Every morning, Ekaterina Goleshchikhina takes a moment to choose the fragrance she’ll wear that day. Will it be the floral yet spicy scent of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 that provides the perfect olfactory finish to her look? Or will she plump for the woodier notes of Amouage Portrayal?
You can understand her deliberation. Retailing for up to $1,019 and $459 respectively, these are not fragrances that you spray liberally in a cloud around your body on your way out the door. Nor are they the scents you’re likely to smell on every second person at the bus stop. For Goleshchikhina, it’s the rare ingredients and air of exclusivity that makes these expensive fragrances worthwhile.
“I have my daily scents, which I repurchase once finished, [but] I enjoy purchasing any scents from these brands, along with Tom Ford and By Killian, which are sometimes sold in boxes and clutch bags,” says the 29-year-old social worker.
Personally, I am in awe of the fact that Baccarat Rouge is Goleshchikhina’s everyday scent—but it turns out that she’s hardly the only one who’s buying bougie.
The boom in eye-wateringly expensive fragrance first came to my attention at a recent press showing. I’ve worked for prestige women’s lifestyle titles my entire career, so I’m used to seeing beauty products retail in the double and triple figures. From my perspective, there’s nothing particularly surprising about a $100 eyeshadow, or a $200 moisturiser. But I was floored to be told that the Amouage Exceptional Extraits Honor Woman 43 fragrance is $750.
I asked the Libertine Parfumerie PR for a teeny tiny sample vial to sniff and see what the fuss was about, and ok, yeah, it’s an absolute stunner of a white floral for die-hard white floral fans (me) but… wow.
And this is far from the only high-end scent on Libertine’s shelves. Artisanal fragrances such as Amouage, Roja Parfums and Creed are fuelling the boom, but fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Gucci and Chanel all have flacons in the high-end scent space. Some of the major beauty conglomerates, like Estée Lauder and Puig, own brands that sit at a much higher price point than their more masstige stablemates (Lauder produces Jo Malone and the more expensive Tom Ford and Le Labo; Puig has Carolina Herrera and cult brand Byredo).
And it turns out fragrance prices in general are on the rise. In the US, overall fragrance retail prices rose by 15 per cent last year — that’s triple the average increase of the previous two years. But buyers aren’t deterred.
These two processes increase the cost dramatically, as they would an aged whiskey or cognac
Despite the price rises, US fragrances sales soared by nearly 50 per cent, more than any other prestige beauty category. Market research firm NPD puts it down to the pandemic, with consumers looking to both treat themselves and enjoy a spot of “armchair travel” during a period of great stress and uncertainty.
So, what makes these fragrances so expensive and why are so many of us keen to buy them?
The fact is, fragrances with a higher percentage of fragrance oils are expensive — and it turns out that consumers are buying more eau de parfums and parfums, which are made of more fragrance oils.
The addition of rare or expensive raw ingredients also further nudges up the price. And then there’s the maceration and maturation.
“Maceration is the most commonly used method for removing the essential oils found in certain types of flowers, like jasmine, hyacinth and tuberose,” explains Michael Marzano, national training manager for Libertine Parfumerie, which distributes Goleshchikhina’s favourite, Amouage.
After maceration – or soaking these delicate flowers in warm fats – the oil is removed and dissolved in a solvent, usually alcohol. The fragrances are then aged – like fine wine – in large containers for four to eight weeks.
“Amouage and Creed are the only fragrance houses that macerate and mature their fragrances for up to 26 weeks [and] these two processes increase the cost dramatically, as they would an aged whiskey or cognac,” says Marzano.
Now, if you think it’s only upscale and middle-aged urbanites who have the kind of cash to splash on exxy scents, you’re right, they do, but you’re also wrong: the youngs are all over it, too.
Everything might be falling apart, but a well-composed fragrance makes it all feel ok, and I’m willing to spend on that feeling
Witness the pandemonium that erupted on TikTok over the aforementioned Baccarat Rouge: it was arguably the biggest scent of 2021, spawning thousands of love it/hate it videos, and there are currently 150+ million views for the hashtag #BaccaratRouge540. Why? Well, Francis Kurkdijan is one of the world’s best perfumers – and Rihanna famously sniffed it on a journalist and signalled her approval.
For women like Ali Fleming – whose everyday scents are Baccarat Rouge or Le Labo Thé Noir 29 – higher-end fragances are an investment they’re happy to make. Having flitted between fragrances in her 20s, largely influenced by friends and magazines, the 32-year-old brand strategy and communications consultant says a luxury brand gives her “an instant lift. Everything might be falling apart, but a well-composed fragrance makes it all feel ok, and I’m willing to spend on that feeling.”
Because that feel-good factor? It’s priceless.