(Image Will Kemp)
Dissociating cost and excellence is an important step in taking a discerning look at perfume. Divorcing notions of status and aspiration from perfume is a tricky prospect since perfume and fashion are historically and currently bound together. Still, while perfume and fashion are bound in the marketplace, perfume doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed and debated in the same light as fashion and design.
At the time of writing (3/2013) a 4.2 oz bottle of the Yatagan costs $29.49.
I hesitate to use the word “great” in perfumery. Greatness connotes a false objectivity, or at least a socially agreed upon judgment, when it is in fact fundamentally subjective. We say ‘Great’ when we’re looking for the dividing line: high/low, good/bad, worthy/crass.
(Image Bling H2O)
OK, so Caron Yatagan. (1976, Perfumer Vincent Marcello.) Per Caron’s own marketing it is a, “Flowerless Oriental Chypre”. So perfectly, hollowly evocative! It is instantly familiar to the ear, like flourless chocolate cake, but is also an easily decoded intimation. Flowerless = not pretty (read: the troubled masculinity of 1976, its year of origin). Oriental = a long history of describing ‘exotic’ sensibilities using tedious stereotypes of the inscrutable East. Chypre = green, bitter, mossy and, importantly, sophisticated. I imagine Caron might have been scared of Yatagan’s distinctiveness and attempted to use classic fragrance language to come up with a catch-phrase to comfort and flatter its potential buyers.
Caron may have been encompassingly vague in their marketing language, dimly offensive in their oriental allusion, but fortunately direct and brave in their fragrance. Yatagan has that striking balance of starkness and richness found in the best and most distinctive of perfumes.
So given its quality, why is Yatagan so inexpensive? Some factors I can loosely understand: economies of scale over time, brand recognition obviating the need for specific product marketing, possibly lower composition/production costs, clear profit margins assuming the initial investments in the 1970s have been returned. But rhetorically, why does Yatagan cost so much less than the weekly iteration of men’s designer crap fragrance? And why does Yatagan cost literally one-tenth the price of some directly comparably, high quality fragrances like those from Serge Lutens and Amouage?