The Fiscal Cliff & Fragrance: Are scents a sacrifice?
In the United States, the current economic discussions after the Presidential election have turned to the “fiscal cliff”: The economic reality that automatic spending curbs and tax increases kick-in if key decisions are not made before 2013. For those who are not believers in the Mayan apocalypse (i.e. the world ends with the Mayan calendar on December 21st, but then Mayan civilization ended centuries ago), this brings economic realities that might have broad reaching effects.
In layman’s terms, the fiscal cliff means belt tightening and decisions about where we’ll splurge and what is sacrificed in the spirit of balancing the household budget. The sheer scare of it all creates some degree of panic. But I’d remind people that we’ve been here before — remember the Great Recession of 2008 from which we still haven’t completely emerged? So before I continue, let me first credit a piece run on Fragrantica by Elena Vosnaki on “Recession-Proofing One’s Perfume Habit“. And while Ms. Vosnaki makes some good arguments about curating your collection, making wiser choices, and following writers whose judgments closely align with your own, there are other alternatives worthy of mention.
Is a niche fragrance still worth it?
I’ll answer that question in two parts. The largest growth segments in the fragrance industry are the luxury and niche segments. Both have experienced year-over-year growth even since the 2008 recession. The other segment for growth in the perfume industry — if you’ve read this blog long enough, you’ll know the answer — is men. The apparent conclusion is that perfume is considered one of those little luxuries that we afford ourselves, even when times are financially tough. Even though the United States is one large consumer, it isn’t the only one. Tough economic times are an opportunity for good perfumers to distinguish themselves.
And men who have established tastes in fragrance won’t immediately go from purchasing $300 boutique eau de parfums to Sub-$20 colognes. But they may be more selective in the number of fragrances they will buy, or deciding upon a couple of go-to scents. They might also revisit something they’ve not tried in a while and rediscover a part of their collection that hasn’t received much attention.
The “value” proposition
But in the age of the fiscal cliff, as with any challenging economy, a much different value proposition arises, and I’ll cite an example that I believe to be very apt. Clive Christian “C” for Men and Tom Ford Private Blend Tuscan Leather.
The Clive Christian fragrance is a higher concentration of oils and a pure perfume strength (around 30%). It’s also in a price range just shy of $400 for a 50ml bottle in a velvet-lined box. The Tom Ford fragrance retails for roughly half that price for the same 50ml bottle, although the concentration is just shy of pure perfume concentration (around 26%). Take that a little further and you can purchase the 250ml flacon of the Tom Ford for about $500. Either you’ll have about 5 times the volume, or you might be lucky enough to split the fragrance among others. Since enough comparisons have been made between the two scents — the differences in the end result being largely a matter of preference — it makes the case for Tom Ford’s juice much more compelling.
While it’s not my practice to pick on any single perfumer for what might seem an outrageous price for a fragrance, in the past I’ve highlighted a few where price doesn’t seem to meet the value proposition. For instance, I enjoy a few of Kilian Hennessy’s “By Kilian” offerings, but I’ll also describe them as ‘pricy’, perhaps somewhat overpriced for the value offered. But there are always alternatives.
Focusing on variety
Since Oud (Agarwood) is the current darling of the niche perfume segment, I’ll put the elephant in the room with this question: While you might love Oud, is there room for yet another similar fragrance in your collection? Tough times demand that perfumers up the ante and offer something different. Along the same line, if you’ve found yourself stuck in that same rut and feel you already have many ‘similar’ scents, this is a good opportunity to try something different and round out your collection. Need something lighter? Fresher? More green or citrus or floral? Give yourself the reason and the motivation to change things and explore something you perhaps might not otherwise try.
What’s moving you to want something? What does it bring to your collection that you haven’t already experienced? Much like the value proposition I presented above, most men will be asking a similar question. Our advice is to pick something that you’re convinced you’ll like and actually use. Fiscal cliff or not, this is a prudent choice in any economic climate.
Not every niche perfumer is the same
Where I’ve focused on Kilian Hennessy and Clive Christian in earlier paragraphs as one end of the spectrum, I’ve done so to help build a later point that “niche” doesn’t necessarily mean “outrageously priced”. Some examples of houses that offer some excellent fragrances at competitive price points are Parfums d’Empire (50ml is usually under $100, 100ml around $140), Olfactive Studio (all fragrances are $175 or under), L’Artisan Parfumeur (usually $140-165), Montale Paris (usually $160 or under for a 100ml of very potent juice), and a search will reveal many more of the same.
Luxury brands also don’t necessarily equate to being overpriced. I’ve also highlighted Dior’s boutique La Collection Privee as being an excellent value for money (a 125ml size runs $155, the 250ml $230 directly from their website).
Must we go upscale? Not always. I’ve focused on several scents on Scentrist that have run the gamut from $30 to well over $300, but the common thread has been to highlight the good, bad and downright awful from any category (and yes, some are really intolerable). There are exceptional scents that are neither niche nor luxury, and a few that come to mind include the Guerlain line of fragrances — Vetiver (the classic and near-standard for a verdant green/fresh scent), Heritage (Jean-Paul Guerlain’s very refined work), and Guerlain Homme (Thierry Wasser’s 2008 contribution to the line). All are under $100.
Old standards — Oscar de la Renta’s Pour Lui as a take-no-prisoners leather powerhouse, and Bogart for Men by Jacques Bogart, a $30 find that typifies a masculine fougere — are also at the ready, still in production, and not necessarily so ubiquitous that you’ll smell just like everyone else.
Simply, there are solid choices in every price range, depending on your tastes, and some designer houses do still produce high quality creations.
Bottom-line: Decide what you want and why you want it. It’s a good rule of thumb for anyone interested in purchasing a new fragrance or changing their scent line-up, fiscal cliff or not. Keep in mind that a cheap fragrance is still a cheap fragrance, especially if you’ll never use it, and regardless of how much you’ve spent. Only you can decide whether $300 spent on five fragrances about which you feel ambivalent, or the same amount on something you’ll love, use and cherish in your collection is money well-spent.