Does market success serve as the best measure of a great fragrance? Certainly, this is not usually the case. One only needs to browse through the top seller lists to see what kind of blandness is responsible for retail profits. In this spirit, I have decided to compile a selection of a dozen or so memorable market failures—unique perfumes that simply did not survive on the fragrance counters. In some cases, it was due to the overly daring compositions, in others the failure hinged on the poor marketing campaign. So, without further ado, here is my anti-best seller list (in alphabetical order)! I hope that it will entertain you as well as inspire some interesting, and in some cases, inexpensive discovery.
Cumin, jasmine, animalic notes? The mere thought that this perfume was launched in the prestige market makes me admire the Alexander McQueen fragrance development team. Needless to say, it was a flop. On the other hand, those who like their flowers dirty and dark might appreciate Kingdom’s drama.
Black is still available from certain Bulgari counters as well as Sephora, but it would be a stretch to call it a successful launch. This smoky tea and dark leather composition is simply too edgy and brooding. It is also a modern masterpiece and a must try perfume!
Égoïste was a relative success in Europe, and a complete flop in the USA. Some observers blame the marketing campaign, the name with its negative connotations, the sweetness and complexity of the fragrance. All in all, the entire franchise just did not make enough money for Chanel, which is why only three years later they introduced Égoïste Platinum. The original Égoïste is ingenious—a gilded layer of sandalwood a la Bois des Iles inlaid with velvety oriental notes, juicy plum and piquant thyme. It is also fantastic on a woman.
Dark chocolate, sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla… Madness is bold and dramatic. In a way, it is too much of a good thing, but occasionally there is nothing wrong with that. If you are tired of the current “oriental lite” trend, then it will satisfy your craving for something decadent and luscious. The triple fudge nature of Madness scared off the American consumers, and the bizarre marketing campaign of Salma Hayek in distress (see the top image) did not help matters either.
Catherine Deneuve’s eponymous fragrance was a fantastic green chypre with a soft leather note. Its elegance made it one of the best fragrances in that genre, but one only needs to compare it to the wildly successful Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds to see why its refinement was lost on the wider audience. If all failures could be this splendid!
Rose, jasmine and magnolia in a masculine fragrance? Of course, floral accents are nothing new in scents designed for the male market, but Insensé does not merely limit itself to a subtle hint. The floral notes are lush and silky, harmonized perfectly with the camphorous green floral top and the woody mossy drydown. Not surprisingly, this avant-garde composition tanked.
If asked about his favorite creation, Jean-Paul Guerlain names Nahéma without any hesitation. Along with Chamade, it is undoubtedly one of his most ingenious and memorable fragrances. It sets the plush ylang ylang into a rich heart of plummy, dark notes and wraps it into a classical oriental Guerlain accord. It was such a resounding market failure that the losses forced Guerlain to sell a part of its real estate. The problem of Nahéma, launched in 1979, was timing. Had it come a few years later in the 1980s when the taste for dramatic (Giorgio, Poison, Paris) was at its apex, it probably would have been more successful.
Hugo Boss Boss Pure
A sleek, polished masculine fragrance in the style of Hugo Boss. What did it in was the ad that looks suspiciously like an underwear promotion–a man in white briefs plunges into the water with a look of despair on his face. Is he swimming, contemplating suicide or suffering some existential boredom? Hugo Boss’s trademark is the cool, confident business style, none of which was reflected in the advertising image.
Issey Miyake Le Feu d’Issey
Le Feu d’Issey is a marvel of technical ingenuity and creativity. The pairing of charred, toasted notes with the creamy accord makes the most out of its woody structure, which is dominated by sandalwood. However, this is not the whole story, because sheer rose and crisp lime add their own interesting twists. Le Feu d’Issey smells at once like a stone oven baked focaccia and the salty sun-bleached woods one finds on the beach, a gorgeous juxtaposition of two delicious fantasies. However, when a fragrance is expected to be a crowd pleaser like Chanel Chance or Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb, it is not surprising that creative, but challenging compositions do not fare well. The confusing marketing campaign only added to Le Feu d’Issey’s struggles.
Strange name and advertising did not help the success of Kashaya, although its creator Sophia Grojsman thinks that the main problem was its rush to the market. Nevertheless, Kashaya is striking—a radiant floral oriental composition that impresses with its unusual development. The initial apricot and jasmine chord of Kashaya are rich and velvety, while the heart is a delicate arrangement of white roses and lily of the valley. Just as one expects Kashaya to fade, it suddenly grows richer and darker again, revealing its amber and musk drydown.
Cardamom, gingerbread and sandalwood made Jungle L’Éléphante sensual and voluptuous. Another splendid oriental, the likes of which are few and far between. Jungle Le Tigre (now discontinued) is a sweet orange and osmanthus embellished version, which is likewise excellent.
Admittedly, Blonde is hardly a masterpiece, it is merely a Robert Piguet Fracas type. Nevertheless, it is a very good one.
Yohji Yamamoto Yohji Homme
The magic of Yohji Homme lies in its blend of cool lavender with the gourmand richness of coffee and licorice. This interesting duality makes it memorable and unique.
Yves Saint Laurent M7
The failure of M7 had as much to do with the ad displaying frontal male nudity as with the dark and challenging woody composition. For niche perfumery lovers, however, this spicy oud and leather blend will be a revelation.
The smoky layers of incense over a dark floral accord make Nu one of the most sensual and mysterious fragrances I know. A must try for any incense lover!