragrances… Which is, ironically, really,  really broad, in almost direct contrast to, y’know, the actual definition of the word “niche.” Why are we so fixated on what is, at the end of the day, just an interesting anecdote about the fragrance company?

Now, I imagine that “niche” is a useful classification to those who actually work in the fragrance industry, and thus the term probably made its way into the common fragrance junkie’s lexicon as a result. But how relevant is this to us, really? The mere fact that a company only (or mostly) makes fragrances doesn’t mean that they’re catering to a “niche” customer base at all. Most importantly, it tells you nothing about how a fragrance will smell. The kicker is, the actual, real use of the word “niche” would be useful in talking about fragrances, as that would tell you that you’re gonna smell something a little unusual and uncommon- made for a smaller audience. As of now, though, scents like this can be found in both “niche” and designer fragrance lines.

For instance, Michel Germain is technically a niche fragrance house, but their stuff literally smells like what you find at Victoria’s Secret and you can buy their scents at your local Macy’s. Comme Des Garcons is technically a designer brand, but their fragrance offerings are very creative, unique, and often times avant-garde to just straight up weird. Then, you have fragrance companies that produce many fragrance lines- including more mainstream ones alongside an exclusive or “prive” line that feels more “niche.” For example, Guerlain is technically a niche brand, but Shalimar and all those darn La petite Robe Noir bottles are super ubiquitous, while something like French Kiss can only be found in certain boutiques (and comes with a MUCH less friendly price tag.) And then you have indie brands which are apparently their own, separate thing. It’s all kind of a mess.

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Overall, I think that the whole “niche” vs. “designer” thing is silly to get hung up on. Unfortunately, too many people outright dismiss either category, insisting one is superior to the other, despite how arbitrary and pretty irrelevant these terms are. By being so absolutist, one ends up missing out on tons of great fragrances. At the end of the day, we need to fixate a little less on the minutiae of the fragrance companies business operations when judging a scent, and smell it on its own merits.