First of all, sorry for deserting this column: I’ve been slaving over my London perfume course program, and what I dig up for it I’d rather not post about before I actually give it so I won’t spoil the surprise for the people attending it… who are proving, based on the ones I’ve head back from, to be quite the connoisseurs.
I’ll be back tomorrow or Saturday with a review of the next Guerlain L’Art et la Matière, Tonka Impériale.
In the meantime, a few thoughts on today’s New York Times article, “Now Smell This, and See its Maker”.
It’s no secret mainstream perfume sales have been dropping; brands and marketing pundits have been tearing their hair out trying to find new ploys to draw cash-strapped customers back to the counters. Now, according to the NYT, they’ve decided to take a page from Frédéric Malle’s book – and to follow the blogs – by putting forward the name and picture of the perfumer:
“The nascent star status accorded perfumers marks a change in the way fragrance has been marketed. Designer and celebrity fragrances deal in realms of image and aspiration, promising to impart a whiff of the namesake’s creativity or notoriety to the wearer. Showcasing the perfumer switches the emphasis back to the fragrance, from the complexity of the brew to the Proustian memory or muse that inspired the creator.
“The perfumer takes you back to the romance of fragrance,” said Bettina O’Neill, vice president for cosmetics at Barneys New York. “With celebrities, the romance is about how they look and what they do. But with perfumers, it’s about the art of creating the fragrance.”
(…) Some industry observers think showcasing the perfumer could help the broader fragrance market. Ms. Grant sees parallels with the cosmetics industry, where in-house technicians have successfully morphed into marketers. “Makeup did it with the makeup artist,” she said. “Skin care did it with doctors. What’s happening is the fragrance industry is realizing the perfumer is the ultimate celebrity of fragrance.”
(…)“Consumers are saying, ‘If I’m going to spend, let me spend on something everyone else doesn’t have,’ ” said Karen Grant, an analyst at NPD.”
The article sparked a discussion on the forum Perfume of Life. The line of argument goes like this:
1/People will buy what smells good to them, no matter which face you stick on the counter, and “something everyone else doesn’t have” doesn’t factor into the equation;
2/People aren’t buying because most mainstream scents are dreck.
What’s more, I do believe that putting the name and personality of the perfumer forward might inject a little more romance and authenticity in the selection process. I’m no marketer, but couldn’t it be possible that people are a little more aware now of the way brands manipulate them with advertising and its celebrity faces? Couldn’t it be that knowing a smidge of truth about the perfume-making process, discovering that there is actually a person behind it – an artist composing the fragrance, and able to talk about it – will make them feel differently about it?
And might the move to put the perfumers forward not prompt brands to let them express themselves a little more, rather than focus-group the juices to death?
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. But I do think that the era of perfumer-as-star, ushered in by Frédéric Malle and the brands who have hired an in-house perfumer – Hermès, Cartier, Patou… -- could be upon us. And that it might just be the way to give the industry a much-needed boost.