Who Pays Over $50 For This? (Hint: Nobody.)

Worth waiting for.

In recent months, Perry Ellis has been attracting unwarranted attention for one of their "luxe" fragrances, a little thing called Oud Black Vanilla Absolute. This thread wonders where one can acquire a bottle, as it's been impossible to find lately, while this one celebrates its temporary return to stock. Meanwhile, most people have never heard of this fragrance, not because Perry Ellis has poor visibility among consumers, but because their "luxe" frags are oxymoronic products with a more limited distribution than their usual bargain-basement fare.

I'm not saying OBVA isn't worth the extra money (it's not insanely priced at seventeen dollars an ounce), nor am I suggesting that wanting this fragrance is in any way absurd or foolish. I'm sure it's a decent fragrance. However, I have to point out a phenomenon that I've seen many times before. This fragrance garnered little to no attention prior to its disappearance from merchant sites. Yet within a few days of its disappearance, people were pining for it. It returned to Beautyspin this week, and within 48 hours it sold out again. It was priced at $50.89. Prices on eBay are currently in the $90 to $200 range. This is insanity.

This is also the definition of "hype" in the fragrance world. We saw this with Red for Men eight years ago when it was unavailable and "discontinued". Bottles of vintage Red were going for anywhere from $150 to $300 on eBay. Then it was reissued at five dollars an ounce, and suddenly those inflated internet prices plummeted. Today you can get a 1.7 oz vintage on eBay for $30. And then there was Claiborne Sport, which was usually found at discounters for ten to twelve dollars for 3.4 ounces. It was briefly unavailable a year ago, and Amazon/eBay prices shot up to $100 a bottle. It suddenly returned to shelves at its original price point, and those inflated prices vanished.

Now with Perry Ellis we see the exact same phenomenon. The problem with OBVA is that it's a Perry Ellis fragrance. Quality-wise, this brand might, when standing on its tippy-toes, brush the Chanel Allure line, and just barely at that. PE has never been a very good brand. Its 360 line is generally forgettable sneaker juice. Its signature frags are highly synthetic. There's just nothing "luxe" about Ellis, which is why I said their perfume line is oxymoronic in nature. Yet people have subscribed to the notion that this particular fragrance is worth these prices. Why? And why now?

There's little doubt that basenotes fuels these strange moments. Conversations in its forums often creates the illusion of quality. People are looking for a fragrance. Therefore, it must be excellent. But if it's so good, why aren't more experienced senior members raving about it? Is demand really high for this stuff? If so, why hasn't PE jacked up the price per bottle? It was gone for months, and then it returns at the same price it was going for before. Perhaps this was just a random palette of bottles leftover from the first release of OBVA, and PE hasn't actually reissued it, which might explain why prices remained static, but still. Beautyspin could have raised the cost on their end by as much as they wished. They didn't.

The other thing I've noticed is that people are usually only interested in something like this when it becomes unavailable. If OBVA were always available, there wouldn't be this sort of hysteria over it. But because it's hard to find, guys want it. It's about supply and demand, but instead of demand overtaking supply and making something scarce and more expensive, demand becomes high only after supply has gradually dwindled, and non-auction merchant prices remain unchanged. Welcome to the twilight zone.

But bottles have always been available at auction. I used to think that eBay was where people went to get the stuff they couldn't get elsewhere. Yet basenoters are "waiting" for OBVA to reappear on Beautyspin, and largely eschewing those wildly-inflated bottles on eBay. They'd rather just pay $50 for it, and they're willing to wait a few months to do so. Ebay prices have gone down, too. It can be had for $150 and less. People weren't sustaining those $200+ prices we were seeing back in January, or we'd still be seeing bottles moving around within that price range, or even over it.

Back then, as chronicled in the "Perry Ellis OBVA Now Selling For $300" thread, the inflated prices were fishy. It was noted that certain eBay accounts were repeatedly bidding up various bottles, which vaguely supported my longstanding theory that such prices represent a vacuum of interest between merchants that never actually connects with the general public, i.e., buyers that want to wear an item, not just buy and resell it. Having read through the thread in its entirety, I'm astonished by how difficult it was for people to answer the simple question as to just who, exactly, pays more for something like this. Despite the question being posed by a couple of members, the entire thread consisted of responses that failed to coherently connect the logic of paying $300 (or even $120) for something that days ago was available for a mere $50.

The fact that nobody could answer the question speaks volumes. The members defending the idea of OBVA at $120 - $300 all said that they would never buy it at that price, but could understand why others might. This makes no sense. One guy, a member who appears to enjoy a minimalist view of capitalism, stated that something is "worth whatever someone will pay for it." Perhaps, but in this case, who is "someone?" Based on these threads, I think "someone" is whoever requests "availability alerts" on Beautyspin so they can pay Beautyspin's price for OBVA. It's clear that buyers are more interested in keeping OBVA's price where Beautyspin has it, rather than where anonymous eBay merchants have it.

One member compared it to paying retail for Tom Ford fragrances, which makes no sense at all. Another compared it to "good deals" for discontinued Stetson Country and vintage Escada, suggesting the market isn't generally unreasonable, and only the occasional scent gets absurdly priced, which are moot points. (Stetson Country wasn't popular, and I've yet to see reasonable Escada prices.) Some suggested it's a factor for people with "discretionary income" to consider, which is as broad and meaningless a point as one can make. Nobody could make a convincing case for spending any more than $50.89 for OBVA.

Remember, when people buy Perry Ellis on Beautyspin, they're already paying grey market prices for it. In the grey market, prices fall. They don't rise. That's the point of the grey market. Internet sales of OBVA are all grey market. You can see for yourself that many basenotes members don't realize this. It's this fact alone that nullifies the assertion that buyers really "set the price" for something like this. The price is always driven by market utility first, with concern for subjective value a distant second.

This is the latest case of newbies basing a fragrance's value on its availability, rather than on what they know about the actual fragrance itself. And I believe most of the basenotes members who want this fragrance and missed out on it the first and second time will wait for the next time it's available on Beautyspin to buy it.

Update: One of the basenotes members, on his blog, attempted to answer the question posed in the title of this post with the following:

"Two people did recently, about $100 total per bottle (see ebay item number 381628715126). Presumably, this was prior to the temporary restocking, but it’s out of stock again, and people spend money on all kinds of 'frivolous' things every moment of the day . . ."

I would like to point out that if you search that eBay item number, you merely find a current listing, (even when you check "sold items"), with no evidence of the item actually having been sold for $100. When you click on the seller and review his feedback on items sold, you can see that at no point did he sell OBVA for that amount. Sloppy investigative blogging on his part? I'll let you decide. People may make frivolous purchases all the time, but not for this fragrance.

I want to thank the blogger for continuing to provide clear-cut examples of why eBay fragrance sales should sometimes be regarded with the utmost suspicion, and for fortifying the idea that no assumptions about their legitimacy should ever be made.


  1. What do you think of a kind of fragrance stock exchange, which would allow people to put in "ask" prices, and so everyone would be able to see the "spread" between "bid and ask?" Note that I have yet to buy this scent.

    1. I expect it would work okay for the first few weeks. Then, like anything relating to money, it would get manipulated and extortionary practices would overtake the novelty. Ebay does sort of give people a view of what's possible and what isn't when regular auctions (not "buy it now") sales occur. However, even that is manipulated now by false buyer accounts.

  2. Reviews have been positive, the packaging looks nice, and PEs scents are often decent (some more overtly synthetic than others, but not really much worse than the usual Sephora or Ulta(sp?) offerings). The price sort of makes sense, since it's double what their regular scents usually go for. Which is typical of "luxe" lines (if not triple or quadruple as much). Though I haven't seen anyone even mention oud, so I'm not sure what's luxurious about this (charging a crapload of money for synthetic oud is a whole other issue too).
    What bothers me more are luxe or private lines in general. They're often outrageously priced in comparison to the main lines. Like with Hermes, Tom Ford, or Armani. The compositions might be better or more interesting at times, but it's not like it's enough to make up for the huge price difference.

    1. My next post will directly address some things Michael Edwards said at Exsense, and the problems with "luxe" and "niche," and also why niche reviews are so infrequent here.


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