Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Entry #25: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

tu quoque

I hardly ever use this expression in its Latin form, but in English? Oh yeah. My favorite translation: "I know you are, but what am I?" Another common translation: "Talk about the pot calling the kettle black." So basically tu quoque lies at the intersection of an insult, a fallacy, and snippy retort.

I was reminded of this expression while thinking about the perfume world and the place of perfumistas in it. I see a lot of "tu quoque" activity going on, to be perfectly frank. Perfumistas crying foul when perfumers reveal that they don't give a damn about them is an excellent example of behavior just crying out for a tu quoque charge. Why? Just go to Fragrantica and read all of the reviews of any famous perfume, and you'll find that the most scathing, nasty, back-stabbing, often hostile reviews are written by, not the untutored Joe and Jill fragrance lover who fall just as easily for the perfumes of Justin Bieber and Britney Spears as they do (or would, if they tried them) for Creed and Bond no 9.

No, the truth, my fragrant friends, is that perfumistas, unlike the unwashed and ignorant masses, are not marketing force multipliers for perfumers and their associated houses at all. On the contrary, a niche perfumer may travel to a fragrance community website looking for reviews and discover that, lo, the only person who has left an evaluation is some uppity "I'm an expert because I've made 800,000 posts to the forum at D-Notes" writer who insists that (1) the price is way too high; (2) the composition is redundant beyond belief; and (3) it may even be a crime against perfumery.

So, my fragrant friends, the next time a perfumer pipes up to reveal that perfumistas are nowhere close to being his muses, rather than throwing (another) temper tantrum, you might want to go take a look in the mirror.


  1. Hi Sherapop,
    I recently read an interview with the most likeable and customer-focused of perfumers, Andy Tauer (and I realise he's not the person you are referring to above). When asked if "perfumistas" make up the bulk of his clientele, his frank reply was "no". He believes the figure to be well below 40%. It seems he is quite happy to serve the unwashed masses who front up to the perfume counter and just want to find a perfume they love. It makes sense, really. Perfume is for the enjoyment of the customer and that Tauer perfume might be more special to someone who is not an avid sampler, collector, critic or trophy hunter. Perhaps we assume that perfumers, like rock stars, are performing to a rapt audience of fans and will sneer at the olfactorily ignorant "I don't know about art but I know what I like" type of customer. Well, maybe not .

    1. Dear Clare,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I do believe that a reality check is in order. I admit that the above post is a bit snarky, but I do not think that it holds a candle to some of what I've read... So a bit of tu quoque on my part... ;-)

      The reality, as far as I can gather from remarks in different forums and at blogs, is that some (not all) perfumistas trade (literally) in decants and samples. A few appear never even to cough up the funds for a full bottle.

      Part of the reason is that perfumistas are interested in sampling lots of different perfumes--I can certainly relate to the value of perfume sampling as olfactory world travel! But part of the reason is that they are not willing to pay as much for perfume as they are for completely optional "stuff" such as their cars (when they live in a city), their meals out in restaurants, their wine, etc. I discussed some of these issues in a manifesto a while back:

      "PERFUME IS NOT MILK: Is the "Price of Perfume Too High? A Socratic Reply."

      Here's the link:

      I find it ironic, to put it mildly, that perfumistas should bitch incessantly about the cost of perfumes, when they (decant-hoarding perfumistas) are part of the reason why bottle prices must remain elevated at the niche houses, if they are to survive.

      Perfumers, to be sure, love to make beautiful perfume. But they also have to pay the rent on their ateliers...

  2. I agree with your post ,Sherapop. Took the words right out of mouth .

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Anonymous. I do not blame you, under the circumstances (given the ire to be inspired by such sentiments) for doing so anonymously! ;-)

  3. I don't know how to say it in a PC manner so I'll say how I think: with the number of "perfumistas" out there in the world they are those "unwashed and ignorant masses."

    Perfume prices are insane. And I don't think it has anything to do with some people splitting bottles (as one of the commenters on my post here: noticed, they can't have it both ways: either there are not that many of us, perfumistas, who are buying niche perfumes or we're seriously harming sales of FBs by doing those splits.) Having said all that, for whatever reasons those prices are insane, I see nothing wrong with perfumes being expensive or even REALLY expensive: nobody hasto have a perfume. It's a luxury item. So the only way I take that type of critique is "In my opinion, perfume X is too expensive for what it is" or "Perfume X isn't worth its price for me". But if a brand can sell it for the price they are asking - good for them. If one were to argue for free market, luxury goods' prices are the epitome of it.

    1. Yes, Undina: Perfume is a luxury!

      Are the prices insane? I think not. Indeed, if one looks seriously at the numbers, perfume turns out to be the most reasonably priced true luxury item in existence, by comparison to *anything* else: haute couture, cars, watches, wine, the list goes on and on. In fact, perfume, even the most expensive perfume, does not hold a candle to any of those categories. You could buy more haute niche perfume than humanly consumable in a lifetime all for the price of a fancy dress--or a mid-range luxury watch!!!

      My impression is that precisely because perfume is a budget luxury item, it has attracted hordes of people who would not--and could not--get close to a run-way fashion show and will never wear luxury timepieces.

      I really need to read the book "Deluxe", which apparently tells the tale of how luxury became cheap. One of the many strange contradictions of this culture is the simultaneous desire to have coveted "high class" items, but to get them on sale, at cut rates. The promo code and coupon phenomenon is a result, I believe, of these contradictory attractions in a capitalist society (same for gwps...). We want great and beautiful things, but we also want to get a good deal. Whatever happened to "you get what you pay for?"

      I read your post on Andy Tauer's remarks, and I have to say that the comments were mildly amusing to me. Can he possibly be wrong about the demographics of his very own customers? Perfumistas are very big on generalizations and hypotheses, but someone like Andy sees the reality of who's really buying his bottles, so I believe him, not all of the decant-hoarding perfumistas who amazing seem to believe that niche perfumers should pay deference to them for dedicating their lives to their obsession. Some among them even appear to believe that they are somehow noble for doing so. In reality, perfume is an OCD-ready hobby, which is why it attracts so many like-minded people. Not excepting myself from this class, mind you! ;-)

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Undina!


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