Do We Have Too Many Launches?

Yes, of course, we  do! Only in 1990, we had 76 new perfumes, this year we have 700 and this doesn’t include the upcoming holiday launches.* Even the consumers are asking the industry to slow down. In various studies done on both sides of the Atlantic women express skepticism and disappointment when it comes to recent releases. “They all smell the same” is a common refrain. While the number of new launches is indisputably high, you can’t blame the malaise of the fragrance industry on the volume alone.

perfume-stand

A couple of weeks ago I was researching materials for a presentation on 1920s fragrances which required me digging in the archives and leafing through lists of long forgotten perfumes. You can get a whiff of the 1920s today through Chanel No 5, Guerlain Shalimar, Caron Nuit de Noël, Molinard Habanita and perhaps 20-3o others, and it might seem as if the fragrance houses were launching one classic after another.

But one look into the Guerlain archives, and you see that in the 1920s the house launched more than 20 different fragrances. There were several variations on identical themes like jasmine, vetiver and leather. At the end of the day, only Shalimar, Liu, and Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat survived.  You can find similar trends from Chanel to Weil.

Today some houses use the market place in much the same way as Jacques Guerlain did–as a testing ground. They continuously refine the collections, remove fragrances that don’t perform well and introduce others that they hope would do better. The number of launches itself doesn’t mean poor quality, and the main difference between the 1920s and 2010s is that perfume has stopped being a luxury affordable to few and became an ubiquitous cosmetic product. Women also buy more perfume for themselves rather than wait to receive it as a gift. More men use fragrances on a regular basis. Even babies have scented products designed especially for them.

In principle, there are enough new consumers to absorb all of the offerings, but this only works if each new release stands out or is at least different. But even the niche house follow the pack as they either release variations on the best sellers (exhibit A: Bond no 9 Scent of Peace=Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue) or jump onto the rickety oud bandwagon (exhibit B: Robert Piguet Oud; what does a Swiss fashion designer have to do with the Middle East?) When even professionals have difficulty telling new launches apart, much less remembering them, it’s no wonder that a perfume lover is at loss.

For the hundreds of launches to make sense, the stores should also rethink how they sell. The department store perfume space hasn’t changed much in fifty years, except that it has gotten more crowded. Instead of dumping everything on the counter and pretending that every single bottle of perfume contains a masterpiece, why not take a page from other industries like wine or food. I shared some of my thoughts on this topic in Why Fragrance Shopping is Often Frustrating; the way perfume is retailed affects the industry deeply.

I accept that in the near future we won’t see fewer launches and higher quality. I don’t even count on stores giving up the old-fashioned way of organizing their perfume counters. But time and again I wonder why the industry doesn’t educate its consumers about fragrance, what’s contained in a bottle, how perfumers work and where materials come from. As someone who stumbled by chance into a fragrance lab and couldn’t bring myself to leave, I know how fascinating and exciting perfume creation can be. The purple prose of press releases doesn’t do it justice.

*Information via Michael Edwards’s Fragrances of the World.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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89 Comments

  • george: It’s a bit like the difference between going to the national gallery and going to the tate modern: at the national gallery you are very much aware that it takes a good fifty years to filter out the cr*p. Seems- from your research- that perfumery is just the same, and also- despite our complaints about the current market- that that is the same as it ever was. September 10, 2013 at 7:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for putting it so succinctly! Yes, it’s true, the time is best arbiter. Some silly things do stick around despite all odds, but that’s ok too. 🙂 September 10, 2013 at 11:51am Reply

      • Daniel: Exhibit C: Calvin Klein Eternity for Men April 7, 2016 at 8:21pm Reply

  • Aisha: So, so true! I know many women who stay away from the fragrance counters because they’re simply overwhelmed by the number of choices. I think many might also be intimidated to try something at the counter because they don’t want to be pushed in to purchasing something they don’t like. Perfume from designer and niche houses are quite spendy, compared to the items you can buy at Bath&Body Works or Victoria’s Secret. And the sales associates at those places don’t rush you in to buying something. I know I prefer sampling fragrances there and at stores like Sephora, versus a department store, because the sales associates let you take your time when it comes to selecting the right fragrance.

    I do like the idea of having perfumes organized by notes, rather than by brand. I know it makes shopping for wine much easier.

    As for educating the consumer about the perfumery business, I’ve been telling my friends about this blog and encouraging them to read it before heading to a perfume counter. September 10, 2013 at 7:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Aisha. Many blogs do a tremendous job sharing interesting insights and information.
      At one point I wondered if organizing by fragrance family would not be better, but since the fragrance families are so obscure to most people, the sales associates included, it’s not much help. Of course, the wine industry has done a great job at educating its consumers about different grape varietals, but still, Chardonnay has more or else a well-defined profile, while floral can be scores of different things. But as you, if the perfumes were organized at least in some approximation of how they smell, as opposed to the brand name, it would already be a tremendous help. September 10, 2013 at 11:59am Reply

      • Aisha: I don’t know if any perfume houses do this, but wouldn’t it be fun to go to a perfume “tasting,” similar to a wine tasting? They could offer attendees five samples to test (for a price, of course), and then they get to take home a deluxe sample of their choice? We have a small winery here that offers five tastings of your choice, for about $10, and you get to keep the wine glass.

        Just a thought….

        Yes, I’ve found some excellent resources through your blog too. But this is where my interest in perfume was rekindled. September 10, 2013 at 12:03pm Reply

        • Victoria: A perfume tasting would be a brilliant idea. I would love something like this, and I imagine that it can be a nice way to try fragrances. It would work especially well at a small, specialty boutique. Of course, many places, Sephora including, are happy to make samples for you free of charge, but if there was a person explaining the scents and guiding the customers better, it would also be a fun event. September 10, 2013 at 12:17pm Reply

          • Aisha: Please suggest it to people you know in the industry. Even if they send knowledgeable distributors to stores like Sephora or major department stores to hold a special event of some sort. I bet they’d get a good turnout. September 10, 2013 at 12:31pm Reply

            • Victoria: I don’t know that many people on the retail side, but I hope that someone picks up your idea!

              It would be great for all of us to meet and smell perfumes together one day. As Anne says, it’s fun to do it via internet, so how much nicer it would be in real life! 🙂 September 10, 2013 at 2:30pm Reply

              • Aisha: That would be so much FUN! September 10, 2013 at 2:59pm Reply

          • Illdone: Great article as always!

            I often wonder about the best way to sell, no : “help”, a costumer to the right perfume.
            I’m absolutly devasted when I’m in a perfume chain and hear (i’m always following the conversations around me out of curiosity) what is not said and asked.
            What about ; “What have you worn before, what kind of things do you like? Roses? Vanilla? The smell of old books? Gasoline?….
            It’s happened numerous times that I spoke to someone on the way out and that they returned with me to try a few things. Many customers look devastated and lost in perfume shops. There must be hundreds of them buying something because they’re to polite to just say no and leave.

            The tastings are a good idea “an sich” but again many people fear being under pressure once the’re there in a small group and after a lenghty explanation. How many would dare say no after that , so I guess many might not want to attend.
            They key to me is passionate and well-trained SA’s but also in Belgium these people are at the bottom of the pay-scale’s and if you don’t mind me saying it ; often uninterested. I hope the exceptions do forgive me!

            Agree about the launches! Makes me think about the HG cleaning products, there’s a bottle for every spot you could possibly make but most are almost identical in formula. Having the largest shelf-space is a form of marketing.

            If ever a perfumista meeting in Europe is being organised, count me in!! September 11, 2013 at 5:26am Reply

            • Victoria: I think that if you aren’t specifically trained to sell perfume, it can be very tricky to figure out on your own how to do it. How to approach the customer? What questions to ask?
              The customer service in Belgium overall can be described as “uninterested,” with few exceptions when the people managing the store are the actual owners. 🙂 But I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. That being said, my local beauty emporiums have some passionate people selling perfume, and that’s very refreshing. September 11, 2013 at 7:27am Reply

        • Anne of Green Gables: That would be so much fun! 🙂 It would also be great to be able to do discuss what you smell with other people. We’re of course doing that here online but sometimes I wish I could do that in person. September 10, 2013 at 12:18pm Reply

        • Anne K: It would be great! There are no good perfume stores in my town and I don’t have many perfume friends. I would love to meet up with more fragrance loving people. But for now thank goodness for Internet. September 10, 2013 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: I’m surprised to know that Guerlain had so many launches in the 1920s. But nowadays, on the top of each brand having more launches, there are many new brands coming into market so it’s impossible to keep track of everything.

    I totally agree on the need for better education for SAs and consumers. The more consumers know about perfumes and the process of their creations, the more they’ll enjoy and appreciate the products they use so I think it’ll help the industry greatly in the long run. I really wonder why the industry is reluctant to take an initiative. For cosmetics or makeup products, they sometimes have ‘beauty classes’ (or whatever they are called) so why not start a similar thing for perfumes? September 10, 2013 at 8:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Some perfumes we know today like L’Heure Bleue were released in different iterations before L’Heure Bleue took shape. So, it’s tempting to think that Guerlain was launching one masterpiece after another, although it was definitely not the case.

      The problem is that the brands dictate to a large extend how their perfume is sold, displayed, etc. So, if a big corporation X pays Sephora to promote its perfumes in a particular manner, it would be hard for Sephora to take the egalitarian approach that a wine shop (for instance) would take to recommending wines. September 10, 2013 at 12:04pm Reply

  • BlinkyTheFish: I wonder how many perfume sales must be down to the impulse or frustration buy – basically capturing the consumer at the moment, or acting as the ‘relief’ sale to people needing a last minute gift. I still come across very few salespeople who bother being polite at being told ‘I’d like to see how it develops’. I suspect to the majority of the perfume sales world, perfumistas are a nightmare – researchers who want to know X, Y, and Z, want development and thinking time, etc etc… September 10, 2013 at 8:35am Reply

    • Karina: That is true about perfumistas being a nightmare for salespeople! We often know more about the perfumes than they do and I always get a silent (slightly irritated) nod from the salesperson when I politely say “I’ll see how this one develops”.

      I know their job is to sell perfume on the spot but shouldn’t they at least pretend to enjoy discussing the nuances of a fragrance with someone who is genuinely interested? September 10, 2013 at 10:52am Reply

      • AndreaR: I was at Serge Lutens in the Palais Royal the other day and after having Bois et Fruit sprayed on my wrist, the SA suggested I wander through the garden for about 20 minutes to see how the fragrance developed. I can’t think of a more perfect way to test a fragrance! September 10, 2013 at 11:35am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s different in Europe, especially France. The sales associates are much better trained than their US counterparts. They’re also not underpaid. The perfume counters in the US department stores are also often staffed by floaters or people hired by the brand who only know their brand story. Nordstrom is very different in this respect in that they ensure that all fragrance SA get a special certification. Perhaps, some other department stores do it too, but they are in a minority. September 10, 2013 at 12:34pm Reply

          • TheSnailsPajamas/Blinky the Fish at home: True. I live in the UK and places like Liberty and actual boutiques like Le Labo are much more in tune to knowledgable customers. When I bought my Sous le Vent at the Champs-Elysees shop, the SA was wonderfully informative and suggested I take my time testing. September 10, 2013 at 1:54pm Reply

            • Victoria: I noticed that even at the local perfumeries like Ici Paris XL here in Brussels the SAs are better trained. It’s a much more pleasant shopping experience in that sense. September 10, 2013 at 2:38pm Reply

        • Sandy: I dream of visiting Paris someday. The first place I would go after Louvre would be Serge Lutens. 😉 September 10, 2013 at 3:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: If I remember correctly the conclusions of the consumer research studies, the mood determines the shopping outcome a great deal. Exactly as you say, you’re in a mood to buy something, you spray a fragrance on your skin, it smells nice, you buy it. So, for this kind of shopper the top notes have to reel them in and they also have to decide quickly. Or be made to decide quickly. September 10, 2013 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Figuier: So agree with your comments! To me the failure of perfume companies to capitalise on the fascinating heritage, educate customers (& SAs), and organise retail spaces in a more comprehensible and appealing fashion is both astounding and, to a certain extent, comprehensible when you think about how business works.

    It’s all part of this misguided tendency in the corporate world to prioritise glamour-advertising above all else: spending a fortune on a recognisably ‘glitzy’ campaign, however predictable and samey, seems to be almost an instinctive response. Presumably, advertising firms are, as they should be, good at selling their products at v high prices; and I guess the accountants in finance holding the purse strings tend to be cautious bean-counting types who are not that culturally literate, and probably find stereotypical campaigns easier to ‘get’ (everyone knows it’s expensive to film/photograph and distribute ads) than spending on ingredients and on communicating the more complex mystique of the perfume world as it actually is. September 10, 2013 at 8:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Ugh, don’t even mention the film and TV ads. A silly little ad running for under a minute for only a couple of months can easily cost a brand hundreds of thousands of euros. Just to think that if a brand didn’t do the ad and instead put more money into the juice and staff training, how much more interesting the outcome would have been. Of course, in some cases the ad is essential, but there are many cases when they’re done just because “that’s how we do it.” If the slow way with which perfume industry has embraced social media is any indication, it’s indeed a very conservative world. September 10, 2013 at 12:12pm Reply

      • Figuier: Yes, that’s exactly it. The conservatism is astounding. The current tv ad for Armani ‘Si’ is a typical example. Much as I love Cate Blanchette, the whole ad, with its ‘si’ to pretty much anything you can think of (me, you, beauty, emotion…it’s just a potpourri of random catchwords), is so uninspiring and far too long for such a simplistic concept.

        And then the bottle is displayed prominently in our local Boots, but when I asked the SA for information she could barely tell me anything. And the juice itself smells, at first sniff anyhow, tragically generic. September 11, 2013 at 6:05am Reply

        • Annikky: Oh, yes, I agree with everything. What a waste of Cate, whom I adore. September 11, 2013 at 6:52am Reply

        • Victoria: I also wasn’t impressed with either the perfume or its ad. And I love Cate! September 11, 2013 at 7:28am Reply

        • Maja: This was such a great read! Thank you, Victoria and thanks to all the people commenting. I do not consider myself a perfumista, just someone reaaally interested in fragrances and that’s why I had such a hard time yesterday believing that a SA of an Italian perfume store I went into had never heard of Caleche. “But I have this” she said and tried spraying Chanel Chance on me. I felt like going out of the store immediately. 🙂 Which I did.

          I would like (foolishly) to believe, instead, that so many launches are small experiments. And not just business ones. I have recently read somewhere that only 10 percent of new restaurants survive (maybe even less) so I guess it is very difficult to come up with the right product of great quality for a reasonable price. And find audience for it. Your example with Guerlain in the 1920s is fantastic and explains a lot. And what about the legendary 900 attempts before creating Nahema? It takes a lot of time and money and new ideas to create really innovative perfumes so I suppose the “flankerization” of all things successful will be a part of our future for a long time.

          ps. I was wearing Chanel 19 yesterday and I couldn’t be happier with my choice in a perfume store where everything smelled of ripe but plastic fruit. September 11, 2013 at 5:29pm Reply

          • Maja: I posted it in a wrong place. Sorry. 🙂 September 11, 2013 at 5:30pm Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: Hilarious! I guess the Italian girl was wellmeaning and trying to do you a favour. September 11, 2013 at 5:34pm Reply

            • Maja: Well, probably. 🙂 But the fact she took the tester of Chance so randomly left me wonder… September 11, 2013 at 6:48pm Reply

          • Victoria: This sales strategy baffles me. I mean, the customer asked you for a specific thing, so why offer her something completely different? But of course, she simply may not have known what Caleche smells like, and she suggested the first thing that came to mind. September 12, 2013 at 4:37am Reply

  • Persolaise: A wonderful, thought-provoking piece, Victoria, thank you.

    I think you’re right when you say that the only thing that might change the situation is a shift in consumer demand. After all, everything is consumer led, right? So yes, greater awareness/education would be excellent. But I feel the problem is that, at the moment, most consumers see perfume as a product unworthy of deeper attention… or even as a product incapable of standing up to close scrutiny.

    The mass consumer is happy to accept that wine is a ‘sophisticated’ product (even if he/she is happy to indulge in a cheap bottle every now and then) but I think the very same mass consumer doesn’t grant perfume quite the same status.

    Of course, niche-loving, blog-reading scentusiasts can’t get enough of educating themselves about perfume… but we’re in a tiny minority. September 10, 2013 at 8:45am Reply

    • Annikky: I agree, but I also think it’s a chicken-and-egg situation: people see perfume as unworthy because of how it’s portrayed. If you look not only at the PR materials, but also how perfume is covered in magazines, it’s ridiculously old-fashioned, deeply uninteresting and painfully shallow. I find it especially striking compared to other traditionally “frivolous” subjects like fashion and beauty. Yes, both of these have issues as well, especially in mainstream media, but still – it’s relatively easy to find in-depth analysis and untraditional takes on both clothes and make-up, while skin-care ingredients are getting serious attention in every women’s magazine.

      But cultural shifts are possible – wine is an excellent example, as it used to be the domain of the elites. These days, enjoying a good bottle of wine and learning about it is much more common. And once you know the good stuff, there is no going back. I hope something similar can happen to fragrance as well. September 10, 2013 at 9:42am Reply

      • Victoria: I was just leafing through a book on molecular gastronomy, and that’s another support for your point–in food writers and chefs are not scared to talk about molecular components and chemistry, so there is no inherent reason why the discussion of perfume should not evolve either.

        Although at this point, I would appreciate just a straightforward, authentic information from the brands. That would already be plenty. September 10, 2013 at 2:34pm Reply

        • Annikky: Yes, food was another example I was thinking of – the whole discourse is so much more sophisticated these days both where I come from and in UK, for example. Again, this is a complex issue with it’s own problems, but the change in how the subject is treated is tangible.

          I remember when you posted about trend forecasting in perfume and the infantile content you were presented: in fashion or beauty you get detailed trend-reports in every magazine; with perfume, you are lucky if someone mentions there has been a lot of oud around lately. Not that I think that trends are the most helpful way to talk about perfume (or anything else), but I personally am very interested in this angle and the contrast there is just so evident. September 11, 2013 at 2:36am Reply

          • Victoria: The food is an interesting example, because I remember when I first came to the US in the early 1990s, it was impossible to find proper bread. My parents drove to the Russian store to find something other than the white, cottony loaf (I loved the white cottony loaf though; it seemed so exotic!) But within a relatively short period of time, the supermarkets started stocking artisanal bread, imported cheeses, “ethnic” produce. Observing this change–a rapid change–was fascinating.

            Of course, the case of food and fascination with food is complex and has its own challenges, so it can’t used as a perfect template for perfume. Still, it’s always possible to change the way people think about perfume and scents. After all, there exist olfactory classes for wine connoisseurs, so why not the same for scent lovers? September 11, 2013 at 7:04am Reply

    • Victoria: You touch upon many interesting points, and I agree with many of them. I just don’t know to what extent it’s all consumer led. For instance, the multiple launches are definitely not asked by the consumers, but rather are a part of the economic realities of fragrance business.

      The devoted perfume lovers will learn about the nuances of fragrance much like wine aficionados will subscribe to different magazines, go to events, read books, make pilgrimages to the famous vineyards. But when I’m talking about education, I don’t really mean that kind of attention to detail. I simply mean providing authentic, straightforward information about perfume and arming people with simple tips to make a better purchase, enjoy scents in different ways, etc. Annikky put it really well when she talked about the sophisticated coverage of skin care in the traditional media. Nobody is worried the consumer will faint upon hearing the words “antioxidants, Retin-A, hyaluronic acid.” But somehow the same outlets are convinced that she needs to hear about iced tangerines and solar roses when it comes to her perfume. September 10, 2013 at 12:26pm Reply

  • rosarita: I don’t have much to add – everyone else has verbalised my feelings well – but I do want to thank you, Victoria, for your thoughtful and reasoned writing, and this excellent post.

    Oh, wait, I’ll add one thing: I think that the old marketing of perfume, the magic and mystery, has become an anachronism that no longer serves the industry in these days of instant information, and that applies to the niche market as well. We aren’t going to lose our love of being seduced by a perfume if we have more information about it. Your suggestions for sales are excellent. September 10, 2013 at 9:15am Reply

    • Victoria: And thank you for reading my musings. Your observation is completely spot on–the marketing feel so old-fashioned especially when the marketing for other beauty products has evolved much more. Plus, it’s hard to spin the same tale of mystery about hundreds of nearly identical things and remain credible! September 10, 2013 at 12:29pm Reply

  • iscentyouaday: I couldn’t agree more. I visit perfume counters, but almost every time I buy scent it’s online, because that’s the only way you can get good, non generic non smell-alikes.

    A typical example of how too much is too much is this: When I asked Gucci why they no longer make Gucci Envy, they told me that they are making many new fragrances instead.

    But what if I like the old ones? It’s overkill and I’m overwhelmed. September 10, 2013 at 9:20am Reply

    • Victoria: The story about Envy is truly sad. I don’t think that it was their top seller, so that’s one of the reasons they’ve sidelined it. September 10, 2013 at 12:31pm Reply

  • Jan Last: As a consumer, I realize the need to keep products fresh and “modern”, although I don’t like that word used to talk about perfume. The largest part of my perfume dollar is online, and I am reaching for the houses who have a limited line of beautifully done scents. In alphabetical order, I love 1000 Flowers from Canada, Agonist from Sweden and Ineke from California, Slumberhouse from the northwest.
    I buy and wear many others, but I just ordered a full set of samples from Sonoma Scent Studio and received 19 different scents.
    I, too, am overwhelmed. September 10, 2013 at 10:09am Reply

    • Annikky: Hi, Jan – this is off topic, but which is your favourite Agonist? I haven’t found anything full bottle worthy from them (there is a sharpness or aggressiveness to many of them that doesn’t work well on me), but I like the brand very much and am so glad that they made the scents available in plain bottles. Infidels is probably my favourite, but I find them all interesting and have just ordered a sample of Isis. September 10, 2013 at 11:06am Reply

    • Victoria: The niche brands suffer a bit from a lack of editing (this is not a shot in the direction of SSS, which is better edited than some). It’s just very easy to launch and launch, especially when the costs of every subsequent launch are fairly low. But then you end up with an overbloated collection. Last year I was at a fragrance trade show devoted to niche fragrance lines, and I realized with a start than an average size was about 20 fragrances. Some lines there had as many as 50! September 10, 2013 at 12:39pm Reply

      • Hannah: In 2008, I thought that I could never get enough Comme des Garcons. A lot of their perfumes really aren’t strikingly different from each other so I think they made a mistake by discontinuing Nomad Tea and not some of the others. September 11, 2013 at 12:12am Reply

        • Victoria: I thought that they were such a refreshing, different line. I still admire what they do, and even if I couldn’t really wear their latest Black, I loved that it was so gutsy. September 11, 2013 at 6:55am Reply

  • Lucas: Interesting article Victoria!
    I totally agree with your point of view. With so many perfumes launching this year (and I guess in 2014 we’ll have MORE) it’s often hard to chose what should we test, not to mention how hard it is to find a quality stuff in the sea of fragrance. Even some niche houses sold oud and thanged their mentality from quality to quantity.
    What I hate about modern perfumery is when a new-born perfume house launches 10 scents at a time. How are they supposed to be of top quality.
    I much more prefer what smaller, a little bit less known manufacturers have to offer. If they launch 1 perfume per yeat – they do it right! September 10, 2013 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh yes, I completely agree with that. I was just replying to Jan’s comment, but I was also thinking about yours. It’s hard to approach a huge collection and make any sense of it. September 10, 2013 at 12:40pm Reply

  • yomi: Hello Victoria, lovely article as always. Yes as a perfume manufacturer myself I often wonder how much more can the market take moving forward.
    Things slowed down a bit on the aftermath of the global meltdown. But it seems the industry is back in full speed!

    Like william lauder said the industry slams a pack of spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks – meaning the reason there are so many launches is because companies don’t know which product will stick with the consumers! He is right. September 10, 2013 at 11:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for mentioning it. That’s such a great metaphor. William Lauder has a knack for saying things as they are. September 10, 2013 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Sandy: Thank you for an insightful article! I’m a newbie and a lurker but I read your blog every time you post and I feel like I learned a lot already. I also love the sense of community here and picked up many helpful suggestions from your commenters. Another blog I read is NST Perfume. Armed with advice from Bois de Jasmin and NST I feel more confident to shop for perfume.

    I’m sorry if it’s off-topic, someone mentioned Gucci Envy and I wondered what’s the closest perfume to it. I wore it for many years and I was distraught when I heard that it got discontinued. Still missing it. September 10, 2013 at 3:51pm Reply

  • Marc: 700 new perfumes is crazy. I knew there were many new launches, but I didn’t suspect this many. September 10, 2013 at 5:02pm Reply

    • Marc: P.S. Thanks a lot for posting. I enjoyed the article, even if I’m still in shock over how much newness we’re getting. September 10, 2013 at 5:06pm Reply

      • Victoria: You’re welcome! They are just my musings, but the comments to his post are very inspiring. September 11, 2013 at 6:45am Reply

    • Annikky: I believe there were over 1300 launches last year… September 11, 2013 at 2:03am Reply

      • Victoria: Whenever you plot the years and the numbers and observe this jump in new releases, it’s really something! September 11, 2013 at 6:56am Reply

    • Victoria: And we haven’t even seen the holiday launches yet. There will be more, I’m sure. September 11, 2013 at 6:45am Reply

  • nozknoz: The avalanche of launches and new brands tends to make me very loyal to the noses and brands that I know I like, and to the reviewers (or commenters) whose taste I trust. It’s the only way to cope with the sheer numbers, and yet it drives me crazy because I wonder if I’m missing a true love out there somewhere that will be discontinued before I even try it (like the Gobin Daude line). Being a perfumista is a bit nerve-wracking these days! September 10, 2013 at 9:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: I feel this way too, and since for my work, I should be informed as much as possible, it gets trickier and trickier every year. But that’s a minor annoyance in a big scheme of things. I find that if something is truly excellent, we will eventually learn about it. September 11, 2013 at 6:55am Reply

  • Nukapai: Thank you for a great post. This isn’t a new issue but it does seem to be highlighted these days with the avalanche of new launches and the number of brands around. It worries me that many brands don’t seem to invest in staff training (or if they do, the training consists of filling the sales assistants’ heads full of fiction and mumbo-jumbo which just clangs with even a slightly knowledgeable customer). Lack of care about customer service is another issue and can happen anywhere (even at a new niche perfume boutique in London, as I found when I took a group of people there on a perfume tour – and despite pre-warning the store we’d be coming with a group of enthusiasts, there was a lone bored-looking sales assistant who didn’t even say hello to us as we walked in…and it went downhill from there). September 11, 2013 at 2:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I just realized that your comment appeared in two places, so I wasn’t sure which one was the right one. Anyway, on the subject of training, yes, I completely share your frustration. Mugler’s approach with Angel was very refreshing–it invested into staff training, and the outcome speaks for itself. Everyone tries to cut corners today, and when it comes to retail, the training is one of those things that get sidelined. Plus, even when the training happens, a lot of it is old-fashioned, repeating the same wrong, misleading concepts. September 11, 2013 at 6:48am Reply

  • Jay: When I started getting into perfume 5 years ago I could keep up. I’m talking niche mostly. Today I can’t. With many launches I worry I miss something good, but that’s one more reason to be thankful for blogs. September 11, 2013 at 2:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Today keeping up with all of the launches would be both ruinously expensive and frustrating. I can’t imagine wanting to smell all 700 new launches. There are not enough days in the year for that! September 11, 2013 at 7:05am Reply

  • Elia: I was wondering why you picked a capture of Les Parfums de Rosine.
    Weird coincidence I’m sampling some of them today. September 11, 2013 at 3:50am Reply

    • Victoria: I try to use my own photographs for the blog, as much as possible, so that’s one of the suitable images I had in my perfume folder–multiple bottles, perfume shelf, etc. Also, while Rosine is not one of the worst offenders in terms of multiple launches, their line is definitely getting a bit hard to navigate. I didn’t even get to smell the last 2-3 launches from them yet. But this criticism can be levied against a number of lines, from Atelier Cologne to Serge Lutens. Overall, I like Rosine’s fragrances. Which ones are you testing? Anything stands out to you? September 11, 2013 at 7:12am Reply

  • Annikky: This is such a wide and complex subject that I’m hesitant to write anything at all. And I obviously don’t know the industry well enough to have much real insight. But as it’s a topic close to my heart, I couldn’t resist a rant.

    I generally refuse to be frustrated about the status quo – it doesn’t help and there’s still so much to enjoy -, but things like Victoria’s excellent post bring my dark thoughts to the surface. The list of my grievances is endless: marketing that is at best obscure and at worst degrading; the outright lies (the perfume has stayed exactly the same for 100 years!); the snobbery AND ignorance; lack of innovation and risk-taking; refusal to address the regulatory issues in an adequate manner; the idea of one perfect fragrance to fit the woman within…Don’t even get me started on the last one. I think there is a ton of wasted marketing opportunity in an approach that would acknowledge the need for different fragrances for different moods/occasions/whatever.

    Having said that, I think sometimes our frustration comes from the wrong place: the need to keep up with everything, for example. Do art aficionados feel the need to see every single artwork created everywhere in the world? That would be ridiculous and yes, they might miss a masterpiece, but it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of other masterpieces. And I say this as a person whose natural tendency is to smell every single launch and, after careful deliberation, determine it’s proper place in the matrix that represents all fragrances in the world.

    I don’t believe the number of launches is a problem in itself (or at least not the biggest problem), for me the sameness and communication clichés are worse offences. We also need to keep in mind that business-logic and perfumista-logic do not necessarily match. No company would launch 13 flankers if they didn’t think this would work. And in many cases, it has.

    I believe the change can happen only if and when the current approach will spectacularly fail or someone realizes there is (serious) money to be made with a different approach. In a way, niche fragrances already are a manifestation of the latter, but there is still so much that could be done differently. And if the Different Guys are successful enough, their practices might become industry standard.

    Still, I doubt there will ever be a perfume-industry we would entirely approve of. And I wonder: if perfumery will become more transparent and inclusive, will we be complaining in 10 years time how EVERYONE is into perfume now and how nice it was when it was just a small community of real fans 🙂 September 11, 2013 at 4:25am Reply

    • Annikky: I apologize for this monster – didn’t realize it was THAT long! September 11, 2013 at 4:26am Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Annikky. I think you made some very good points. September 11, 2013 at 7:25am Reply

        • Annikky: Thank you so much, Anne! September 11, 2013 at 7:48am Reply

    • annemariec: Not a monster at all, but a very thoughtful and well expressed series of comments.

      Launching 13 flankers may work, or it may have in the past, but if there is mounting evidence that people are turned off visiting the perfume counter because they are intimidated or annoyed at all that choice, maybe the companies will pull back a bit. I agree that business logic and perfumista logic are not the same. Bascially, the mainstream houses don’t care what we think!

      My whinge for the day is not just the 13 flankers, its the variants on the same fragrance. Elie Saab le Parfum now exists in three concentrations (EDP, EDP and ‘Intense’). NR for Her has had countless variants and flankers, all in near identical packaging. Same with J’Adore. And don’t get me started on Miss Dior (Cherie). I know that in the past there have been various concentrations of the one fragrance, but when you add those to all the flankers, it’s no wonder consumers are confused.

      The lists of top selling fragrances, interestingly, tend to throw up the same old suspects: Chanel No 5, Light Blue, Beautiful, Coco Mad., etc. I guess people keep buying them because they know what they are.

      At times like this I’m glad I have no man in my life to buy me fragrance. If he came home all proud of himself with Elie Saab Intense (which I dislike), instead of the EDP (love), what would I say?How could I blame him? How much fine print can anyone be expected to read? Especially a man standing at the women’s section of the perfume counter?! September 11, 2013 at 6:18am Reply

      • annemariec: Sorry, Elie is in EDT, EDP and Instense. September 11, 2013 at 6:25am Reply

      • Victoria: It’s the first burst of sales generated by a new launch that matters to the brand, which is why you have flanker upon flanker in some cases. They’re not that expensive to launch, putting them together doesn’t require as much effort, but you have something new to tempt the customer with. They’re helpful in the short-run by boosting the sales, but in the long-run they dilute the impact of the original launch and create the kind of confusion you’ve described. You can see how well or not well a perfume is doing by the speed with which it becomes “flankerized” (to make up another silly word!) 🙂 September 11, 2013 at 7:33am Reply

        • Hannah: It makes me sad to see all the Omnia flankers when the original has been discontinued. September 11, 2013 at 11:26am Reply

          • Victoria: Me too! Especially considering that it was the best one. September 11, 2013 at 3:03pm Reply

      • Annikky: Thank you! I used to love and wear J’Adore (back when I was still a serial monogamist), but the reformulation and this army of clones have really put me off. A pity, as it’s one example where big money actually did create something beautiful – the scent, the bottle and the ads really worked for me. I think every field needs the blockbusters as well ast the Iranian art house films. September 11, 2013 at 7:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for sharing this thoughtful comment (well, a post in itself really!) One could really write a whole essay on every point you raise, which is why I’m glad you’ve brought them up. In a nutshell, one of the reasons the industry is so behind in terms of its approach to marketing and other issues is that it is both very closed and very secretive. But this very mentality is what hurts its in the end. For instance, when it comes to regulation and labeling, the brands are worried that the labeling will put off the customers (and also that they won’t be able to use the meaningless “hypoallergenic” label on their products if they have to list the allergens).

      Then, they’re worried that the customers aren’t able to take the truth about the contents of their perfume bottles. Ie, that they are made with things like linalool, aldehydes, heliotropin, rather than roses, jasmine and lavender. But linalool is something you encounter every time you sip a glass of wine, drink Moroccan mint tea or add slivers of ginger into your stir fry. Orange would smell bland without aldehydes. And your cooked chicken contains plenty of heliotropin. I mean, many of the essential synthetic perfume ingredients have natural counterparts, so explaining them should not be difficult or scary. After all, you can buy books about wine that break down different varietals based on their molecular components.

      Also, another issue is that many brands aren’t willing to make small changes–“they’re not meaningful,” while they are afraid of pursuing large ones. In the end, things just drag along, putting the industry in an unenviable situation of having to respond to changes and outside pressures. The case of the raw material regulations is a good example. September 11, 2013 at 7:23am Reply

  • Tara C: Lucky Scent’s brick and mortar store, Scent Bar, is organized by scent type (tobacco, wood, floral, citrus, etc.) and it does help navigate the huge collection they sell. Wish more stores did it that way. September 11, 2013 at 8:28am Reply

    • Hannah: I noticed that when I watched some video that had the shop in the background, but one issue that I thought of is that not everything fits in clear categories. People perceive scents differently, too. I can’t believe anyone thinks Bulgari Black smells like burning tires. I think it smells more like vanilla scented erasers. September 11, 2013 at 11:55am Reply

      • Victoria: Both of them make sense though, it’s just a different association ascribed to the same effect. I completely agree with you that not everything fits into clear categories, but I don’t see why that would be a huge problem. Niche perfumes in particular are often note/raw material themed. I don’t know what system Luckyscent is using, but I remember that Bigelow’s also had a scent organization approach, and they used broad categories–floral, woods, spices, fruit, etc. It made browsing so much more helpful. September 11, 2013 at 3:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Fun! I haven’t been to LA in years, and I hope to visit Scent Bar in person one day.

      I remember that Bigelow’s also used to organize perfumes by smell, but I don’t know if they still do it this way. September 11, 2013 at 2:09pm Reply

  • lila: I agree that the mass produced and marketed fragrances can be frustrating and exhausting to navigate through, but generally anything of worth is not easily obtained. Living in a small town puts me at a huge disadvantage in this hobby and I have had to learn to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I may not have a vast repertoire of scents that I’ve actually experienced, but my geographical disadvantage has forced me to read more (thank you perfume bloggers!) about perfumes so that I can be very particular and specific about which sample to order online or what to try at the perfume counter (I can only handle one perfume at a time). The nearest large city is two hours away, so my mission of trying one specific perfume at a time is much less overwhelming, even if it does limit my exposure. I even get excited when it’s scrubber so that I can try two!!! 🙂 September 11, 2013 at 1:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: I completely understand this, Lila! Someone left a comment this morning on the article I linked to below (“For Older Women Only”) touching upon this, and as I mentioned there, I really don’t think that there is such a huge qualitative difference between an average department and average niche perfume. In fact, in almost all cases, I would prefer the department store, since at least you’re not overpaying. Niche can also mean mass produced, except that you’re being sold an idea of luxury and are expected to pay for it.

      Plus, even at a department store you can find excellent fragrances. Of course, the department stores are full of junk, but you can find Chanels, classical Guerlains, Lancome, Lauder, and other brands that still make interesting, high-quality fragrances. YSL Opium is worth several latest L’Artisan scents put together (well, excluding the lovely Seville a l’Aube!) September 11, 2013 at 3:26pm Reply

  • Natalie: Great post, Victoria. I admit I struggle with keeping it all in perspective from a business point of view, even while I experience the impacts of having so many launches that are similar, from a consumer point of view. It just feels like things could be better, to me. So I’m off to read your article about the organization of perfume departments. 🙂 September 13, 2013 at 1:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Natalie! I completely agree that things could (and should) be better. So, I’m in no way excusing the number of launches. It is just that the number itself is less of a problem than some other elements–outdated marketing, lack of transparency, etc (Annikky’s comment above was spot on). September 13, 2013 at 6:05pm Reply

  • Henrique Brito: I don’t know how i completely let this brilliant article from you pass Victoria 🙂
    I have an opinion similar to yours but my point of view is that what happens today is only what happened in the past but in a wider scale. I noticed that many fragrances in the past where similar between themselves, copying or being inspired by what fragrance or trend was successful at the time. I notice this very easily on 80’s feminine offerings but more classical fragrances also seem to go in a kind of mold too (with a lot of them being inspired, at least for my nose, on Chanel No5 structure).
    The problem today really seems to be an excess of fragrance brands selling similar aromas to the public. What i try to understand is if this still make sense from an economic perspective, since you cannot flood the market forever; there is always a balance between the demand and offer curves that will, at some point, end knocking the prices down. So, if you keep seing new lines being launched and prices rising instead of falling, i understand that, as you said, we still have enough public willing to buy it at the price they offer.
    But then you also see that is even more common today to see more quickly launches and niche fragrances popping on discount stores, which seems to me as an indicator that there is more fragrance than consumers willing to pay at that price. But maybe, as you said, the problem is how fragrances are sold, not the excess of fragrances itself. I sometimes wonder if we are not just seing a fragrance era ending; after all, if you really think about it, the fragrance model as we know today seems to be really based on the golden years of fragrance. Not in terms of masterpieces, but in how the fragrance is produced, marketed and sold. I guess that we will still need to wait and see if this model will end and a new one will arise or if it’ll only be adapted and transformed to satisfy the needs of producers and consumers, which, as you said, are starting to get tired and confused. September 29, 2013 at 11:55am Reply

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