jeudi 10 décembre 2009

According to the New York Times, the Era of the Perfumer-as-Star is upon us

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.

Granted, they are. And granted, people do buy what smells good to them. But within the hundreds of bottles on offer, what’ll inspire them to try one scent rather than another? In my rent job, I meet a sizeable number of French executives and middle management and when I do a little informal fragrance consulting, they often do care about not smelling like everyone else in the board room or company cafeteria.

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.

22 commentaires:

  1. 2) Totally agree

    1) Totally disagree - if I smell a perfume and like it but its marketed by someone that I'm really not in tune with then it totally clouds the way I perceive that scent and it would have to be REALLY gorgeous for me to buy it.
    Plus I sooooo don't want to smell like everyone else - I believe myself to be unique and want to have an individual scent that people associate with me rather than a brand - so I tend to ignore the mainstream scents on principle and target the independents for sampling.

  2. Violetsrose: I guess smelling unique is not everyone's preoccupation, otherwise I wouldn't get so many hits from people searching for the "Top 10 perfumes" -- as though selling a lot were a guarantee of quality. But perhaps there's a larger segment of the population that doesn't want to be associated to a behemoth brand...

  3. I am all for the rise of perfumer-as-star! Out of the lab and into the limelight! That is, as long as it means they get some real power over the bean counters, and don't just become another product themselves.

    Robin has started the same discussion on her blog (in a slightly different frame) over at NST.

  4. Harrumph. I shouldn't admit this, but there is a part of me (a large-ish part) that wishes they'd just shut up about perfumes & their creators so that it can continue to be a secret club I sorta belong to. Curmudgeonly (not to mention snobbish) as it sounds, I really don't love that any yahoo could potentially just stroll into Neiman Marcus and buy some perfume that I love & discovered through all my testing & swapping & research & reading of blogs. I DO want to smell unique, very much so, and the idea of passing some bottle-blonde, Botox'd, SUV-driving, Austin "fashionista" with her Speedy bag over one arm and her David Yurman jewelry around her neck and her Gucci sunglasses pushed up on her head like a hairband (oh, if you lived here you'd know exactly the kind of woman I'm describing, I'm sure there's a French equivalent) smelling like one of my beloveds makes me want to snatch myself bald. No, I'm not nice. Never claimed to be. But I want those idiots to keep their plastic French-manicured paws off my 'fumes!!

  5. PS -- have a wonderful time in London! Can't wait to hear all about it, and all your other news!

  6. I somehow can't help but think it's not exactly a good idea. Although yes, to a large extent it IS a good idea - but alas, only in theory. Why is it that modern marketing keeps getting more and more obsessed with the idea of selling "anything but"? Anything but the product, I mean. They used to "sell" celebrity faces, now they think it's a good idea to "sell" perfumers' names. Ok, there are many extremely talented perfumers out there, that's a given. But as you already mentioned, most mainstream fragrances are dreck. Will it really be better if this same dreck will be marketed by a perfumer instead of a model or a celebrity? I don't think so. I think it's high time for them to finally start selling His Majesty The Juice Itself. And if the juice is really good - it's always worth knowing who's behind it.

    To StyleSpy: couldn't agree more.)

  7. Alyssa, I'll go and check up on Robin's blog. I just shot off this post in a hurry after reading the article and didn't have the time to do my usual blog-scan this morning...

  8. Amy, we have the same women here, just not dressed in the same brands. And they'll never like the same stuff we do. And it'll never have the same effect on them. So there.

  9. Fashionistaag, I think that at least the perfumer can talk about his/her perfume. And I also think that it's a good thing when an artist gets recognition for his/her work. It's time to stick real words onto those smells instead of purple prose. Let's see if they can make that happen.

  10. carmencanada, I'm surprised you mention Perfume of Life here, a bunch of old hags discussing a myriad of lame lifestyle topics amongst perfume threads such as "Has Mitsouko changed again?" and "What should I wear for a wedding?"

  11. Sève Exquise, I've been a PoL member for several years now and I've met a few real-world friends through it. Old is in the eye of the beholder (when I was 17, 23 was old). Hags they're certainly not. So let's not generalize, shall we?

  12. I like the idea of knowing who the nose is for each perfume. I am more inclined to try perfumes created by: Sheldrake, Roucel, Elena, Buxton. Since I believe that perfume is an art, the artist should be able to be at the front of the perfume.

  13. Oh, Denyse, you have expressed in your usual concise and eloquent way what I've been thinking about for some time. Funny (well, I guess it makes sense): Of all the blogs, I visit yours when I really want the most sage perspective on any given subject, whether it's a fragrance review or a comment on the industry. I can't thank you enough for that.

  14. Arwen, when the perfumer *is* an artist, and not a technician re-doing what he knows, I entirely agree!

  15. Robin, I'm touched. Sorry I'm not posting as much as I usually do. It's not only the course. I've been spending quite a bit of quality time with perfumers to prepare it, and it's opened new perspectives. I need the time to assimilate them...

  16. Hi Denyse,
    It's okay to preach to the choir. We're here because we want to read what you have to say!
    For me, there is no point in buying something if I didn't love it. 20 years ago, perhaps (so yes, I'm an "old hag" too), I may have been more inclined to follow the 'trend.' These days, it's a combination of how much I love it versus how prolific it is. I don't think anyone will think 2x about wearing Chanel No 5 or Shalimar even if every other person they know wear it as well. These great scents speak for themselves and adapt to the individual. But I do find a lot of today's dept store scents smell alike and would never consider wearing one of them - regardless of the creator.
    I think putting the perfumer's face or name forward may help draw attn to some scents, especially if the buyer can relate to that person as the creator of another scent they like. However, as I've posted on NST, every great nose has turned out a dud from time to time. Most, with the exception of independents and perhaps the upper prestige houses, have to work within the confines of specifications and budget of those who commission the scents based on the targeted markets. There are some that I do admire enough to want to at least give a try: Ellena and Ropion, for instance.

  17. OperaFan, as I'm sure you're aware, even great perfumers, capable of turning out masterpieces, work within the confines of briefs, budgets and marketing, so their name is no guarantee that the result will be worthwhile, or even that they are the sole "author". Mainstream releases are always the result of teamwork. I think the notion of author is mostly relevant to independent houses or exclusives collections, and in that context, I'm happy to see the name of a perfumer put forward.

  18. I don't see a perfumer as a celebrity but an ARTIST. Perfume can be liken to art. When I look at a painting, I would like to know who the artist is, and how did the artist make his or her artworks.

  19. Denyse -- I like the point you make about how putting the name of the perfumer forward might make the fragrance companies back off a bit on the focus grouping and actually allow the perfumers to express themselves with more creativity.

    After all, if the perfumer becomes a central focus, then the buying public will be purchasing according to the style of the perfumer as opposed to the "style" of a designer brand owned by an investment group.

    And ditto to what Robin said. When I'm looking for the straight-up, no B.S. evaluation of what's going on in the fragrance industry, I turn to this website. Thank you for that, and good luck with your London class!

  20. Della, I certainly would rather see them as artists as well. At least, the ones who are artists.

  21. Nathan, I think that will take a lot of education, and will probably never reach the whole of the public, but it's interesting to push in that direction. The feedback I'm getting from perfumers is that the fact that there are actually a few reviewers out there cutting through the bla-bla might help them put forward a more sincere vision of their art.

  22. Oh - I think that would be wonderful! (re: The tail of your response to Nathan).