We all have tastes: likes and dislikes. We do not agree about what makes things good, a truth nowhere better expressed than in the oft-cited adage among swappers:
One perfumista's trash is another perfumista's treasure.
Value theory concerns these sorts of differences of opinion, which cannot be adjudicated by appeal to empirical facts. Opinion polls cannot settle such questions, because we generally deny that the majority rules when it comes to matters of truth. Indeed, the majority is often wrong and must be somehow brought around to see the errors in their ways. This typically involves a few outsiders or deviants aggressively promoting their own, at the time, eccentric views, against the prevailing wave of adherents to the status quo. Human societies have evolved slowly over time as formerly popular ideas have been debunked as antiquated and misguided. Examples from morality abound, but let us consider more closely the case of perfume.
In the case of perfume, there are often simple reasons why we may disagree in our evaluations. Variations in sensitivity to certain chemicals probably explain much of our difference in opinion. But sometimes we simply do not like a given note or fragrance category. A fair number of people really dislike patchouli, and it is unclear that they are actually allergic to it. Instead, this seems to be a personal preference.
Other people love to drink but not to wear citrus. Orange juice: yes; orange cologne: no. So clearly in that case it's not a matter of chemical sensitivity. Some people like simple, streamlined scents; others find them boring. It's not at all surprising that we should differ so much in our tastes when it comes to perfume—or anything else for that matter, given how different we are not only biologically but also in terms of our personal history. For every person who loves Chanel no 5, there is another who despises it, and countless other human beings who have never heard of it, much less given it a sniff.
Every successful mainstream perfume has a legion of devotees—that's what it means to be a market success. Are those perfumes better than more obscure, much less aggressively marketed creations offered by small independent houses run by perfumers unrestrained by the yoke of a corporate master? It seems pretty clear that the "best" perfumes named by people concerned to establish their credentials as aesthetic experts about perfume have all cleared the mass-market appeal test. But should that really be a requirement when it comes to ascertaining which perfumes are in fact the best?
We know that many great perfumes have been created but discontinued because of business decisions on the part of persons who had "other priorities" or valued other things, for example, money. In some cases, it may be more profitable to sell more bottles of lower-quality perfumes—even muzak versions of former classics—than to adhere strictly to the original recipe and continue to use high-quality ingredients. If there is a greater market potential for profit for the cheaper, lower-grade versions of a perfume sold in drugstores than for a more expensive version sold only in exclusive boutiques, then some of the business people with the power to make that call are going to follow the example of Coty.
These are questions of value, and values cannot be measured or observed or quantified by empirical means. Rather, values are projected by us upon the world. Are some values right and others wrong? What could that mean? To think more clearly about this question, we'll have to entertain the concept of relativism...