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Tell me more about the yeti

Perfume bloggers have an annoying habit of blogging about things you can’t have. I’m very aware of this. It drives me crazy, and yet I’ve just done it (posting about Mary Greenwell’s Plum). In between bouts of swearing about whatever perfume my favorite blogger’s just gone on about, only to find out it was only made by elves between 1989 and 1991 and that it is NEVER FOUND ON EBAY EVER, I figured I’d write out my thoughts on this.

There are a few reasons why perfume bloggers do this annoying thing. One is love. The unreasonable kind. They have a scent they love, and they want to write about it and tell you about it, so they do, realizing, of course, that they will inspire in you an ineffable longing to own or at least experience the scent they’ve just written so eloquently about. They don’t usually realize that as soon as YOU realize that the scent can’t be had for love or money, that what you will mostly want is to bop them over the head. They do it anyway; they can’t help themselves; they have to share the love.

Another is that commonly available scents aren’t that worth blogging about. Yes, there’s an occasional surprise, and it’s sometimes fun to write and to read that Queen by Queen Latifah is surprisingly well done for a spicy vanilla. Some easily obtainable brands have big built-in fanbases who want to know what’s the latest coming out – from L’Occitane or Pacifica, for instance. And some scents are basic examples of the ingredient more than a craft. If you like sandalwood oil, you like something that probably isn’t exactly the same in every head shop you could buy it from but which doesn’t lend itself to a lot of shared analysis either.

Difficult-to-obtain perfumes come in two categories at least: those that are very expensive, and those that have been discontinued.

Many fumistas love that which has been discontinued, and they want you to love it too (see above). You can develop a habit of haunting thrift stores and eBay looking for these gems, and there’s a bit of the added fun of searching and collecting. It’s not just buying perfume, it’s hunting it down. You’re also experiencing a bit of history: Chanel No. 5 of the vintage that your grandmother wore, or the Chloé you loved in high school.

However, discontinued perfumes are a whole minefield of their own. They often come in different formulations and different strengths, their scent can be affected by the way they’ve been stored, used, or oxygenated, and there’s no guarantees that you will EVER actually turn up whatever it is you’re looking for.

Also, some of them are valuable in their own right, and then we get into the other category: stuff that’s difficult to obtain because it’s very expensive.

Vintage perfumes offer challenges of historical comparison. If you want to compare a vintage Shalimar extrait to the current EDT, you’ll have to get some – and that becomes very expensive because you’re bidding (probably on eBay) against everyone else who also wants some vintage Shalimar extrait. At this point the perfume is somewhere between a collector’s item and vintage wine, and you are stuck with what the market will bear (unless you make a lucky find, again, at a thrift store.)

Here cost is a function of rarity.

But cost can also be a function of quality. Perfumes that are made of very high quality ingredients, or blended in extremely careful, innovative ways, are perfumes that just necessarily are going to cost more than the average department store juice.

This doesn’t mean that every expensive perfume is expensive just because of its workmanship. But the arguments start to become very subjective very quickly, and it often has to do with whether or not you perceive differences in the material or the workmanship and are willing to pay for them.

I love Indult’s Tihota in a way that’s just not right, for instance. I’ve read blog post after blog post saying that it’s too simple, it’s way overpriced, and that it smells exactly the same as [insert name of $12 vanilla perfume here]. Tihota cost $250, and that was for a lot of people a ridiculous amount.

Thing is, I’ve smelled Tihota, and I’ve smelled every other vanilla it’s been compared to out there, and no, nothing else does smell exactly like Tihota. Yes, it’s a simple composition, primarily only vanilla and tonka and musk; but a Mondrian looks like a child’s color squares to someone who doesn’t know or care much about art, too. You may also simply not be willing to pay millions for a Mondrian even if you do happen to think it’s pretty, because the economics just don’t work for you. But for me, the experience of Tihota, because it’s a beautiful, calming, sensuous experience that can’t be had any other way, is worth the cost to me. I will pay for the workmanship (including its minimalist design) and its materials, because what it is is that valuable to me.

So perfumistas often blog about very expensive perfumes because they’re simply great experiences, and in the experience we find something we want to talk about, to describe, to share. My beloved Opus I is like a novel I just keep re-reading. There’s always some new facet I’m discovering. The fact that it costs $350 or so is not besides the point. It costs $350 because it’s a very well made perfume, and it delivers more experience – more pleasure, more intellectual stimulation, more value as well because it lasts a long while – than a cheaper perfume. And that’s part of the reason I blog about it.

One can of course purchase cheaper versions of many perfumes – “in the style of” bottles instead of the real thing, I’m not talking about outright fakes – and if you enjoy them, you should have them, there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t think that a perfume that’s “in the style of” another scent is going to smell exactly the same, especially not if it’s a tenth the price. I promise you that it lacks certain ingredients and certain elements of design and it simply won’t be the same experience.

I think because so many perfumes come from fashion houses and so many people don’t really get the point of paying for fashion anyway, that they also think it’s stupid to pay for the designer name on a bottle of perfume. This problem is compounded by the fact that many “designer” perfumes are crap – they’re repetitive, inexpensive creations, as “innovative” as yet another episode of a standard TV sitcom and worth about as much as any other bottle of vaguely pleasantly scented, artificially colored water and alcohol.

Consumers are right to be a bit suspicious of such fragrances, I think.

But perfumistas almost never blog about such fragrances, and for a reason. They’re seldom interesting enough to blog about.

So usually when a perfumista is being annoying and blogging about some damn expensive perfume and making you crazy because you don’t have several hundred bucks in your pocket to drop on said bottle, take a deep breath, realize you can’t sniff everything that exists in the world anyhow, and if it sounds really amazing do exactly what she or he probably did – get your hands on a sample, from a reputable place like theperfumedcourt.com or Luckyscent, or swap for it with a friend, and try it even just dabbed from the tiny glass tube. It may be a really gorgeous experience to have.

In the meantime, I agree with you. Why won’t these damn perfumistas write about stuff I can actually BUY?

Next up, my review of a perfume that was never popular and was discontinued in 1996. 🙂

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