YouTube has become the premier place for perfume reviews and commentary, having unseated fragrance blogs like this one several years ago. A good friend of mine has suggested I switch to a Vlog format, but I resist because I enjoy writing so much. Vloggers do plenty of writing, but I'm not ready to script my reactions to things, and will simply continue to jot my thoughts here.
I've noticed that several YouTubers tout specific financial approaches to how they manage their fragrance-collecting "addiction." Many mention that they sell unwanted fragrances to finance buying new things, and use this "rotating door" method to keep a collection size and bank account mutually balanced. I find this to be a clever way to discard something you don't want anymore, but it raises the obvious question: If you don't want it, why is it in your collection to begin with?
The answer is that this method of managing fragrance finances only works if I'm frivolous to begin with. And indeed, the YouTubers who do this are doing it with expensive fragrances, things that are well over $100 per 100ml. This only makes sense if I've fallen out of love with something that I was once enamored with. Let's say I bought a bottle of Amouage's Figment for Men, and was wild about it. Then, a year later, I'm tired of it. Whatever wowed me twelve months ago is now the thing that puts me to sleep. So I sell my 70%-full bottle of Figment for $80 on eBay, and immediately spend the remaining $60 (after listing and shipping fees) on a bottle of Vetiver by Etro. I've halved the price-point of the new entry (Figment was $120), but having used $40 worth of Figment, I haven't lost money. It's an even flip.
Sometimes you can make an even better flip by barely using any of the frag, and after three or four wears you sell it for the same price as retail, which facilitates purchasing something else at nearly the exact same price-point. Based on what I've seen on YouTube, it seems the heavy-hitting collectors do this all the time. But again, it makes me wonder, why? Why spend on something you're only going to wear for three or four days? Why go through all the trouble of then listing it, mailing it to someone, and buying something else? While it can work out just fine, it's an awful lot of trouble.
It's also not really feasible for all fragrances. Some frags are in higher demand than others. You can flip a bottle of Aventus easily. It's practically a currency fragrance. But can you flip a bottle of something by Hiram Green as easily? What about an extrait by Faviol Seferi? Or something by Pekji? The deeper you go into high-end niche territory, the more resounding the phrase, "buyer beware."
Another tactic that I've heard at least one YouTuber espouse (Justin Copeland) is even more interesting to me, because it challenges the concept of price-versus-value in perfume economics. First, let me clarify what my view is on this, so that Justin's makes sense in contrast. I believe that price is never correlative to value in perfumery writ-large. There are individual products where it is true -- a Playboy scent from fifteen years ago that sells for eight bucks on Fragrancenet is worth exactly eight bucks, and not a penny more -- but I've encountered dozens of fragrances for less than thirty dollars that smell like they could easily cost more than eighty dollars. Malizia Uomo Vetyver employs many of the same chems as Creed's Original Vetiver, and it sells for around the cost of a deli sandwich.
So I am a staunch believer that the landscape is littered with fragrances that are a tremendous value. This landscape shifts; Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme used to be a thirty-dollar fragrance. It is now listed online for prices that exceed $400, with even the aftershave commanding $200+ tags. But generally there are fragrances that cost less than they're worth, and weeding through the milieu turns them up in regular fashion. You don't need to know how to swim well to step into this pool, you just need to know that the shallow end gets deep fast.
Since I believe in this, I see little need to dive into the deep end. Why should I build a collection where every bottle is roughly $200? When I see a Parfums de Marly perfume, I think that I could buy eight or nine very good fragrances for its price. If I'm looking to explore the landscape to the fullest, ideally I should be incorporating fragrances that are at PdM's level with things that are a fraction of the cost. I admit that in recent years I've strayed from that, as I no longer purchase Creeds. I haven't bought anything that costs more than $100 since 2020. So the collection is firmly in the average range of $40-$100. And in this regard, I think my collection could expand. I could look at higher-end niche frags and consider saving hundreds of dollars for that one bottle of something "special." But right now it isn't a priority, and I don't consider it a worthy way of spending my money.
Several YouTubers, Justin included, have a different perspective. They talk about having done what I do. They used to look at "cheapies" that were under fifty bucks, and spend on brands like Franck Olivier and Jacques Bogart. But they claim they experienced a philosophical sea-change to their buying habits. They realized that instead of "wasting money" on "cheapies," fragrances that they feel aren't really of the quality that is worth extended use, they "saved" for things that are "well made." Things that are niche and high-end designer. Why spend $200 on twelve cheap frags made with cheaper materials when you can save that cash for something super expensive but high quality?
This is a valid way of looking at it. It bears mentioning that there are expensive perfumes that are expensive for a reason. Some of them were formulated by very talented perfumers who were given relatively unlimited budgets to use incredible materials, i.e., captive molecules, distilled essences of uncommon naturals, etc. The combined advantages of good materials composed by gifted noses can make some high-end niche frags smell like religious experiences. There's no denying that. If you can appreciate the rose in Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose, you can really get lost in Tauer's Incense Rose. When the point of the perfume is for the nose to experience the very height of something, then its price, however high it may be, is justified.
But I don't believe in the high-end niche vs. "cheapie frag" theory of economics. Yes, it's true that I could wait a year and save up $185 to buy Tauer's Incense Rose. But then again, I could save the same $185 and buy several rose fragrances that are just as interesting as Incense Rose. The interest lies not in finding niche-level quality for cheap. The interest lies in finding inexpensive fragrances that are not held back by their lower price tag. Here's an example: Maurice Roucel's original Voyage for Nautica (which I'll be reviewing afresh in short order). Voyage had a limited production budget and yet was in the hands of a very talented perfumer. He knew the materials and lab tricks that enabled Nautica to put out a bestseller that persists nearly twenty years later. And it only costs $18 for 100ml -- and here's the best part -- you could see Roucel switch out one or two materials for a niche brand that releases the exact same scent for $180.
Another example is Cool Water. Pierre Bourdon basically gave Davidoff an EDT version of Creed's Green Irish Tweed when he made CW. Creed's scent still costs over $300 for 100ml. It's denser, simpler, and often a little harder to wear than Davidoff's $20 scent. Same perfumer, too! This makes Cool Water (and several of its flankers) even more interesting to me than GIT. Let's face it, when the money is right and the materials are unlimited, a success story isn't exactly surprising. But when a perfumer is given a limited budget, the chances of releasing something great decrease. When it happens, it's even more remarkable than anything super expensive. Innovations occur when there are fewer variables to work with.
I approach perfume the way I approach food. Sure, I could splurge on a steak house that charges $80 for a slab of beef, and maybe it'll taste like it's worth it. But I could drop $8 on a burger at Shake Shack and get a greasy thing with all the fixings that really does taste great, and do that ten times instead. The expensive steak is fine, but is it going to satisfy my hunger AND my taste buds? Or will one of those two get short-changed? With expensive perfumes, there are hang-ups.
The biggest one is you don't want to wear them as often. If you make them daily drivers, they'll get used up faster, which makes spending on them seem pointless. But the longer you hang on to them, the greater chance of in-bottle maceration, and if you're not careful and cling to something for years, you could wind up with a totally different fragrance.
Another problem with niche is wearability. A strange thing happens when you surpass the $150 price-point. Suddenly the value ratio comes dangerously close to reversing itself, almost by default (there are some houses that can maintain value beyond this point, but you need to know them). Now the question becomes, is this worth less than what I paid for it? The answer is usually "maybe." Other questions are where and when can I wear this appropriately? Should I be wearing an oud extrait with barnyard and indolic floral notes to work? Will my partner be turned off by this kaleidoscopic rendition of patchouli? Is this aquatic "clean," or will people at the barbecue think I smell like low-tide? Remember, by definition, niche perfumery is made to appeal to a niche audience. Many fragrances in the niche realm lack "mass appeal." This puts their viability in public settings in question.
I don't want to overstate this. Let's be honest: even the weirdest niche perfume will smell good to at least several other people that you regularly come in contact with. But the fact that you have to ask yourself about that makes the price to value thing look a little more tenuous. Why should I stress about Tauer's Incense Rose at the Christmas Party? I can wear one spritz of Tea Rose and everyone will recognize that I'm wearing a rose fragrance that smells very clean and green and "rosy." No questions asked, other than maybe "Hey, that smells good, what is it?"
So I don't think the current YouTube mentality of eschewing a bunch of "cheapies" for fewer expensive niche frags is the way to look at this hobby. I think it's better to recognize that in perfumery the price-to-value ratio doesn't follow conventional wisdom. Thus it's better to explore things at every price point, and to cover as much ground as possible in the "cheap" realm of sub-$100 fragrances, because that's where the bulk of the iceberg is. Your chances of finding a hidden gem in a discount rack store are slim if you don't know what you're doing. But if you read, if you understand fragrance families of chypre, oriental, etc., and you're familiar with at least a few of the commonly-seen downmarket brands, you stand a better chance of finding something interesting and easily wearable for not much money, which makes the perfume a terrific value on top of its interest, and you a smart buyer for not being sucked into the maelstrom of ivory-tower stuff.
As Tania Sanchez pointed out, the secret of the non-luxury perfumes is that the only appeal they have for the buyer is their smell. This gets to the other problem with YouTubers who point to niche as being "where it's at" -- how much of their perception is being manipulated by price? A lot of these guys fawn over packaging. They even say things like, "Unfortunately they cheaped-out on this plastic cap," as if the cap actually matters. But a lot of the pricing for niche compensates for packaging. You can't smell packaging. Putting a perfume in a blown-glass bottle with an eight-ounce metal cap covered in gold flake and studded with flawed diamonds is flashy and aesthetically intriguing, but do I want to be paying for it? How do I know how the value breaks down here?
It's almost impossible to determine how much of the price is based on the actual perfume in the bottle, vs. the bottle itself. If you're buying expensive niche, it might make sense to aim for brands that use simple, monochrome boxes and unexciting bottles. At least then you can see that the price tag reflects the contents more than their bottle, and the brand values contents more than cheap aesthetics. Perfume is about smell, and while visual aesthetics are an unavoidable aspect of selling things, we need to prioritize products that emphasize olfactory perception more than visual perception. There's an irony here, in that many cheaper brands also splurge on flashy bottles, yet they keep their prices low. What are they doing differently? It's not unreasonable to think that they're just spending money more wisely. If they can etch something into plastic instead of chrome and it still sells, all the better!