The Empire Strikes Back?

Blogging about anything falls into a funny grey area when it comes to the big corporations we are writing about. These megaliths are used to having their way when it comes to presenting their products for the best possible outcome for the company. Then there is the community of passionate supporters who eat away at this perfect corporate world.

Those of us who write about perfume not as a job but out of a sense of love and passion got a look recently at what happens when one of the big corporations wants to use their resources against us. About a week ago I woke up to find my social media blowing up because the parent corporate entity which owns Guerlain, LVMH, had the blogger Monsieur Guerlain removed from Facebook and Instagram. In response Monsieur Guerlain took down his blog and removed all other social media accounts. The short version is Monsieur Guerlain linked to another website’s story on some future Guerlain releases for 2016. LVMH decided this was beyond what could be tolerated and took the action that it did. (If you want the complete story along with the legal implications please check out this link from Kafkaesque which covers it all thoroughly).

darth force choke

I Find Your Lack of Compliance….Disturbing.

What is chilling being this action was taken against a blog that for ten years has been one of the greatest resources for all things Guerlain. The man behind the blog truly loves everything Guerlain. That passion reverberates on every syllable on that website. That LVMH has made the decision to obliterate that resource with their strong-arm tactics is worrisome.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Death Star that is LVMH has also been busy looking out for their other brands. Earlier this year Fragrantica published an early piece on the upcoming Dior Poison Girl. They were fairly quickly asked to remove it which they did. That is the biggest perfume blog in the world with the most readers. Still LVMH decided there was no need to have any advance word about their product to that passionate community.

There is one commonality to both of these cases. The linked story that Monsieur Guerlain posted carried a bit of criticism of the upcoming releases. The Fragrantica Dior Poison Girl article was done in a neutral tone but the commenters were critical, almost harshly so. Which leaves the open question was it the early knowledge or the implied criticism of the direction of these venerable brands which caused the heavy handed response? We will get no satisfactory answer but it seems safe to say the perfumed blogosphere will take this as a warning that our little rebel forces are no longer being tolerated by the Empire that is LVMH.

The good news is after a coordinated effort from a number of bloggers, lead by the aforementioned Kafkaesque, over the removal of Monsieur Guerlain; the Facebook page was restored. It will be interesting to see if Guerlain was able to exert pressure to get the Empire to stand down.

Mark Behnke

What’s in a Name?

The perfume brand which has always provided me the most pleasure is Jean Patou. Early on in my perfume acquisition stage I was shown the original fragrances composed by perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. In 1984 Jean Patou re-released all of these fragrances under the name Ma Collection. These were incredibly faithful to the original formulations. I have since compared them to vintage bottles and most of the differences can be attributed to the difference in age. Smelling these the first time was one of those perfumed coup de foudre moments. I set off on getting the best version of those Ma Collection bottles I could. They all hold a very cherished place in my heart.

For years I wanted Jean Patou to be as cherished a heritage brand as Chanel or Guerlain. In 1999, Jean Kerleo handed over the in-house perfumer reins to Jean-Michel Duriez. By making this change it seemed to indicate the future was bright. When Proctor & Gamble acquired them in 2001 I was very hopeful especially because they kept M. Duriez. The construction of a boutique in Paris made me believe a new era was near. Then nothing. I constantly asked anyone I thought might know, “Is there any news about Patou?” Only to get a negative response.

whats-in-a-name

Until in 2011 I got a different answer, “Patou has been sold to an English company, Designer Parfums, Ltd.” I had never heard of them but I was again hopeful. The new management again made an excellent choice as new perfumer in Thomas Fontaine. Right away they stated their intention to re-release the original Jean Patou fragrances as the Heritage Collection. This time I was a little less enthused because of the numerous restrictions on the use of keynote materials in all of those perfumes. M. Fontaine was going to be handicapped in trying to reconstruct similar accords with the modern equivalents.

I have touched on this difficulty in the articles I wrote comparing the original Patou pour Homme and Vacances with their Heritage Collection versions. M. Fontaine has done an admirable job but the Heritage Collection versions bear only a slight resemblance to their forerunners. At first I was sort of okay with this but now I am concerned that this is a little disingenuous.

I think all of the Heritage Collection fragrances are good to very good there is not one I consider poor. There is also not one which should share the name of the perfume it is imitating. I think it is confusing for the consumer. Someone who has read about Patou pour Homme being the greatest men’s perfume ever will unlikely walk away from the Heritage Collection version thinking that. There is where I wish they would do something different in the naming of these new versions. Patou pour Homme could become Patou pour Homme Moderne; Vacances could become Vacances Legere. In the case of Amour Amour they have made the name change to Deux Amours. I don’t know for sure but I am guessing Amour Amour is trademarked by something else and they weren’t given permission to use it. Although probably forced by legal reasons the name fits as a second version of the original.

It is probably too late for anything to be done in this case. I am hopeful that with the trend of resurrecting heritage brands we have seen over the past few years that if it is going to be a reinterpretation of the original it should also have its own name.

Mark Behnke

Serge Lutens: Am I Missing Something?

One of the best things about having my own blog is the e-mails I receive. Many of them are nice tales of how a particular perfume has enhanced some part of their life. Many others are questions about whether I think this fragrance is good for a man, or a woman. Will it be good in the summer/winter/fall/spring? In the nearly two years since I started Colognoisseur I haven’t had a piece provoke a number of e-mails claiming I am missing something until I did my abbreviated dismissive reviews of the new Serge Lutens Section D’Or releases. I received almost a dozen e-mails all with a variation on the theme that I am missing the grand theme M. Lutens is attempting with not only Section D’Or but the other recent releases which I’ve also been unhappy with. The one-on-one discussions were good enough that I thought I’d address that core issue.

It was sometime around 2000 when I was gifted a sample of Ambre Sultan. There are these wonderful moments when I discover a new perfume brand that I like. The complexity on display was unlike anything else I had smelled. I would work through obtaining the rest of the collection over the next few years. Once bell jars had been brought back from Paris and I had them all I realized what an artistically diverse collection they were. To this day I return to certain touchstones within those early fragrances as baselines to compare new releases against. Only the very best are able to stand up to that comparison favorably. So at this point I would say I was in sync with the artistic vision of M. Lutens.

i dont get it

At least for my tastes the first sign things were changing in M. Lutens vision came with the release of L’Eau Serge Lutens in 2010. This wasn’t the first release I didn’t care for, Miel de Bois gets that honor. It was that L’Eau was so light and inconsequential. When I read this was coming I thought to myself, “Now we will see what crisp clean aquatic can be at its best.” It didn’t hold my interest but there is no brand which does that from A to Z. I forgot about L’Eau Serge Lutens because another string of excellent releases followed. Which reached a personal crescendo with the over-the-top rose of La Fille de Berlin. At this point in time I would say I was ready to build a shrine to M. Lutens, so I would say I still enjoyed his vision.

The next two releases of La Vierge de Fer and L’Orpheline I did not get. The felt like extensions of the themes explored in the L’Eaux series. Except now they went across the line to nearly unwearable. When wearing them prior to reviewing them I had to use a cosmetic wipe to remove them when I got home because they had become annoying to my senses. In my reviews I mentioned that M. Lutens move to the sunny side of the street had left me in the shadows wondering what happened. I freely admit the vision behind all of these was not shared by me.

Which brings us to the Section D’Or. These should have been exactly what I was looking for but for the first time when it came to Serge Lutens all six felt derivative and in the case of a couple poorly designed. One of my correspondents pointed out to me my love of great raw materials and felt these all displayed that in simple constructs. I retried them on the strip and one of things which put me off is in each case there is either a note which provides active dissonance or the raw material is not that special.

The most active give-and-take I had with my correspondents was over the concept that I was pre-disposed to not liking them because I want M. Lutens to stay mired in his past and to not evolve. That is the one which provoked some soul searching and caused me to write all of this out. As I mentioned above I have not enjoyed the new direction but Section D’Or should have been something I could find one to make my own. After all of this I have decided a couple of things. First, for now I won’t review a new Serge Lutens release unless I absolutely like it. I am not at my happiest when writing negative thoughts about different perfume brands I admire. One of the reasons Colognoisseur is mostly about the things I like is because those are the things which make me happiest when sitting at the key board. If you know there is a new Serge Lutens release and there is nothing to be found here on it you can safely assume I feel similarly as I have about the recent releases. Second, I think I do want to live in the past when it comes to Serge Lutens. There are so many of those perfumes which resonate with me. I clearly don’t share the current vision so there is no need for me to continue to hammer that point. There are still things worth writing about in those previous releases and now might be the time to start thinking about those perspectives.

Finally, I want to thank my correspondents who provoked some thought without rancor. I had a number of well-thought out points which were explained with passion but not unproductive emotion. I am keeping your names anonymous for the time being because I suspect if you wanted this to take place in public you would have used the comments.

Mark Behnke

I’m a Judge

I received some great news just prior to leaving for Pitti Fragranze. I wanted to wait a couple of weeks to share it because I didn’t want it to get lost in my coverage of that event. What I have been waiting to shout about is I have been named as a Finalist Judge for the 2016 Art & Olfaction Awards.

For those who are not familiar with the Art & Olfaction Awards they were established in 2014 as a way to recognize the best perfume in a calendar year within the independent perfume community. Saskia Wilson-Brown in her role as Director of the Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO) realized there was no way of recognizing the amazing creativity taking place outside of the mainstream. With the creation of these new awards there would now be a way of doing that.

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There had been a few previous attempts at trying to award the indie community. They failed because of two things. One was a distressing lack of transparency. Once the entry was submitted it sort of entered a black hole from which a list of finalists would be announced followed by a winner without knowing who was judging or even how it had been performed. The other poorly thought out aspect was an extremely high entry fee. I am guessing the thinking behind that was it would reduce the amount of entries because an indie perfume brand was only going to be able to afford one or two candidates. When all was said and done the indie community felt a bit trampled upon. It was high time for a different way of doing things.

The process for The Art & Olfaction Awards has addressed both of these issues. The entry fee for any of the categories is $65 for non-IAO members and $55 for members. This is mainly to defray the cost of storing the entries and shipping them around as necessary. At this cost it allows for a brand which feels it has multiple worthy entries to enter them.

AO Awards Preliminary Judging Table

The Preliminary Judging Table for the 2015 Art & Olfaction Awards

The judging could not be more transparent. For the preliminary round a panel of 10-20 individual judges come to the IAO and to a table laid out as in the picture above from last year’s preliminary judging. The nominees are stripped of all the labeling and are just anonymous vials. This allows for the perfume to be the most important thing. Pictures of the judging are posted to the Facebook page. After the preliminary round there are five finalists chosen in three categories: Artisan, Independent, and Experimental. For the Artisan and Independent categories they are sent in anonymous vials to the panel of Finalist judges for those categories. The Experimental category has its own panel of judges. I am one of the finalist judges for the Independent and Artisan categories. I and five other judges will determine the winners based on our votes.

To say I am excited would be an understatement. I have been so impressed with the first two editions of these awards and had been happy with being one of those who covered it. To be a part of the process is more than I could ask for.

Even to the best news there are a couple things I will miss about being a spectator instead of a participant. Over the last two years it has been my pleasure to encourage those brands which I believed had done exceptional work to enter. I was happy to give advice on what I thought was their best of the year. I was also happy to be the pusher urging some of those reluctant to enter. I believe that by being a judge that kind of activity has to end for me. In the spirit of the transparency of these awards I can’t have off the record conversations with potential entries if I am eventually going to be judging them.

While I can’t have personal conversations that doesn’t mean I can’t make a more generic plea here in public. I think that’s why I have a blog.

If you are an independent perfume brand I implore you to enter what you consider to be your best work of the past year. Entries open on October 5, 2015 and must be postmarked by December 4, 2015. The health and vitality of this particular award is made stronger by more entries. All of the rules for entering can be found here.

Finally to those of you who I will not be able to be that annoying voice in your ear this year. To those of you who feel you don’t want to be part of a beauty contest. To those who have that nagging little mantra about not being good enough buzzing in your brain. Get over it and enter. If you have made what you consider to be a good perfume this year enter it and let us both find out how it stands up. The short history of this award has already shown that even the smallest brand can bring home the golden pear. Give yourself the opportunity to see if you will be this year’s success story.

Sometime after the first of the year I will be sitting down across from ten anonymous samples and break into a big smile before undertaking the job of judging them. I want one of them to be yours.

Mark Behnke

Support Your Local Parfumerie

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Joni Mitchell sang the lyrics “Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/ ‘Till it’s gone” in her song “Big Yellow Taxi”. I am constantly reminded of that when things change and I realize the thing which I’ve taken for granted is no longer there. One of those instances happened when I moved down to the Washington DC metro area four years ago. Having lived in Boston I had many small perfume shops which I frequented and supported with my purchases. When I got to DC I was dismayed to find there was only one shop and it promptly went out of business within a year of my arrival.

When I would speak to the owner of that store he was sure the reason he was failing was because of online perfume sales. I am not sure if I believe that was as big a factor as he thought it was. The rise of the online niche perfume shopping options has only gotten bigger over the last five years. When you live somewhere that going to a store and actually trying a new niche fragrance is not an option these online retailers are the only game in town. When I was in Boston I felt it was important to support those who were giving me the opportunity to reach out and try new things.

arielle shoshana logo

Which is why I am very excited that there will be a new niche perfume store opening in the DC area next weekend September 5, 2015. Arielle Weinberg who wrote the blog Scents of Self has taken a leap of faith in opening a small perfume store in The Mosaic district in Fairfax, VA. She is calling it Arielle Shoshana and I am very excited that she has brought back the small store perfume experience to my part of the world. I realized I am unusually excited about this because besides the products these stores carry they are also a place for other fragrance enthusiasts to meet for a day. There were many days in Boston where I would meet up with others to try a few new things. There are as many fragrance lovers in DC as there were in Boston and now we will have a place where we can meet.

This is also a plea for those of you who have a great local store to please remember to support them. Places like Indigo Perfumery in Cleveland, OH or Parfumerie Nasreen in Seattle, WA are often the only game in town for many niche brands. Otherwise you’ll be humming Joni Mitchell too.

I am planning on being there next Saturday to welcome my new local niche parfumerie with the hope that many more days will be spent inside communing with perfume and perfume lovers.

Mark Behnke

Editor! Please….

There always seems to be a trajectory with my favorite popular authors. When I start reading them over their first few books they are great. Then as they gain more popularity the books begin to get longer and longer. They have more long swathes of unnecessary, or repetitive, exposition. What I believe happens is when the author is just another author the editors at their publishing company assist them to make a polished diamond. Once the author gains some notoriety and is contributing in a large way to the bottom line of the publishing company I suspect the editors are more freely disregarded or jettisoned altogether.

Over the last month I realize perfumery has its own version of this. It doesn’t happen that often but it usually occurs once an independent perfumer is making their second set of fragrances. This is after a widely successful first set of releases. The independent perfumer does not know when to stop tweaking the final formula. This has just happened as I received the fourth “final” version of the next release for this perfumer. I am betting I will get another “final” version before it finally is put on sale. This is the perfume equivalent of getting that document at work with the file name, “Perfume-Final-draft-Final-FINAL-ReallyFinal.doc”

The problem I have with this particular perfume is I really liked the first “final” version I received. I liked it so much I was going to call it out as one of the best new perfumes of the year. Then I received the three consecutive “final” versions which are still good but not as good as the first “final” version. As a reviewer this has put me in an awkward place. There was a version which I thought was as good as it gets. The version that I will eventually review will likely not be as good as that while still being good. Do I mourn the good idea turned less good? Do I try and scrub my memory clear of the earlier version?

AskEditor

I always want to be supportive of any perfumer’s vision and I am going to do so in the case described above. What I have found out through e-mails is the only nose this perfumer is trusting to make the final decision is their own. Right there is where I think the indecision springs from. If you worked as perfumer for one of the big fragrance firms the perfumer is paired with another person called an evaluator. The evaluator is there to give an unfiltered opinion on the development of a perfume. I suspect the evaluator is probably the one to say, “Stop! Enough! It is done.” The evaluator is analogous to the publishing editor. A trained outside viewpoint can help focus the creative process.

Obviously an independent perfumer is not going to pay an evaluator but they shouldn’t have to. The key piece of information to receive is an impartial assessment of your perfume in progress from someone in whom you trust. Pick someone you feel can give you constructive advice. I think your perfumes will be the better for that. There are a number of well-established independent perfumers who I know have a few people they rely on for exactly this process. It is no coincidence that these are also some of the most successful independent perfumers, as well. Just remember at the very end you are probably no longer the best judge of your own work. Time to go find an editor.

Mark Behnke

The 2015 Halftime Report

We have hit the halfway mark of 2015 and I’ve been thinking about everything I’ve smelled in the first half of 2015. Here are some quick thoughts on the perfumes so far.

-It has been a very green year. I haven’t gone back and made a hard count but a significant percentage of the perfumes I have reviewed this year have had a verdant color to them. The vegetal green of Penhaligon’s Ostara. The completely abstract wasabi green of Olfactive Studio Panorama. Monsillage Eau de Celeri and the cilantro of Dasein Summer. Finally the classic chypre green of Aftelier Perfumes Bergamoss. I have never been happier to go green.

-In my New Year’s wishes for 2015 I hoped Olivier Polge would step up and revitalize the Chanel perfume offerings. With the release of Misia for Les Exclusifs in the spring it wasn’t a home run but it was a solid double up the middle. What I liked was all of the boldness Olivier Polge has shown in the past was still there. It has been a while since Chanel has seen that, which I think I figured out was what I was missing.

-There have been more excellent independent offerings than there have been in a while. Many of these have been from first-timers. Jessica Hannah and her perfume for Canoe Goods, Skive. Andrea Rubini and his Rubini Fundamental team. The established names have also impressed. Bruno Fazzolari Room 237 and Charna Ethier’s Providence Perfume Co. Provanilla.

-Interesting aquatics continue to arrive most of them leaving the Calone on the shelf. Pierre Guillaume’s Collection Croisiere is a great example of this through the first five releases.

-Really beautiful synthetic prominent fragrances have caught my attention. All of the Raymond Matts Aura de Parfum collection are examples of how synthetic does not necessarily mean banal. Kaiwe was my favorite but the entire collection is the best of the half-year. Mathilde Laurent also picked up the synthetic baton with Cartier XI L’Heure Perdue.

– Both Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and Serge Lutens were underwhelming in their early 2015 releases. Hopefully the second half of the year has something to thrill me again.

-Looking towards the second half I am still eagerly awaiting the first fragrance by Christine Nagel for Hermes. I know there will be something unexpected that will thrill me which is what makes doing this so much fun.

I think the marching band has left the field time to head out for the second half.

Mark Behnke

Hail To a Founding Mother of American Independent Perfumery

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It is July Fourth in the US. It is the day we Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers who formed that document. If there is anything that makes an American stand up straighter it is that sense of wanting to do things our way.

When it comes to perfume there has been a huge expansion in the American independent perfume movement over the last 5-10 years. There are multiple factors which have contributed to this growth. I also believe there is a person who could be considered one of the Founding Mothers of this movement, Mandy Aftel.

mandy aftel

Mandy Aftel

Ms. Aftel began making perfumes for commercial sale in 1995 under the brand name Garandiflorum Perfumes. Two years later she would found her current brand Aftelier Perfumes. Right from the beginning Ms. Aftel wanted to change the perception of natural perfumes. Prior to 1995 they were sold mostly at health food stores and head shops. They had an unfortunate association with being seen as both low in quality and lacking in style. Ms. Aftel would take the time to seek out materials and understand their nature before using them in a perfume. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fragrance with which I became aware of her with, Cepes and Tuberose.

cepes-tuberose

According to an interview Ms. Aftel did on the blog Kafkaesque wherein she talks about her love for working with difficult ingredients. While she was working on her 2004 book Aroma with Chef Daniel Patterson she decided she wanted to incorporate mushrooms, or cepes, into a perfume. The choice to pair it with the most boisterous white flower on the planet tuberose could have been disastrous. Instead this single perfume represents so much of what is right about Independent perfumery; the ability matched with the desire to take crazy chances which pay off in perfumes that stand among the best of the best. Cepes and Tuberose is a spectacular example of this. If I was just going to call Ms. Aftel a Founding Mother for her portfolio of perfumes that would be justified. There is another reason I think of her this way.

Ms. Aftel has been the teacher, inspiration, and confidant to so many independent perfumers it is difficult to make an accurate count. In 2002 she founded the Natural Perfumers Guild so she and the other people who wanted to see natural perfume elevated from the poor perception it had banded together. They would spread the word that Natural Perfumes were something to be celebrated. They would provide outreach to budding independent perfumers to give them a place to come together and learn from each other.

That sense of teaching extends to her book Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume. It is many young independent perfumers’ key reference. I believe it is a part of the essential perfume library for anyone interested in perfumery in any way. The aforementioned Aroma which explores scent and taste along with last year’s Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent which delves into the history and use of five perfume raw materials show her desire to share her experience through writing.

Beyond that Ms. Aftel is extremely giving of herself. She teaches classes out of her home studio on a regular basis. She is one of the key figures in the West Coast Perfume movement. She will invite people into her home to visit her garden and studio.

In science we have what we call “family trees” where we trace ourselves back through the people we obtained our degree from. Eventually we all end up springing from the tree labeled “Newton”. I would venture to say if the same method was applied to independent American perfumery that original tree would be labeled “Aftel”.

All of the above is why I consider her a Founding Mother. While I am watching the fireworks tonight and thinking about the founding of this country I will also take a moment to think of Ms. Aftel. I will send out a silent toast as a chrysanthemum firework explodes in a circle of color far above my head and thank her for all that she continues to do to support the American independent perfume world.

Mark Behnke

The Story of Charlie by Revlon, Liberation via Perfume

This week saw the end of two television series. One was The Late Show with David Letterman and the other was Mad Men. David Letterman had been the man who took the late-night talk show and changed it up. Mad Men was this perfect time capsule of America as it grew up during the 1960’s as seen through an advertising executive. When both started out they were the new cool thing. Then they both lived long enough to become perennials without the buzz. When I think of perfume I usually don’t think of it in those terms. There are great perfumes and they have continued to last attaining their own kind of persistent classicism.

charlie bottle

This past weekend at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling Michael Edwards, who I consider to be the perfume equivalent of the Navajo wisdom keeper, reminded me of a perfume which changed everything back in 1973. That perfume was Charlie by Revlon.

As Mr. Edwards recounted prior to 1973 the great majority of perfume was purchased by men for the women in their life. As women entered the workplace and began to find their economic footing Revlon wanted to make a perfume to appeal to that demographic. In 1973 Charlie was released, it was composed by perfumer Francis Camail. M. Camail composed a floral-aldehyde perfume but one not nearly as heavy, or “old lady”, as other prominent floral–aldehydes. Revlon was aggressively hoping to attract the 20-something liberated woman. They were also hoping to create an entire lifestyle brand to cater to that demographic. The approach to this produced one of the classic television commercials of all time.

The television commercial showed this blond statuesque woman getting out of a Rolls Royce in a gold silk pantsuit. As she walks into the bar it is clear she is known by all of the men she encounters. The catchy jingle was sung by lounge singer extraordinaire Bobby Short. If there was an ideal for a liberated woman to try and emulate here it was. A woman exalting her freedom with a laugh.

This worked spectacularly well as within three years Charlie was the best-selling perfume in the world. Revlon had done exactly what they wanted. They had created a new demographic of consumer pointed towards buying their products. The men were no longer going to be the ones who made the fragrance purchases anymore.

charlie advertisement

Every time Mr. Edwards reminds me of the influence Charlie had it makes me all the more surprised it hasn’t really lasted as other perfumes from that era have. Now it is found on the back shelf of your local drug store. Forgotten, probably collecting dust. It is like the women who made Charlie so successful; once opened up to the world of buying their own perfume found something they liked better. It reminds me of that last shot of Don Draper from Mad Men embracing the societal changes but finding a way to leverage them into an advertising angle. Charlie is the story of how Revlon changed the entire sociology of perfume and like Mad Men and David Letterman has now retired to be fondly remembered but not contemporaneously used.

Mark Behnke

Subscription Cancelled

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To truly innovate you can’t be afraid of failure. One of the challenges for independent and niche perfumery is having people try your perfumes in places where there are no stores to carry them. One new idea was to create a perfume subscription service. Throughout 2013 I seemingly received an e-mail monthly describing a new one of these services. The bare essentials were similar in that you would buy a year’s subscription and monthly you would receive a box containing samples of carefully curated samples.

This sounds like a good idea but it seemed like there was going to be a crowded marketplace vying for what should be a pretty small base of potential subscribers. If there were five or six of these all competing for the same perfumes and the same customer this might fail because nobody could have enough market share to survive.

Another big problem was the curation of these boxes. If I am going to trust you to pick out a few perfumes for me to try every month then you should be someone I believe has the experience for that. Almost all of these efforts were business first; making sure there were perfumes in the box and not necessarily perfumes that had any common theme or note to allow for someone to expand their perfume knowledge experientially. Most of the time the boxes just seemed like self-promotion without any desire to communicate anything about the perfumes inside. That was an opportunity missed.

charlie brown looking in his mailbox

Charlie Brown from "Peanuts" by Charles M. Schulz

The other part of this was, who these subscription’s target audience were anyway. If they were exclusively new releases they could have gone for the hardcore perfumista always looking for the next new thing. If they were from a store promoting their inventory it seemed more like advertising not education. If it was about older releases then you needed a way to find new perfumistas starting their acquisition phase of perfume discovery. None of the boxes did any of this well and as a result the murky execution led to even murkier success.

One effort that was different was that of Fragrance Republ!c. They sent out an entirely new perfume done by a professional perfumer every month. This was the one I joined and for the most part I enjoyed it but I could tell it was in a slow death spiral. There were many attempts to get more subscribers and all of them fell flat. What triggered this editorial was the notice last week that Fragrance Republ!c was closing down.

That’s the story for most of the subscription services that touted themselves to me in 2013 almost all of them are finished. I’m not sure how the ones remaining are doing. At least they have the advantage of having the audience to themselves which should help one or two to survive a while longer.

Should this be viewed as a failure? I don’t think so. All experiments don’t work at first. I suspect a smart group will look at what went wrong and what went right and combine all of this into a business model which also represents the best fragrance can offer. Then I can look forward to a monthly perfume arrival with pleasure.

Mark Behnke