For some reason, I had the bonkers idea to sniff, sample and review as many perfumes as I can in 2010....

Sunday, 14 March 2010

the high cost of smelling

Originally posted at Dreamwidth on January 26, 2010

They say a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. When it comes to "luxury" goods such as cosmetics, there is an assumption that you get what you pay for, higher cost items are invariably better quality.

Now I'd argue that's not always the case.
That sometimes you are not just paying for the better ingredients, but also better packageing and the cachet that a "name" brand brings. While I adore Benefit's foundation, I've also been lucky enough to get Rimmel products in Poundland that did the job just as well. You don't see me haunting the Clinique counter that often, although Clarins occasionally get a whiff of my cash for their Beauty Flash Balm which does actually do what it says on the tube. Other than that, I'm a great believer in buying what's on the best offer, regardless of the manufacturer.

But with perfume, it's not that simple. You can go to the The Perfume Store for good prices but if they don't do your signature scent, then you're a bit stuffed. They don't do Chanel no 5 for example, presumably because Chanel don't want the brand to appear to be in the same market as High Street Celebrity fragrances. So immediatly there is an instant snobbery. (Could you imagine the excreable Liz Jones buying her perfume at Superdrug for instance? Of course not, it would be beneath her, and were her scent to be sold there, it would be suddenly far too plebian for her tastes.)

Now, as I may have mentioned, I'm a bit of a BPAL obsessive. To the point where I now have more imps than I can gainfully use (nearly 90 at last count). I've always said that what with the fact that these are perfume oils, BPAL fragrances are cheaper than high end products. Certainly the imps do allow you a wider choice of day to day scent, with BPAL communities selling imps for $1 a pop. So it never feels like you're spending much money, the 5ml bottles retailing for $15.00 (£9.32) for the General Catalogue up to $25.00 (£15.52) for the Gaiman/Hellboy scents.

So far so good. But one of the downsides of the year of perfume meme is the fact that suddenly I want some "posher" fragrances. Chanel no 5 for example, a scent I'd stayed away from for years because I never expected it to smell good on me, is something I'd now quite like a bottle of. Then over the weekend I tried something so delicious that it felt like a signature scent.

That was By Kilian Back to Back Aphrodisiac. I'll review it properly when my cold buggers off, but for now I can tell you its tobacco, vanilla, patchouli heaven. Now I knew it was "niche", knew it was a little exclusive, but didn't quite realised what that meant until I started looking at prices. According to the website, a 30 ml travel spray will set me back €95 (£79.11).

{Insert Cary Grant type double-take here}

So there I was, with a scent I loved, already a bit embarrased by the whole niche ponciness of the thing, and now a scary price tag.

Time to do some maths.

Working on the prices of 5ml bottles of BPAL, if a GC was available in 30ml, it would cost £55.92, whilst a Gaiman/Hellboy (and I wear Liz, currently) would be £93.12.


To put this into a context, a 35ml bottle of Chanel no 5 costs around £42.00.


Ok then.

So my lovely bottle of BPAL is, per milligram, more expensive than high end niche perfumes. Which was a bit of a shocker, but, because I buy it in 5ml bottles, doesn't feel like an excessive purchase. Still, that doesn't help with the new lovely scents, which I can't get in 5ml.

Except, thanks to The Perfumed Court, I can. A 5ml decant of Back to Black costs $29.99 (£18.62). Obviously you're paying for the decant service (and then P&P on top) but it's still in a more manageable outlay.

If I resist the decant option and choose to splash cash on the exceptionally pretty travel spray, simply because it is a thing of beauty quite frankly, then am I just buying into this whole "niche perfumista snobbery"? Which wasn't why I started this project. It doesn't help that I'm a total design tart, because I'm exactly the sort of idiot who'd want this little monolith travel spray (that's really what it's called).

But I really like the scent. Which means maybe hunting down GE BPAL scents and seeing if there is anything similar. Alternatively, I could just rationalise the fact that one 30ml bottle costs less than 2 brand new Xbox 360 games.

And then, while I was writing this earlier today, I tried Bond No 9 Chinatown, £90 for 50ml and almost as beautiful as the Back to Black, in a equally pretty container.

I can say hand on heart, when I tried both fragrances, I didn't know their prices or the prettiness of their packaging. Both are EDPs so will go the distance. Neither are available on Duty Free so I'm pretty much stuck with those prices. I could, perhaps justify one for my birthday and one for Christmas? Plus it's not like I'm going to be boasting about how much the damn things cost every time someone compliments me on my perfume. I think most of my friends just take it as read that I'm going to smell nice, Matt tends to just smell "perfume" rather than anything specific.

I think, in my roundabout, cold-addled brain, that what I'm saying, is that while sometime you do get inept expensive scents, sometimes you do also get what you pay for, and then the only question is Xbox or fragrance?

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