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.