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.

31 thoughts on “A Brave New World

  1. Great post. And you mentioned my pet peeve: Flash on perfume websites: Just & Don’t! I am only getting time to post about once a month these days. It’s getting to the point where I am considering stopping, but I still enjoy perfume, so I haven’t decided.

    1. I think a lot of us start out all gung-ho and hellbent, but then, real life invariably creeps in and sucks us away…Thank you for your comment – and yes, I think that Flash on websites is WAY..overdone. It looks cool, yes, And it drives many of us nuts!

      1. Flash is really a leftover from the web 1.0 days, when there was this idea that if you created an immersive flash site, people would stay on your website forever exploring and somehow that would = more money. Most places on the web have moved away from that model, but luxury brand websites seem to have had a hard time giving it up. Perhaps just because of the “beauty’ of such web designs?

    1. Sandi, I think you put yuour metaphical finger on precisely what is so hard to understand for brands – that it’s about time they listen! Because if they don’t, their customers will take their business and their pocketbooks elsewhere to brandss who do just that! Thank you for reading!

  2. Here’s what I commented on AT’s blog about this post: I do believe there is a huge difference between artisanal and other types of perfumes. It is the difference between the hand made arts and graphic design, or commercial art and illustration, which are all important and refined in their own right, but very different animals and not really all that related in many ways. I think people do discuss these things among friends. Perhaps it’s difficult to discuss in public without starting difficult flame wars, because there is so much zealotry out there. I will post this comment on Sheila’s space too. But I think this is an important point and otherwise the sense of reciprocity is not really about boosting each other but more about being available to truthfully discuss. Which may not be possible in a public forum for many reasons.

    1. ” It is the difference between the hand made arts and graphic design, or commercial art and illustration,” See, I don’t believe there is a difference; I personally get very annoyed when artists try to one-up themselves by saying a certain art form is less- or better than another. Just my humble opinion.

      1. Hi BF, I was not making one better than another, just pointing out that they are very different animals and they certainly have very different access and approach to the publich through social media or otherwise.

      2. Thanks Lucy – I appreciate your thoughts – I still need to get my head wrapped around so many of these ideas that have been put out here.

    2. The differences lie mainly in artistic vision – in artisanal perfumery, there is much more freedom to create and/or communicate waht a given perfumer is trying to say. I don’t believe in the difference between fine and applied arts – it’s a bit like comparing apples and kumquats, really – they serve different purposes for different clienteles, that’s all. My own past in applied arts as a graphic designer have taught me that one isn’t necessarily more dignified than the other – nor is it at all easier! The problem with encouraging or instigating a relevant public debate about these issues – and I note that the general attitude seems to be ‘If I ignore it, it willl go away’ – is that in a public forum, any manner of trolls might feel just provoked enough to come out of the woodwork. It looks like I might have to do …another! blog post about this very hot potato! 😉

      1. I’m really glad you posted – and hope others chime with their thoughts and opinions. You have often brought up difficult topics, and I commend you for it!

  3. I’m not quite sure what you mean by this post, Shelia. Are you saying that all the social media can help perfumers because of the dialogue that is possible?

    And with regard to Andy Tauer’s post…let me say something that might not be at all welcome. First, as a perfume lover, I want to experience the art of the perfume in the way I SEE/FEEL it. If a perfume hits my soul, then I want to know more about it, the vision, the perfumer, etc. If the creation doesn’t,, I then don’t much care about all of that. I think I understand the passion that perfumers have for their art – I say ‘think” because I don’t know any perfumer in real life. I may read their blogs, but only if something they have created stirs/ed me. And also, I think esp. with someone like Andy Tauer, that a lot of folks are star struck! I know I am.

    Because of the alleged closeness of people on the blogger-o-sphere and social media, I believe that this has caused people to be TOO NICE.. You mentioned snarky blogs of which I have no idea to whom you are referring.. I think, again just my humble opinion, that the lack of a review on many a blog site is a negative review. Or maybe a “I’m not really sure how to talk about this perfume” review.

    Andy Tauer also mentions the blogs that just mentioned SOTDs etc. Well why wouldn’t they? They may be afraid to say something negative or seemingly uneducated about the world of the perfumer and bring about all kinds of wrath.

    And does a negative review necessarily = snarky?

    Artists are sensitive? Hell yeah they/we are, but to be in a world where they/we are promoting their vision, they better grow some thicker skin.

    1. Fragrant greetings, Bloodyfrida, I used to work in science and there you are constantly confronted with the potential falsification of your ideas and models, to jointly work on better ideas and models. I love this. There is a constant discussion ongoing and even main principles are constantly challenged. I think the key is discussion. And sharing thoughts. I have received quite some negative reviews on the pentachords which did not come as a surprise to me, in light of the concept and the consequent approach. I think I even loved some of the negative reviews because there, often, perfume lovers showed their engagement with an idea of mine. They tried to understand, appreciate but did not like the result (some did) and that is perfectly fine with me.
      I have no problem with SOTD notes. But my point is that there is a medium for everything. I think facebook and other social media like twitter are just not the right media for thorough discussions. And , to be frank, I think a 120 character review of a scent is not really a review. It is just a tweet. Nice, and -the media is the message!- appropriate for twitter, but not really suited to deal with a scent into which a creator has invested two years, uncounted trials. But maybe this is the twisted perspective of the creator. I guess it is.
      And I guess – interpreting your words- it is not important to really know the creator. I would dare saying that if a creation is done properly then it should speak for itself, without the need of the creator explaining it. But maybe the creator -being an artisanal perfumer- can share how all fits together and what needs to be considered before a scent goes into a bottle. It is a little bit like me buying a T-shirt in NY from a guy standing behind his stand, talking to him, learning that he makes a living by designing T-shirts and printing them. In the end it is a shirt that I wear. But everytime I grab for it and put it on, I remember his smile when we could share his story and what his idea was behind the print the shirt. These two T-shirts that I got there from oqer (www.oqer.com) are my favorite T-Shirts 🙂

      1. Hey Andy! What I meant to share/say was that if I do love a perfume, I DO want to learn more about it and the perfumer, and conversely if I love a perfumer’s world (or that which I have gleaned from his/her blog, etc) then I mostly likely will look at that perfume differently and with much more love and hopefully much more understanding. So I think I’m on the same (or similar) page as you with this respect.

        But what I’m also saying is that if something doesn’t speak to me, I will more likely NOT research that perfumer or perfume house so thoroughly.

        (And then you have things like Celine (the author). I LOVE(d) his work, but then I read more about his personal life and I got very conflicted!)

        I totally agree with you that Facebook and Twitter are not the perfect medium for discussion. But then again, I’m no longer on Facebook and rarely use twitter. But they are good ways to shout out to others about your favorite perfume/perfumer at the moment, and perhaps this will lead others to research.

        But I must emphasize that it is difficult to be honest about a perfume when writing any type of blog for fear of hurting people’s feelings (esp when that person is on your blog roll or ‘friends list”), and for fear of not being 100% knowledgeable about EVERY aspect of that perfumer’s life and perfume in general and being chastised. I’m sure there are other reasons, but those are the first two that popped in my head.

        Am I making any sense?

        (oh and thanks for the link on the tee-shirts! I adore when that happens – and I’m fortunate that I have many friends who are creative and adorn my self and my house with their work with a smile as well.)

    2. What I’m saying, I think, is that I just might have to clarify precisely what I mean in another blog post! Yes, in genral, people are very, very nice. Nothing wrong with that. Having said that – and no, a negative review doesn’t have to = snark. But oh, boy…I think I kicked open a f-i-n-e can of worms now..;)

  4. Sheila and Frida, I too find this a little confusing. What is the controversy?
    As to dialog, I personally prefer to try a perfume when it is ready, and I am not interested or willing to advise or shape perfume. If I love or even like a perfume that is a very personal thing and I may or may not write about it.
    Even though I ‘ve been doing it since 2006, I don’t see it as a “job” or that I have a position as a reviewer. I see it as inspiration that triggers my own writing and sharing my enthusiasms and thoughts on what is evoked. The associations and connections I make from the experience are very dependent on many personal factors.
    My writing about perfume gives me satisfaction, but the perfumer makes what they make, as I write what I write. If a perfumer wants more dialog online, then they will have to spend a lot more time online going back and forth with their critics. I think the blog post is crafted more thoughtfully and gives in-depth reaction to the perfume, which can speak to the perfumer if they want to read it.

    Any case, I think FB and Twitter are more for short bursts of sharing the kick of the day, or keeping in touch, because they don’t really lend themselves to much else. If they turn into vehicles for marketing, then it’s just more to ignore. People don’t want to spend their personal time online having to dodge yet more self promotion and branding and ads.

    1. The controversy might just be that there isn’t one… just yet. I’m not necessarily advocating ‘dialogue’ so much as honest discussion, and as you so rightly point out, Lucy, it could be that we still don’t have a platform for that kind of discussion.
      So far as Facebook is concerned – sorry to burst your bubble here – it is not simply a possible platform for marketing/advertising,but has been from the beginning, and even now on Facebook, every single user is dodging ads/copy/marketing machinations. Not only that, every time we engage on FB – with a group, a page, a status, a like, a share or a comment, we are every second providing a unique – and supremely cost-effective, since it’s free! – marketing/branding profile of ourselves. And then repeating the process on Twitter. And every Google search we make. Social media is changing nearly everything about the dynamics of both our real-world and virtual lives – and we haven’t even seen the tip of that iceberg yet.

      1. Sheila, Of course I am aware that FB is used as a marketing tool, but sadly the more it is the less effective it becomes. They are killing the goose, so to speak. I have posted a number of times on artisan perfumes and what the difference is and why it’s important that they are being made, and have been thinking and writing about that whole aspect of indieperfumes for awhile, and it’s the basis for a lengthy piece I have been working on for the past two years. It is what keeps me interested. I get involved in projects (as you know) where we go off on the tangents of our own inspirations around a topic based in perfumes, it’s my favorite aspect of the perfume community, really, having an audience and building relationships within all that.

        I hear Andy on the sadness that there are signs that much of all this may be be turning into a superficial and not very useful or interesting manner of interaction about perfume. Hopefully we will continue to bring enough of ourselves to what we do online so that the marketing, branding, self promo parade doesn’t drown out everything else that is personal and creative. If that can’t be helped, and it does, then there will be an exodus and there will be something new to replace it, you can bet on that. Five years from now, the online world will have really changed and there is sure to be ways to communicate directly we can’t even imagine right now, because that is what people really want.

  5. I actually have a great deal of concern that many of my formerly favorite bloggers are essentially being “paid off.” It seems that a lot of bloggers have a direct line to particular brands now – they get the stuff early and are essentially part of the marketing campaigns for the brand. I’m not saying that this necessarily completely discredits their reviews, but there are a few blogs it’s getting harder and harder for me to take seriously, especially when they basically never say anything negative. I know many have a philosophy of just not reviewing things they don’t like, or saying “it’s just not for me,” but what good does that really do any of us readers, at the same time? Art criticism DOES have a role in society.

    I don’t know. I feel like our little community is really coming of age, and we shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand about these issues.

  6. To all of you – Lucy, Frida, Susan, Portia and especially Andy – thank you so very much for your comments! Clearly, I touched a nerve or two here, and evidently, might have done a better job of explicating myself in the process. Which I shall attempt to remedy to the best of my meager abilities in the very near future. There’s a lot to say here, and if no one else will…then I shall! 😉

  7. Very interestingly, I constantly walk the line between passion and “work” in perfume hobby. By “work” in quotes I mean networking, participating in sample passes, making sure to read and respond to the blogs (which takes longer and longer, more and more time! good time to say I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while!). I do not mind work at all because there is always work in passion, the passion gives energy to learning about perfume, researching it, going out of the way to get the samples, organizing the samples, etc. Most importantly — wearing the perfume and taking care to notice its beauty and my response to it.

    But when “work” becomes a chore, when I feel stifled by a string of “ought to” — ought to sample because I am in a pass, ought to write a quick review because my friend wanted to hear my thoughts about the fragrance, ought to try a newest creation so that I know what my friends are talking about — the passion disappears.

    If I were a professional perfumer or a perfume writer, even a blogger (and this is why I do not have a blog yet), I’d be in trouble. How would I get all the energy for the work that’s needed to be done when the passion is gone? I am not. I am not a professional perfumer, I am not a professional writer, my work obligation lie elsewhere. If I continue having my passion about perfume, I will continue exploring it, buying it, talking about it in the community, writing about it occasionally as a guest writer. If I lose this passion in attempts to do “work” of trying to be more meaningful than I can be, there will be one less person in the perfume community. It is that simple.

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