Have you ever wondered why do certain perfumes become classics, while others simply fade away into obscurity? Why does a perfume that everybody loves one year, suddenly gets discontinued? Why do some perfumes that we absolutely hate, continue to exist even nearly 100 years later?
Well, friends, I'm going to answer all of your questions on this issue, once and for all. :-)
All of the questions above boil down to one thing: what turns a perfume into a classic? A perfume that has the potential to become a classic when it fits at least one of the categories below. The same rules apply toward already established classics, as well.
1. It is polarizing: what does this mean? Classics tend to invoke a love-it-or-hate-it attitude from consumers. Think of Chanel's No.5, Guerlain's Shalimar, Thierry Mugler's Angel, or even Giorgio by Giorgio Beverly Hills. Mention the names of these perfumes, and people will either react with recollections of fond memories and profess their undying love, or recoil in utter terror. You would almost never get a neutral, indifferent response. Why is this? Well, that is because the main reason why a perfume becomes a classic is that it has a personality. Instead of trying to appeal to everybody, which would have rendered it personality-less, it attracts some people, while repels others.
In fact, think of the most memorable person in your life; this person has a very strong personality, right? Whether you love or hate this person, you can admit that he or she has a personality. Now, think of the most boring, bland, forgettable person that you've ever met. I bet that person didn't have a very strong, impactful personality, one way or another.
2. It is still well-loved after three decades: if a perfume is still selling well after 30 years, it has earned its place as a classic, no argument there. Think of all of the perfumes that are released in just five years, for example; the majority of them would become discontinued and heavily marked down in price by the fifth anniversary of their launch dates. Thus, if a perfume can span across two generations (approximately 30 years), and continues to have cross-generational appeals, it means that it has a quality that is impactful. This is why Lancome's Tresor -- released in 1990, is now a classic. Calvin Klein's CK One is on is way to become a classic, as well; it has been on the market for 22 years, and still continues to sell well. It will still exist ten years from now, I can say that with absolute confidence.
3. It sets new standards: perfumes that follow current trends will soon fade away into obscurity, while ones that set new trends and standards will be remembered for years to come. For example, prior to the release of Chanel's No.5, most women wore very straightforward single-note perfumes (usually in the scents of violet or rose); ones that smelled exactly like what they were called. However, Chanel's No.5 was groundbreaking because instead of having a discernible, easily-identified note, it smelled like nothing anybody had ever smelled before. No.5 smelled like neither rose nor violet; it smelled more like an idea instead of a flower or plant. The perfume smelled abstract, like angular, modern Art Deco buildings, if they had a scent. The secret? A compound called aldehyde, which gave the perfume its "bubbly," "soapy," "fizzy" qualities.
Soon after the release of No.5, many other perfume houses launched their own versions to capitalize on the trend of using aldehyde in perfume. Yet, how many of those are still around? How many of those can we still name today? Like I said, the perfumes that set the standards and start new trends are the memorable ones, while the perfumes that simply follow trends will not last very long in this world.
Let's take another example -- Jean Patou's Joy, created in 1929. The perfume is a bold, womanly, lush floral blend of jasmine from Grasse, roses from Bulgaria, and a very, very subtle hint of peach and sweet aldehyde. Joy set the standard for full-bodied floral, and became very popular because there wasn't anything else like it in the world, at least not in the mainstream. After Joy's popularity, other perfume houses wanted to copy it, and for a time, their copies did well, but as the years wore on, they disappeared while Joy is still being produced and sold today.
And, of course, we cannot forget Thierry Mugler's Angel. It really started a new perfume category called Gourmands, in which scents are inspired to smell edible by incorporating notes that are reminiscent of foods and desserts (vanilla, berries, liquor, etc.).
I will give you one more example: CK One. This perfume also set new standards because it wasn't just unisex; it was gender-less. With its simple yet edgy formula of pure white rose petals, sparkling bergamot and zesty lime, and white woods, it's something that smells neither feminine nor masculine, yet is appealing to both. Back in 1994, this was a very revolutionary idea. Perfumes at that time were either heavily sweet florals for women, or overly spicy for men. CK One entered the perfume game and changed the rules.
In conclusion, just because a perfume is popular today, it does not necessarily mean that it will be around decades from now. Does the most popular perfume right now possess at least one of the qualities above? If the answer is no, then chances are, it will not stay around for a very long time.
What do you think makes a perfume a classic?
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