A fair while back, a friend contacted me because she thought her favourite Frederic Malle perfume had changed somehow and wondered why that might be. I told her that it was very likely the formula had been changed because something had changed in the IFRA guidelines. IFRA is the body that tells perfumers what, and how much of any, ingredients are acceptable (well, one of them – but that’s another story).
But I just found out there might have been another reason….
They’ve been bought out by Estee Lauder. As have Le Labo and By Kilian.
Even Penhaligons have sold out – but they’ve gone to Puig, a Spanish house.
And Caron a famous French Perfume house established in 1904 is currently up for sale by Ales Groupe, who bought it back in 2008 when niche perfumery was poised to explode but have somehow managed to oversee it’s downward slide to the point where it now merely breaks even. (See here for source article)
It makes me so sad that all of these fabulous businesses are being swallowed up by corporations where the real power is in the numbers on the spreadsheets – and spreadsheets trump creativity.
A while back, I watched a documentary in which several well-known perfumers were gathered together and allowed to “play” with ingredients to make a fragrance that THEY loved. I can’t currently remember why they were in that room (but I’ll update this post if/when I do!) but I distinctly remember one of the perfumers being overjoyed that he was able to use Myrrh, because it’s not allowed in his day job owing to costs.
I know a lovely lady who left her corporate job in the perfume industry because she got sick of the bottom line of costs being more important than the customer experience.
The thing is, fragrance can, and SHOULD be a luxury experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be expensive, just that it needs to be valued more, and treated as if it is something precious. Our sense of smell is super important to our psyche. Because of where our scent receptors are located in our brain, the link between fragrance and memories is like a super-highway to our emotions. If only conglomerates understood the power of subtlety, fragrance could literally change the world for the better!
We are surrounded by scent on a daily basis. Think about how a hot day smells different from a cold day, or the smell of earth after the rain, or hot concrete and petrol fumes in the city, or the salty air at the beach – I could go on. What about babies? They have that lovely smell that just makes you want to snuggle them. The smell of candy floss can instantly transport me right back to my very first date at a funfair on our local common. The thing about these smells is they are either subtle (sometimes so much so that we barely notice them) or transient, but they still have a lasting effect on our emotions.
Instead, we live in a world where supermarkets pump the scent of bread baking through the air to make people literally hungry for more. A world where perfume companies appear to have forsaken artistry and quality, preferring instead to make cheap, one dimensional scents from solely synthetic ingredients and then rely on transient celebrity to sell them. And a world where people write social media posts about how offensively strong the signature scent of their top hotel was, and how they won’t go back there again! How could any of that possibly be good for marketing and brand recall? How can it be good for the perfume industry to turn something with so much potential to inspire emotional connection into something to be reviled and avoided? And how can it be good for we consumers to be bombarded with cheap chemical fragrance everywhere we go? In one online discussion about yet another hotel’s overly strong “signature” fragrance, someone said “Fragrance is the new second hand smoke.” As a perfumer, that made me want to weep, but as a consumer, I’m horribly afraid that I know what she means.
On a personal note, I’ve stopped buying fabric softener because I don’t want the scent of my clothes to overwhelm my perfume of choice and those adverts that tell me my bedding will still smell fresh after however many weeks make me want to cry! I’ll stick to regular washing and line drying in the fresh air, thanks. And I’ll thank my lucky stars I live in the countryside, near the coast.