Last week, I read an interesting article in the New York Times1 regarding the falling prices of “premium” blue jeans; reporter Eric Wilson wrote: “The $300 pair of designer jeans is now, courtesy of the recession, the $200 pair of designer jeans.” And what does “premium” mean exactly — “…you had to pay a premium to wear them (the jeans) …. Designers found they could charge a lot for the perception of prestige.”
Niche perfume prices have increased dramatically over the last several years, but the higher prices don't guarantee outstanding, strikingly original perfumes. Expensive fragrance lines justify their prices and lure consumers with: “rare” and “precious” ingredients; deluxe packaging; restricted availability; flattery (Connoisseurs of fine fragrance will recognize the brilliance of this perfume!); and prices so steep only the “Elite” (YOU!) can afford to buy them.
The NYT article concludes: “Like any commodity that becomes overpriced, there eventually comes a market correction.” While we’re waiting for that correction in the perfume realm, I’ll review two expensive By Kilian scents.
Pure Oud is the first perfume in By Kilian’s “Arabian Nights” fragrance collection; it was developed by perfumer Calice Becker and lists notes of oud, saffron, copahu balm, amber, gaiac wood, cypriol, cistus labdanum, myrrh and animalic notes.
Pure Oud opens with strong notes of copahu balm (Copaifera Officinalis), myrrh, and oud; these notes combine to produce frankincense, leather and smoky incense aromas. Pure Oud’s oud note is more austere and natural smelling than Montale’s oud; it allows more “room” for accompanying notes to shine. Saffron is blended into Pure Oud’s formula in perfect quantity, providing “luster” to the composition. Pure Oud’s vibrant opening notes blur quickly and a faint aroma, reminiscent of cooked food, appears in mid-development (let’s call it “Yesterday’s-Fried-Potatoes-and-Onions Accord”); this accord morphs into ‘body-odor musk.’ On a Musk Scale of 1-10, “1” being “sheer/sweet/white” and “10” being “Super Funky-Donkey!”, Pure Oud’s musk is a “5” (“Armpits of Male Smoker in Old Leather Jacket – 48 Hours Without Bathing”). Pure Oud ends with a pleasant and talc-y incense note.
Pure Oud has minimal sillage and so-so lasting power; its bottle and lacquered wooden storage box (with key) are decorated with golden plaques and no doubt the packaging adds to the fragrance’s price-tag of $395 for 50 ml of Eau de Parfum.
Back to Black
Back to Black (also by Calice Becker) contains notes of bergamot, blue chamomile, geranium, cardamom, coriander, honey, cedar, olibanum, patchouli, “gingerbread” absolute, benzoin, cistus labdanum, ambergris, tonka bean, a “sweet” note, vanilla, cherry stone accord, and raspberry.
Back to Black is a honeyed tobacco fragrance that opens with gauzy notes of bergamot and chamomile; there are “dessert” notes galore — vanilla, tonka, honey, cherry/almond — running through the fragrance from start to finish. Back to Black bears more than a passing resemblance to Serge Lutens “scented tobacco” perfume, Fumerie Turque. Back to Black is less dense than Fumerie Turque, its juice “thinned out” with citrus and fresh-marine ambergris notes. As Back to Black dries down, a warm milk-and-honey accord is prominent.
By Kilian Back to Black is $225 for 50 ml of Eau de Parfum — a bargain compared to Pure Oud’s cost. Back to Black has great lasting power and close-to-the-body sillage.
There may never be a market correction in the pricing of niche perfumes, but long ago I experienced a “perception correction” that guides me in my perfume purchases; I’m immune to talk of “prestige” and “exclusivity,” and I don’t collect perfume bottles so over-the-top packaging leaves me cold. For me to pay $200 or more for a fragrance, I must be dumbstruck at first sniff, and the perfume must haunt me — to the point of purchase. Pure Oud and Back to Black are high-quality, well-formulated, good-smelling fragrances; give them a try and decide for yourselves if they smell “worth” their prices. (Read Robin’s take on By Kilian pricing and packaging here).
For buying information, see the listing for By Kilian under Perfume Houses. Note that Pure Oud is available by phone order only; it is not sold online.
1. New York Times, October 29, 2009, “Preshrunk Prices,” by Eric Wilson.