“Noble” Materials

It seems that the niche houses, and everyone else in the know, have received a memo advising that the new trendy thing is noble materials. It can be the only explanation for the surfeit of noble verbiage in the press releases that pass my hands. “We are reviving the venerable traditions of the art of perfumery using only noble materials.” “The combination of noble materials and extreme sophistication takes your breath away.” “Our extraordinary fragrances are pure, authentic and use high concentrations of noble materials.” “We use only 100% all-natural noble materials, no water, other toxins or chemicals.” I will stop here before all of us start losing IQ points.

marie-antoinette st denis

So what is this social hierarchy in scent all about? In French, the phrase “matières nobles” generally refers to substances that are not synthetic, but it can also mean anything fine and luxurious, especially in the world of fashion. Even in science, where the “noble metal,” a term dating to the late 14th century, means a metal that doesn’t corrode or oxidize in humid air, different disciplines have their own lists of materials.

In perfumery, where few things are precise, the definition of a noble ingredient is even less clear. It can be applied to the floral essences, especially rose, jasmine, and tuberose, the trio that formed the core of Grasse industry long before the real estate boom made building villas for the visiting Parisians more profitable than growing flowers. In today’s marketing parlance, the more expensive it is, the more noble it becomes. According to such a scheme, orris absolute has the right to bestow hereditary titles, while lavender washes the palace stables.

Obviously, this is nonsense. Fragrance is more than the sum of its parts, and the most expensive materials in the world will guarantee neither craftsmanship nor originality in a finished creation. (Iris, by the way, can be approximated by a clever combination of other materials, while nothing smells like lavender, apart from lavender itself.)

Perfumery, at least in its modern form that took shape since the late 19th-early 20th century, is about a combination of natural and synthetic materials. Both classes of materials have their essential roles. For instance, lavender may be inexpensive enough to be used in laundry detergents and fabric softeners, but its importance in all types of fragrance is beyond argument. Rose absolute is precious, but if you wish for a dew covered blossom, the affordable phenyl ethyl alcohol will be key. On the other hand, some synthetics like musks, ambers and woods, materials that require complex synthesis to obtain, are more expensive than many naturals. While all perfumers love to work with the best quality ingredients they can afford, the merit of a composition is not a function of its cost. It’s a function of individual creativity, the strength of idea and the beauty of execution.

For all of these reasons, I recommend taking breathless assurances of a noble pedigree with a grain of salt. They promise nothing, apart from the big price tag that you’re expected to pay for such pretensions. The value of any perfume is in its effect on you. Does it make your heart skip a beat? Do you get goosebumps? If the answer is yes, then you’re holding a gem. If not, then it doesn’t matter even if a perfume was blended by the Queen of England herself.

Extra: The Myth of Perfume Pyramid

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Marie-Antoinette at Saint-Denis.

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156 Comments

  • Austenfan: Thanks! Much needed info I guess. Your reference to the Queen made me smile. I don’t associate her with fine fragrance at all. But what do I know? February 8, 2016 at 7:26am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: I also giggled reading the Queen reference. I can very well imagine her tampering with tubes, mixing a scented potion like a mad alchemist from the Middle Age.
      On a more serious tone, I imagine her wearing some classic and restrained scent like Chanel no. 5 or Yardley’s April violets (vintage of course). February 8, 2016 at 11:11am Reply

      • Victoria: Apparently, she loves carnations. February 8, 2016 at 12:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t know how anyone writing these press releases can take it all seriously. If they don’t, they hide their feelings well.

      I wasn’t sure what the Queen wears. Something classical? February 8, 2016 at 12:25pm Reply

      • Joe: Apparently both Queen Elizabeth II and her Mother enjoyed L’Heure Bleue. February 8, 2016 at 3:39pm Reply

        • Bela: Nah, that’s much too sophisticated. And it’s ‘foreign’. *If* the Queen wears perfume, it’s bound to be something by Floris or Penhaligon’s. (The Royals are philistines, you know. They’re known for having pedestrian tastes. Even Floris and Penhaligon’s could be too refined.) February 8, 2016 at 6:17pm Reply

          • Lindaloo: Not so sure. The Queen was raised to speak French and still does as her meetings in French with the current Trudeau and the previous one would attest. February 8, 2016 at 10:04pm Reply

  • Kat: Hmm, I’m wearing Korres ‘Pure Cotton’ today – according to many reviews it’s a dupe for Prada’s ‘Infusion d’Iris’ yet it contains no noble iris. It smells fantastic despite the peasant ingredients of Limonene, Linalool, Geraniol etc.
    (Korres on the other hand likes to advertise this as not containing any of the much bedeviled maligned bad ‘chemicals’ other companies use, he! Advertising lingo comes in all kinds of shapes.) February 8, 2016 at 7:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I love linalool! It’s incredibly versatile, and it’s what gives bergamot, aromatic herbs and white wine their aromas.

      Korres is very silly with its long lists of ingredients that its products do not contain. I’m delighted that my jasmine shower gel doesn’t include nuts. 🙂 February 8, 2016 at 12:29pm Reply

      • Austenfan: or gluten! February 8, 2016 at 1:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: Touchingly they also noted that the product is suitable for vegetarians. But then again, I just bought a jar of jasmine jelly (to eat), which turned out to be disconcertingly similar to my Korres jasmine gel. February 8, 2016 at 2:11pm Reply

          • Kat: I’ve made it an iron rule to not put anything on my face that I cannot eat about 20 years ago. I still remember the face of the lady on the Linique counter when I returned a compact with those exact words. It had a warning in small print on the back of the package to not swallow/eat the stuff. Does nobody think of over-enthusiastic kissers? February 8, 2016 at 2:40pm Reply

            • bregje: Haha!Your comment brought back a not-so-great memory . For me it would be a reason to buy that compact 😉 . February 8, 2016 at 6:24pm Reply

            • Victoria: Whatever works for you! February 9, 2016 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Very wise words, Victoria.
    I don’t imagine that all the flowers in perfumes are natural, in that case there was no flower left on eath. Same for woods etc. I don’t care about synthetics in my perfumes, as long as I love the perfume.
    And I hope that there is natural civet nowhere.
    The Queen of England wears Joy, I read somewhere, zo zie je maar weer, Austenfan! February 8, 2016 at 8:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Synthetic civet is very good, so I too can live without the natural one. February 8, 2016 at 12:36pm Reply

      • Nick: Speaking of which, which of the synthetic materials that you like most?!

        I think I am liking the sweet woody violet and vintage powder puffs of alpha isomethyl ionone that keeps popping up in every label I look at from shower gels, body creams, moisturisers, perfumes, and toothpastes. February 8, 2016 at 2:30pm Reply

        • Victoria: I love Cashmeran, ionones (all), various isolates from vetiver and other woods. Javanol is a material I love for its complexity and richness. Ambroxan is something I want in a cake. Karanal is a great material (Malle’s Une Rose is a great example), and too much and it feels raspy and sharp. I also love the green pungency of Undecavertol–it smells of cucumber peels and violet leaves. February 8, 2016 at 2:34pm Reply

          • Nick: *carefully scribbing notes*

            Javanol! I once smelled it side by side with Pashminol, but could not associate them with sandalwood. I kept saying bon bon all the time.

            Undecavertol — I think DKNY green. February 8, 2016 at 4:19pm Reply

            • Victoria: DKNY Be Delicious is a terrific example of using Undecavertol. February 9, 2016 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I stand corrected! 😉

    Wouldn’t it be great though if she would wear something totally inappropriate like Pink Sugar, or YSL M7? February 8, 2016 at 8:30am Reply

    • solanace: Or Fracas! February 8, 2016 at 8:45am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: LOL! February 8, 2016 at 8:57am Reply

    • limegreen: Musc Koublai Khan!
      The Queen doesn’t have to worry about office appropriate scents, at any rate! February 8, 2016 at 9:33am Reply

      • Victoria: This made me laugh out loud! February 8, 2016 at 12:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: Or Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rien! That one actually would be a very interesting choice. February 8, 2016 at 12:37pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Rien went through my mind as well. It’s such an introspective perfume, apart from it’s being so strong.

        Manoumalia on the other hand would be a fun choice, I wonder what Prince Philip would make of it. February 8, 2016 at 1:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, that would be even better!

          A quick research revealed that the Queen like chocolate cake and might be wearing Floris White Rose. February 8, 2016 at 2:14pm Reply

          • Bela: Oh, look! I was right! (I swear I hadn’t read your comment when I wrote mine, V.) February 8, 2016 at 6:20pm Reply

            • Cornelia Blimber: I have read that she wears Joy. February 9, 2016 at 4:00am Reply

              • Bela: Actually, your guess is as good as mine since, unless she tells us officially what she wears, we will never know. It’s all speculation. February 9, 2016 at 10:16am Reply

                • Cornelia Blimber: Of course.
                  I simply told what I have read somewhere. February 9, 2016 at 11:38am Reply

            • Victoria: I was sure it had to be Floris or Penhaligon’s, because of their provenance. But as you say, we are just guessing. February 9, 2016 at 1:21pm Reply

      • Karen (A): Tart’s Knickers Drawer when feeling frisky? February 8, 2016 at 4:36pm Reply

        • kayliz: Oi!
          Less of that, please. You’re frightening the horses. February 8, 2016 at 6:07pm Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂 February 9, 2016 at 1:13pm Reply

        • Notturno7: lol Karen A! That’s hilarious ? February 15, 2016 at 6:19am Reply

    • Qwendy: Or Bandit! February 8, 2016 at 3:02pm Reply

    • bregje: Dior Poison would be my inappropriate choice for the queen 😉 February 8, 2016 at 6:34pm Reply

    • Notturno7: Or Insolence? lol February 15, 2016 at 6:16am Reply

  • solanace: When I first read that Shalimar is (and has always been) made of synrhetic vanilla my heart cried, but I have since learned to overcome this prejudice. Thank you for the article, these marketing trends are very funny to watch. February 8, 2016 at 8:55am Reply

    • Nick: I experienced a similar reaction with the highly praised Iso E. When I actually smelled the bulkf of Iso E in Escentric Molecule 01, it was like a shade of colour. February 8, 2016 at 9:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I keep a box of sugar scented with vanillin in my cupboard to get a whiff of that sweet and fluffy aroma whenever I reach for a tea cup or a plate. In cooking I usually use natural vanilla, but I love the smell of vanillin. February 8, 2016 at 12:38pm Reply

      • Solanace: Voilà! And the Marie Antoinette pic you selected… You crack me up! February 9, 2016 at 6:12am Reply

        • Victoria: Glad I could make you laugh. 🙂 February 9, 2016 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Nick: ‘orris absolute has the right to bestow hereditary titles, while lavender washes the palace stables.’ — I chuckled at this 🙂

    By the way, about orris, I have read that the resinoid, butter/concrete, oil, and absolute are used in different compositions. I suppose that their profiles differ so much that, at least, we need four types of extracts. February 8, 2016 at 9:10am Reply

    • limegreen: Nick, you and I were posting at the same time and were laughing at the same line! 🙂 February 8, 2016 at 9:38am Reply

      • Nick: 😉 February 8, 2016 at 10:27am Reply

    • Nick: Still, I would say that Frederic Malle’s and the Les Exclusifs’ ingredients are pretty noble to me. They smell like quality even the ones in Bleu de Chanel. February 8, 2016 at 12:23pm Reply

      • Victoria: I agree that these two brands use excellent materials, but I just don’t like the term “noble”, because it’s vague. February 8, 2016 at 2:02pm Reply

        • Nick: Ah hah. Excellent quality sounds more neutral. February 8, 2016 at 2:15pm Reply

          • Victoria: And more powerful! At least, to my ear. February 8, 2016 at 2:30pm Reply

        • kpaint: Yes, meaningless puffery like most of the other inanities put out as perfumery PR. Most of it is so absurd and hackneyed that I’m often on the edge of being offended that there are actual people writing it collecting actual paychecks. February 8, 2016 at 6:07pm Reply

          • Victoria: Hermes is one of the companies that do their press releases well, with little stories written by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. February 9, 2016 at 1:19pm Reply

            • kpaint: Agreed! Other companies would do well to follow this example. I would guess that other perfumers could speak to their creations with introspection and insight if given the chance.

              One might also interpret this as Hermes having more respect for its clientele and see us as real-life, thinking human beings capable of approaching scent with thoughtful consideration.

              Personally, I’ll read anything Jean-Claude Ellena has to say. And watch anything he makes an appearance in. I find him incredibly sexy and have a huge crush on him ;P February 9, 2016 at 4:39pm Reply

              • Victoria: Not all perfumers are as eloquent as he is and many would have difficulties putting their ideas on paper. He’s really exceptional in his ability to explain the way he composes fragrances. I think that it has been a good partnership. February 10, 2016 at 11:04am Reply

        • katherine x: Vague, and perhaps a bit snooty? February 8, 2016 at 11:07pm Reply

          • Karen (A): Made me think that the term was timed to connect with the last season of Downton Abbey. An option of “Lord” was given for prefix on a form I completed yesterday and thought, well that’s an awful lot of pressure! (yes, I know it’s a title, not religious use, but still) and thought of terms/phrases that elicit an immediate reaction in us, such as “noble”, because who doesn’t want to see themselves acting in a noble manner? Captures our desire to associate a quality with a fragrance concept.

            Just interesting to think of what marketing professionals use and how it makes us react/respond. February 9, 2016 at 7:16am Reply

          • Victoria: Yes, there is that too, which is another reason I don’t like it. February 9, 2016 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Different essences have different scents and different uses, and it’s fascinating to compare them. But the synthetic irone smells fantastic too, like iris to the power of 10. And it’s very expensive. February 8, 2016 at 12:40pm Reply

      • Nick: Hmm I really want to smell all the orris materials side by side. I find that some irises like Zegnas’s Florentine Iris feels is fatty-green and violet-sweet, whereas Hiris is like rice powder and hazy puffs with some green and 28 La Pausa is buttery creamy. I suppose 28 La Pausa is closest to orris butter. February 8, 2016 at 2:25pm Reply

        • Victoria: I recommend smelling Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, which uses pretty much every iris natural and synthetic in a lab. 🙂 February 8, 2016 at 2:32pm Reply

          • Nick: Until now, I have not had the chance to smell it!
            I suppose Mr Roucel ‘had to throw in everything iris’ is true. February 8, 2016 at 4:21pm Reply

            • Victoria: The best example of “everything iris but a live iris plant.” 🙂 February 9, 2016 at 1:13pm Reply

        • limegreen: I love the zestiness of Florentine Iris, and your description of it being fatty green is so great!
          I see that you’ve not tried the iris overload yet so you MUST test Iris Silver Mist!!!!
          And Iris Nazarena, too, while you’re in orris butter testing mode. 🙂 February 9, 2016 at 9:35am Reply

  • limegreen: “lavender washes the palace stables” 🙂
    Victoria, you do tongue in cheek really well!

    During the holidays Neiman’s was offering Armani Prive Rose d’Arabie in the limited edition that had gold dust in it. One could have a glittery sheen wherever you sprayed it. (cough, tacky, cough)
    The SA kept shaking the tester for us, to make the gold dust swirl, and my friend and I tried not to laugh — it was like a snow globe! Noble materials indeed! February 8, 2016 at 9:27am Reply

    • Michaela: Funny story, limegreen! You were very nice not to laugh. February 8, 2016 at 9:38am Reply

      • limegreen: Well, Michaela, the $300 price tag was sobering, so you would not have laughed either! February 8, 2016 at 9:47am Reply

    • Nick: The juice has gold particulates!?

      I am thoroughly concerned when doing laundry. February 8, 2016 at 10:28am Reply

      • limegreen: Interesting point! (The edition was originally launched for the market in the Middle East.) February 8, 2016 at 10:37am Reply

        • Nick: Ah hah that makes sense! February 8, 2016 at 12:21pm Reply

    • Marge Clark: Even more than Lavender cleaning the stables and Elizabeth blending perfume, I adore the image of a gold dust snow globe. Thank you all for the laughter with my Monday morning coffee! February 8, 2016 at 10:39am Reply

      • Victoria: Me too! It’s a great image. 🙂 February 8, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂

      I missed that one! I now want to google and see what this snow globe bottle looked like. My favorite gimmick recently was not a bottle of perfume, but a tube of Christian Louboutin which came on a string to be worn as a pendant (tacky). Since the asking price for it around $100, I suppose that it should do something else beside add color to one’s lips. February 8, 2016 at 12:43pm Reply

      • kpaint: I saw a display of the nail polishes recently. They’re quite frightening IRL and look like they could do some serious damage. As in real, physical damage. February 8, 2016 at 6:12pm Reply

        • Karen (A): Goes hand in hand with the stiletto heels of his shoes, though. Designed to evoke the potential or capacity of causing pain (reality of causing pain -or damage to feet and/or spine – to wearer, but appearance of causing pain to another). I know shoes are a whole other discussion! February 9, 2016 at 7:21am Reply

        • Victoria: The nail polish bottles are frightening but kind of cool with their gothic shape. The lipsticks in their gaudy golden glory are something else. February 9, 2016 at 1:18pm Reply

      • limegreen: Nobody thought of wearing reading glasses as a necklace till it was introduced, so maybe lipstick on a string around the neck will catch on! It does make for easy access.

        The photos of snow globe gold are all gold, no marketing shots of the particles settled at the bottom or swirling. 🙁 February 9, 2016 at 9:41am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes! And here I’m making fun of what might be the next big trend. 🙂 February 9, 2016 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Michaela: I like your myth busters articles and the way you advocate gems against marketing. Thank you! Great information and a funny read. February 8, 2016 at 9:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve just had too many similar press releases on my desk not to take notice. 🙂 February 8, 2016 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Sandra: “Noble” is in the eyes of the beholder I’d say.
    Great article. In my eyes I am wearing a very noble Chanel 31 Rue Cambon. February 8, 2016 at 10:32am Reply

    • Victoria: All of this talk about noble ingredients is meaningless, in the end. A high-quality perfume speaks for itself.

      31 Rue Cambon is a beauty! February 8, 2016 at 12:46pm Reply

  • SublimiSomnium: Well said, I completely agree. When my soil science professor mentioned the nice “earthy” smell from soil comes from bacteria I remember wishing I could bottle that bacteria, take it home, and sniff it. Too bad organics like bacteria probably wouldn’t have much of a shelf life. In any case, no materials bias here! February 8, 2016 at 10:37am Reply

    • Victoria: There is a special Indian attar made by distilling clay, and it smells so much like the wet earth after a rainstorm. It’s called mitti attar, and it’s strange but addictive. February 8, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

      • SublimiSomnium: How cool! Thanks for sharing, I’ll be looking out for that one when I go to the Indian grocery store (where I get all my attars). February 8, 2016 at 3:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: Vetiver attar is another one of my favorites, and it also reminds me of wet earth. February 9, 2016 at 1:02pm Reply

      • Surbhi: I recently found about it. I am considering getting it. Though I haven’t tried it. Just the thought of it got me curious. February 8, 2016 at 5:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: I can’t recommend it highly enough. It may not be the easier attar to wear, but to smell it is an experience. February 9, 2016 at 1:15pm Reply

  • Joy: Very funny comment, Victoria. I sometimes feel a bit cynical about the advertising of perfume and beauty products. You just put it in perspective. February 8, 2016 at 10:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, at least, the beauty products come with a list of ingredients, and you can figure out whether or not something makes sense. In fragrance, it’s much more difficult. For instance, a brand may say that they use roses from Grasse in their Rose Eau de Toilette, but how much of it is there? Enough to make a difference or just a drop so that they can make a claim without feeling remorse? February 8, 2016 at 12:50pm Reply

  • Isabel R: Hilarious review of marketing lingo! I must confess though that natural ingredients trigger my imagination in ways that synthetic (however beautiful) never can. So if “noble” now means “natural” I am afraid that I will keep my eyes open for ads promising such royal connections 😉 February 8, 2016 at 11:07am Reply

    • Victoria: In marketing descriptions, it doesn’t really mean natural. Mostly, it doesn’t mean anything specific, just a vague idea that the brand is trying to be luxurious.

      I also love natural essences, and the whole process of obtaining them is fascinating. When you smell fragrances in which such ingredients are used well and are allowed to showcase all of their nuances, it’s a very special experience. February 8, 2016 at 12:53pm Reply

      • Isabel R: Oh, okay – thank you for clarifying that! I might have gone and spent money unwisely otherwise…:) February 8, 2016 at 1:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: Better just to smell first and read the press materials later. Your nose is the best judge. 🙂 February 8, 2016 at 2:05pm Reply

  • spe: Victoria – Those physiologic reactions (heart skipping and goose bumps)- I haven’t had a reaction like that for years to a perfume. Do you think those are important when we select fragrances?
    My usual approach is to keep sniffing, tell myself I need to sample again and again, purchase, keep it for a few years with minimal wear, then sell it or give it away.
    Do I need to hold out for goose bumps and heart skipping? And does this happen for you upon the first sniff or first wearing of the scent?
    Thank you for a delightful post! February 8, 2016 at 11:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t mean that your heart rhythm actually changes! Only that you should feel something when you smell a perfume–a wave of pleasure, however it manifests in you. And your approach sound very good. It occasionally happens to me that I reach for a perfume I have neglected for a while, and on that moment it’s so perfect and makes me feel so good that I actually feel uplifting and happy for no reason. This is the most wonderful feeling. February 8, 2016 at 1:00pm Reply

      • Isabel R: That is so true! I received a sample of Patricia de Nicolaï’s Odalisque and actually went week in my knees… Then I promptly ordered three 30 ml bottles (the constant discontinuing and reformulations of my favourite scents has made me slightly neurotic…) and when I got them I wondered why I had done such a thing and started thinking about selling at least two of them. Luckily I didn’t and a year later I tried it again – this time the love is for real…I keep one bottle in my purse so as never to go without. Perfume loving can be such a mysterious thing. February 8, 2016 at 1:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s true! And if you had this reaction to a perfume even once, you will always have a special relationship with it. It doesn’t mean that you’ll get heart palpitations every single time you wear it, but it will still feel very good. February 8, 2016 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Neva: Your comment hits the nail on the head! There used to be a time when I tried a fragrance and knew – this is the one. I bought it and I was wearing it all the time until I finished the bottle. I felt like a queen while I was smelling it around me and my heart truly skipped a beat whenever I applied it. It was back then in the eighties when the perfume production was on a smaller scale and perfume was not accessible easily.
      The problem is: like you, I almost never have this reaction to perfume in the recent years and that’s why I keep searching for vintage perfume. On the other hand, I keep trying out new stuff, but rarely fall for something head over heels like before. It’s the hyperproduction I think. You can’t try it all and you need something new so you force yourself into buying something “meh”. February 8, 2016 at 1:05pm Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,

    I giggled at the IQ joke, I love your honest style, Victoria.
    Perfume advertising can be so pretentious.
    The more I smell in the scents’ world, the more I realize that price tag and quality or originality are not always in direct proportion.
    I admit having a phase in my perfume journey when I turned up my nose on drugstore scents and only tried/ bought decants or bottles of niche perfumes. Fortunately I recovered quickly and nowadays simply go after my nose.
    Selling something is so much about offering the illusion of the enviable high life. Many companies are trying to lure us with the promise of improved self-image or life experience gained simply by using their product.

    While I still can be tempted by an upbeat, creative ad (I love Dior Addict’s flanker’s ad featuring Daphne Groeneveld) or a beautiful bottle, I only buy a perfume if I fall in love with the scent. I’m also ready to pay a higher price but only if the fume worth the investment, if it’s not a fling but a long-term attachment. February 8, 2016 at 11:39am Reply

    • Victoria: You put it really well, Nora, and I can’t agree more. The luxury marketing is about selling an illusion, a lifestyle, a dream, an aspiration, and this is really no different from how it was always. Jean Patou launched Joy during the economic downturn so that his clients who could no longer afford couture could still get a piece of that glittering universe. Today, perfume sales support couture houses, rather than the opposite, and the marketing is much more aggressive. What baffles me is how much senseless copy exists in the world of perfumery. And misinformation!

      I also went through my perfume snobbery period when I made my perfume wardrobe a shrine to niche. That was a silly and expensive period, and I’m glad I got over it. You can find exceptional perfumes in all price ranges, including at the drugstores. I just bought one today, Bien-Etre cologne for my local supermarket. February 8, 2016 at 1:08pm Reply

      • Nora Szekely: Victoria,

        Sometimes a little luxury can be very soothing. I read somewhere that women often handle stress better than men as they find small sources of pleasure in everyday life like buying a lipstick. Joy of Jean Patou might have been comforting for people during the Great Depression. I also love the image of American soldiers queuing to buy Chanel no. 5 for their girlfriends/wives in Paris after World War II.
        I think what’s important is to measure the value of an object by the joy it brings to you and not based upon what companies are trying to sell to you as cool. (Do I sound like Marie Kondo? I think I sound like Marie Kondo).
        My favourite recent “cheap” scent is Comme une evidence EDP that I bought 2 weeks ago as messenger of spring. I spray some on and yay, warm weather is here! February 9, 2016 at 12:17pm Reply

        • Victoria: I agree with you (and I do agree with Marie Kondo on this point). If something doesn’t spark joy, then it doesn’t have much value.

          Comme une evidence is such a bright, happy perfume. February 9, 2016 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Karen (A): Just went down the rabbit hole of watching some very fun perfume ad videos, including the take on “And God Made Woman” for Dior. Thanks for the mention, I wasn’t familiar with any of the videos. February 9, 2016 at 7:48am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: Karen (A),

        I watch that one when I need a mood boost, isn’t it fun?
        I imagine sunbathing on the French Riviera and burst in a smile. February 9, 2016 at 12:18pm Reply

        • Karen (A): Very fun and silly – and who wouldn’t want o be sunbathing right about now (cold weather with very cold temps this weekend where I am!). February 10, 2016 at 7:27am Reply

          • Nora Szekely: Raining were I am! 🙁 Yuck!
            (Although I thought of Apres l’Ondee this morning when leaving the house at heavy rain. Just thinking about perfumes is a mood lifter for me and it’s free, yey!) February 10, 2016 at 7:48am Reply

  • Ann: I have yet to notice the proliferation of “noble” ingredients in perfume–but that probably says more about my buying habits than anything else. Where I live, the new popular and totally meaningless nomenclature is “responsibly” as in “responsibly sourced” or “responsibly harvested” or “responsibly grown” (which of course does nothing to inoculate one from irresponsibly purchasing!). I tell my husband that at least our kids were “responsibly raised,” and of course my perfume of noble materials is responsibly worn. February 8, 2016 at 12:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was in the US not long ago, and the amount of “responsibly” sourced, grown, made, cooked and whatever things took by surprise. As well as the amount of kale. I even spotted kale in a cake and a sushi menu. Don’t get me wrong, I like kale, but a kale cake was too much. February 8, 2016 at 1:10pm Reply

      • Ann: Yep! Kale’s got “responsibly” written all over it. Google chocolate chip kale cookies. It is a real thing! Guess kale is the new noble for cookies…. sigh. Humans!! February 8, 2016 at 1:34pm Reply

        • Victoria: This sounds frightening! The only thing I’m grateful for is that kale is (mostly) not available here. Instead, Belgians left to their own devices abuse mayonnaise. As in a local dish of canned peaches stuffed with tuna salad (and an ample dose of mayo). February 8, 2016 at 2:19pm Reply

      • Austenfan: I love kale, but not in a cake. We use it to make stamppot (stoempie), where the kale is boiled and added to mashed potatoes. Some good sausage and fried bacon seal the deal. February 8, 2016 at 2:40pm Reply

        • bregje: I like Kale in stampot too!
          But i had a kale smoothie last year and i was nauseous all evening. February 8, 2016 at 6:40pm Reply

          • bregje: So i guess if you want to loose weight it works 😉 February 8, 2016 at 6:41pm Reply

          • Austenfan: The funny thing is that Kale or curly Kale used to be fed to cattle in the UK, and has only recently been discovered to be a ‘superfood’. (another term by the way that makes my hair fall out). It’s odd that only the North Sea was able to create this difference, as Kale has been eaten in the Netherlands for as long as I, or my parents, can remember by us, humans. February 9, 2016 at 3:56am Reply

        • Victoria: I also love kale, especially in stamppot and Portuguese caldo verde, soup with lots of kale and sausage. Actually, if I ever want kale, I need to go to the Portuguese store to get it.

          But kale in my cake or with every single one of my meals is where I draw the line. February 9, 2016 at 1:00pm Reply

    • kpaint: It’s like the new “natural,” another ubiquitous and utterly meaningless term – except “natural” makes me roll my eyes and “responsibly” makes me LMAO because it’s so laughably ludicrous. February 8, 2016 at 6:34pm Reply

  • Neva: Funny article 🙂 I don’t like being a snob about perfume (more than necessary, of course, hahaha) and I think that most of us reading your blog are not obsessed with exclusivity but are simply enjoying our passion for perfume.
    On the other hand I’m pretty sure that there are people out there who buy expensive perfumes just because they can and they boast about it among their friends. I’m sure they are the target group for such commercials. February 8, 2016 at 12:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sometimes one does fall under the sway of marketing. I remember seeing a film about Chanel Chance, and all the talk about the special ingredients that went into it and for a moment I even thought I liked it. Until I smelled my sample again the next morning and soberly decided that it’s not my thing at all. February 8, 2016 at 2:04pm Reply

  • Joy: Responsibly has many of the same connotations as “natural”, which really means nothing. Then there is “local”. Now we have “noble”. I’m mostly glad that the manufacturers are not destroying endangered species to produce our luxury oroducts. February 8, 2016 at 1:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Me too, although when the manufacturers claim that they use real oud, I always wonder where it comes from, since oud is endangered. But I suspect that none of the launches produces in a volume that makes any difference use endangered materials. The reason is not that they are ethical but that they need to ensure a supply chain, and for something rare and elusive, it would be impossible. February 8, 2016 at 2:07pm Reply

    • kpaint: I used to use a grocery delivery service that claimed to locally source its products (as well as making other unverifiable assertions.) I never put any stock in it, as they carried things like Stacy’s Pita Chips (a PepsiCo product) but discovered they had an app where you could look up how far the product had traveled to get to your house.

      Turns out they tracked the distance based on the location of the distributor. So apparently I was supposed to believe the bananas I was eating in Seattle came from 7 miles away because that’s where the local produce distributor was located. Uh-huh. February 8, 2016 at 6:45pm Reply

  • Mia: It is absolutely lovely that they do not use any water or other toxins ;). Thank you for a noble post Victoria! February 8, 2016 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Alicia: Since I remember I have been always been in love with three “noble materials” : sandalwood (my grand mother had a fan, a box and a rosary made of it), rose (my grand mother’s perfume, Fleurs de Bulgarie or something of the sort, I believe by Creed, and her garden of old roses), and jasmine (the one that grew in my mother’s patio). They entranced me, they still do: sandal, jasmine and rose. Lately though I have added another one to my scent trinity. I have fallen in love with myrrh. Myrrh, of course, has been a “noble” ingredient since antiquity. I didn’t realize (or payed no attention) to its presence in many perfumes I favor,until AG La Myrrhe Ardente fell in my hands. It took me into an enchanted journey, perhaps to A Thousand and One Nights. Certainly not into Queen Elizabeth’s kingdom with some florals invented by Pehaligon, Floris or Creed, but into the fabled lands of the Queen of Sheba, perhaps redolent of myrrh and the scent of dreams. February 8, 2016 at 2:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: And sacred, along with frankincense. I also love this ingredient and the way it can give complexity even to the simplest compositions. But it’s very complicated to use, since it’s extremely heavy and dense. February 8, 2016 at 2:30pm Reply

    • Surbhi: I have never smelled Myrrh. What kind of smell is it? Wood ? spice? Probably not floral. But recently came across the word so much that I am actually thinking to go find it and try.

      And I am an Indian so rose, jasmine and sandalwood are basically built in my nose and lungs by now. I probably smelled a combination of those 24*7

      I like Frankincense as a room fragrance. I can’t really distinguish it as a note in complex perfume with many notes. February 8, 2016 at 5:38pm Reply

      • Alicia: Surbhy, Go in this page to the menu of “Notes”, click in myrrh, and you will find the description of all the perfumes with this ingredient reviewed by Bois de Jasmin. In such descriptions you will certainly find the one of myrrh, in a much more informative way than any explanation that I can give you. February 8, 2016 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Joy: Mia, loved your water or other toxins comment!
    The water toxin is a little too true here in the US with the Flint water scandel. February 8, 2016 at 2:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Alas, this is unfortunately very true. February 8, 2016 at 2:31pm Reply

    • Mia: Thanks Joy, I found it hilarious in the ad Victoria referred to. But now, having the Flint case in mind, the probably unintentional humor is not that funny, or it has turned to pretty dark. Which actually makes the ad even more horrible. February 9, 2016 at 2:24pm Reply

  • Missylulu: Thanks so much for this! I work at a fragrance store, and we also sell essential oils. In the last few years especially, I have found that people are obsessed with “natural” and “noble” ingredients. They are under the impression that these smell better or are more important than others. It is such a limited perspective, it makes me sad. And sometimes I am a jerk, because most of our fragrances contain many synthetic components and they smell delightful, so when people remark that something must be “natural” because it smells so good, I often feel very excited to tell them that they also contain synthetics and are still stunning! It is a little mean streak I have developed over the years, especially as someone who doesn’t want to be limited to “all-natural” perfumes. February 8, 2016 at 2:35pm Reply

    • Missylulu: I think my wallet would feel very sad, too, if it was limited to only those “noble” fragrances… February 8, 2016 at 2:52pm Reply

      • Victoria: Definitely! You get charged extra for such fine words in the press releases. February 9, 2016 at 1:01pm Reply

    • kpaint: I would bet those people also assume “natural” means safe while “synthetic” means toxic, and of course, neither is true. February 8, 2016 at 6:49pm Reply

      • missylulu: Oh boy, yes, kpaint. It is exactly the same people. I’m worried for their safety, because the essential oils are very concentrated and powerful. Many people talk about how they are ingesting them or applying them undiluted, without ever consulting a physician, and it scares me! February 8, 2016 at 9:48pm Reply

      • Michaela: So true, kpaint! February 9, 2016 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Lavender is a good example for me, because while the oil is not expensive (absolute is more so), it’s versatile and multifaceted. It can be a perfume by itself or add an interesting note. I can’t imagine a perfume palette without it.

      In general, the focus on raw materials is misplaced, because expensive raw materials alone don’t make a good perfume, and in fact, many famous fragrances are not that expensive. It’s about the way the materials are used, not about their price per kilo. February 9, 2016 at 12:57pm Reply

  • Qwendy: In French I find “Matieres Nobles” quite enticing, in English not so much. I am totally onboard with relying on a strong emotional/physical reaction to a scent to steer our perfume choices …. I have experienced such reactions less and less often in the past several years, maybe because I live in the sticks! I so appreciate your insights! February 8, 2016 at 3:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: But it also makes as little sense when used in fragrance press releases.
      Even the “noble metals” in chemistry is not as frequently used these days as in the past.

      Sometimes it’s good just to revisit one’s favorites, and I’m sure you have many beautiful scents around you. February 9, 2016 at 1:05pm Reply

  • Lavanya: LOL Victoria! As I was telling somebody recently (although the quality of raw materials is important), nobody discusses the paints that a painter used while discussing the merits of a painting. Materials can limit but probably not define a perfume. I think. February 8, 2016 at 4:20pm Reply

    • Austenfan: I think this is very well put indeed! I love your comparison to painting! February 8, 2016 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re completely right, and I love your example. It’s true. The focus on raw materials to the exclusion of everything is misleading. Guarneri made some of his most famous violins from the so-so wood during one period, and yet their sound can’t be replicated by the instruments crafted from the most luxurious materials. It’s all in hand of the master and in her/his mind. February 9, 2016 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Marc: Very well said! February 9, 2016 at 4:35pm Reply

  • Terry Allen: At the risk of sounding like an English major, I sometimes mourn a bit when beautiful words are co-opted by advertisers. (Noble is a noble word!) It diminishes their power and dilutes their meaning. In five years we’ll have to prop that noble old word up with a bunch of weak-kneed adjectives. Victoria will have to read about REALLY noble, extra noble, super noble, double deluxe noble plus perfumes, and Hamlet will have to seek his incredibly very awesome noble father in the dust. We may as well bury her right now while she still radiates a little dignity. February 8, 2016 at 5:02pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Yes, this makes sense in my opinion. February 8, 2016 at 5:20pm Reply

    • Surbhi: Just like Givenchy did with irresistible 😉 February 8, 2016 at 5:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Not a day has passed and I see this gem “we use the most ultra noble ingredients….” February 9, 2016 at 1:14pm Reply

      • Terry Allen: OH no! Ultra? The worst…those two words should NEVER be placed side by side. I’m sorry you witnessed that. Fortunately Noble is of such stature and magnificance that Ultra withers in shame… May it join Deluxe and Super in a pit of meaningless nothingness. February 10, 2016 at 6:33am Reply

        • Nora Szekely: Double deluxe noble plus perfumes!
          I’m laughing so hard at that! What a great caricature of the language of perfume ads. February 10, 2016 at 8:36am Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂 February 10, 2016 at 11:09am Reply

  • Aurora: Your posts and the comments are so funny. Yes, I will take commercials and ads with a grain of salt, and you are my compass to navigate the world of scents. All in all, I’m not unduly impressed with niche houses with the exception of Arquiste and Phaedon, they have creations that I admire (but not necessarily buy). And I remember your describing the unprepossessing creation of Rochas Femme with the perfumer working in a room overlooking the trash cans, I think it was, what could be less poetic and what a glorious result. February 9, 2016 at 5:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Michael Edwards said in one of his interviews that niche is 90% nonsense and 10% treasures (or something along these lines), and I think that he’s current. But those 10% of the brands that do excellent, interesting things infuse something special in perfumery.

      The story of Rochas Femme is one of my favorite episodes from perfume history! February 9, 2016 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Keyvan Mashhadi: HAHAHA “orris absolute has the right to bestow hereditary titles, while lavender washes the palace stables”

    Splendid description.
    May I share it on my Google? March 21, 2016 at 5:06pm Reply

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