I started the following post as a response to a comment left by RM, a reader, after I reviewed Baudelaire by Byredo. You can read that review elsewhere. As usual, I was far too verbose (i.e. full of hot air?) and exceeded the word limit, so I'm posting both RM's comment and my response here. This is a dialogue that goes on all over the internet. It didn't start here and it won't be resolved here, certainly not on my two cups of coffee. I would need six this morning to even approach lucidity. But it's something Abigail and I talk about a lot in our emails to each other, and the spirit of this debate often finds its way into our posts.
I don't know if I agree about the whole idea of perfume ethusiasts and the media etc. dismissing cheaper products on the basis that they're of lower quality. The posters on NST for example are always on the look out for "cheap thrills" and will be the first to sing the praises of any good perfume regardless of whether it's celebrity, designer, niche or cheap or expensive.
I think the general public sentiment never lies and if a company, whoever they may be, consistently release crap people will notice. If you're a musician for example, there's only so many crappy albums you can release before people just stop buying. But release one good song after another and we'll start paying attention. No one can ignore quality and a unique point of view for very long. And I think in this case, there hasn't been enough hits to achieve a certain level of respect from the fragrance enthusiasts and the like.
I think that if a perfume is good, people will say so, regardless of which brand releases it and what price point is sells for.
RM, I think you're probably right about the love for the steal/find. I think we all are looking for one. Bad example? At the same time, I think a bias coexists with that hunt for the hidden in plain view, contradicting itself. How many times have I read in a makeupalley review that something smells of, say, Exclamation, and is therefore unforgivably bad? Plenty. That hypocrisy fascinates me, and sometimes annoys me. One of my favorite bloggers is Angela on NST. She heralds a lot of so-called drugstore cheapos, most recently Bill Blass Nude.
I think I might have been more specific by saying that we often seem to have a bias against mall or mainstream fragrances, which also tend to be less expensive. I understand that. The selection at the mall depresses me. But I find some amazing things there, and I think that mass market environment can produce very interesting work. I find the stuff Kurkdjian and Sophia Grojsman have done for major brands like Estee Lauder, YSL, Gaultier and others to be their best. Whereas when they have less curatorial influence their creations feel more wan to me, less focused. If anything, I feel an all things to all people bid in the Maison Kurkdjian line, which is something he himself has admitted as his goal in one way or another. How is that better than his Fleur du Male, executed for Gaultier, a brand which also operates along some corporate bottom line?
I don't agree that things which are good find their audiences. I'm not sure who ended up with Van Gogh's ear, but I think he or she would have been short of it had VG found more favor in the marketplace during his lifetime. I guess you have to qualify "very long". Was Van Gogh's lifetime very long? That's how long his quality and unique point of view were ignored. Bonnie and Clyde, which was a total innovation in terms of editing and style, was passed up at the Oscars the year it was made, except for best supporting actress and cinematography. Paula Abdul won several Grammies, I believe, and her wonderful, unique songs still litter the airwaves, beaming out into the provinces. People love the stuff. Coke is super popular, and it rots one's teeth.
Seems to me there's often a discrepancy between what's in fashion, what sells, and what's any good. Many people adore the fragrances of Britney Spears. Even Chandler Burr sings the praises of Midnight Fantasy or whatever it is. I'm not sure as many people as you'd imagine are smelling a rat there. On the other hand, people truly fault artistic ventures for trying to find an audience in certain ways. Sometimes, I admit, probably with good cause. I'll go with your musician example. Liz Phair was an indie recording artist with a pretty loyal following over the course of her first several albums, all of which were released on indie labels. Her next move? Hire Avril Lavigne's producers and songwriters. Why? Because, she openly admitted, she wanted to be successful. I.E. (in HER case) write the kind of song that takes root in people's heads until they pull out their wallets and throw money at the cash register to make the voices go away. Something like that. It definitely hurt her fan base.
But for every Liz Phair there's somebody like Robert Pollard. His band, Guided by Voices, put out dozens of popular albums. Indie labels. Gradually, he got the chance to be produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars on a major label. He'd always loved Ric Ocasek. Is that a sell out? A lot of his fans thought so. When Stephen Malkmus left Pavement and started a solo career, people cried sell out, too--I guess because, what, he changed his sound? "Mob mentality" works both ways, championing the mediocre as often as slamming the pretty decent.
It's probably a lot more complicated than either of us can get at. I think we're both simplifying. It's hard not to make sweeping generalizations in this format, probably.
But back to Byredo. I notice a bias against them. Whenever I speak of my love for Pulp it's like I've said I sort of like underarm hair on women. People take issue. There must be something wrong with me. Don't I know women only let their underarm hair grow to be deliberately provocative? And yet to me Pulp is just so fantastic, so supremely pleasurable. I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a really great fragrance. Turin and Sanchez dismiss it as basically a glorified candle. That was weird. I looked and looked for a wick and couldn't for the life of me find one.
I was shocked to read bad reviews of Baudelaire. Like Monika, I love the stuff. I think I could have made more sense out of someone simply saying it wasn't his or her thing. But in the face of all this Kurkdjian love, I'm apt to wonder why the same microscope of suspicion and cynicism isn't applied to both parties. It leaves me wondering whether there's just something I don't know about Byredo. That's the only way I can make sense of it.
The hating on Bond makes more sense to me. I've had firsthand experience with the brand's attack dog tactics. At the same time, some very good perfumes have been produced by that line, no more or less synthetic or crowd-pleasing than any other niche line, to my thinking. Bond's own ratio of hits to misses is pretty impressive. Creed gets people's hate on too, as Abigail says. I think, like Bond, they set themselves up for it in some ways. They trade on this idea of regal exclusivity. Any time you put a crown on, you're daring someone to knock it off. Not everyone's going to buy it and bow down. Not that I spend much time in a crown, mind you. I swear. Still, Creed's marketing strategies can largely be ignored, as you can hop right on the internet and order most of their line for more than half off their outrageous price point. This makes it a lot easier to judge the fragrances on their own merits, so I wonder why more people don't.