Bespoke Perfumes, Who Needs Them?

From time to time I start thinking about bespoke perfumes. Not in terms that I consider ordering one for myself but in general, as of the idea itself.

If you were to do a search online for “bespoke perfume,” you’d find dozens of articles about that type of service, as well as offers of the said services. The prices start from $250 for a 50 ml bottle and goes all the way up to “contact for the price” (or 200K pounds mentioned in one of the articles – not sure how figurative was that figure).

Why wouldn’t I want to have perfume made just for me? Let’s look at it step by step. Since it is a theoretical exercise, I’ll assume that anything is possible.

Perfumer

I think it would be strange to have your perfume created by some random perfumer with whose work you are not familiar: while we can keep the discussion going whether perfume is art or not, it is definitely not pure science; and, in my opinion, not everyone can just learn how to mix ingredients and start creating amazing perfumes.

I ran a query in my database and figured out, which five perfumers created the most perfumes that I love.

 

Christine Nagel. Most of my favorites from her are her work for Jo Malone. As much as I like perfumes from that brand, do I really want my bespoke perfume to be of that “easy-wear-office-friendly” type?

Christopher Sheldrake. All Serge Lutens perfumes that I like and wear have been created by Sheldrake. But most of Serge Lutens perfumes that I do not like, were also created by him.

Bertrand Duchaufour. I like and wear many perfumes by this talented perfumer, and now when the daughter of the bloody dictator, for whom he created perfume 5 years ago (if you’ve somehow missed the story, look the Leftovers part of this post) is arrested, I probably wouldn’t mind him to be a creator of my bespoke perfume. But would he even have time? The man authors approximately one perfume per month.

Geza Schoen (presuming he actually is the nose behind all Ormonde Jayne perfumes). Until the brand decided to become a luxury one, they were one of my absolute favorites: I love or at least like 7-8 of their perfumes. But I’m not sure I would be able to pry a vat of Iso E-Super from him, no matter how much I pay.

Jean-Claude Ellena. I just don’t know if he still has any Dia left in him. And everything else is a little too sheer for my current taste: I like wearing many of his perfumes as my day-wear perfumes but none of them would be on a short list for a proverbial signature scent (or bespoke perfume, while we’re on the topic).

Notes

But let’s say I settled on the Perfumer. How do I know what I want to get? Clearly, I should shoot for the most beautiful perfume I do not have in my collection already. So of course I can show the Perfumer my most recent exercise with the Desert Island Perfumes and provide a list of my 13 favorite notes: linden, amber, lavender, iris, black currant, rose, mimosa, lily of the valley, narcissus, galbanum, sandalwood, cedarwood and vetiver. But how do I know that actually these thirteen notes make me like perfume? As my analysis in that post showed, the highest count of those favorite notes (8 of 13) make up my favorite Chanel No 19 – but I already have Chanel No 19, and I don’t need another one. And how do I know that it is not the combination of the other 76 notes, which composed my Top 20, that do the trick?

My Favorite Notes

Process

Assuming the Perfumer got all the information both from the notes I think I like and based on the list of perfumes I know I like, after a while we’ll have the first take – and what? How many times have you tried perfumes that sounded amazing based on what you read about them only to be completely disappointed? It is not easy to write a negative review for perfumes created by the brand or perfumer with whom you have some type of relationship or even just like them without knowing them personally. Also, have you ever experienced personally or witnessed any perfumer’s reaction to somebody criticizing their work?

I’m not sure I would be able to say: “Scratch that, let’s start over.” Instead, most likely, there would be polite going back-and-forth with: “It seems a little too sweet…”, “What if we were to add more floral notes?” or “It reminds me X, which I already love and wear.” How many iterations would I go through before giving up and agreeing to something that is very nice but doesn’t come even close to how I feel about my most beloved perfumes? What if it is not even “very nice”?

Price

For my theoretical experiment I’m going with the assumption that I can pay any price. But what is the price? What the price should be?

ScentTrunk, which keeps searching for the business model for making money from the exploding perfume industry, offers a free test kit that “includes a palette of the 6 fragrance families so our lab can identify the smells you love or hate” (you pay $4.95 for S&H). After that you can get your personalized perfume for just $11.95/month. I think we can all agree that I will skip the discussion of what exactly one might expect to get for the money.

Ok, how about € 220 for 50 ml of all-natural perfume “by Perfumer Composer AbdusSalaam Attar”? You can choose up to 7 (out of 92) essences for your perfume. If you want something “rare,” you’ll need to pay more: extra € 100 for ambergris, € 150 for Mysore sandalwood, € 250 for iris root and € 300 for agarwood. But even if you go “all in,” the most you pay is € 1,020. And you can name it whatever you want! So choose 7 ingredients, mention the most important 3, tell your profession or field of work (“important for olfactory psychology”!), add comments, “give your skype for contact ecc…”, prove that you’re not a bot (because, you know, it’s a huge work to put all those 7 notes into the shopping cart; and if you make a mistake, the whole form refreshes – so you should really be into placing that order) – and … I’m not sure what happens next because I didn’t manage to convince the page I wasn’t a “spammer.” But anyway, how personal can you expect it to be for € 220?

$6,750 can buy you three consultations with the team of perfumers at Floris, which will result in 100 ml bottle of your bespoke perfume (plus 5 future refills).

Even though By Kilian’s site states “Price upon request” on their Bespoke Perfume by Kilian page, from my recent visit to Salon de Parfums in Harrods I can surmise that it won’t be less than £15,000 – because that is how much their “one-of-a-kind” Midnight in London that Tara and I tested there costs.

By Kilian Midnight In London

I heard different numbers for bespoke perfumes by Roja Dove but the closest one to the official price was £25,000, which was mentioned a year ago in the article-interview with Mr. Dove. If you ask me, his semi-bespoke perfumes rumored at £1,000 for 250 ml, is a better deal: you can try it and decide if you like it, if it is unique enough before you commit.

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, you can find dozens of brands, perfumers and no-name services that offer customized/custom/bespoke perfumes on the wide range of prices. But, in my opinion, even the highest price I cited here is not enough to pay for real creativity and uniqueness. I just do not believe that any great and talented perfumer would create something really great just for me – one person.

Why would the Perfumer spend enough time and effort to earn even £25,000, if selling it to a brand or launching it under their name would get a much better return? The explanation I could come up with was that it might make sense only if the result is not expected to be anything too special. For example, if it is done for “civilians” – people who have previously used Perfume de Jour from department stores: almost any average-pleasant perfume made from good ingredients by somebody who knows the trade would be a definite step up. It also can work for people who do not love perfumes but want to wear them because it is a part of the accepted routine. In this case, exclusivity and personal service might be much more important than actual perfume. In both cases it shouldn’t require too much time or magic from a skillful Perfumer. And those “bespoke” perfumes do not even have to be that unique from one customer to another – they just have to be different enough from what one can come across at regular perfume counters.

I have it. Now what?

But even if I manage to get the result I really like, what would I do with it? Should this perfume become my signature scent? Probably not: I’m not a one perfume woman. Should I treat it as a special occasion perfume? But then what should I do with my other special occasion perfumes? I’m not sure I have enough special occasions. Do I wear it just like any other perfume in my collection, several times per year? But then why even go through the exercise of creating bespoke perfume?

So even in my imaginary world, in which I can choose any perfumer to work on my scent and am not limited by any financial considerations, going through with that project does not seem appealing.

And then one last thought had occurred to me: I bet I can wear many of the existing perfumes in my current collection, and, almost any way you look at it, those would be not much farther from a bespoke perfume then any created as such might be.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images: my own

Advertisements

Entertaining Statistics or Marketing Faux Pas de Deux

Try to remember what was the association that came to mind when you heard perfume name Swan Princess for the first time? Was it one of the images below? Or was it something else?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While writing this post, I decided to survey my friends, relatives and co-workers. I asked them the same question but since most of them are “civilians” (©Tara) and they haven’t heard about this perfume before, I didn’t want to influence their opinion so I just asked for the associations based on the name, without showing them the pictures I chose for this post (actually, Barbie idea came from my co-worker).

Disclaimer: Since I used a sample of convenience (rather than a probability sample), results aren’t representative of any real trends. This is intended strictly for the entertainment purposes.

I split all of the respondents into two categories:

  • native Russian speakers with English as a second language
  • native English speakers and other native language speakers with English as a second language

The majority of the respondents in the first category (native Russian speakers) correctly guessed the association intended by creators:

The swan is a gracious bird which has been glorified in the folklore of many countries. I can’t say that we were inspired by a particular piece of art. There are many which leave you breathless, like Mikhail Vrubel‘s painting Swan Princess, which we chose to illustrate our creation.

Swan Princess by Vrubel

I’m not sure how much you’ve previously read on the topic so I’ll give a short summary. Pay close attention: this is not a trivial construction. Swan Princess is a painting (1900) by Mikhail Vrubel that depicts a character from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899–1900) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was based on the poem The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (1831) by Aleksandr Pushkin. Oh, and the painter’s wife – Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel (see photo below) – sang the role of the Swan Princess in the première of the opera.

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel

I’m not surprised that Russian-speaking respondents picked up on the association: even though we all knew well the tale, Swan Princess (Tsarevna-Lebed) didn’t feel like a main character but it was the painting that was firmly connected to that name.

The most common association expressed by participants from the second category (native English speakers and non-Russian speakers) was Swan Lake – a ballet (1875–76) composed by Tchaikovsky. Other associations mentioned were movies and a TV show – Black Swan, Princess Bride, Barbie Swan Lake and Swans Crossings. One person mentioned a children’s book.

Not to waste such an opportunity, I also included a picture of the perfume and asked to guess just by the name and the packaging which age group is a Swan Princess’ target market.

Swan Princess by The Vagabond Prince

Since I didn’t suggest any age groups as possible choices, responses were highly dispersed. The range I got was from 8 to 85 years old with two peaks: 13-20 and 60+. Variations on “teenage girls” and “Grandmother” were mentioned several times each.

Probably ballet isn’t the worst association (Penhaligon’s and Les Parfums de Rosine recently went directly for it) but even in my small poll group there were many… less flattering associations. And with the packaging that says anything but “luxury niche perfume” it can’t be easy to sell $200 bottle of perfume for teenagers.

Why do I care? Why didn’t I just dismiss this release the way I do with most perfumes by which I wasn’t impressed? It’s simple: I did expect more from creators of Fragrantica and I feel disappointed. And I still can’t believe that they, out of all people, decided to launch their perfumes only in 100 ml bottles.

What about perfume? I know tastes differ but, in my opinion, Swan Princess is just boring. It’s not unpleasant. It’s not pleasant. It’s unremarkable. Which isn’t that surprising: as talented as Bertrand Duchaufour might be, nobody can create 10-20 masterpieces per year (and we’re talking only about official releases: who knows how many dictators’ daughters had urges to launch their own brands in those years…)

In the Search for the Perfect Berry: Black Currant

As a child I spent summers at my grandparents’ house. When I wasn’t playing with my summer friends* or hiding from the heat in the house, I would be reading in the garden’s summerhouse.

As many children do, every year I would re-read some of my favorite books. One of such books was a collection of Polish fairy tales. Fern Flower (Kwiat paproci) by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski was the first story in the book so I probably read it every time before I would get bored and start skipping stories.

Book Tam Gde Visla Reka

It’s a grim story about a young guy who got obsessed with finding a fern flower that, according to Slavic mythology, blooms once a year deep in the forest on the Kupala Night (around Summer solstice) and promises great wealth and granting any wishes to whoever finds it. He attempts it three times. Every year he goes into the forest next to the village where he lives. And every year he doesn’t recognize the forest that he knows well – it is darker and scarier than usually and plays tricks on him: trees are taller, bushes are thicker; he hears strange noises and sees things. Twice he almost gets the illusive flower but it disappeared at the first light of dawn. The third time he succeeds but here comes the fine print: he cannot share his luck with anybody. He abandons his family and leads a life of luxury but it doesn’t bring him joy. He’s torn between keeping his wealth and helping his family but by the time he decides to come back it’s too late: his parents and siblings are dead from the poverty, he wishes to die as well and disappears from the face of the Earth with the flower that all these years was rooted in his heart. Curtains down.

Mysterious forest with pine trees around which you go forever just to see that they are not that huge once you pass them and unexpected deep marshes that disappear once you get through – is what I always imagine when I think of enchanted forest. Nowhere in that mental picture can I find black currant: probably because that berry doesn’t grow in the forest – enchanted or otherwise. Wild strawberry, raspberry – yes, I can easily imagine those but not black currant.

And still Enchanted Forest by Vagabond Prince makes total sense to me: there were three black currant shrubs next to that summerhouse in which I read and re-read Fern Flower year after year. So the smell of black currant leaves (I always liked it) and berries (I wasn’t a big fan of those as a child) somehow weaves in my mind with that fairytale image of an enchanted forest, Kupala Night and magic.

Redwood

Enchanted Forest created by Bertrand Duchaufour for Vagabond Prince in 2012 includes notes of pink pepper, aldehydes, sweet orange (traces), flower cassis, blackcurrant leaf, hawthorn, effects of rum and wine, rosemary, davana, blackcurrant buds absolute (by LMR from Grasse), CO2 blackcurrant (by Floral Concept from Grasse), Russian coriander seed, honeysuckle, rose, carnation, vetiver, opoponax resinoid, Siam benzoin, amber, oakmoss, fir balsam absolute, Patchouli Purecoeur®, castoreum absolute, cedar notes, vanilla and musk. If you haven’t smelled it yet and want a real review, here Kafka does a great job describing the scent – even though she doesn’t really enjoy it on her skin. Me? I love this perfume! The tartness and juiciness of the black currant and fir opening, the warmth and smokiness of the amber and incense resinous development – I enjoy them immensely. The drydown reminds me of one of my winter rituals – drinking Peet‘s Black Currant black tea with honey. Add to this picture a Christmas tree or pour the tea into a thermos and go to a close-by redwood forest – and you’ll get a perfect gustatory illustration of Enchanted Forest.

Black Currant tea and Honey

I urge you to try both – the perfume and the tea+honey combination: I think they both are very interesting, unusual and, if it’s your cup of tea (take it figuratively or literally, as you wish), very enjoyable. But even though I like both, I can’t drink that tea all the time and I can’t imagine wearing Enchanted Forest daily.

I used up a couple of free samples I got. I swapped for another sample that I’m using now and I paid for a small decant. I would buy a 30 ml or maybe even a 50 ml bottle of Enchanted Forest in a heartbeat – I like it that much and the bottle itself is quite appealing. But there is no way I’ll buy 100 ml of this perfume. And I still can’t believe that founders of Fragrantica (out of all people!) thought it was a good idea to launch this perfume in a single size – 100 ml.

 

* I’ve never seen them during the school year since my grandparents lived 8-hours bus ride away from us.

 

Previous posts in the series In the Search for the Perfect Berry: Strawberries and Blackberry. Also see other posts in the Single Note Exploration category.

 

Images: book – found somewhere; the rest – my own.

Three Pieces of Neela Vermeire’s India Puzzle

I love puzzles, quizzes, riddles and tests. I’m not seeking them out actively but when I come across one I might put off everything else and spend unreasonable time solving it.

I learned about Neela Vermeire Creations from several inspiring reviews. Usually when I read reviews for perfumes that I haven’t tested yet I glance over more technical details – notes, creator, etc. – and concentrate on the impressions, associations and a general mood from the perfumes. So all I remembered about that new line was a general favorable feeling.

Being not too active on the Facebook I miss a lot of friends’ updates. Unlike my blogroll, I’m not even trying to catch up. But I just happened to read my News feed When Neela posted a quiz.

The photo below – where is this from? North, south, east, west or central India? It is tough but some of you may know.Puzzle Part I

I had no idea, the picture was too generic and I wasn’t intrigued enough. Then there was a second picture and the next question:

Another hint for the quiz below. Name the place.Puzzle Part II

This time I got hooked, I wanted to solve that quiz. It took some time but I figured it out. I found the answer: it is a ceiling of the ‘Poomukkam’ room in Padmanabhapuram Palace. An interesting fact about this ceiling: there are ninety flowers carved on it, and each of them is unique.

My correct answer earned me a prize. I expected to get a set of samples for the line. Instead Neela Vermeire sent me a discovery set – three 10 ml bottles: Mohur, Trayee and Bombay Bling!

First I felt a little worried: what if I wouldn’t like those? In that case I would have felt much more comfortable if I had been sent just small sample vials… Now after I tried all three perfumes I’m so glad I got those bottles!

For a proper review I want to refer you to A Festival of Colour – Neela Vermeire Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling! Perfume Reviews by The Candy Perfume Boy: I can’t do better so I won’t even try. I want to share just a couple of personal impressions for each perfume.

Neela Vermiere Creations Trio

Trayee – is the most complex and sophisticated perfume out of three in the line. And the most tenacious. I enjoy wearing it and will definitely go through the bottle I have. And after that I might go for at least a decant. For even more impressions read enticing review for Trayee by Persolaise.

Mohur – is the most low-key perfume in the line. Though two out of four times I wore Mohur, it surprised me with an unexpected surge of agarwood in the opening. When it calms down it becomes a well-blended flower bouquet on my skin. It is never unpleasant and I suspect it might behave better on somebody else but in my collection it’ll stay, most likely, just for the reference.

Bombay Bling! – is my absolute favorite in the line. It’s so juicy, bright and happy! But despite its playfulness Bombay Bling! feels like a real perfume with an extremely interesting composition and graceful development. It is a full-bottle worth perfume for me.

I also want to mention that even before trying Neela Vermiere Creations perfumes I was very pleased that a new line has been launched with just three perfumes and there are both sample and discovery sets available. I wish more new and established companies Mrs. Vermiere’s lead.

I hope in years to come Neela Vermiere will present us with more pieces to her scented puzzle of India.

As always, feel free to link to your blog’s post if you’ve reviewed these perfumes.

Images: two of Padmanabhapuram Palace – Neela Vermiere, the last one – my own.

In the Search for the Perfect Pear

In my childhood August a month before the school started and a month when an old pear tree in my grandparents’ garden was ready to share with us the best pears I’ve ever eaten in my life.

August Pear

I was too little to think of such things as variety so all I can remember now: it resembled Comice pear – green-yellow with an occasional red blush. The tree was tall, with a lot of branches. Low hanging fruits … were allowed to ripe on the tree. Whenever I felt like it I could go there and choose which one I wanted to eat. Pears that grew higher on the tree would be usually picked slightly immature and left to ripen in the summerhouse. My Grandfather had built it himself and I loved spending time in it – playing when I was younger or reading when I got older. A wonderful smell of dozens ripening pears accompanied me in those hot summer days when tired of running around in the sun I would resort to the shade of the summerhouse.

Unlike mimosa, linden or lilac – all scents which I always loved and wanted to wear as a perfume, I’ve never considered pear to be a wearable scent. I like eating them in the season, don’t miss them off-season and definitely don’t want to smell of them.

I like Petite Cherie by Annick Goutal – created in 1998, notes include pear, peach, musky rose, fresh-cut grass, vanilla. But I wore it for years before I learned it had a pear note. Even after that I thought I couldn’t smell a pear note. I tried to describe how Petite Cherie smelled and I couldn’t. I can’t come up with words to represent what I smell and the scent doesn’t remind me of anything else so I can’t even offer an association. I do not have any special memories connected to Petite Cherie, so probably I really just enjoy the scent. If you’ve tried it you know how it smells and if you haven’t – try because whatever description you’ll read will not give you the right picture of what to expect from this perfume. For years I thought of it as of a universal darling but recently I met a couple of people who, to my surprise, found this perfume to be unpleasant. I wore it again while working on this post and I still love it.

Deep Red by Hugo Boss – created in 2001 by Alain Astori and Beatrice Piquet, notes include black currant, pear, tangerine, blood orange, ginger leaves, freesia, hibiscus, sandalwood, Californian cedar, vanilla and musk (fragrantica.com). This is one of my favorite perfumes from my pre-perfumista period of life. I know Perfumeland’s attitude towards that brand. I realize that it probably isn’t that great and stands out both in this post and in my current collection. And I do not care: I liked Deep Red for many years; I went through two bottles of it and still have some juice left in the third one; and I still enjoy wearing it.

English Pear & Freesia by Jo Malone – created in 2010 by Christine Nagel, notes include pear, freesia, rose, amber, patchouli and woods (from jomalone.com; other sources mention quince, rhubarb and white musk). Sweet, almost gourmand but not quite because of the strong floral component. It’s a bright and warm scent but at the same time it maintains transparency usual to Malone’s colognes. It doesn’t develop much on the skin (as most of other perfumes in this line) but if you like what you smell it’ll stay with you for hours. I got a small decant of English Pear & Freesia from a co-worker and I will buy a bottle once it’s gone.

La Belle Hélène by Parfums MDCI – created in 2010 by Bertrand Duchaufour, notes include pear accord, aldehydes, tangerine, lime blossom, rose essence, osmanthus absolute, ylang-ylang Madagascar, orris butter, hawthorn, Mirabelle plum, myrrh, vetiver Haiti, patchouli, cedar Virginia, amber, oak moss absolute, white musks, sandalwood, licorice wood (luckyscent). It’s a true gourmand scent, sweet but with some dirty note in the drydown. For me La Belle Hélène smells not like a pear fruit but like a pear tart (love those). It’s much more complex than English Pear & Freesia. I got my sample from a draw at Persolaise – A Perfumer’s Blog. I like how it smells and develops on my skin but I’m not sure if I want to wear it as a perfume. The price is also a stopping point. So when I’m done with the sample I won’t probably be seeking even a decant (read the review that inspired me to test this perfume again recently).

Mon Numéro 1 by L’Artisan Parfumeur – created in 2009 by Bertrand Duchaufour and re-launched in 2011 (though I can’t find it now on L’Artisan’s website), notes include pear, basil, bergamot, violet leaves, black currant buds, mimosa, osmanthus, magnolia flower, hay, musk, vanilla. I have a strange relationship with this perfume. I thought I would like it. I wanted to like it. It opens very nice and fresh on my skin but then in one out of three times it becomes too soapy – and not in a nice, clean way. It always dries down to a more pleasant and well-balanced scent but it doesn’t excite me, I do not feel compelled to wear it more. I’m very grateful to my perfume friends for the opportunity to try it (Suzanne shared with me some Mon Numéro 1 from Birgit’s sample) and want to assure them that it wasn’t a total waste: even though I do not like it as much as they did (read their reviews through the links above), Mon Numéro 1 helped me to learn what is called “pear” in perfumery. I do not recognize it as a pear scent but I smell it in all tested perfumes with that note listed in the description. So now I know. And I do not mind smelling like that “pear.”

Honey Pear Tea

What is your perfect pear?

Mine – Honey Pear by Golden Moon Tea.

 

Images: my own