Fashion Mile

June 3, 2010

The truth about our scent industry

Filed under: 1 — Tags: — fashionmile @ 7:01 am

We all have our favourite. Jennifer Aniston loves Prada, Kate Bosworth is a fan of Jo Malone Vintage, and Claudia Schiffer favours anything with Tuberose. Cameron Diaz? She prefers Brown Thomas’s Clean, and Sienna Miller adores the “fresh laundry” allure of DKNY. Celebrities such as Kate Moss, Jordan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Britney Spears and Beyonce have created their own best-sellers – and beauty entrepreneur Jennifer Lopez has eight!

Is your perfume really the best for you or have you been sucked in by celebrity endorsements? Yes, we’re talking scents. Smelling good is big business – the perfume industry brings in a staggering £16 billion a year. Yet there’s a lot this highly profitable and rather secretive industry would rather you didn’t know. Consider the price of the perfume. The liquid in the bottle represents only 3 per cent of the total cost of producing it. The other 97 per cent goes to marketing, packaging and advertising. And the selling price allows for a 95 per cent profit margin. There’s a lot of money to be made in making the rest of us smell better. Science is partly to blame. Today, your favourite scents are not coming to you from the garden, but rather straight from a laboratory – they are created from synthetic molecules, not from flowers. Discovered in 1876, the use of synthetic scents revolutionised the world of perfumery. Suddenly, scents lingered longer and could be produced in large quantities. The creative possibilities increased dramatically and at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. It takes 750kg of jasmine flowers to create 1kg of essential oil. In France, jasmine blooms only from August to October, and must be picked by hand during the few hours of the day that the petals are open. The rose doesn’t make life any easier. It must be picked by hand, flower by flower, at sunrise.

When a kilo of rose absolute can cost up to £4,000 and its synthetic equivalent costs only £400, it’s not hard to see why the perfume industry has embraced synthetic scents. And no one’s embraced them more than celebrities. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker has reputedly made more than £2 million from her perfume Lovely, while Jennifer Lopez, who started the modern celebrity scent trend with the launch of her Glow perfume in 2003, has apparently made more than £25 million. Perfume expert and author Chandler Burr says celebrity fragrances make little lasting impression, evaporating after a few hours, because of what they’re made of. “They use cheap ingredients to be more affordable and make more money.” Compared to a scent such as the fine classic Chanel No. 5, which can last up to 24 hours, today’s celebrity fragrances are the perfume equivalent of a bargain fashion fix. “They’re like buying a cheap, fun dress for a season and then tossing it out,” says Burr. Seduced by big budget adverts and celebrity brand names, we often bring the pretty bottles home only to discover that while some really are “lovely”, others stink.

Experts say this is because as a perfume dries on your skin it releases a sequence of odours. The lightest, head notes , appear during the first 15 minutes. These are followed by heart notes, and finally the base notes, which appear in the last 12 hours. So what a scent smells like in the shop will differ after a day at the office. Celebs aren’t the only ones getting in on the act – for fashion houses it’s a lucrative sideline. In a year when Burberry clothing sales were down, its profits went up 17 per cent – due to perfume sales. Designer Yves Saint Laurent once confessed that perfume made up 85.3 per cent of his house’s revenues. Meanwhile, glittering marketing campaigns and TV ads promise that we will become fatally alluring and utterly irresistible – if only we smelled just that little bit better. And due to the financial importance of perfume advertising, our favourite glossy magazines never print anything remotely critical.

Coco Chanel once said that it was the height of arrogance for a woman to think that she smelled good enough to go out without perfume – so if you want to make the right choice, what’s a girl to do? A new book from the States will help. Not published in the UK until September, it’s already being praised by beauty insiders from Tokyo to London.

Perfumes: The Guide, written by expert “noses” Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, is making big waves in the world of scent. A professional biophysicist and perfume critic, respectively, the two are brutally frank. They review and rate more than 1,200 perfumes, offering expert advice. Some get good marks, such as Shalimar, Joy and Jo Malone’s Lime Basil and Mandarin, while others get rather damning criticism. 212, from Carolina Herrera, for example, is “like getting lemon juice in a paper cut”. Amarige, from Givenchy: “If you are reading this because it is your darling fragrance, please wear it at home exclusively, and tape the windows shut.” Paris Hilton’s Heiress is “a hilariously vile 50/50 mix of cheap shampoo and canned peaches”. Yes, brutally frank.

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