Does it Matter How a Fragrance Smells?

The simple answer to that question is, no—if it’s a mass market fragrance. It mustn’t smell bad, but it doesn’t have to smell unique, just familiar. The rest is up to the folks who come up with the packaging, the advertising, and the marketing.

I thought about this when I read Kevin’s review of Marc Jacobs’ Bang on the blog Now Smell This. In my comment to that post, I wrote,

“To me, this is one of those rare and welcome mass market fragrances that smells different. I’ve always wondered why—given the tendency in commercial fragrances to focus more on the marketing and packaging than the scent—companies didn’t get a little more experimental. If I smell another “blue” sporty scent, I’ll puke. Almost did when I smelled the new Chanel Bleu. But then, if you like that sort of thing, maybe the industry’s apparent urge to reinvent and perhaps perfect that style is a wonderful thing.”

Then I read Kevin’s review of Bleu de Chanel, the brand’s new men’s scent. It hasn’t been getting a very warm reception from bloggers: most of us think it’s too derivative of just about every other ”blue” scent for men. But Kevin is much more forgiving:

“Throw me to the floor, hold me down, and make me guzzle vintage Chanel No. 5 till I morph into Catherine Deneuve, circa 1973, but at this point in my life, and in the realm of perfume creation, I could care less about the Chanel heritage, its “mystique” or exclusivity. Chanel is in business now, as it was when Coco Chanel was in charge, to make money…fragrance tastes change and what sells is preferred over what’s “artistic” or adventurous; anyway, niche perfume companies have picked up the slack when it comes to creating quirky and “soulful” perfumes. Let Chanel have its fresh, marine-sport fragrance for men.”

He’s got a point, but I say, why not make something good? You please more people that way. The masses will buy whatever is new and marketed at them and those of us who care will respect a contribution to great perfumery.

Anyway, Chanel sullied its heritage when it messed with the brilliant Chanel Pour Monsieur: in 1989, it started selling the Eau de Toilette Concentrée version in the Pour Monsieur bottle (I discovered this last summer and wrote about it at length on Fragrant Moments). The old version from 1955 is still sold in Europe.

Bang by Marc Jacobs is an example of a great mass market scent that didn’t seek to imitate its peers. I generally prefer the innovation you get from the niche brands, but with Bang, I am genuinely impressed. Not everyone agrees with me, however: Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am hated it. “Marc’s body shouts at you. The fragrance, positioned over his crotch, whispers.”

Oh well. I stand by my point that the big brands need to take more risks.

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