Monday, 15 June 2015

Does a high price tag signal a 'superior' scent? (No, of course it bloomin doesn't!) Here's an experiment...

Joy, once the most costly perfume in the world, 
now mere pennies in comparison to it's niche contemporaries.

I recently spent the 'whopping sum' of £18.95 on a brand new bottle of one of the most enjoyable scents that I have worn this year - Moschino's 80s classic, Moschino Femme. This bargainous whiff struck me as far more elegant, creative and wearable than many of the significantly more valuable vials competing for space in my sample boxes.

The fact is this, magnificent scents exist at both ends of the price spectrum. Equally, boring and unpleasant ones do too. A luxe name and a huge price tag does not necessarily equate to olfactory beauty or 'quality' ingredients (whatever that means).

I rant about this a lot.

So I decided to create an experiment to see if the tastes of other dedicated scent lovers detected a superior nature in more costly scents. I ensured that my panel had broad tastes (i.e. wore and appreciated several different genres) to encourage a fair outcome. I asked them to blind test an unmarked numbered sample, give it a rating out of five, and estimate the retail price of a 50 ml bottle.

I purposely selected four scents for the experiment that I personally appreciate, with the cheapest creation coming from Yves Rocher and the most costly from Grossmith. These are two of my favourite lesser known brands. There was no point including famous beauties from my Guerlain or Chanel collection as my panel would possibly be familiar with their wares and therefore be biased. A fifth scent was my own invention, included as a kind of decoy or placebo, to see how an unbranded personal creation would fair against commercial products.

Here are the results:

Scent No.1 MoschinoMoschino Femme EDT 

RRP £32 for 45 ml (actual price £18.95 recently from

Clive"Something here makes me go weak at the knees. I get beautiful white florals (frangipane) in the opening and an almost immediate strong sense of the past. A classical structure where exemplary balance, blending, and note separation make for a deeply enjoyable wear. I think this might be Centrepiece by 4160 Tuesdays, but I’m not sure!" 
Estimated cost per 50 ml £110, 5/5

Alice: "Pleasant enough creamy floral opening. This creaminess really thickened up and I thought it was going to become cloying but then it just disappeared! Very familiar, almost ubiquitous. Smooth with some quality but felt like it was trying to be more expensive than it probably is?"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £40, 2/5

Holly: "Fresh, not very floral, woody, quite smooth and subtle. Rather bland nondescript – destined to appeal to the high street masses and offend no one ?"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £100, 3/5

Claire: "A polite and thoroughly pleasant citrus opening, with white florals. Nicely constructed though to about 2 hours then it changed drastically to sweet caramel vanilla with a little musk. I felt like they ran out of money to do the scent they wanted."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £30, 3/5

Scent No. 2 Lubin - Nuit de Longchamp EDP
RRP £85 for 50ml 

Clive: "Soft fruits, juicy, complex and faceted, quite busy opening, lots going on, cough syrupy, resins, Iris, florals. Different notes grabbing attention in the first 5 minutes. On skin the fragrance has integrity, the green and floral notes come forward, polite and balanced on skin. Very different to Card"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £45, 2/5

Alice: "A plush fruity blast that made me think of green and purple. Slight medicinal note stopped it being too sweet. Very enjoyable, if I thought it had good sillage (need to spray) and wasn’t too expensive would probably buy this for fun!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £35, 3/5

Holly: "More floral than No1. Brighter, Rose. Smells like Agent Provocateur which I like."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £80, 4/5

Claire: "Very soft spicy oriental,with some Iris? This felt like it didn't want to offend, maybe I didn't put enough on, it didn't lift off my skin. Again I found this changed to basically just give of musk after 3 ish hours. Not a cheap musk but not a perfume."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £25, 2/5

Scent No 3 Grossmith - Shem el Nessim EDP
RRP £170 for 50 ml

Clive: "Vintage, old school, heliotrope floral, summer hay note, Habanita without the dirtier aspects, reminded me of French perfumery, vanilla, maybe labdanum, bold aldehydes. Like a Piguet or a Caron."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £120, 5/5

Alice: "I got nothing from this at all, inoffensive with no development. There was a smell there but what it was or how it made me feel? Nothing! Maybe its my skin’s fault but this didn’t even really appear on me or affect me on any level."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £20, 1/5

Holly: "Has a classy vibe - something by Chanel? Powdery, iris/orris root."

Estimated cost per 50 ml £150, 3/5

Claire: "Suspect this has Guerlain DNA but it's one I don't have! I'm getting jasmine Ylang Ylang, peach Vanilla, darlings… anyway I like it. Drydown smells more consistent with the rest of the fragrance. This got a compliment from the husband too."
Estimated cost per 50ml £60, 4/5

Scent No. 4  Mine, no name This was my 'placebo'. It's a floral chypre that I created solely using essential oils. I estimate it would cost me about £50 to £60 to make 50ml (there is a lot of rose and jasmine absolute in here) but a professional perfumer would obviously pay a lot less when buying ingredients in bulk quantities.

Clive: "Big bold camphor note, unctuous rich and tear inducing. Patchouli on steroids with a beautiful mint note, quite linear. Leans eastward."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £90, 4/5

Alice: "Lush and layered like an underwater iris, this wouldn't necessarily be my thing but I appreciated it a lot. Was scared it was going to end up disappearing into powder but that didn't happen and I happily kept sniffing my arm. My family thought it smelt really nice!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £50, 3/5

Holly: "Very Dubai? Masculine? A heavy hitter with a urinous note and oud in there. Herbal, Resins. Best part was the dry down with Patchouli coming through."
Estimated cost per 50 ml £150, 2/5

Claire: "A style of perfumery I have trouble wearing. High in essential oils this is either a skilled artisan (cheers Claire!) selling for peanuts or someone like Bogue. The camphoraceous patchouli hits you hard and I didn't enjoy wearing it until an hour had passed, amazing lovely dry down. Quality ingredients!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml  "Hmmm, £15 or £100 per 50ml?", 3/5

Scent No. 5 Yves Rocher - Secrets D' Essences Voile D' Ambre EDP
RRP for 50ml £52 (which is nonsense as they always sell all of their scents with at least 40% off RRP, todays mail order price is £26.)

Clive: "Citrus lavender  tonka and almond with a hint of something that resembles pear drops, banana note. Gourmand, edible.   Beautiful tonka, Amber whilst retaining a sweet  benzoin note right to the end. The drydown is stunning!!"
Estimated cost per 50 ml £80, 4/5

Alice: "The most familiar smell! Which is probably why it was my favourite out of the whole bunch. There was something moorish about it and I even got some compliments! Quite linear but there was a depth to it I loved. Can’t wait to find out what this one is so I can explore it further…"
Estimated cost per 50ml £60, 4/5

Holly: "Weak, little impact,dilute. Hard to detect any notes in this wan insipid floaty floral."
Estimated cost per 50ml £50, 1/5

Claire: "This felt like a classic perfume. Herby citrus top, with some flowery and animalic benzoin showing through so you know the journey, felt creamy and rich. this got the most compliments too. Sadly this one leaked so I only got to wear it once!"
Estimated cost per 50ml £60, 5/5

Our winner

Score summary

Yves Rocher - Secrets D' Essences Voile D'Ambre 14/20 Winner
Moschino - Moschino Femme 13/20
Grossmith - Shem el Nessim 13/20
My unnamed scent 12/20
Lubin - Nuit de Longchamp 11/20

So, with only 3 points separating the winner from the loser, I can summarise that my panel, in this instance, agree with me. Superb! It also highlights the extremities of taste, ultimately suggesting that there is no such thing as a universally appealing scent. I will also reveal that the winner cost me nothing, it was a free gift when I spent £15 on some foundation.

If you want to find out more about Yves Rocher, you may enjoy this post featuring another scent from the Secret D' Essences line - Neroli

Enormous thanks to my panel for both their time and their honest opinions. It was greatly entertaining to read your responses. 

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  1. Well, that was jolly fascinating on all sirts of levels. It brings home to you how difficult it is place a scent based on smell alone - or to cost it without the nudge of luxe packaging (or otherwise ;) ). And how different everyone's takes were on the various perfumes tested. A fun and revealing experiment!

    1. Hi Vanessa, it was SO much fun indeed. As the emails pinged in with everybody's opinion I was thrilled.
      The perception of each sample was so different. It just shows the extremities of tastes that we have. I was also interested in the reception of the Grossmith as they one of the brands that I do feel are very much worth the money. And there are not many high price scents that I can say that about!
      What are your favourite cheapie and moolah fumes?

  2. I'm not surprised with the results but it was entertaining :)

    The only perfume I'm familiar with is Voile D'Ambre. I have a mini bottle of it ($5) and use it when I do not feel good: it's nice enough for me to wear but I'm not afraid I'd spoil it for myself by associating with being sick. Still, it does smell cheaper to me than many of other amber perfumes that I like. Also, whenever I test any perfumes - more or less expensive, mainstream, niche or artisan, - I always think of them not only in terms "like/do not like" but also how ingredients smell for me. Oftentimes I recognize that there were expensive natural ingredients used - and still I would not wear that perfume: it's just not interesting. At the same time, there are very synthetic concoctions that I gladly wear - even though it seems not a single flower was harmed during producing them.

    1. Hi Undina, What a strange 'sick' scent! I wonder, is it because you find the warmth comforting? I'm the opposite. I been sick recently (ended up in hospital last week) and I could only cope with cool citrus cologne style scents. I wore Clarins Eau Dynamisante and Guerlain Eau Imperiale (which cuts through hospital stink very well).
      It's natural I guess for people to think that synthetics are inferior but where would Guerlain be without Vanillin? I like a lot of flowers whose essences can't be extracted so I'm awash with synthetics and I love it!

    2. Well, I didn't mean "hospital-sick", I was talking more of "I shouldn't have eaten that frog:-sick :)