Fragrance Republ!c through the eyes of Plebeian

 

Dear readers and friends, before you go on reading this post can you pause for a minute and think what you know about Fragrance Republ!c. Just try to think what you’ve heard about them and what your impression about their business is.

It’s not a trick question. If you’ve heard or read about them, what you can recall will be probably more than you can read on their website. There’s no About Us section. There is not much information about what you’re subscribing to either. The site provides minimum details allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks (and who is better than ourselves to trick us into assuming things that weren’t actually promised?)

Fragrance Republ!c is a new brand, one of co-founders of which is Francois Duquesne, a former President of L’Artisan Parfumeur. The brand operates as a “club”: you need to be a member – albeit a non-paying one – just registered, to purchase their perfumes. They call it “Free People.” With a $35/month, $100/3 months, $200/6 months (why would anybody pay for 6 months in advance when it’s exactly twice the price of 3 months subscription is beyond my understanding) or $350/year “Patricians subscription” you’re going to get every month a 15 ml bottle of a new perfume created by one of six perfumers featured on the site. I’m not sure about that part though since they don’t promise that the list of perfumers is final. And by the time I’m finishing this post the next perfume announced for April has been created by the new, seventh, perfumer, not listed initially. So for all we know it can keep going like that for each next month in one’s subscription.

Brand’s Facebook Page provides a mission statement:

Fragrance Republic Mission Statement

It’s not clear who serves on the Advisory Board in addition to “Senators”, who for $1,500/year get to be on that board for 2 months. How many permanent members are on that Board and how many can pay their way to that body that “determines future fragrance to be released”? It doesn’t say anywhere so I can’t even guess the qualification of the Board that sets the criteria and accepts the final product.

Speaking of the product, other than “no artistic boundaries” and “IFRA compliance” (as if any of these two are necessarily a good thing), there are no promises as to quality of ingredients: for all we know it can be another eccentric-molecule- or not-a-perfume-type creations. And there’s a curious passage about the delivery in Terms and Conditions:

Any merchandise purchased from our Site will be shipped by a third party carrier. As a result, title and risk of loss for such merchandise will pass to you upon our delivery to the carrier.

Nice. I’m not sure I’d want to buy anything from any online store on those terms.

When a couple of years ago Chandler Burr conducted his OpenSky experiment, I was against it. But at least it was somebody who we knew by reputation (either you shared his tastes or not) and who had to persuade us to buy every next episode of his series.

When a year ago Olfactif decided to offer a new sampling program, I was against it. But since I wrote that post, Olfactif has improved by switching from 1 ml dab vials to 2.25 ml spray samples. Also several commenters – mostly those who were new to the niche perfume world – suggested some benefits they saw for themselves in using that type of service.

With Fragrance Republic you’re offered to blind buy 15 ml/$35, 45 ml/$100, 90 ml/$200 or 180ml/$350 of unknown perfume(s) by random perfumers from a new brand, creative director(s) of which haven’t proven yet that they know what they are doing. And I didn’t even mention yet totally unremarkable packaging, completely unmemorable names and, as I suspect, close to 0 resell/swap value of those that you didn’t like.

I stated it more than once: I’m against blind buys and I constantly try to dissuade people from doing that. I understand that the thrill of the blind-buying and the anticipation of the positive outcome for some people might be higher than the disappointment they would experience from the negative result. So within the individual’s money-is-no-object limits it’s probably fine to indulge in that type of irrational behavior from time to time. But to build a business on that vice, encourage it and benefit from it – that is something that I cannot condone.

I do not believe any brand can release 12 (twelve!) great perfumes in twelve months – and keep going (even today, after they’ve released the 7th perfume, you still can subscribe for a year). But even if they are the next Amouage, Frederic Malle and Serge Lutens triune, it’s completely improbable that they will release one after another twelve perfumes that will work for you – so why to pay for something knowing full well you won’t like it? Even if you can easily afford spending $350 on your hobby, isn’t it better to reward brands that have created perfumes that you actually enjoy and want to wear than pay for the fake privilege?

Caesar Palace in Las Vegas

Oh, and in case you decide to participate in their “community of passionate fragrance users”, keep in mind that

By submitting or posting any materials or content on the Site, you grant Fragrance Republic a perpetual, irrevocable, non-terminable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to use, copy, distribute, publicly display, modify, create derivative works, and sublicense such materials or any part of such materials. […]Fragrance Republic will be entitled to use any content submitted by you without incurring obligations of confidentiality, attribution, or compensation to you.

But, after all, it’s the land of the free – so you can become a Senator if you set your mind on it.

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Olfactif: Yay or Nay?

 

I’m constantly on a lookout for new perfume-related … everything: brands, lines, perfumes, services, media coverage and other events. Naturally I got curious about the new service offering a subscription-based access to niche perfumes samples.

There are many ways to obtain samples for perfumes you want to try. I won’t be covering here getting samples from B&M stores, swapping with other perfumistas or participating in splits, all of which are my preferred methods. I want to look into different options for purchasing samples.

Lorraine (Dear Scent Diary) has recently compiled a list of the brands that offer samples. But it’s always a good idea to look for an official website and see what their samples policy is. if I’m interested in the particular brand, all other things being equal, I always try to buy samples from the brand directly.

Sonoma Scent Studio Samples

There are many services and online perfume stores that offer perfume samples of your choice, sometimes in a selection of sizes. Some of these companies have been around for a while, others are relatively new.

So let’s take a look at the new kid on the block: Olfactif. Three dab vial samples (0.7 ml or 1 ml, I’m not sure and they don’t provide that information on the site), perfectly packaged, delivered monthly for $18 subscription fee. First month was offered free (I’m not sure if they plan to do that for future new subscribers). There is no obligation to keep the subscription for any minimum number of months. Steve (The Scented Hound) wrote about his experience with the first installment.

$18 for three 0.7-1 ml niche samples including S&H is neither an outrageous price nor a bargain. For $17-$19 you can get 3 samples of your choice (including the latest releases) delivered from Luckyscent, Surrender to Chance, The Perfumed Court or The Posh Peasant. Aedes de Venustas offers 7 samples of your choice for $20 including S&H ($5 of which is refundable with any full bottle purchase within the next 3 months). Luscious Cargo offers 7 samples for $25 including S&H. MinNY offers 5 samples for ~ $28 including S&H or sells individual samples for $5.

Perfume Samples

So what makes Olfactif different or unique?

A good deal? One month’s subscription fee can be applied to a purchase of a full bottle of one of the featured perfumes. Taking into the account that it’s a full retail price plus shipping charges it’s not too exciting.

Interviews with perfumers and information about perfumes? Look to the right: most blogs listed on My Reading List do it for free with a lot of passion and talent.

A surprise? You pay $18 by the end of the month and then for a couple of days might enjoy not knowing what you’re getting (until your package arrives or the reveal – whatever comes first since according to the site’s FAQ you’ll get the package “a day or two before the first of the month or a day or two after”). I saw some comments from people being excited about that part – not knowing. I remember thinking that there was something in Chandler Burr’s blind sniffing idea but I just couldn’t get past $50+ for a blind buy of 50 ml of a perfume and a chance to play guess games for a month on Mr. Burr’s say-so*. Olfactif offers a speed-dating: 1 ml# x 3 for $18 and you can close your eyes and still do a blind testing.

And that brings me to the last point. Curation. It’s an appealing concept. But who is Tara Swords and why would anyone rely upon her taste in choosing perfumes for them? She might be Turin, Burr and Coifan all-in-one but we don’t know that.

There must be something in the air: it looks like there is market for that type of service.

Last year there was a press release about MinNY launching Fragrance Flight, a Global By-Invitation Private Members Club with Privileged Access to Information, Luxury, & Curated Scents. Since then all I could find was a closed door and not a single mentioning of it. The first rule of Flight Club?..

Recently I saw on Twitter “bergamot: Curated fragrances delivered to your door. Launching Spring 2013.” You can sign up to get notified about the launch.

I have no real objections to Olfactif’s doing what they plan to do: it’s just a business, not worse than other businesses, and I hope that eventually either Olfactif improves: more customized approach, selection based on a user’s profile and previous months’ feedback, better deals, pre-releases, etc.; or there will be another service that does it better. In the end we, consumers and perfume enthusiasts, might benefit.

But if you are [still] reading this you do not need Olfactif in its current form: whether you know anything about niche perfumes or not, I believe you can do better. But if you see in that service something that I’m not seeing (other than nice boxes for storing samples) please share.

 

Images: my own.

 

* BTW, OpenSky is still running Burr’s project; there will be the ninth offering in May. I wasn’t following it after the third episode but from what I gathered now a year later they still haven’t figured out all the quirks.
# UPDATE: Now Olfacif offers 2.25 ml spray samples, which is a huge improvement.