Scent Gourmand

sinless pleasure for the perfume glutton

Category: Opinion (page 1 of 2)

Designer, niche, artisan, indie, bespoke… Say what?

Perfume is usually categorized into types based on smell, and there are several ways to categorize those smells. Michael Edwards, for example, has defined 4 groups – florals, woody, fresh, and oriental – and he has subdivided into 14 categories. There is another way to categorize fragrances, though, and that is by the fragrance house type, which is said to dictate the quality, cost, and pricing of a perfume. But not always. And the lines between these distinctions are unclear.


Designer fragrances are created by reputable perfumers or perfume institutions who have been commissioned to create the scent. They are the mainstream brands and are often part of larger fashion houses, crystal makers, or even furniture or luxury hotel companies.  They are the fragrances you will most commonly find in department stores, stores owned by the brand itself, and duty free shops in airports. Designer fragrances permit the average person access to a world of luxury that is otherwise not affordable. I’d splash out on a bottle of Chanel perfume, for example, but I’d need to save up 500 times that for a Chanel bag. Note that alongside designer fragrances, it is easy to find cheaper drugstore fragrances and increasingly higher-end brands (which often translates into “niche”) as well.  I think designer fragrances do have good recipes, but they will use cheaper ingredients and will definitely follow whatever is trending in the mass market


Niche is a word that is thrown around often to designate anything that is not mainstream. The term originally applied to fragrances not found in or different from those of department stores, but that is no longer the case. Indeed, since the niche market has exploded, so-called niche fragrances are as ubiquitous as the Sephora outlets (Ulta, Bluemercury, and other such beauty retailers) in which they are now housed. I believe L’ Artisan Parfumeur was one of if not the first house to be designated as niche, and it’s interesting to me that the brand name contains the term “artisan” and is also much more widely available now. The term niche is ceasing to become meaningful as a descriptor. Still, niche production does tend to be on a much smaller scale, and niche perfume presence in mainstream retail stores is not pervasive by any stretch.


The term indie is often ascribed to brands that are niche but smaller and independently owned. However, these days even many indie companies are fairly large. I feel the term is a clever marketing buzzword that seems to be applied to brands with a very zany, whimsical, alternative feel. A brand I feel represents the indie genre well is Imaginary Authors.


People disagree on the usage of niche and indie, but the term artisan engenders even more debate. Artisan brands create artisan-made products, meaning handmade and in-house as opposed to factory-produced. Artisan is therefore a  subset of indie. But here again, many companies have their perfumes batched and bottled in labs rather than doing it by hand, removing them from the strict definition of artisan. And the artisan label is not a guarantee of quality, as some people might suggest. They do tend, however, to be creative, original, and very personal (to the creator, at least). The lack of mass production means that the quantity may be limited and the products hard to get one’s hands on. Costs for artisan brands are higher. This is due to the need for increased labor and more expensive ingredients and packaging ( since they must be purchased in smaller quantities).


For those who have both the money and the desire for supreme originality, bespoke is now considered the preferred method. To some consumers, a bespoke perfume is the ultimate luxury fragrance. Bespoke perfume takes the world of personalisation to an entirely new level. According to Joanne Lam, “The process offers individuals a chance to not only convert emotions and memories into a unique scent, but also to create new emotions and memories to be associated with the fragrance.” Perfumer at Jean Patou, Thomas Fontaine, said it could cost someone $30,000 to $50,000 to create a personal scent. Famous perfumers that charge such a premium include the likes of Roja Dove, Francis Kurkdjian, Mathilde Laurent (of Cartier), Lyn Harris (of Miller Harris), Blaise Mautin, and Mandy Aftel (of Aftelier Perfumes). Because of the time and effort involved, these perfumers tend not to take on many clients seeking bespoke services. The waiting list can be years long. There are several companies who offer bespoke services as part of their brand, or even as their main service, and not all of them charge pinnacle-of-luxury prices. DYI bespoke fragrance workshops have also become popular, but I wouldn’t expect to create a masterpiece after one experience. It could be a lot of fun, though. Find a list of bespoke services and DYI companies at the bottom of my links page.


This is my own category, though I’m certain others use it, too. Drugstore is a term used by the makeup and skincare social media community to describe not necessarily cheap quality products, but those with cheaper prices that are commonly sold in “drugstore” retailers. Maybeline, Revlon, Bourgois, L’Oréal, CoverGirl, E.L.F. etc. are all drugstore makeup brands, and they are sold in Target, Walgreens, Wal Mart, Rite Aid, Sams Club, Shopper’s Drug Mart, etc. These lie in contrast to designer makeup, like Dior, Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Chanel, Estée Lauder, Burberry, YSL, etc., which are sold in department stores and stores run by the brand. Mostly obviously then, perfume sold at drugstores is drugstore perfume. Note, however, that many a designer perfume is also sold at major drugstores, especially perfumes that have been around for a decade or more and are still popular. For the most part, though, drugstore perfume consists of non-designer fare, perhaps some beauty brand perfume (see below), older designer releases, and the “lesser” designer brands and celebrity perfumes. They are sold at very accessible price points.

Beauty Brand

When I use the term beauty brand perfume, I refer to perfumes that are sold, sometimes exclusively, at the global beauty brand branches of the chain that owns them. L’Occitane, the Body Shop, Yves Rocher, Aveda, Bath and Body Works, Lush, Origins, Jurlique, Kiehl’s, and Philosophy come to my mind. I believe that the quality and pricing is similar to those of drugstore perfumes (perhaps a tad higher), but you might find some real gems (Eau des Beaux and from l’Occitane comes to mind, and Kiehl’s musk is classic). I don’t know if anyone else other than me has defined this category or finds it useful.

For things like the FIFI award categories, perfumery classification terminology is important. But ultimately these categories do not matter to consumers, who buy what they like and/or can afford. Sadly, there are status-related and emotional factors that also drive consumer behavior. Someone may not adore their custom-made bespoke scent as much as they say they do; they are more in love with the idea of owning a bespoke fragrance and what they perceive that does for their social status and/or the way they feel as a result.

Pia Long of Volatile Fiction, in addressing types of perfumers,  claims that distinctions represent a semantic nightmare:

“Indie perfumer, self-taught; indie perfumer, not-really-a-perfumer; indie perfumer, ex-industry…

If a self-taught indie perfumer says “I’m a perfumer” to a functional fragrance industry perfumer; they’ll be met with a blank stare. If an industry perfumer says “I’m a perfumer” to a member of the general public, it might evoke romantic scenes of sniffing roses and vanilla pods all day long, when the daily reality for that perfumer could be figuring out a cheap but still attractive scent which doesn’t fall apart in a new type of detergent product.”

What do you think about the way perfumes are categorized in terms of house? Are you swayed in any way by such categorization?

How to rate perfume


Perfumery is well and truly an art form, and as such, the stricter and more detailed the rating system, the poorer the job the system will likely do to give justice to the fragrance at hand. When I read other people’s ratings of fragrances, certainly, I may glance at the number of stars allotted, but am more interested in the words raters use to describe the fragrances as well as their experiences with them. As a result, this is what I also try to focus on when reviewing.

Although I generally choose to avoid giving stars, I aim to mention what facets of the fragrance are particularly incredible, sub-standard or mediocre if I deem it helpful to my readers, whether from the perspective of perfume as an art, or from a more utilitarian standpoint. At the end of the day, one’s preferences are highly personal, so it likely does not matter what I or perhaps anyone else thinks.

Nonetheless, here I’d like to share with you a list of criteria that are typically used by perfume reviewers, which include 1) quality, 2) originality, 3) projection, 4) longevity, 5) versatility, 6) value, 7) complement frequency, 8) packaging, as well as an 9) overall rating and 10) recommendations. I mostly stress the first four in addition to an overall grade when deciding whether to add a full bottle to my own personal collection. But first of all, a word about rating scales is in order.

Rating Scales

When it comes to art, entertainment, and academics in Western culture, the 10 point scale is common, and in this scale any number below 7 points is considered a poor score. However, I think the 5 star system is more appropriate for perfumery, even though 0.5 stars are commonly given, simply because it looks cleaner, simpler, and is commonly used; 10 stars would complicate things, and 4 or less would oversimplify. In addition, the midway score of 3 stars is considered a positive, whereas 6 or 6.5 on the 10 point scale system is thought of as negative. As a side note, although I expect most of my readers are familiar with Western logic in ranking, many may not know that other cultures rate very differently. In Japan, for example, scales are often in reverse order; on a 4 point scale, 1 is the highest and 4 is the lowest.


  • 2.5 and 3.5 stars is probably the average rating for the majority of scents out there. Scores of 4 aren’t common and 5s are rare.
  • Two fragrances with the same overall rating aren’t equal. Two perfumes may warrant a score of 3 for completely different reasons. One might be pleasant but has no stand out quality, and the other might do one or more things extremely well, but one or more flaws, such as a dreadful projection.
  • It’s hard not to be biased in reviews, as everyone is swayed toward one thing or another. I tend to prefer woody orientals and gourmands overall, so it’s hard to be fair to florals. I think most reviewers try to be somewhat objective, and I think good ones will be transparent about their preferences.

Common Criteria

1) Quality

The quality of a fragrance is the most important but subjective of all criteria. Ingredient quality is often considered when judging, but a “natural” perfume or one with expensive/rare materials may not smell better. Perhaps the main question to be asked is how the smell of the fragrance makes you feel. What mood does it convey and what memories, if any, does it cause to surface? When one speaks of a fragrance’s quality, the concept of complexity is usually factored in. Complexity refers not only to how well the different notes and accords combine, but also how the scent develops as it evolves on your person. This perhaps most importantly includes the drydown, which is the final and longest lasting stage of a perfume. A scent may be magical at opening, but the top notes are almost always short-lived, and if the scent becomes average in an hour, its rating will suffer. A scent could also start out average, but develop into some kind of wonderful. This is of course why it’s best to try a perfume on for a few hours before committing to a bottle. Some scents are criticized for being linear (smelling the same from start to finish), but this might not be a bad thing – again, it’s all subjective!

  • 1 out of 5 – Get this off my skin! It’s a scrubber.
  • 2 out of 5 – The scent is OK; generic and may be off-putting to many.
  • 3 out of 5 – It’s smells good, but doesn’t make a lasting impression.
  • 4 out of 5 – It’s a beautiful, high quality scent.
  • 5 out of 5 – It’s a rare masterpiece – LOVE!

2) Originality

Does this fragrance smell like the plethora of average fragrances available on the market or does it stand out and surprise you in its uniqueness? Does it push the envelope, setting new standards, or is it super safe and uninspiring? Just because the fragrance breaks new ground, however, does not mean it smells like heaven on steroids, however, but in a world where hundreds of fragrances come onto the market every year, originality has to factor in. The flip side to all this is that incredible fragrances of times past tend to generate flattering flankers and imitations, and although not original, the newer fragrances might improve on the more classic version. Personally, however, I have rarely liked a flanker more than the original, and I feel that fragrances that imitate others do not deserve the credit.

  • 1 out of 5 – There’s absolutely nothing original about this scent.
  • 2 out of 5 – You should easily be able to find a scent that could replace this.
  • 3 out of 5 – This is different, but with some effort you could find something similar.
  • 4 out of 5 – It’s very original OR (ironically) It smells just like —, and wow, isn’t that amazing?
  • 5 out of 5 – There’s absolutely nothing else like it.

3) Projection (Sillage)

A scent needs to be able to project for more than just an hour. Generally you want other people to smell you. Everyone’s skin is different, though. I try it on different parts of my skin and it projects differently depending on where I spray, but I’m looking at the overall picture. More projection isn’t always better. One thing is certain, however – if people can barely smell the fragrance, no matter how wonderful it is, what is the point? It’s rather like having a fascinating idea at a conference, but having horrendous presentation skills and slides. The audience will likely fall asleep because they aren’t compelled to listen enough.

  • 1 out of 5 – faint; Someone would have to put their nose right up to your skin to perceive your scent.
  • 2 out of 5 – soft; Only people intimately close to you can smell your scent.
  • 3 out of 5 – moderate; Only people in your immediate vicinity can smell your scent.
  • 4 out of 5 – heavy; People can smell you coming.
  • 5 out of 5 – enormous; People smell you from afar.

4) Longevity

This is a straightforward criterion. How long does the scent last on skin (or hair or clothing)? The good news is that if a scent performs poorly in terms of longevity, you can always spray on some more!

  • 1 out of 5 – poor; 2 hours or less
  • 2 out of 5 – weak; 3~4 hours
  • 3 out of 5 – moderate; 5~6 hours
  • 4 out of 5 – long-lasting; 7~8 hours
  • 5 out of 5 – very long-lasting; sometimes 12 hours or more

5) Versatility

Summer, winter, fall or spring? Day or night? Formal or informal? Mature or youthful? Safe or avant-garde? Versatility in perfumery is a word that is generally used in the context of being safe (not too offensive). This often conflicts with originality, but fragrances that are both unique and safe are gems. A versatile fragrance is one that you can wear it to work, to a classy event, out on the town clubbing, and for casual occasions (practically anywhere). It won’t offend too many people and that different ages and genders call pull it off in any season. Good luck finding just one that will do all that. Just call to mind your wardrobe and you’ll easily see what I mean. Highly versatile scents do exist, however, but that may ultimately not be what you are looking for, and in that case a lower score on the scale below would be much more appropriate. This is what I mean when I wrote above that rating in detail impedes one’s ability to properly evaluate.

  • 1 out of 5 – It is very difficult to name times where this would be appropriate to wear.
  • 2 out of 5 – You can only wear this on specific occasions, and particular times of the day and year. Perhaps it’s perceived as being more appropriate for one age group or gender.
  • 3 out of 5 – This scent works well for either day or night OR multiple seasons OR multiple occasions OR both genders and many age groups.
  • 4 out of 5 – This scent is very versatile; it works well for either day or night AND/OR multiple seasons AND/OR multiple occasions, AND/OR works for both men and woman of many ages.
  • 5 out of 5 – This scent can work perfectly for pretty much anyone, anywhere, anytime.

6) Value

This criterion, like longevity, projection and versatility, is more utilitarian. Yes, the price tag on the perfume box will ultimately determine whether or not I personally buy a particular scent, but it doesn’t determine if I enjoy how it smells or how it wears, or even necessarily my overall rating of the scent, but I concede that it is a factor that easily constitutes an important criterion for many people, so when I feel a scent is “too expensive” or a “real steal”, I say so. I deliberately avoid the words price or cost in the name of this criterion, as if I am in love with a gorgeous, expensive perfume that has amazing sillage and longevity, I’ll be more likely to invest in it than perhaps an even better one that only I can smell and is thrown off my skin in just a couple of hours.

If minimalism in possessions is not your thing and a thin wallet is rarely your issue, than this factor will never be a criterion. But for most of us it must be admitted that collecting fragrances is not a cheap hobby and getting the biggest bang for our buck is important. This is where the above factors come together. Niche fragrances may be graded more harshly than cheaper designer fragrances for this reason, as they may be absofrickin’lutely divine, but not worth the price. It’s worth stressing that, on the other side of the coin, if a fragrance costs very little, but the quality is not incredibly inspiring, I personally do not allow the great value to boost the overall rating.

  • 1 out of 5 – OMG, my car cost more than this!
  • 2 out of 5 – This is a HUGE splurge for me.
  • 3 out of 5 – standard perfume price of less than 100 USD for 100 ml
  • 4 out of 5 – less than 50 USD for a 100 ml bottle OR Oh, it’s on sale? Great!
  • 5 out of 5 – Instead of grabbing a fast food meal, I’ll get me a bottle of this stuff!

7) Compliment Frequency

For many people, fragrance is worn more to impress others than delight themselves. Not that receiving complements is unpleasant, but I personally admit to wearing a fragrance for myself more than for others (and I suppose at the end of the day, when I purchase scent for my significant other, it’s more for myself than for him – haha!). For those who want to smell good for others, however, note that a high amount of compliments may indicate a fragrance is just safe and perhaps even mediocre. Very generally speaking, I rate more unique and complex niche fragrances higher than designer fragrances, but the latter tend to generate more compliments because they are simply pleasant and not “strange” in any way.

  • 1 out of 5 – People move away from you.
  • 2 out of 5 – You never get compliments on the scent you’re wearing.
  • 3 out of 5 – Compliments on the scent you’re wearing are rare, but you have received them.
  • 4 out of 5 – You often get complements on the scent you’re wearing.
  • 5 out of 5 – You get compliments all the time, often with people dying to know what you are wearing.

8) Packaging (Bottling)

Although the look of the bottle should not be a factor in evaluation of the scent it contains, it is, and probably more than many hardcore perfumistas would care to admit. If it weren’t, less money would be spent on the bottle and more on its contents. The fact is that just like sex, image and appearance sell products (as do branding, labeling, positioning, naming, and all those other marketing concepts we often love to hate). Really, I confess to taking pleasure at simply looking at the perfume bottles in my collection as well as handling them.

To be sure, whether or not one likes the bottle is completely subjective. I much prefer the modern Gucci Rush plastic container to the old-fashioned bottles from Annick Goutal. I also think many exquisite Middle Eastern bottles are hideously gaudy, but many of those designs will delight others. My 2 out of 5 may be a 5 for someone else. In packaging, however, there are utilitarian factors to consider as well. Does the spray atomizer work well? It the bottle so delicate it breaks easily when you accidentally drop it? Does it leak? Does the heavy weight convey luxury to you? It is light enough to pack for travel should you decide to take the whole thing? No, packaging is not the top factor when choosing a fragrance, but it cannot be ignored.

  • 1 out of 5 – The bottle looks cheap, trashy, doesn’t spray well, and leaks (and possibly more).
  • 2 out of 5 – The bottle has just 1 or 2 of the above attributes.
  • 3 out of 5 – The bottle and sprayer are functional, but nothing special, aesthetically.
  • 4 out of 5 – Much thought seems to have gone into the packaging; it’s attractive and highly functional.
  • 5 out of 5 – The bottle is a work of art that likely may costs more than the juice it contains, and it sprays well, too.

9) Overall Rating

After considering all the above criteria, a fragrance can be given an overall score. This is usually NOT a mathematical average of all the factors at hand, however; it’s more of a general, overall impression, where certain criteria may be downplayed or ignored. It it logical that fragrance quality and originality would weigh the heaviest for most raters.

  • 1 out of 5 – Terrible Most fragrances actually aren’t this bad, and as any fragrance will have a few fans, this is an extremely uncommon score.
  • 2 out of 5 – Mediocre Fragrance receiving this score aren’t bad, but are not inspiring. It is more likely receiving a bad score due to a combination of being overpriced and unoriginal, and lacking in versatility, projection, and longevity. Fragrances with this score can easily be worn by people without discriminating tastes, but fragrance collectors will likely avoid them.
  • 3 out of 5 – GoodThe positives outweigh the negatives, but there are still better fragrances out there. This fragrance will appeal to people who like a certain scent enough to tolerate its flaws. A lack of originality, projection, and sillage are likely the main reasons perfumes with this rating don’t warrant a score of 4.
  • 4 out of 5 – GreatThis fragrance does just about everything you could ever want from a fragrance of its type (meaning it’s good enough for a lack of versatility to ignore). There aren’t any significant problems with the fragrance, but you are not left in complete awe, either.
  • 5 out of 5 – Amazing – This fragrance is not only flaw free, but is a true masterpiece, either a classic from ages past that has lasted through the years or a groundbreaking scent that will shape the industry. It surpasses expectations and can be considered a staple for many collectors.

10) Recommendations

This is not set on a scale, but perfume reviewers will often suggest actions at the end of their reviews as a summary, examples being:

  • Don’t buy!
  • Sample this because —, but otherwise I don’t recommend it.
  • Try before you buy.
  • So good it’s worth blind buying!

On flankerization


In the world of mainstream, commercial perfumery, when a particular fragrance has seen huge success, a follow-up, a spin-off, a 2.0, or a sequel fragrance that capitalizes on the incredible results of its master brand will often make its way onto the market. These so-called flankers might be similar to the original or pillar fragrance, but with a variation of some sort, such as the addition of new notes, or the strengthening or weakening of some notes already present.

Additional adjectives, such as light, sport, veil, eau fraiche, eau tendre, noir, extreme, essence absolue, exotic, eau sensuelle, sheer, tendre, intense, and essenuelle are all examples of suffixes I have seen affixed to the original name to distinguish them as sequels. Flankers are usually presented in the same bottle as the original, but the flacon (bottle) might appear in a different colour, material, finish, or have different decorative embellishments. Different concentrations of perfumes, by the way, are not considered flankers.

If you are familiar with a particular fragrance, you’d unlikely have difficulty recognizing a 2.0 model as sharing the same DNA as the original. However, sometimes flankers appear on the market that are actually completely different, and this is where I really have a bone to pick with the marketers, as that’s just plain misleading. Much as I respect most of the juices in the collection of Dior Poison flankers, for example, I feel they should each have been designed as separate concepts. I firmly recall being almost pissed off when I first smelled Hypnotic Poison, not because I didn’t like it (I loved it, in fact), but because I thought it wasn’t anywhere near the original brew of danger I’d been expecting. (Even that flanker has a flanker, by the way – Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle.)

Companies known for flankerization include Calvin Klein, Dior, Kenzo, Armani, and Thierry Mugler, but there are many more, and I don’t feel that some of the companies that produce them are even huge international players, but I guess the stakes are high enough for them to participate in this game. I just confirmed on Fragrantica that Mugler boasts over 20 variations of Angel. Another big fragrance success milker is Issey Miyake, who has had produced a whopping 15 flankers based on L’Eau d’Issey, and that’s just the pour homme section.

Generally, my feelings toward flankerization are mixed. On the one hand, I respect the logic and ingenuity of the marketing, and fully understand why it is done. Here are the main rationalizations of flankerization business strategy:

Building on previous success

For big companies, launching a new fragrance is a huge risk. The success of a new fragrance is rarely predetermined, even after millions of dollars spent in marketing research. A failed attempt could then be very detrimental, and this is why you see so much imitation in the mass market. If a company already has a proven track record with a particular fragrance, however, it makes perfect sense that they would try to milk it further by creating a flanker. This only works, however, if the pillar fragrance was well and truly an amazing success. A flanker of a scent that fared averagely on the market will not generate results.

Expanding reach

Flankers can help companies expand market share, both horizontally and vertically. If a company’s market research shows that a certain scent sells well only in the winter, and is more popular with the over-30 crowd, and they have also found that youth are attracted to terms such as “light” or “sport” in fragrance names, they can create a summer flanker of the original employing those words. The logic is that they will keep their older, previous customers happy with a new release for the warmer season, and also gain a new market of younger consumers. Capturing young customers is key, as it is easier to keep an established customer than to attract a new one. This is probably one of the many reasons there is so much (annoying) youth used in advertising.

Appearing fresh

It’s sad, but in today’s scent-saturated market, big fragrance companies are forced to put out something new every year, lest they fall into oblivion, and ignoring the ability to appear trendy by simply releasing updates of their best sellers can be seen as idiocy. It’s worth noting, however, that flankers can and do also offer an opportunity to re-work an existing fragrance in a new and exciting way, and this has indeed been the case in certain instances.

While I accept all of the above, on the other hand, I find flankerization to be too omnipresent, and I sometimes see it as a cop-out. By tweaking and releasing a scent for a small outlay rather than developing something groundbreaking and risky, I think it is sad that houses choose to capitalize on former glories, and yes, it can make them look lazy, uncreative, and cheap – in more than one way. Flankerization is hardly a dignified practice, but hey, it makes great business scents (pun intended).

Back to the plus side, excessive flankerization may help explain the welcome emergence and increasing success of niche perfumery onto the scent scene. In any case, most of the time I find the original formulae of mainstream concoctions to be better. I must admit, however, that I have not bothered to take a sniff of many of them, mostly because I feel overwhelmed by them at times. The only house that I readily commend for surpassing its originals with quality flankers is that of Tierrry Mugler, but I am only referring to some of his limited edition spin offs of Angel, Alien, A*Men, and Womanity. I particularly prefer the leather versions of Womanity and Alien. I’ve heard that Hermès makes good flankers, but I’ve little experience with that house.

What is your opinion of flankerization? Do you feel it is a necessary evil to create olfactory offspring that comes close to, much less outdoes, their parental perfume?

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