Having been a perfume lover for most of my life and more recently a Grand Amateur (in the French sense of being a huge fan and/or student or fancier) of perfume in the past ten years, I find myself depressed by and disconsolate about what is happening to perfume in the 21st Century.
The situation is similar, I suppose, to what happened in the film business 20 years ago, when Independents started flourishing as a reaction to the crowd pleasing drivel of the entrenched mainstream film business, but eventually became became sort of a second tier of the fat cat industry, supported and sometimes cannibalized by them. So now there is Mainstream film , Mainstream Independent film, Independent film, and a kind of Guerilla film.
In the perfume world, so called Niche brands seemed to appear suddenly in the 80's, typified in by Annick Goutal and Jean Laporte, who represented a kind of break with the tradition of classic french perfume, using ingredients that seemed more clearly defined and directly apprehended by the contemporary consumer blossoming in those prosperous times.
As a young woman who grew up with snootfuls of Diorissimo, Yardley, Love, Rain, and the iconic American Estée Lauder in-your-face scents like Azuree and Private Collection, these brave new scents were a natural extension of what I loved from my adolescence in the 70's. ( I wrote about these influences on my young self when I first started this blog) Luckily Barneys had appeared in Southern California sometime during this period, offering the Les Jardins Retrouve scents among others, which were refreshingly direct and uplifting, and I went through bottles of the stuff.
In the 90's I experienced a kind of Perfume Fatigue, there just weren't enough perfumes in the new niche world for me to use to express myself properly and keep me happy and stimulated. I had been through all of the single note natural offerings I could gobble up from Spain or France, (everything available in LA that is), whatever I found at Barney's 50 miles away, every Annick Goutal and Laporte I liked, and what remained was already a sea of Department Store choices, which, as an iconoclast, I could never consider.
I limped along for several years with the dregs of my past forays into perfume, until my first trip to France with Pierre, where he introduced me to Serge Lutens' perfumes at the Palais Royal, happily opened in 1992, and they were a revelation, but only available on our trips to Paris and at 100 Euros a pop (in 1997!) a bottle at a time was all I could do. The following year I discovered Santa Maria Novella in Florence and bought 4 or 5, two bottles of Zagara, which I truly loved. A year or two I tried to get more Zagara but it had changed completely (I naively thought that maybe the crop of flowers had changed a lot, but I now think that they had started to augment their formulas with perfume chemicals to meet their rising demand and make better profit margins too). Luckily by chance I tripped over Parfums de Nicolai on my last day in Paris and bought 4 perfumes between 10:30 and 11 in the morning, before catching the shuttle to the airport, phew!
Unbeknownst to me, there was a burgeoning world of perfume lovers glomming onto perfumes, both new and vintage, whom I happily discovered upon my arrival home, when I researched my new perfumes on the Internet, a fairly new type of pursuit, and found the original group of Perfumistas on Makeupalley. There were amazing women like Victoria Frolova now of Bois de Jasmin, and Denyse Beaulieu now of Grains de Musc, and other afficionados talking about and swapping perfumes, all of whom were extremely forthcoming and generous to me as a novice, and I discovered new Niche scents, beautiful old Classics, and books like The Emperor of Scent which had just come out at that moment in 2003, and Essence and Alchemy, released in 2001.
Having pursued beauty and originality in all of my accoutrements for my whole life (and trying to add my own to the world by this time as a shoe designer) I was always hunting for new stimulation for all of my senses (as well as my designs of course) and my perfume world discoveries completed a big part of the puzzle for me.
Here we are, fast forwarding to 2013, and the explosion of "Niche Perfume" in the last 10 years that looked like it was going to give us all kinds of wonderful new scent ideas to explore seems to have become a kind of extension of perfume chemical companies, compounded by the bevy of new regulations due to so called allergens in perfumes, the field of materials has somehow narrowed and everyone seems to be working with the same darned stuff with similar results.
I am trusting my own nose on this, but there are people with better noses than mine who concur that there are a few dominant types of scent or themes that all smell very similar, so at least I don't feel like I am alone in this, nor am I going crazy. But I am very sad about the turn perfume has taken and very disappointed in the whole perfume world, large and small, shame on you all, or most of you!