The Price of Smelling Good : Where Do You Draw the Line


How much is too much for a bottle of perfume?

Of course, it all depends on what that bottle contains. For me there is much more than a quantitative difference between a bottle of Serge Lutens Bois de Violette and Armani Prive La Femme Bleue, which cost about the same per ounce. Nevertheless, as I have been browsing through the new launches over the past year, time and again I felt considerable sticker shock. Tom Ford Santal Blush is $475 for 100ml, Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady is $300 for 100ml, Cartier IV L’Heure Fougueuse is $275 for 75ml, etc… While I completely understand why some price increases might be inevitable due to the rising costs of raw materials and other factors, the increasing price of perfume, especially in the niche sector, make me very apprehensive.

Photo: Indian bangles purchased in Edison, NJ–one of the most affordable delights at $1 for a set of 10. Photography by VeraKL



  • Ann C.: Sticker shock is right! I don’t think I’d buy a full bottle if it cost more than $200. I can’t imagine paying $450 or higher. Thank goodness we can buy decants. Otherwise, I would never be able to wear a beautiful fragrance like La Femme Bleue. October 10, 2011 at 7:15am Reply

  • Delfina: I have just bought, after longing it for a few months, a bottle of Amouage Homage. The cost per milliliter is absolutely the highest I have paid for by now (and in the future, I believe), but it really is powerful stuff and 12 ml will reasonably last me a lifetime, so I think the price is very high but not offensive. I found much more irritating Les Heures de Cartier, which in many cases turned out to be bland. And, as much as I love Kiki extrait, I think it’s seriously overpriced for what it is, and you really need to put on a good amount if you want to still be smelling something in a couple of hours October 10, 2011 at 8:17am Reply

  • Suzanna: Have the Cartiers gone up ten percent? Looks like it!

    The most I’ve paid is the cost of a bottle from Les Parisiennes and then SDV. Prior to this, the 100 ml Carnal Flower when it was still under $200.00. I draw the line at $225.00 (give or take ten dollars) for no less than 75 ml, and such a purchase is very rare.

    I become bored with too much choice and I tend to wear something for a few weeks and then not again for quite some time. I hate to see something languishing no matter the price, but it seems wasteful when it’s something that has a luxury sticker. October 10, 2011 at 8:59am Reply

  • zazie: I divide perfumes in two categories: those that I can afford (or can reasonably save for), and those I just can’t afford (like Guerlain’s l’abeille royale, for example).
    Among those I can afford, I have this very subjective rule: does the price tag match the “value factor” I associate with that juice?

    This gives a highly nonlinear scale.
    I can shell 240 euros without blinking for a Guerlain extrait, but I consider immoral and outrageous the 160 euro price tag of the new Mona di Orio that I kind of coveted. Because for me that perfume is not “worth” more than half the price. The consequence: I don’t buy the perfume AND the brand looses much of its prestige factor to my eyes. I suspect every one of their juices to be an “imposteur”.

    The higher the price, the more I expect from the juice – not only in terms of ingredients and execution and packaging, but also in terms of subjective personal satisfaction.
    In my sick mind, Tubéreuse criminelle is a bargain, a la nuit is a ridiculously expensive mistake. Go figure!

    I know very well that the price point of fine fragrances is not related to their actual cost: at the end I am willing to buy if I think it’s worth it – if I love it so much as to forget I’m paying a ridiculous markup! October 10, 2011 at 9:05am Reply

  • Carla: I’m not sure I understand your comparison of Bois de Violette and La Femme Bleue. Do you mean that they are the same price per ounce but you think one is more worth the money? (I own and love BdV and am intrigued by the Armani, since I love iris and have actually been to Niger and seen Tuaregs there. I haven’t tried it.) October 10, 2011 at 9:40am Reply

  • maggiecat: My comfort level remains just over $100…yes, I’m cheap (broke, actually) but that’s what decants are for. I especially resent perfumes that cost 300-400 dollars that arre similar in quality and duration to other less “prestigious” scents. Of course, if I really fell in love and found my HG…who knows? But with this economy, I still can’t see going over $200 at any rate. October 10, 2011 at 11:10am Reply

  • Olfacta: Thank God for decants and splits. When I started blogging, $150 was considered to be expensive. Not any more. October 10, 2011 at 7:43am Reply

  • Ari: I am a college student. Anything over $200 is unthinkable. The perfume industry must be seriously deluded with these prices. I also don’t like the trend of having an “exclusive” line, which has the “real” perfumes at insane prices. It seems like an excuse to keep making uninspired perfumes for the “regular” line. That way they can claim “Well, for REAL perfume you have to go to our EXCLUSIVE line!” So why even bother with non-exclusives?? If it’s not worth doing well, it’s not worth doing. October 10, 2011 at 8:02am Reply

  • Safran: From the perfume bottles I’ve bought in the past 2-3 years, I’ve sold or swapped at least 20 to 30ml, mostly with perfume friends on a german board. Otherwise I couldn’t afford my passion!
    Some price rises during the last years in the niche market are just ridiculous imo! Especially since people in the fragrance industry told me frankly, that prices have been raised, simply just because it’s possible!
    There might be a few exceptions, where a price rise has to do something with raw materials, but I would think, this is a diminishing minority. When I started with niche fragrances 10/12 years ago, they used to cost roughly estimated about 20-30% more than mass market scents, nowadays it’s about 40/50 % more, also roughly estimated. I am not happy about this, but luckily, with decants I can work my way around that trouble….. October 10, 2011 at 12:07pm Reply

  • gautami: I am still not over the $100 mark either. The perfume has to be absolutely exceptional to cross that mark, IMO. I have not bought much perfume in the last couple years. If I feel like it, I just walk into Barneys or Neimans and spray away. October 10, 2011 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Kayla: The crazy prices (for new exclusives *and* the gouging & competition for vintage scent on Ebay) have really steered me towards finally collecting only a signature frag. ( or two..or 3 hehehe).

    Seriously, I don’t freely buzz from flower to flower like I did before in the 80s and 90s. Most of my coins now go to maintaining my vintage stash. I am still curious about new offerings but I rarely indulge because of cost and disappointment with new frags. October 10, 2011 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Victoria: Lately, even the price of decants is starting to shock me. $80 for a decant of Portrait of a Lady….
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 8:59am Reply

  • Evel: I am more and more into discovering beautiful classics that almost nobody knows about and therefore can be found really cheap if you hunt for them…they are soo rich, you would not think they were ‘ not ‘ niche. I have found real vintage gems such as Le Galion Jasmine & Tubereuse extraits for a steal on Ebay, it is possible if you look close enough.I have spent lots of money on Guerlain exclusives, Profumums & Amouages, but am more picky on where i spend my money on lately… October 10, 2011 at 1:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: Splits are great! And fellow bloggers are so generous. 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 9:01am Reply

  • Victoria: The exclusive concept irritates me, as often (not always though) the fragrances are just overpriced.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 9:03am Reply

  • Victoria: That's why I appreciate more and more reasonably priced perfume lines. The quality of Nicolai fragrances is fantastic, and they are reasonable. Tom Ford Signature Line is not cheap, but it is good quality and is much more reasonable than other signature lines.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 9:06am Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds like a good system! 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 9:07am Reply

  • Victoria: I hear you! Some fragrances are worth it. I still remember splurging for vintage Apres L'Ondee, which I still enjoy.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Victoria: They cost about the same amount per ounce, that's what I meant.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 10:09am Reply

  • Raluca: What are decants and splits? About a month ago I bought my first really expensive perfume. I paid around $200 for the 50 ml bottle of Carnal Flower and absolutely love it! If I think about the things I buy for that amount of money, $200 for a bottle of perfume seems insane! However, when people say how much they like my perfume, I feel a little better about the price tag. October 10, 2011 at 10:51am Reply

  • astrorainfall @ beauty box: I think the brand and my sense of personal satisfaction weigh heavily when I shell out lots of moolah for perfume. I don’t think I would go beyond USD300 though… October 10, 2011 at 10:58am Reply

  • Victoria: Decants are small vials (from 1 to 30ml) hand filled with the brand name fragrance. Check out the Perfume Court and Posh Peasant websites to get an idea of what I'm describing. It is a good way to try a fragrance or buying a small amount, esp if you do not care about having the original bottle.

    Splits are when several people organize and buy a bottle of perfume and then share in the cost (usually, the one who gets to keep the original bottle with their portion of perfume pays a bit more.) It is a very cost-effective way to try certain fragrances. Basenotes members and Makeupalley forum participants tend to organize lots of splits.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 11:35am Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, that is far too much to pay! For $300 I could travel to see my parents or spend a few nights in Paris…
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 11:36am Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, I remember when $100 seemed like a lot of money… Today, it is just average.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 11:37am Reply

  • Austenfan: I wholeheartedly agree on Parfums de Nicolaï! Although their prices have gone up quite a lot as well during the past year.
    Etat Libre d’Orange isn’t that expensive either. October 10, 2011 at 4:04pm Reply

  • Persolaise: I’m sure part of the reason for the price increases must be the situation with the rising cost of raw materials etc etc. But there’s also a fair amount of psychological warfare at play too. The way to make things appear more expensive and exclusive is by charging the earth for them.

    Sorry, did I hear someone say Creed…? October 10, 2011 at 2:37pm Reply

  • annemariec: I’m not aiming for a signature scent, but I hear where you are coming from. I have three or four bottles on my dresser and some minis and decants stashed close by, and mostly I just rotate through those at the moment, enjoying what I have. I like your ‘flower to flower metaphor’. I have done that too, for sure! October 10, 2011 at 6:45pm Reply

  • annemariec: The rising costs of niche and ‘exclusive’ perfumes must surely be keeping businesses like TPC and Posh Peasant flourishing. And yet what intrigues me is that the easy availability of decants and splits does not seem to to undercut FB sales, or drive prices down. I thought it would. I wish I understood the economics of all this.

    As others have said, I have been trying to be cleverer about how I spend. I’ve been picking up bargains: minis of classics like Dior’s Dune and Chanel’s Cristalle. These are great perfumes that have been there forever and which get overlooked in the stampede for the latest niche release. White Linen. Niki de Saint Phalle. Ivoire. There are a lot of overlooked treasures, if you think laterally and read back through the blogs – like this one! – to early reviews.

    I’m sure these sorts of corrections happen in the fine and decorative art trade. When prices for the fashionable stuff go through the roof, people start looking for different things to collect. October 10, 2011 at 7:00pm Reply

  • Undina: I don’t know how expensive should be a perfume which I absolutely love for me not to buy it – be it a FB or a decant. I bought a bottle of Portrait of a Lady and I’m very happy with it. I think I’d have paid twice as much for it. Or for Ubar.
    Luckily (?) love doesn’t happen to me too often. So $2.5-3/ml for a perfume I really like and think as well-made seems reasonable for me (though of course I’d prefer to pay as little as possible). October 10, 2011 at 3:55pm Reply

  • johanna: I’m really curious about niche perfume (and had a lovely half hour on the weekend in Liberty’s, working my way through the Serge counter testing bottles, and wildly spraying Fracas into my purse so it wafts out whenever I open it) and I pick up as many samples as I possibly can.

    But on a day-to-day basis I stick with SJP lovely, simply because it’s so cheap – and wearable – that I don’t worry about using it up.

    I have 2 wishes: that a perfume blogger out there might run some posts about interesting, but cheapish perfumes; and that more perfumes were available in small e.g. 30ml bottles, so that I could splash out on a full bottle more often. October 10, 2011 at 8:16pm Reply

  • Paeonia9: First of all, I fully agree with your assessment of the Tom Ford fragrances. Not a one of his exclusive line is worth what he’s charging. The signature line is far superior in terms of quality to price ratio. But of course, what one is really paying for is the Tom Ford name, which is beyond ridiculous to me (Got my own name and it was free…teehee).

    I have to say I laughed out loud at Le Labo wanting $440.00 for those city exclusive fragrances. I can’t imagine what’s in these that would warrant charging DOUBLE what they do for their regular scents. This makes me want to boycott the whole line (although I do admit that Aldehyde 44 and Baie Rose 26 sound intriguing…)

    It’s hard for me to say what my price limit is for a scent. In a society where the same people who make your deodorant body wash also make your mayonnaise (I’m talking to you, Unilever) and nothing is put into production without approval from “focus groups”, I would probably give my last penny to anyone who would put art and craftsmanship above “making a buck”. The most I’ve spent so far is $320.00 for Carnal Flower. Frankly, I didn’t bat an eye. I just spent $124.00 on my second bottle of Ormonde Woman and would pay twice that. It’s thrilling when you smell a fragrance and can tell immediately that the person who created it cared deeply about making something beautiful and evocative. However, it’s also thrilling that I was able to purchase my third bottle of Bvlgari Black for $30.00…so much for my idealism ;p October 10, 2011 at 8:40pm Reply

  • annemariec: SJP Lovely has been a staple for me for ages, and I tend to go back to it no matter how much niche stuff I sample. I think SJP is quoted in Chandler Burr’s book as saying that the market she had in mind for Lovely included people like her own mother, who had to save hard in order to afford her regular bottles of White Linen. October 10, 2011 at 10:24pm Reply

  • Emma: You can have Honore des Pres Vamp a NY which is not only one of the most beautiful tuberose on the market at the price of a generic high end fragrance like Guerlain Idylle – $98 – but it is also an all natural and organic non-toxic non-petrochemical perfume! October 10, 2011 at 11:17pm Reply

  • Paeonia9: I’d add that although BdV and PoaL are expensive, both have excellent sillage and last well over 10 hours on me, and that’s with just 2 spritzes! Also, these are fragrances I can see myself enjoying for many years. They transcend the trends of the moment.

    Belle d’Opium…what a terrible thing to do to a classic. Just doesn’t lend itself to being “lightened up” like Chanel #5 and Shalimar do. Although I’m not a fan of “Youthenizing” (a term my middle aged friends and I made up) classics anyway. When a fragrance has maintained solid popularity for over 80 years, it deserves to be met on it’s own terms! October 10, 2011 at 11:28pm Reply

  • Charlene: SJP is an everyday standby for me, too. I can’t pay over $100 per bottle and I like having the pretty glass as well as the scent. I’ve tried to keep from exploring too many niche lines; why torture myself with something where I can’t own a FB? I’ll do small samples only. Instead, I seek out older mainstream classics from the 60’s through 90’s that have been forgotten in the crush of recent releases. October 11, 2011 at 12:09am Reply

  • Victoria: I have a theme here called Cheap and Chic. If you go to "All Topics," it is listed there. In that theme I have reviews as well as some posts on inexpensive fragrances, including a poll of other cheap thrills that are Bois de Jasmin reader favorites.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 9:20pm Reply

  • Victoria: I wonder if the audience buying decants is particularly large. After all, it must be limited to the perfumistas. I am guessing that an average fragrance consumer even know what a decant is or where they could get it.
    As for the hidden treasures, I'm with you. There are still lots of them at reasonable prices–Chopard fragrances come to mind.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 10:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: I completely agree. Pricey though Bois de Violette or Portrait of a Lady are, at least they move me and convey a vision, a fantasy of some other world. It is worth the price. On the other hand, I would not pay the price of YSL Belle d'Opium even if it were reduced by 50 percent.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 10:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: The 40-50 percent increase is something that shocks me too, considering the general economic situation today.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 10, 2011 at 10:49pm Reply

  • bee: this is a good question, I don’t normally set limits, and have happily bought Ormonde Jayne & Chanel exclusives full bottles, but I am now in a dilemma for the Armani you’re mentioning and puredistance scents, are their prices really over the top or not? (but beautiful scents, I’m wearing my puredistance M sample today). A no-goer for me is a Swedish line (just forgotten the name, it’s mainly about -great- glass design with a few drops of perfume) October 11, 2011 at 3:15am Reply

  • Katrina: My limit is about $100. Fortunately I have a weakness for celebrity perfumes which tend to be very affordable. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments above about SJP Lovely, it is lovely! October 11, 2011 at 2:50am Reply

  • Nikki: Very interesting question. The perfumes by Malle on my dresser could have bought a ticket to Europe…and I still don’t have Carnal Flower…I invested in a huge bottle of Creed’s Angelique Encens which is still closed (16.8 oz) and I hope to decant sometime as the perfume is discontinued. Just couldn’t resist…
    I would love some more of those Omani perfumes as I got one on e-bay for a great price and enjoy it. I am willing to spend a lot if the perfume is absolutely great like some of the aforementioned. Although I love Guerlain, I am fine with the Shalimar extrait and don’t have to spend much more on the other Guerlain fragrances. The Ford line is great but too expensive. Serge Lutens is interesting but I am getting tired of the scents, they don’t appeal to me anymore. In general, I have to admit that I pay more for French perfumes and Amouage, but other perfumes, no. Although I think that some US or Italian perfumes are quite good and generally much less expensive, I have found that they bore me very soon afterwards. I have tried several Niche perfumes like Delrae and like some of their scents but I miss the soft heaviness of the classic French perfumes….so the Niche perfumes are for me not worth the price. One really can find great French perfumes for much less like Caron or some of the old Cacharel but in order to fulfill my desire I am willing to drive 2 hours to the next Barney’s and try everything and alas, spend too much on one bottle which will last a long time. Maybe this is an addiction…. October 11, 2011 at 12:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: I'm still dragging my feet on Puredistance. I cannot makeup my mind!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 8:52am Reply

  • Victoria: Lovely is such a good fragrance in terms of price and quality. While it is a Narciso Rodriguez type, it is a clever one. Very easy to wear, unlike NR.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 8:53am Reply

  • Victoria: "Instead, I seek out older mainstream classics from the 60's through 90's that have been forgotten in the crush of recent releases."

    Such a good tactic! You can really find some hidden gems.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 8:54am Reply

  • Victoria: Your last sentence and into the perfume gods' ears! 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 8:55am Reply

  • Victoria: I need to revisit this line, you keep mentioning it so much! I'm curious about it.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 9:00am Reply

  • Victoria: One of my mentors said that the fragrance she enjoyed composing the most was a scent for fabric softener, because she knew that a lot of people would be able to enjoy it.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 9:06am Reply

  • Victoria: So true, they did increase, but they are still reasonable.
    Good point about ELDO–affordable and good quality!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 9:08am Reply

  • Victoria: I mentioned PoaL, but honestly to me it is worth it, as is Carnal Flower. Like you, I do not fall in love quite as easily, so it is ok. 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Samarkand: Dear Victoria,

    I am very surprised too with the high prices but mainly for mainstream perfumes full of synthetic materials. I spent 220 € for La Promise and will buy Sous le vent next month (225€). Yes it is very expensive but I deeply love both of them and feel as if it is a precious moment to wear them. October 11, 2011 at 2:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: Maybe! 🙂 This is what unites all of us.

    How much is too much seems like a personal, subjective issue, but at the end of the day we all agree that luxury created artificially through inflated prices is most irritating. And the fact that good quality perfumes become unattainable to most is just disheartening.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 11, 2011 at 12:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: I need to really love the perfume to cross that mark. These days it doesn’t happen often. October 11, 2011 at 2:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: Cost and disappointment… I can relate. I no longer fall all over myself to smell the latest thing, even if it comes from my favorite houses. October 11, 2011 at 2:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: I think that some of these lesser known classics are very good! October 11, 2011 at 2:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: 🙂
    That’s exactly why I feel more and more ambivalent about the price of fragrance. And often irritated! October 11, 2011 at 2:10pm Reply

  • Victoria: I mentioned PoaL, but honestly to me it is worth it, as is Carnal Flower. Like you, I do not fall in love quite as easily, so it is ok. 🙂 October 11, 2011 at 2:10pm Reply

  • Joan: By Kilian charges too much for their scents a lot of the time. $375 for a fairly simple perfume. Incense Oud comes to mind. October 11, 2011 at 10:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: I need to really love the perfume to cross that mark. These days it doesn't happen often.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 12, 2011 at 6:24am Reply

  • Victoria: 🙂
    That's exactly why I feel more and more ambivalent about the price of fragrance. And often irritated!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 12, 2011 at 8:26am Reply

  • Victoria: I think that some of these lesser known classics are very good!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile October 12, 2011 at 8:39am Reply

  • Victoria: Synthetic materials have also been increasing in price, as the prices of materials from which they are synthesized have been increasing. However, the price increase on the brand side does not have such a direct link with the price increase on the supplier side. I.e., even if it costs IFF (or any other supplier, for that matter) more to make a kg of perfume oil for Lauder, they cannot really easily pass off the price increase onto the client. The clients have been increasing their prices, because they are trying to adjust to the current market realities. Well, it is a complicate topic, worth of a whole separate post! October 12, 2011 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Victoria: Their packaging is very luxurious. I guess, the price has a lot to do with that. October 12, 2011 at 12:04pm Reply

  • Katrina: I just read your NR & Lovely fragrance review from 2006. Great reading! October 13, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Katrina! 🙂 October 13, 2011 at 9:11am Reply

  • Surbhi: When I first liked Musc Ravageur, I didn’t know anything about FM, didn’t even know his name. The next shocker was the price of the perfume (blame my ignorance). I had spent 2 years actively looking for a fragrance that I would like so I caved and spent $280 and I have not regretted that splurge even for a day. Before that $100 used to be my line.

    I do know that I would probably get 1/2 of Malle’s selection if I can turn a blind eye to prices. One by one I might as well.

    But I am not sure I can justify the same price for so many other fragrances these days. Tom Ford seems most outrageously priced for how I feel after smelling it. I don’t see myself ever splurging for it. I will never spend extra $$ for the name.

    I might spend a more on right Jasmine fragrance (if I can ever find one)

    I haven’t explored much on Sandalwood but considering how expensive Indian sandalwood now is, I probably will. December 25, 2015 at 11:00pm Reply

    • Karen (A): Surbhi, FM offers 10ml travel bottles and that size is a great way of expanding your perfume wardrobe. Although the cost may be higher per ml, it makes having a wide selection doable. Plus, for me at least, so many fragrances are seasonal – Eau de Magnolia for instance just doesn’t work in the fall or winter – and a small bottle lasts for a long time.

      If a perfume is one that I lovelovelove, then a high price tag is worth it – but I do wish houses would make smaller bottles, even 30ml to reduce the price.

      The other option, of course, are decants from reputable sources like The Perfumed Court or Surrender to Chance. The only disadvantage is if part of your enjoyment of perfumes is the bottles/packaging. But, some people purchase pretty atomizers and then put the decant in that (a suggestion I’d never thought of until reading it as one of Victoria’s gift ideas).

      Sticking to a perfume budget is definitely a challenge! December 26, 2015 at 7:57am Reply

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