Price and Prejudice

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 – Of luxury and lemmings

Recently, while trolling trawling through the recesses of blogs, comments and forum threads scattered throughout Planet Perfume, I’ve more than once come across a confounding, if not confusing ‘trend’. Call it a tendency, call it a predilection or even a preoccupation, it’s nevertheless just prevalent enough to catch this perfume writer’s attention in the dog days of summer.

Once upon a time in this exalted fragrant stratosphere, a phrase reverberated in cyberspace:

One hundred dollars is the new free!

In other words, with price points being what they were and with niche and indie perfume houses trying to trump each other in their eagerness to scratch our luxury itch and reel in new customers, the ante only had one way to go… up. And up. For a while, it seemed that fragrant cognoscenti were only too happy to comply.

After all… you got what you paid for, right? Which was what, precisely? Olfactory masterpieces in exquisite packaging with drop-dead blood-curdling attention to detail every step of the way from a creative director’s mind to the hot UPS guy on your doorstep?

Or was it something altogether darker and more devious… a big, fat, expensive-looking stamp on your person (and your credit statement) in neon letters proclaiming:

You, dear customer, have been had.

Those were the days, dear readers, the days that implied a kind of innocence if not naïveté about the nefarious doings of that everlasting aspirational business: Planet Perfume.

Not any longer. For increasingly across those forum threads and blog comments, those customers are no longer so easily bamboozled by hyperbolic PR copy stating their brand-new snake oil is ‘distilled by angels with the morning dew of the summer Solstice from the jasmine fields of Grasse.’ (Or words to similar effect.)

Increasingly, discontent if not disillusion rumbles in the undergrowth. Whether due to ennui in the face of relentless  – and endless – launches or simple overdrawn credit limits, those fragrant cognoscenti are beginning to protest that those luxurious, redolent juices we so adore to adorn our personalities with simply cost…

Too Damn Much.

Luxury, schmuxury.

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot (a favorite summer pastime), let me start with what I define as luxury as it pertains to the world of perfume. I should add this is my definition and may not be yours, so feel free to argue my claims in the comments.

Luxury in a perfume brand is…

¤   The expression of a particular aesthetic approach in terms of concept, design and execution, an approach that appeals to the customer’s urge to distinguish his or her individuality from everyone else’s.

¤   Meticulous attention to detail throughout that process from idea to delivered product that makes the customer feel validated and appreciated in their choices.

¤   Although by definition a luxury brand should not be too readily available, since luxury also implies a certain degree of exclusivity, luxury in itself should not be exclusive in the sense that it excludes potential customers but inclusive, by offering them options to make informed decisions before handing over their hard-earned/ill-gotten/cash, and welcoming in new customers-to-be.

Stop for a moment and think about all those brands who might embody that definition for you. I know several niche brands that are supremely luxurious, and also quite a few indie brands who scratch my luxury itch to heights of surpassing pleasure, even some indie lines who don’t make any particular claims to over-hyped luxury and/or superheated PR copy one way or another, but nevertheless fulfill one even more important criterion which is even harder to define:

¤   That emotional response we have to a given perfume in a way so it becomes an extension of whatever mood we wish to express. In other words, if a brand with all its symbolic associations and those contained in any given juice is able to evoke an emotional response in you as the consumer, that too can be defined as a kind of luxury.

The Hijacked Concept

Perfume is the ultimate aspirational – and indeed inspirational – art form. Any perfume will perform differently on whomever wears it according to body chemistry, weather and composition.

Unlike, say, a luxury handbag that proclaims its aspirational message right out in the open; “I am the inordinately proud owner of a Chanel handbag, and you are dead-jealous because I have it and you don’t”, no one except other cognoscenti will ever know or even care you just blew your rent money on Absolute Essence of Aphrodite because you simply… Had. To. Have. It.

It is, in effect, the ultimate in private luxury. Which doesn’t mean it can’t and often does have a profound effect on your mood on any given day to literally waft smelling (and it is to be hoped – feeling) like a million bucks.

The problem is… the very idea of luxury as it exists in the general cultural imagination today has been hijacked if not altogether kidnapped to such an extent by advertising and marketing as to become virtually meaningless. Which leads to that other problem in the world of perfume, price and prejudice.

Everybody wants it…

As long as they don’t have to pay too much. Or if they should, it behooves a brand to make that price tag as painless as possible.

By now, a lot of us are aware that there’s often a severe disconnect between price and epiphany. In some cases, you certainly don’t get what you pay for, and in others, the price point is ridiculously low for such stellar stuff.

Some brands I could mention – although I shall restrain myself, just – are prefabricated sheep dressed up as semi-bespoke wolves. Not so long ago, I had an opportunity to try one highly touted brand launched to a great deal of fanfare a few years ago as being the Brand With The Mostest Of Everything. (Insert your own over-the-top adjectives here). At that price level, I was expecting at least an out-of-body experience or an ‘Exorcist’ moment – eyes rolling to the back of my head, convulsions of outright olfactory ecstasy, head rotating a full 178 degrees etc.

It didn’t happen. What did happen was this: I had to sit down in amazement. Next thing I knew, I was digging frantically through my perfume cabinet and finding the original inspirations for nearly every single one of them. They were exquisitely crafted, high-quality perfumes, no question about it. I just wasn’t ready – assuming I even had that kind of expendable cash to spend, which I emphatically don’t – to buy into anything that basically had ‘sucker’ printed on the bottle in 23-karat gold.

So what are we buying?

Ladies and gentlemen… we are buying an experience. We buy perfumes on the assumption that they will somehow make us express what we could otherwise never say in words, to reflect our best (or worst! ;) ) selves, to surrender ourselves to a dream we want to reflect, a persona we want to be, a uniquely personal story we wish to tell without words. But I have to marvel at whether or not there isn’t some kind of mind over money disconnect at work in the background.

Because as we complain about the price, we’re really complaining about the deplorable state of affairs that keeps us from buying it right this instant, to jump on that express train of lemmings in the wake of a new review, to distinguish ourselves and our own impeccable taste above the hoi polloi who settle for aspirational masstige rather than the ‘real’ deal, the silly fools.

Meanwhile, the perfumer/brand owner in question might very well be the kind of obsessive-compulsive nutcase who insists on the highest level of quality he or she can sustain or support as a brand.

If that means it costs the sun, the moon and the stars in raw materials, packaging, execution, time and the many sleepless nights keeping the whole wretched enterprise in the black, all the while dreaming up new launches, new directions, marketing, PR copy, distribution, new epiphanies, then…oh, well.

Perfumery is an aspirational business, after all.

Which means there will also always be a market for those prefabricated sheep in wolves clothing, since who’s to know except the brand owner laughing all the way to the bank as the juice in question is not, in fact, fabricated by cherubim working in moonlight on those fabled Provençal hillsides, but by a very prosaic anonymous supplier who trucks it in industrial steel tanks?

Who cares? We’re buying the dream.

Reality bites

Here’s a paradox for you. In my nearly three years as a perfume writer, I have never been so penurious in my life. But as my late mother used to say in a wry comment to her own rags to riches to rags life story:

If you can’t afford anything, you can at least aspire to the best.

My first four perfume reviews came from two years of accumulated birthday presents, hunted down on discount sites at bargain prices. The one full bottle I’ve bought in all this time (since we can all agree decants, splits and unloved bottle bargains from dear friends don’t count) was my reward for completing my first novel. I saved up for it by forgoing hair dye (a perilous undertaking as a (vain) woman in your forties, I might add) for nine long months – the time it took me to write my book, in fact.

The day it arrived – exquisitely packaged, with a personal card, with numerous extras, with that magnificent, splendiferous perfume of perfection within that equally exquisite bottle – I felt as if I had arrived. (I also cried, I was so happy.)

It became infinitely more than a perfume (and indeed, it’s mentioned several times in the book itself, so hotly did I covet it), infinitely more than a personal adornment or accessory – it became a symbol of all I had sacrificed to write a very personal story, a statement to all I could now achieve and become, a testament that I had the power to manifest any dream I desired.

Three years on, I still have that bottle, the only one of its kind. The dream is tantalizingly close to coming true. By now, I have about 8 ml left.

But that beautiful bottle, the value it represents, the song its contents sing on my skin and the way it always makes me feel to this very day, is not simply an expensive luxury. It is a treasure that makes me happy every time I see it in my cabinet, and maybe, in our relentless chase after our own lemmings over that cliff, this is what we’ve forgotten in our bellyaching over pricing and our eagerness to have our prejudices validated by our peers.

A beloved perfume, regardless of what it costs, is a treasure to be cherished, worn, adorned and adored.

In other words, the ultimate private luxury.

Think about it. Isn’t that what you should be paying for?

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The Emotional Engineering Society

-  some further D-list thoughts on brands, bloggers and buyers in the world of social media

Some things I’ll never get used to. Such as…posting what I thought would be a pretty innocuous if slightly polemic blog post only to find some hours later that no less an august personage than Andy Tauer had picked up my topical baton where I dropped it, and in a certain manner of speaking both of our blog posts as well as Undina’s had touched a very live nerve on a very passionate subject.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further than I already have, I’d like to state a few things. First of all …there is no controversy, at least as that word is usually understood. My original blog post was prompted by nothing more than my own preoccupations in the world of perfume as well as several informal phone conversations with close friends who share my passion.

Last, but not least …despite my love of the focus of this blog and the people who make those epiphanies possible – fans, friends and perfumers alike – sometimes, I like to think out loud in public and point to what I see as pink elephants in the room. To be honest, the idea of never writing anything BUT perfume reviews (and my profound respect and admiration to those who do!) would bore me to tears and sometimes does. It makes me feel like a broken record, hauling out the same metaphors and the same similes and simply changing the order around, which does me no favors as a writer and is a disservice to the concept I’m trying to grasp with my nose as well as to the mind(s) who conceived it.

Before the perfume blogger, before the social media identity, and sometimes even before the woman lurks an iconoclastic, post-punk catastrophe writer, and if the blogger is to dance on this virtual page, then that writer needs to exercise her train of thought and her vocabulary. I didn’t mean to step on any toes or ruffle any feathers, but karmic law decreed otherwise.

The thing is…there IS a pink elephant in the room. No one wants to know about it, never mind even think about it, other than in hushed sotto voce whispers to very trusted friends. And as Andy Tauer rightly pointed out, no one is talking about it, very few are aware of it, but then, the iconoclastic post punk catastrophe began to think. Caveat lector.

Who is to say that a perfume blogger – even such a grade D entity as yours truly – can’t write about some of the other things happening on Planet Perfume? Well, no one, actually. Except I found two things very telling about this hot-potato topic. One, two people – one a rockstar-level perfumer herself –  commented on Andy’s riposte to my own blog post. Two, quite a few more than two commented back to Undina’s own thoughtful post, many of whom did not comment on my own.

Draw your own conclusions.

So many relevant points were brought up however, that it seems a bit pointless to go comment by comment, when I should have a) been a bit clearer about my intentions and observations and b) been a bit more precise in my argumentation.

Andy wrote that he didn’t consider social media to be relevant to any discussions about perfume because the medium IS…the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously said in that innocent, Pliocene age before Facebook, Twitter and other hazards to our collective sanity.

Andy, you’re absolutely right. It’s not. And it is. And the medium is less a point in itself as it is a platform and a Wild West free-for-all land claim for the message its users are trying to get across. I’ll be getting back to that.

Second, my blatant and purposely provocative use of the term ‘niche’. Yes, there is indeed a vast difference between big, corporate-backed ‘niche’ brands, independent perfumers and artisanal perfumers. There is a difference in the way these businesses are operated and maintained, there is a definite difference in terms of distribution and customer reach, and above all, there is a marked difference in the business philosophies of all three entities. I’m not even mentioning how new launches are conceptualized or executed, since from where I’m standing, that’s one distinction between them.

My point is…whichever category a perfumer/brand might belong to, and I’m so very sorry if I burst any bubbles…it’s still…a business. Money makes the world go round, money makes it possible to keep a company afloat whether they’re a one-man band or a whole olfactory orchestra of magical elves.

Perfume, that most ephemeral art, is costly to produce, at least at the level I’ve become accustomed to. Sourcing a consistent quality and supply of raw materials, manufacturing the juice or outsourcing your production line, bottling it up, finding the appropriate packaging, producing – or outsourcing –  the PR to go with it – all these things take a considerable amount of a brand or a perfumer’s time, and just as in any other business, you’re only as good as the reception on your last product. As an artisanal perfumer, if your juice doesn’t sell, you’re not going to remain a perfumer for too long if you also like to eat.

Now consider this – in 2011, more than 1400 new perfumes were launched. Some of those were struggling, artisanal brands with very limited distribution – if at all – and most of those 1400 launches came out of the great corporate conglomerates. How many of those will survive the end of this year? How many of those will be reviewed or remembered? How many will distinguish themselves to such an extent, they will still be bought and talked about five years from now?

In a market economy, wouldn’t that depend on not just the quality of a given perfume and the concept behind it, but also on things like…exposure, availability, trade-show schmoozing, word-of-mouth, editorial coverage, and the general conversation in the perfume community? In a world of ever-increasing olfactory noise and with the backlash to prove it, how else will any new and curious perfume buyer even know about it?

Enter the beast that is…social media. The casual Facebook user might not think too much about these things, but you do have to wonder…what are we doing there?

Posting cutesie Photoshopped animal pictures, commenting on other pictures and clicking links and sharing – or even oversharing – everything from intimate details of our private selves and offlline lives to inadvertently delivering a marketing executive’s wet dream of a demographic analysis in the process for free. Posting our SotDs and declaring our undying loyalty and love of a given brand – or forty – commenting back on other SotDs in happy-hour cocktail-party fashion… “Oh, I love that one, I have that one, that one didn’t work for me, have you tried X, Y or Z instead?”

If the medium is the message, then the message here is…despite all our high-minded efforts, despite the opportunity and the platform to engage in meaningful discourse in all sorts of Web 6.0 ways with anyone we damn well please, perfumers and/or brands included (I mean, they can’t see you blush as you type your shy ‘hello’ to a rockstar perfumer, or see you bang your head against your keyboard with your likes), we’re still interacting on the same principles that grease the wheels of human concourse anywhere in the world.

“Nice weather we’re having lately!”

Why? Because the point of Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest is not…a philosophical discussion about the creative process or the concept behind a concrete idea. In fact, it’s not about discussing much at all. It’s about the daily reinvention of ourselves as individuals in an increasingly crowded world. It’s about staking that claim and drawing those lines of distinction. This is who I am. This is what I like. This is me…today, this week, this moment in time.

No, Andy, it is all too true and you are all too right…there really isn’t, despite all efforts to the contrary, a hell of a lot of ‘meaningful discussion’. Because this really is a brave new world and we’re all taking our baby steps as we walk this brave new media landscape of 24/7 virtual life, being brave or not as we go.

Why not? Ah…

Well, I’ll venture that the vast majority of perfume consumers simply don’t have the vocabulary for it. Francis Kurkdjian landed in hot water when he claimed that bloggers or even layman critics as a rule don’t know what the hell they’re writing about, since they have so little knowledge of the technical skills of perfumery. This is very true. We don’t. And if you ask me at least, I don’t give a flying, since I don’t buy juice to determine the artistic use and technical merits of this or that aromachemical, this olfactory riff on a material. Even if I did, it still wouldn’t sell the juice to me.

That’s not why I love it, that’s not why I buy it, that’s not why I dream about it and that’s certainly not why I write about it. I do all of it…con amore. I’ll wager my D-list status here (about to be demoted, any day now!) and venture that isn’t why any other blogger – or at least the ones who are capable of articulating that passion to any extent – does it, either.

We articulate our inordinate passion for perfume artistry for no other reason than what it does to our selves, to our moods, and to our daily real-life reinventions. We articulate it to inform, to entertain, if only to inform and entertain ourselves, to make our readers agree or not with our assumptions, and all along, we know damn well we’re charting virgin territory in the process, since articulating a wordless, emotionally fraught art is very, very hard. Poets, writers, artists and dreamers have been trying to convey the inarticulate with words for millennia. But in the end, the nose…knows what the word can’t say.

Not everyone has the depth of cultural knowledge, the passion, or the psychological insight to participate in any meaningful discussions about perfume. And there are no troll-free zones to do it in, either, unless it’s an option to moderate comments on a blog.

Does it take away from the mystique, the whole romantic aura of perfume to know something of the process that goes into its creation? Maybe it does for some, maybe they can’t be bothered to be informed on such a level, maybe they just don’t care to know anything other than what their acute, discerning noses tell them.

What about bloggers? What are they doing, thinking, planning? Is it true that some bloggers have an inside track on certain brands, new launches, new hotly anticipated moments in perfumery?

Yes. And if we didn’t (I’ll freely confess to being one of them, and I’m obliged by US law to state it every time it happens), how would a lay perfume customer even know? They don’t have access to trade magazines, wouldn’t know unless they read perfumer’s blogs or editorial write-ups, and even those do come from other sources than press releases. In the case of indie perfumers and artisanal brands, they don’t have an advertising budget, or much more to go on but determination and dedication. Some of them are internationally renowned, some of them not at all. My point is…a blogger receives a sample because a perfumer would like that spin on their creation, to see what a blogger’s interpretation might be. And any blogger worth his or her weight in bottled bribes knows full well there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Any artist in any medium knows that once a work of art is finished, you have opened up the gates of Hades to pass it on to the world. You want feedback, accolades (it is to be hoped) or alternatively, at least a certain level of creatively stated antagonism.

That doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

Not one blogger that I’m aware of does this for a living. In most cases, we have very full and overflowing lives that entail things like spouses, children, pets, families, day jobs and laundry baskets. There are only so many hours in a day. I’ve been known to knock out big reviews in an hour and thirty-seven minutes, and several others that took me days or weeks. Yet I have very few truly negative reviews. Why?

It’s the conspiracy of silence. Negative reviews – or simply reviews of stuff you loathe – are too much trouble to write. Why be bothered to forgo an evening with friends, an extra bedtime story, a nosedive into a book, a full night’s sleep, if you have to write a review of something you hate? For that matter, why waste time on what doesn’t move you? I don’t bother with people I can’t stand, why should I do it with perfume? Life’s too short. Better to just…pass it on, pay it forward by sending off a sample to a friend who might love it better, write about it better, cherish that idea you were unable to grasp.

Undina said it beautifully in her post – perfume experts don’t buy perfume. Laymen do. They buy with their hearts, their passion, their noses and their burning plastic, People like you, people like me, people like the perfumers who inspire us and the brands we love – or love to argue about, in that fragrant corner of the dog-eat-dog world of social media, we could call – with some justification, to continue the Huxley reference…the Emotional Engineering Society.

With many thanks to …Persolaise for the interview with Francis Kurkdjian, Andy Tauer, Lucy of Indieperfumes, Undina, Bloody Frida, Susan and the two dear friends who burned my ears this week about this very topic.

Original image: An installation by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.

A Brave New World

-       In which a D-list blogger ventures out on a limb!

Have you noticed how noisy the world in general and even the rarified air of the perfumosphere is getting lately? How demanding it has become to keep up, stay informed, engaged and relevant? Does the constant flow of …information, tweets, status updates, likes, comments, shares, blogs, links, websites, text messages, traffic both virtual and literal… drag you down and make you wonder, as I sometimes do, how utterly blissful and uncomplicated life would be if it could all just float away and be gone, if only so you could think, breathe and listen to nothing more exhilarating than the beat of your heart or a heart that you love?

Hold that thought.

But what if …you miss out? What if there’s yet another…epiphany, discovery, Brand New Thing/blog/brand/launch/thought-provoking WTF moment waiting to happen – and you miss it?

Best to just keep up as best you can with it all…just in case, just because, if only to keep yourself on the cutting edge of cool, knowledgable, hip or informed. Just to hedge your bets.

Because you never know…

Since I became a perfume blogger nearly two years ago, my horizon has expanded exponentially to a degree I never imagined when I started by reviewing the contents of my perfume cabinet, since that was what I had. And since becoming the unbearably smug owner of an iPhone, I gave my social media/blatant and utterly shameless self-promotion skills a major overhaul in the process, joined Twitter and…all Hades broke loose. The Hordes of social media have been on the rampage ever since.

I also this past winter decided to complete some hardcore training in professional social media marketing – might as well hopefully put my money where my mouth is, or so I can dream – and since then, I’ve been privileged enough to apply as well as observe what I could call the Rules of Engagement from both sides of the same fence.

What does it all mean – for the bloggers who write about perfumes and the brands who need to promote their brand or new launches? If it’s true that 1% of a given interest group provides the content that 9% will comment on and 90% simply read and enjoy, what does it mean for the 99% who simply buy all that juice?

Here’s a surprise for you: According to this link, most licensed and/or ‘prestige’ mainstream perfume brands are doing a craptacular job of it. The one exception – also mentioned in the video link – is almost too depressing to contemplate.

But mainstream perfume brands are not the primary focus of the blogs I subscribe to nor the perfumes I mostly choose to review.

Why? They have marketing budgets/teams/paid advertising. They launch new perfumes on the basis of a brief – all too often written up by the self-same marketing department, hell-bent on marketing to the same demographic as everyone else, and again, all too often with the results to match. Uninspiring. Copycat. The same old formulas, same note du jour, same gargantuan conglomerates applying the same sledgehammer PR tactics and only the name on the bottle ever changes.

It’s been stated before on this blog and I’ll state it again – the exceptional rarely happens when a corporate machine and perfume-by-committee gets involved. And if we as perfume bloggers seek out the extraordinary, the exceptional, the olfactory epiphany – the indie/niche fragrant superhighway is one sure way to find it.

So how are they doing out there in this brave new world? And what might it all mean for the bloggers who write about them or the connoisseurs who buy them and enjoy them?

For the sake of argument, I shall henceforth make no distinction between ‘indie’, ‘niche’ or ‘mainstream niche’. It makes it easier on this writer, and easier on the readers. Let’s just lump them all together and call them…’niche’, as in…exclusively available, with limited distribution and often, but not always exclusive price tags to match. These are all the brands, the names, the perfumes so many of us wear, adore, aspire to buy, save up for, dream about and love to write about.

Fasten your seatbelts darlings, because now it gets a little turbulent.

Brands

Here’s a fact few brands of any stripe in any market can quite manage to swallow. In social media, the brand doesn’t belong to the owner/perfumer/company. It belongs to its fans. Usually, these fans are also the main consumers of said brands, and if they’re treated right – I’ll be getting back to that – they are the best and cheapest ambassadors any brand can hope to have. But even now, even today, even this morning come to that, too many of them are still stuck in the one-track, one-way mindset of old-school marketing, which is…”We tell you what’s cool. You choose what to do with it.” So they wonder…at the lack of engagement on their Facebook pages, or the lack of enthusiasm from their customer base, or their lack of black on the bottom line.

In the world of niche, it’s a somewhat different story. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the law of Six Degrees of Separation no longer applies. In the niche world, you can often start or continue an online conversation with the very perfumer (or social media-responsible person) whose creations rocked your planet/made you retch/elevated your quotidian existence. Social propriety is still appropriate, that goes without saying. There are myriad Facebook groups – bless ‘em all – who are exclusively devoted to perfume, to discussing them, arguing about them, spreading the word about them. And the smart brands are listening in on those conversations and paying attention to what’s being said. In other words, they’re doing precisely what they should be doing and that is, engaging their customers/fans in a dialogue.

Having said that, not a few of them fall splat at the fences of their websites. Cranky, clunky online shopping carts and untrackable orders are two issues some of them are known to have, but far, far worse is the ever-present use of Flash. Two words: Just & Don’t. Flash makes sites slow, unsearchable by Google (never a good thing in this day and age), unable to bookmark or link to individual pages, and they irritate the crap out of the customer before he or she can even order. Music we never asked for, special effects we don’t want, PR ballyhoo and copy we’re less and less inclined to read while watching an unexciting progress bar that says ‘Loading…73%’ Anything that gets in the way of having an experience is just plain…bad. Save it for specially linked-to pages – and leave it at that. Your fans will be grateful. Treat them right, and they’ll be loyal, too.

In the niche world, that world of aspirational luxury, the trend in these last few years has seemed to up the ante in terms of just how we define it. And there’s no end in sight. Jean Patou might have – if Elsa Maxwell’s famous ad copy is to be believed – thought he created ‘the most expensive perfume in the world’. When I catch myself thinking that 150$ is practically a bargain, clearly something has got to give. I’ve sniffed a few of those hyper-luxe wonders. Some have blown my socks off. Some of them haven’t. And some of those super-luxurious brands are doing present and potential customers a serious disservice by not providing an entry-level sample program/sample/discovery kit at a reasonable price tag. Ordinary folks with ordinary, non-gazillionaire lives are often quite willing to spend substantial sums on their passion – if they have some idea of what they’re getting. If not, a 700$ mistake can hurt in far more ways than one.

Bloggers

Ah, to be…a blogger! Beholden to no one but your own flaming passions, writing what you please when you please and how it damn well pleases you to do it – where would the enlightened 99% perfume consumer be without you?

For one, not nearly so enlightened. The world of niche and indie perfumers owe a huge, huge debt to the perfume bloggers who write about them, and most of them – myself included – do. And the brands who appreciate all that free PR and ad copy, who inform their fans on Facebook pages about reviews and/or retweet the link to them – are the brands who know a thing or two about promoting a certain degree of brand loyalty that goes in both directions – for mutual and often perpetuating benefit.

As a blogger, I owe a tremendous amount to those intrepid writers who went before the likes of D-list me, who informed me, educated me, made me laugh and paved the way…not to mention pointed to many epiphanies and mind-blowing moments I might otherwise never have known. I’ve been privileged enough to establish friendships, share discoveries, have discussions, and make my own suspect reputation for questionable purple prose through the world-wide blogging community, and as a result been rewarded and sometimes even applauded for it.

For all of which, I’m so grateful, it’s bathetic. Really.

But this world – even this brave new world of social media – is built on…reciprocation. It’s a quid-pro-quo world. And here’s where things can get a bit tricky for bloggers who might question their ethics, their independance or their impartiality.

Brand X needs to spread the word of their newest launch. Enter the blogosphere. Say Blogger Y has written about brand X before. Naturally, Brand X will want Blogger Y to review it. So they send Blogger Y a sample.

Does Blogger Y write up a complimentary review because the sample/bottle/press kit was free? Because they’re on Brand X’s super-exclusive ‘insider’ reviewer list? Because they love everything (or mostly) that Brand X creates/stands for as a brand?

This is a can of worms I’ve often wrestled with personally, since where do you draw the line in terms of what you review, when you review it, never mind the how… you review it. I think this is one area where bloggers distinguish themselves.

I know of a few blogs that are almost unfailingly snarky. You wonder at the things that make the grade, because the level of derision that glows radioactive on your screen is enough to strip wallpaper off the wall behind your back. I like to read them for the entertainment value, but I rarely take them seriously. So far as I’m concerned, there’s no shortage of snark online, but that doesn’t mean I have to appreciate it or even spread my own vitriol in the process because…I’m a blogger and I write what I damn well please!

What did I say? Social proprieties still apply. If – as I fervently believe –perfume creation/conceptualization is an art form as relevant and as intricate as any other art, then it should be judged as such. Artists are touchy, sensitive-skinned creatures when it comes to critique. Unless I specifically set out to give a satirical spin on something I consider horrendous, which doesn’t happen often, I will at least attempt to appreciate the concept and the art behind a given perfume I review. It has happened exactly once that I was unable to review a perfume at all – not because it wasn’t flawless, beautiful or thought-provoking, but because it woke up a painful memory I thought I’d forgotten, so much so I couldn’t write about it. At all. I’ve felt guilty about it ever since.

As a blogger, I review what and as I can when I can, which is never as much as I would prefer, but that has nothing to do with blogging per se, and more to do with stylistic differences in the way I review. I can’t – no matter how I’ve surely tried – write like anyone else but me, review a new perfume every day, write short and snappy reviews, and I can’t, above all else, not dive into the bottles and coax the genies out in my own way. Perfume is the most intimate, personal art of all, and up close and idiosyncratic/iconoclastic is the only way my words will out.

I may not have the audience or the reputation of some of those big name bloggers with countless thousands of daily hits and endless retweets. I’m human enough to admit to a little envy because of it. Some of them link back to me, yet many of them don’t, if they’re even aware I exist. On the other hand, I don’t write like them either – and isn’t the whole point of the blogosphere freedom of expression? And isn’t the point of this Brave New World a world where there’s room enough for all sorts of voices to be read?

Smart brands will recognize the bloggers who have no other reasons to write about than to communicate their passion. Bloggers for their part can often predict or sense a trend well before it lands on shelves/blogs/perfume cabinets.

And in the end no matter what you do, whether you’re a brand fan, a brand, a blogger or a simple perfume aficionado, the passion, the enthusiasm, the dialogue and the creativity that flows both ways is what really matters in the endless quest for that next Great Big Perfumed Epiphany.

Something many niche brands understood a long time ago, and new niche brands need to realize. Listen to the conversations. Spread the word. Read the blogs. Make your voice heard. And make your name – in perfume, in prose, or in the presence you create.

It’s a brave new world out there with a brave, adventurous audience. And Fortune, as the saying goes, favors the brave!

I adore perfume. It allows me to take up more space.

With thanks to Yosh Han and Ayala Sender for the link, and to the very dear friend and diehard perfume connoisseuse who prompted this blog post in a phone conversation last week!

Original image: A sculpture by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.