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PERFUME AS POLITICS


Perfume is often seen as the "cash cow" of luxury goods companies, offering a steady stream of income with relatively little effort. Compared to, say, an haute couture wedding dress, perfumes can be produced by the tankful and are therefore the least expensive of all luxury items. Most people from the lower middle class and up can afford to buy a fragrance from time to time.

Helped by the influx of funds from global luxury conglomerates, in the late 1990s fragrance firms like Guerlain began to sell collectible editions in an aim to stand out from the ever-growing mainstream market and add a touch of exclusivity to the brand. To name just a few such items from the Guerlain repertoire, we've had vintage Baccarat reissues, Muguet, Guerlinade, Guet-Apens, Plus Que Jamais Guerlain, Nuit d'Amour, and Les Secrets de Sophie. If you had a few hundred Euros to spare, Guerlain offered an exciting possibility to make your personal perfume collection even more special.

During the last decade, however, as brands have found their way to the booming Middle Eastern, Russian, and Chinese luxury markets, the price of exclusive goods has skyrocketed — even when we adjust for accumulated French inflation in the same period of around fifteen percent, it has multiplied several times. (As a footnote, the average French income has increased by around twenty percent in the last ten years.)

The Guerlain catalogue from 2005 lists that year's special Baccarat edition (Plus Que Jamais Guerlain Parfum, 500 ml quadrilobe bottle) at 1,500 €. Compare that to the latest Baccarat edition (also a 500 ml quadrilobe), containing an EdP and exquisitely decorated by designer Jana├»na Milheiro with coloured feathers and pearls to evoke the four seasons, which goes for 16,000 € per bottle.

Forcing an haute couture approach, at such extreme prices, onto something that in essence could have been made very affordable and for a larger audience to enjoy, is a way of turning a product into a political statement, trumpeting the sad fact that we live in a time of immense decadence, opportunism, and inequality.

P.S. If you're looking for an investment, you should choose gold over Guerlain. Auctioned perfumes, even the most collectible ones, barely hold their original value. The value of gold, on the other hand, has increased by three hundred percent since 2005.
(October 2017)


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Some images courtesy of guerlain.com


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