Is it Possible to Remove Aspiration from Perfume – and Do We Want To?
The glossy ads of large perfume brands, effortless detached mystique, are hard for most fumeheads to emulate. As it is, your favourite bottle can set you back hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
Perfume has always been an aspirational product, a Veblen good. It reinforces our idealised or emulated self-image. We hope it conveys that image, to negotiate and navigate status within our social spheres. It can even be a trust and navigation tool- breaking the ice and disarming biases in new, desired social contexts.
For these reasons I believe in perfume as ‘blankie’- a bespoke client of mine literally describes their intended scent as a ‘gassy hug’. We want to feel certain in an uncertain world. Perfume is our armour of status, scent memories connoted or invoked.
The glossy ads were ubiquitous pre-2010 for this reason; there was no online culture in the way there was today. Personal and professional paths to ‘success’- especially for marginalised groups- were more opaque [educational inequality and postcode lottery schools], rigid [do you need a degree? reduction in college admissions/completions] and conservative [race, gender glass ceiling stats over last 20 years]. For most no frame of reference existed outside of what was presented us. This remains true today, but globalisation has compounded with a shortened attention span. There are far more things to distract us so it is harder for any one message to take.
PERFUME MARKETING POST SOCIAL MEDIA
In the 2010s, the cultural and commercial conversations in perfume making changed. The rise of niche perfume brands eroded sales of mass market [link here, see business plan] and celebrity perfume, expanded and reinterpreted ‘acceptable’ perfume feedstocks (Le Labo silicone, Escentric molecules), and gave new feeling and customisability to the scent medium [Jo Loves paint brushes, Commodity scent matching].
The perfume consumer fragmented onto the new global stage of the attention economy (don’t be fancy, just say social media). The voices of private citizens, hitherto edited and elided by print and broadcast media, began to be heard. We began demanding diversity, intersectionality, goods reflecting who we are as individuals.
But a hint of the old perfume world remains. A clean, moody, stripped down aesthetic in premium packaging emerged from most niche perfume houses. Often upwards of £70 per 10 ml vial, a newfound/expensive/rebranded star ingredient, and purporting a complete reset of the perfume industry.
Inclusion and mission, but make it perfume (and yes, I see the irony. ;).
ANSWERING THE QUESTION
Theoretically, yes- but we haven’t and don’t want to.
Aspiration in perfume can theoretically be removed, but it will also remove a large sector and factor in the perfume buying decision (and cosmetics, food, cleaning products…). Practical use would be limited to industry,
I’d argue instead that the aspirational standard has inverted and fragmented.
People are looking within, matching and melding personal goals with personal identity. People now demand products celebrating who they already are, an aspiration rooted in realism.
Brand consolidation, entrenched artistic and marketing culture, and the sheer speed of change has left the perfume industry resistant to change (and struggling to get with the times).
Case in point Guerlain, Dior, Jo Malone (owned by Estee Lauder). Socioeconomic inequality (racism, sexism, queerphobia, whorephobia, and much much more…) means aspiration still often plays to the old rules.
And let’s just call it what it is: those that benefit rich white people *shrugs*.
The difference is, it’s now okay (or at least less punished) to say that you don’t aspire to this. That your goals and self-image are cultural and internal.
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