The business of niche perfumery is gridlocked. The combination of two opposing forces is pushing perfumery to a tipping point and the market is on track to slam the brakes soon. The first is the escalating pace of new perfumes and the second is a concept called the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. The principle holds that the perceived value of a commodity (eg. perfume) declines with each additional unit consumed. The second (or twentieth) bottle doesn’t provide any greater satisfaction than the first. It’s like an addict chasing the first, the greatest high. But there are bright spots, notably the reinvention of retired genres like the chypre by a varied group of artisanal perfumers. They propose a neo-classical style as an alternative to the post-modern tack niche usually takes.
Traditional perfumers learned their craft by building and manipulating accords. Contemporary perfumers have hacked the chypre and are taking it for a ride. They often work in reverse. Rather than starting with building accords, they deconstruct them and screw with them. Their source material is the work of the perfumers who saw the chypre as the ideal form: Jean Carles, Edmond Roudnitska, Guy Robert and Germaine Cellier.
These vintage perfumes are an enormous asset to curious perfumers, but they’re buried treasure to perfume aficionados. There are a great number of fumies who know in detail both the last 15-20 years of ‘niche’ and decades of vintage perfume. They have followed independent perfumery for long enough to recognize the doldrums and have an alternative: their vintage collections. Whether a couple of old bottles or a dedicated drawerful, vintage perfumery is a mature field to harvest while indie perfumery goes through a fallow spell.
These neoclassical perfumers and their audience share a love of the same historical perfumes and they want to push the discussion beyond nostalgia. This current trend is custom-built for those of us who dig both vintage and independent perfumery. Juggling both in your head is easy if you’re into it, like walking and chewing gum at the same time. It takes no particular effort and gives a broader perspective to contemporary work. It’s not so much new vs. old as a continuity from then til now.
I’m hoping to write more about both recent artisanal work and vintage perfumery. I want to find a way to discuss them simultaneously. Though they were produced decades apart, I experience them together today.
Starting now with Bandit.
(image La Merridienne, Van Gogh)