Not all perfumes are created equal. Some are musky, others floral. Some are trendy while some are intended to end up as classics to gather fame through the years. But the biggest divider of them all is still the price. Some are commercial while others cost an entire estate. Let’s take a look at some of the most expensive natural ingredients ever found in perfumes and see whether losing a limb for a bottle is always worth it at the end.
Fact: natural ingredients are most expensive. Natural ingredients are most expensive because they are any of the three: 1) rare, 2) painstakingly laborious to obtain and/or, 3) highly regulated. Items like natural Oud oil are very rare due to the depletion of its natural source. The same goes for off-season ingredients like Madagascar’s ylang ylang. Other coveted ingredients like Iris butter and ambergris are excruciating to extract and collect.
And then there are those that became so expensive because of ingredients that are highly regulated. Naturally aged sandalwood is a highly regulated substance in India which thereby adds to the cost of the current most expensive perfume in the world by Clive Christian.
It is this high cost that force some designers to either put less concentration or replace the rare natural ingredients with synthetic ones altogether. Another fact: some synthetic ingredients can also be expensive. At the end of the day, it is still the supply & demand dynamics that determines the price of an ingredient, natural or not.
That being said, natural perfume ingredients are still unarguably more expensive by a long-shot. According to a rather extensive review of Internet literature, the following are considered the most costly:
Depending on where it was traded, the infamous sperm whale excrement can cost a perfumer AUD 11,000 – 66,000 per kg. The wide range is determined by the initial pricing by the supplier who may or may not have chanced up on it in bulk. Ambergris is valuable because it is both heavy (thus, it weighs down on the skin) and lipophilic (meaning, the scent molecules stick together).
Also known as oil of Argarwood, Oud (sometimes, Oudh) is sourced from the resin of mould-infested evergreen trees of Asia. The depletion of Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees accounts for the rarity of the oil which now ranges from AUD 38,000 – 56,000 per kg.
Orris or Iris-root butter,
The AUD 38,000 – 53,000 per kilo price range of this ingredient is justified by the painstaking labour that goes to produce it: the roots (“rhizomes”) of the purple Iris flower are dried for 3 years then crushed into powder then distilled with steam. All that back pain for a very low yield.
Other top-tier ingredients include sandalwood oil, Tahitian vanilla, and real musk from a musk pod – the price range of which are yet unpublished but are widely acknowledged to be among the priciest.
When Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty and its regular version No.1 came out, it affirmed a hushed secret that high cost is all part of the design. Clive himself admitted that their main goal with Imperial Majesty is to create the best perfume regardless of the cost unlike other mainstream fragrances such as CK, Hugo Boss and Giorgio Armani.
With that freedom, Christian Clive mixed in some of the most expensive ingredients available: Indian sandalwood and Tahitian vanilla. One was a highly regulated ingredient, the other a labour-intensive product. This adds to the prestige and collectability which further add to the cost.
The question now goes, “will the cost be always worth it?” Perfume aficionados are divided on this. Not all perfumes with expensive ingredients appeal to everyone. In the same vein, not all designers who use expensive ingredients employ such the same way. Some would go all the way like Clive, aiming for impeccable quality in terms of scent, longevity and projection. And then there are some who would just be content on claiming but not actually delivering. The latter kind are usually the ones who would put a drop of something expensive then go synthetic the rest of the way, if only to sell the entire bottle at an exorbitant amount.
The key is in the discernment. Niche perfumes containing expensive ingredients normally use higher concentration of natural ingredients, although not 100%, such as Mancera, Parfum M. Micallef, Clive Christian, etc. Like with any perfume, judge a bottle by its actual imprint on you and not what the label claims it has.
What other expensive perfume ingredients have you come across? Was the cost worth it? Join our discussion.