In the last ten years, the world has seen a proliferation of niche perfumes unlike any in history, with literally tens of thousands of independent and luxury perfume makers flooding the market. I won't go on and on about the nature of the industry in this post (this will not be a long post), as I'd rather ponder the implications that this phenomenon holds for society. In my view, things look grim.
Perfume is without question a luxury item, an unnecessary accoutrement to one's grooming routine that usually costs more money than it's worth. Yes, it's wonderful stuff, and sure, we're all the better for having it, but personal fragrance is the sort of thing that enters dead last on the list of Shit You Must Have. Food, shelter, steady work, transportation, all are infinitely more important.
What do we know about the fragrance industry as it parallels the global economy? We have seen in the last decade the formation of an incredible economic divide. In America, the top one percent of the population holds almost forty percent of the nation's wealth, while the middle class flounders at less than a quarter percent. The average niche perfume costs about $140 per 100 ml bottle. Which demographic do you think is buying these fragrances? Clue: the majority of middle class American families aren't blowing their money on niche perfumes.
The middle class makes up the majority of the population.
With this basic knowledge in hand, we must heuristically conclude that the majority of niche buyers are people in the upper class. They are a small subset of the population, but they are the drivers of the burgeoning luxury market, which sees continuing growth.
This bodes ill for society as a whole. While the majority of the American people (and European people, for that matter) struggle on a day-to-day basis to make ends meet, and an astonishing 43% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a tiny subset of anywhere from 5% to 15% of the population is making enough money to fuel an industry. Part of that industry is niche perfumery.
Of course there are outliers. Some who firmly inhabit the middle of the middle class will be tangential spenders who are either (a) bad with money, or (b) so obsessed, they don't care how they spend every last penny of disposable income. These people will buy niche at any cost and accumulate bottles as collectors, or as investors looking to re-sell. You can't tell me Dan "My Mickers" on Youtube is a one percenter - although he may be upper middle class for all I know. There are certainly many Dans out there.
But their numbers aren't enough to keep the insanely expensive niche perfume industry alive and well. Someone else is doing that. It's no coincidence that the niche market exploded after the crash of 2008. In the ensuing eight years, the economy stagnated for the majority of the population, but boomed at unprecedented levels for the already rich.
The chickens may be coming home to roost. The rise of niche may be a curse.
This election season has been many things to many people, but one thing I've noticed is that everybody is very, very scared. Everybody. Not just the lower and middle classes. Even the rich are terrified. The Koch brothers are scratching their heads, trying to fathom how we got to this point, with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton the two major candidates. Two terrible choices. And if you know anything about the Koch brothers, you know they usually aren't scratching their heads during an election. They're usually rigging the shit out of our make-believe democracy. The fact that even they don't know what's going on has me, quite ironically, a little worried.
If Hillary wins, America's relationship with Russia will deteriorate further than it already has. A new Cold War will begin, which will be a gateway to WWIII. President Putin has already expressed rankling concern with America's missile defense system, stationed in Romania and several other remote outposts flanking his country. He astutely holds our "democracy" in low esteem, and considers anti-American foreign policy justifiable not only in bureaucratic terms, but also on moral grounds.
It's also reasonable to suppose that a Hillary victory would do little to stem the tide of ISIS attacks in Europe and the Middle East. And I'm a firm believer that we're headed for another catastrophic recession, possibly even a depression, with our fundamentally unsound stock market sitting a little too pretty.
A Trump presidency would guarantee a recession, triggered by evaporated investor confidence alone, and an emboldened Russia would simply go ahead with whatever plans it has to retake annexed Soviet territories, spurring all kinds of conflict. North Korea would grow the stones to act on its fantasies, our domestic economy would crater those tidy jobs numbers Obama's been bragging about, social politics would mudslide back to the fifties (in the last two years we've managed to make it as far back as the sixties), and the world would soon label America's vacationing travelers "refugees."
This all falls shy of being apocalyptic, but consider that at near negative interest rates on bonds, and certain commodities holding on by a thread, the Federal Reserve has no bullets left in its gun. Another crisis means we're on our own.
What does this have to do with perfume? Nothing and everything.
I'm not suggesting that these bad political choices are directly related to the world of niche fragrance. But I am suggesting that the burgeoning luxury market of niche is a symptom of a greater problem. It's nice that the wealthy have so much money that they can finance these start-ups and buy their overpriced compositions. It's wonderful that brands like Memo and Byredo and Clive Christian and Creed have sprung from the loins of Europe and found homes on the napes of lily-white necks across the continent. There's nothing wrong with it on an objective business level.
But the fact that there are so many of these niche fragrances, thousands of them priced at $250, $300, $500 a bottle (or more), signals danger on a social level. As Nick Hanauer said two years ago, "The pitchforks are coming." He couldn't be more right about that.
Don't let your scent trail lead them to you.