Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brand Mystique

Do I love Guerlain’s Apres l’Ondee because it’s Guerlain and shrouded in a glamorous elegant mystique? Did I give Serge Noir five hours of my time simply because it was created by Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake? Do I like Chanel Beige because it’s Chanel?

What if I took Apres l’Ondee and put it in an unmarked bottle and sniffed it for the first time? What if my friend was a budding perfumer and he handed me a vial of Serge Noir – what would I say to him about his first fragrance? What if Beige was in a bottle labeled as the newest ‘fume from Britney Spears?

I used to work in marketing and branding was my specialty so I find myself thinking about brand mystique frequently. I would love for Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez to review their next 100 perfumes blindfolded. I’m planning to do this myself, I have a hunch I’ll smell blue when I’m supposed to smell pink, but we shall see.

Pyramus, from One Thousand Scents, wrote about blindfolded reviewing in Brisk: CSP Bois de Filao and I think we should all do it – choose a day and make it “blindfolded review day.”

Did I choose the above photo because of who it is? Yes...


lady jicky said...

Now that is a great idea. I am a Guerlain Girl . I do like some other brands too but do I like them because I am a snob? There - I said it - a scent snob!
I should do this test. Makes you wonder.

Olfacta said...

Excellent idea, Abigail!

If psychological experimentation has proven one thing, it's that the most difficult variable to eliminate is experimenter bias; hence the double-blind study, where neither subject nor researcher knows which is which.

I can imagine the friend uncorking the sample vials for the (blindfolded) tester to try -- "now, what do you think about this one?" If it was, say, a vintage Guerlain vs. a modern Paris Hilton, would the asker's voice sound a little different? Would there be just a slight derisiveness there? If the un-corker was a perfumista and the fragrance a Britney, you bet. Even if that inflection was subliminal.

I'm as guilty of brand bias as anyone. I know that I'm much more likely to spend time with a niche or icon scent, let it develop, to test it repeatedly, than I would be with a mass-market scent. For example, the L'Heure Bleu I recently sampled smelled like Play-Doh on me -- my skin appears to hate heliotrope -- but I kept testing and re-testing, not trusting my own nose. Would I have done that with a cheap freebie sample from Sephora? No way. I'd have said "meh" and gotten rid of it.

The sad truth is that, with the bean-counters determining the ingredients budgets, we can no longer count on ingredients to make the icon perfumes great; nevertheless, we expect those perfumes to be better than mass-market because of those storied brand names. Likewise, the brands count on that expectation to keep us buying their products, whose quality has degraded. The question, I guess, is how long this brand loyalty will last.

Henna said...

You make a really good point! I just smelled the latest by Kate Moss and before I smell anything by her I can't help but expect something that reminds me of Bluebells, her supposedly favourite perfume!

Abigail said...

I find this topic fascinating. I'm so glad Lady Jicky, Olfacta and Henna do, too!

As Olfacta points out, there would be so many variables, some nearly subliminal, that in order to truly pull off this experiment it would need to be double blind.

I know I'm impacted by brand. There's no doubt in my mind that I spent so long with the atrocious Serge Noir only because it was Serge Lutens and I was trying to smell the greatness!

And, Beige. I like it, but if it wasn't Chanel, but Britney instead, I seriously doubt I would even try it.

We are all scent snobs I'm afraid ;-)

Olfacta's question is a good one - since the quality of ingredients is very likely the same for high end vs. mass market fragrances these days (and more so in the future) how long are we going to hold onto the brand mystique alone?

Perfumeshrine said...

I'm in!!!

I always do the "blind" test with friends and many of the revered things fail miserably ~and nota bene that some of them do have an interest in perfumes and know a thing or two.

Brand and critique awareness have a MAJOR influence on most, especially perfumephiles professing opinions on the Net ;-)

Abigail said...


Let's do it!

I'll gather some others and send you a note soon. It will be fun :-)

xo A