For many perfume houses, the past two years has had its top notes and base notes. Ringing out, clear and immediate, have been the pandemic’s sharp challenges; below, the steady currents of a luxury market responding to meet the changing demands of consumers and the opportunities of the digital age. From product and production to how brands position and sell their products, trends and developments have been cumulative, responsive – and sometimes unexpected.
Could the luxury perfume sector have imagined that free sampling, for example, would become a vital part of the landscape? Luxury fragrances were a bit snobby about free samples in the past; it seemed like a bit of a department store thing to do. Now, for the first time in my career, I see high-luxury fragrance houses investing time and money in them. If people weren’t going out, you had to find a way for people to smell your goods and to buy them. Necessity, it seems, is the mother of reframing.
Overall, some areas of the perfume industry have had a better time than others through the tumult of the pandemic. Niche cult luxury did really well in fragrance, while prestige fragrance did not. And as a result, we’re seeing many brands now developing very-high luxury franchises within their established lines. Houses such as Armani are focusing much more on the privée fragrances, while Estee Lauder is launching a luxury fragrance collection which is at a much higher price point than signature Estee Lauder, to be sold at dedicated areas on counters to augment the elevated experience.
Within product, we’re also seeing interesting change, including much more appreciation for synthetic - for many years there was a false idea that natural was best, that good quality fragrances were made from naturals and cheap, low-quality fragrances were made from synthetics and that’s just not true. A good quality fragrance will invariably be a mix of synthetic and natural and so we’re seeing brands such as Frederic Malle’s latest launch, Synthetic Jungle, really celebrating the presence of synthetic ingredients. What is interesting is that the consumer is responding to that because there is authenticity in saying, “This is actually what’s in our product.”
On an olfactory note, fragrances themselves are equally gutsy and polarising in ways they wouldn’t have dared to be five years ago. Back then, every new fragrance had to hit the biggest market imaginable; it had to sail through dozens of focus groups and everybody had to like it. Nowadays, it’s more appealing to wear a fragrance that some people won’t like and that not everyone will wear because you don’t want to smell like everybody else. Individuality is king.
Read more of Sali Hughes' predictions in the Walpole Luxury Trend Report below.