Scent is a facet of any individual’s personality. It represents a person much like clothes and has the uncanny capacity to affect how a person is perceived among circles. This fact has motivated most perfume houses to capitalise on strong marketing strategies, grandiose packaging and glamorous scent ambassadors instead of on the scent itself. These, all under the premise that consumers buy perfumes for the image it offers to cloak its wearer, paying little regard to how perfumes actually smell on the buyer’s skin.
This capitalisation on imagery more than on scent also saw the rise of mass-produced scents that can have anyone smelling like everyone else. Countless market researchers have indeed observed that perfume making has become more commercialised and democratised. Gone were the days when scents were crafted for a particular royalty or an elite family. Ever since Guerlain came out with Jicky in 1889, everyone wanted their own bottles of the choicest elixirs, all quality be damned. This spawned a century of a row of designer fragrances, even including celebrity fragrances, which smell very similarly to all the rows after it. Now, even the most exclusive of designer perfume houses have big perfume factories that spawn ‘allegedly’ limited edition bottles in the hundreds.
The democratisation of the perfume market has given birth to a perfect antithesis: the artisan perfume makers. Artisan perfume makers are believers of the old ways of perfumery. They believe in creating tailored scents, in the true sense of the word, in the name of Art. They offer an alternative to the strongly advertised and widely marketed perfumes produced en masse and therefore offers few scents to even fewer clients. As a result, many say that artisan perfume makers do not primarily aim at making profits but would rather focus themselves on the freedom to create – a freedom seldom found in the big perfume houses that have noses battling it out for a product that might sell.
Artisan perfume makers also do not engage in the same cut-throat marketing that other perfume houses have. They do not make extravagant launches that only the big perfume houses can afford, the latter supporting their pricey marketing by mass producing scents that cost only a small fraction of the product’s entire costs. In contrast, artisan perfume makers would focus on the juice, mixing the highest quality ingredients to make the most exquisite scents.
Aside from the limited production, creative freedom and practically inexistent marketing, artisan perfume makers differ from other noses through their olfactory lines. There are artisan perfume makers who only use natural essences (Florascent, M. Micallef, Aftelier, JoAnne Bassett, Ayala Moriel) and then there are those who take on the challenge of using synthetics but taking care that their creations don’t smell like the other mass-produced perfumes who employ the same (Escentric Molecules, Commes des Garcons). There are also artisans who prefer to employ a signature note in everything on their line, like rose (Les Parfums de Rosine) or vanilla (La Maison de la Vanille), while there are those who would rather tell the story of places (Bond No. 9, Aqaba, Profumi di Pantelleria, Eau d’Italie, Parfum d’Empire, Comptoir Sud Pacifique).
Like big perfume houses though, artisan perfume makers are not created equal. The more known artisan perfumers are the houses of Serge Lutens, Annick Goutal, M. Micallef, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Acqua di Parma.
L’Artisan parfumeur is said to be a pioneer of the artisan perfume making industry. It strives to make contemporary perfumes using artisanal skills. Another artisan perfume maker currently producing perfumes on an independent level is Shay & Blue. Its perfumers created the brand after noting that “there are thousands of fragrances available, but they all smell the same.”
Artisan perfume makers are offering us something that the oversaturated and highly democratised perfume market does not: individuality. It comes at a price too. Some people believe though that artisan perfumes are worth every buck, if only to mean that its wearer will never smell like an aunt, a friend, or someone’s ex.