Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fragrance Bouquet’s Thoughts on the By Kilian Controversy

I have been studying really hard for my upcoming exams lately so the reviews of the By Kilian line have been simmering in the background for a while. Hopefully the first review will be ready for Friday’s post, but before we start delving in the individual scents, I would like to first share some thoughts with you on the line. The intention is not to defend the line – I am after all not nearly as enamored with it as I am with other favorites like my beloved Montales, and God knows a lot is said about them as well. I have just found the extensive online discussion on fora and blogs very interesting and thought provoking, so I would simply like to share my thoughts on the matter.

A lot has been said about the By Kilian line’s ad copy and even more has been said about its pricing. The general consensus on both issues can be summarized with the word “Outrageous!”. The names of each individual perfume have also come under fire for being incongruent to the juice. While I respect the above opinions and indeed both understand where the critics are coming from and can share a little conspiratory giggle with them since some of their points are valid (in the instance of the ad copy for example), I have to say that for my part I am left feeling absolutely no resentment about any of this. In fact, I feel nothing at all. I’ve had the same approach towards the indeed outrageous namesakes of the Etat Libre d’Orange scents. Provocative? Yes. Funny? Yes. Offensive? No. I simply don’t feel anything. We perfume lovers keep banging on about perfume being art. Well art is not just the beautiful classics, but also the usually misunderstood for their time modern pieces, pieces with “offensive” context, subjects and yes, “offensive” names.

The names of the By Kilian fragrances might be seen by some as incongruent to the juice, but is this really something new or even something that we should really be getting our knickers in a twist about? Have we forgotten about Youth Dew? Not, youthful and certainly not dewy. And how about L’Interdit? No, it doesn’t really smell forbidden. And who knew that an Angel could smell quite so... demonic? No, perfume names that seem counterintuitive to their respective scents are nothing new. And neither are over the top ad copies for that matter. Being personally inclined towards a certain amount of lyricism in my writing, perhaps I am more forgiving than most in this respect. However, perfume should be evocative and poetic. It serves after all, no other purpose than to please the senses and to guide the imagination to the realm of fantasy. If the only reason we used scent were to mask unpleasant odors, we’d all be happy just using deodorant and be done with it. But no. We do crave luxury, we do want to be seduced and feel seducing. Why then do we expect the ad copy that accompanies such frivolous luxury goods to be no-nonsense and down to the point? I am as resistant as any of you when it comes to ridiculously named fantasy accords that boggle the mind, but this is not quite the same as using a few more adjectives or references in order to try to convey the feel of a perfume, or the inspiration behind its creation.

As for the prices, it all comes down to whether you like something enough to pay the amount that is asked for the item in question. What is an outrageous price for a perfume? That is a question that depends not only on the ingredients used but also on the bottle and the buyer in question. A bottle collector would be willing to pay a different price than a scent collector. Similarly, someone that is truly a slave to his or her sense of smell would be willing to pay a different price than someone that just loves having an extensive perfume wardrobe, just as someone who considers themselves a gourmet would be willing to pay more for a dinner than a simple bon vivant. For example, I personally find it strange that some people actually save up to eat a restaurant that has Michelin stars. Needless to say, I don’t have a particular desire to make a reservation at El Bulli; I just don’t love food that much, which is not to say that I don’t love food enough to be willing to pay something more reasonable to eat at an amazing Japanese restaurant once in a while. Conversely, the people that do, probably think I am insane for spending as much money as I do on perfume, shoes and bags. Lastly, as I recently mentioned on Robin’s wonderful blog, my own personal reaction (or lack thereof) in regards to the prices of the By Kilian line, is also directly related to what I have been prepared to pay for a perfume in the past. One of my absolute can’t-live-without perfumes is Narciso Rodriguez’ Musc Oil for Her, a gorgeous, unbelievably sexy fragrance that happens to be both synthetic and not terribly original smelling. (It is basically just a great version of classic Egyptian musc) The stuff costs 150 euro per 50ml and its ingredients are not that expensive. Was I willing to pay for it? Yes, I fell in love and never regretted it. In fact I will keep buying it every time I run out. I need to smell it! Having paid what I paid for this oil, the By Kilian line priced at 175 euro per 50ml with its expensive, luxurious ingredients (especially the case for some of the line’s fragrances like Beyond Love) did not seem that expensive by comparison. I am not trying to say that it is not expensive; I am just trying to explain that our expectations and perceptions are subject to previous experiences and change accordingly.

Images: Thought Bubble sourced from Flickr, originally uploaded by cherbonsy and adapted by author, “Fountaine” by Marcel Duchamp from wikipedia, and money pile from www.sxc.hu


17 comments:

Vetivresse said...

Divina, Great posting. I agree with you on the need for fantasy and the high-flown in advertising copy, not just "straightforward" stuff. After all, the more you learn about perfumery the more you learn that the so-called straightforward and sincere copy, itself, is a form of fantasy. As for pricing, I think a lot of our readers have an unrealistic idea of value; the really "luxury" fragrance is not only out of reach, it's out of circulation. $300 for an ounce of perfume isn't high-end luxury. It's a lot of money -- in some cases, a rip-off -- but it's not classic luxury. It's what the brands can get away with, and it's the assurance -- honest or otherwise -- that some people need before they buy. I love your musk oil analogy. Personally, I buy very high and very low. The middle ground is a vast minefield, which requires a lot of study. That said, if you like it and feel it's not going to beggar you, just buy it. It's fragrance, not stock.

Ines said...

Hey Divina,

great post as always. :) I have to agree with what you said, we do not all like same things and we spend our money likewise. I'd personally love for some perfumes to be cheaper but since they are not, I'll buy what I like nevertheless (just not that often). ;)

Lots of love from Paris

P.S. Still haven't smelled By Kilian, didn't have time to enter the shop that has them (I'm working every day, all day). Soon...

Abigail said...

Divina,
I completely agree with you. Sometimes I find the fixation on price rather odd. I love FM Carnal Flower, it's $300 for a bottle, I bought it and never looked back.
The ad copy for Serge Lutens has to be some of the most ridiculous I've ever seen - why isn't anyone poking fun of that? I think the bottom line is that there are many who don't think By Kilian perfumes are *worth* what they cost. By the way, I have yet to try By Kilian...
Nice, thought-provoking post!

Anonymous said...

agree with you about the price but, that said, I would have to really love the By Kilians in order to pay that price. But, if I did love them, pay it I would!! I would also prefer to be able to buy a smaller bottle but we've all had that discussion before!
Good luck on your exams.
Kim

Divina said...

Dear Christopher, thank you, that's such a clever observation! How true indeed, the more you know, the more you realize that there's so little that isn't fantasy. Your comment about luxury being out of circulation has put me in thought since yesterday. I have my own ideas and I would also love to read an elaboration on your part. Maybe a future post on your blog? :)

Divina said...

Ines dearest! How exciting that you're in Paris! We must mail - I would love to read about your perfume adventures there :)

Divina said...

Thank you, dear Abigail. Yes, I think you are right. And I have myself wondered whether (and now actually tend to believe) this is a backlash due to the fact that perfume lovers are so tired of the increasing amount of 'super exclusive' ranges that they can't even get to sniff. I think there might be something there: It seems to be that all's well and good when the super exclusive keeps to itself and is priced modestly (like Hubert Maes Creations, Byredo etc) but when it starts getting a lot of publicity and is priced high, people get angry.

Divina said...

Kim, that is a great attitude and one that I share. What else can we do after all? ;) As for the small sizes, yes, I am very grateful to the companies that give the opportunity, like PdN. Now, I only wish FM would allow us to choose different ones for the small travel vials, instead of having to buy all the same!

Linda said...

Dear Divina,
I'm late commenting as usual, but I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with these comments (all from much more learned people than I am). But I'd like to add that when I started to be interested in fragrance, like a sheep I read all the blogs I could, and only considered buying the niche and expensive ones. I'm ashamed of this: I wasted a lot of time and money, and now realise how naive I've been.
Perfume is a fantasy to me and I wear it to lift my mood, empower myself, indulge nostalgia... And I now buy what I like (within reason!!) - this includes The Body Shop's White Musk, which is one of my all time favourites.
A lovely and thoughtprovoking post. Thank you as always and all good wishes for your exams.
Hugs,
Linda

waftbyCarol said...

As per the By Kilian specifically , I think it was meant to be over the top in all respects . in person , the bottles , the box , the lock and key , the black kegs of fragrance...spectaular . Monsieur Hennessey himself...fab !! ber intelligent and from another era.
A tree artist in alot of respects . With unlimited resources , somehow I felt he could have done better with the jus.
I loved Taste of Heaven fanatically at first , got over it , now I'm ambivalent .

waftbyCarol said...

ummm....true artist , not tree artist .
sorry for the typos .

maisqueperfume said...

Price is a very relative concept.
Ones measure by the formula quantityXquality, others statusXexclusivity and so on.
What is expensive for ones, are peanuts for others.
I guess something is expensive if for you can´t afford it, so it is relative.
Very enligthing to read your post, made me wonder, put a real thought about it. For now on, I made a shallow comment. This subject needs more time.
Kisses

GGS said...

Agree completely with your post, except that I am more of a fan of this line than you :) and Montale's...not so much. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the latest Kilian's (and looking forward to trying them myself in NYC in a few weeks).
Good luck on the exams!

Divina said...

My dearest Linda, always trust your nose.. It doesn't matter how cheap or expensive the perfume! According to Jean Carles (you can take a look here for some of his writings, the definition of a successful perfume was how much the public loved it and how much it sold, and The Body Shop's White Musk has been a bestseller for decades! :) Of course, nowadays with all the millions thrown into advertizing and clever marketing, this theory can be disputed. Is popularity due to promotion, clever market, perceived status that said item might offer the buyer etc etc, or is it indeed popular because people like it? I have been thinking about this issue a lot lately and I've been meaning to write a small post about it, but as you know, there's simply not been enough time. We all can get a little snobby or a little ashamed of what we like when it is not rated highly, but damn, perfume is about pleasure and the only criterium should be whether it gives us pleasure!

I love you sweetie, thank you so much for your comment. Your candor and honesty, the way you are so open with your thoughts is extremely valuable not only to me but to other readers too, who share these thoughts and fears. Thank you!

Divina said...

Carol, I hope that maybe today's review of Taste of Heaven might rekindle some of that love! I know what you mean cause I have had thoughts along the same lines for some of FM's fragrances like L'eau d'Hiver which left me completely underwhelmed. Yes, the budget is there, but it all depends on how the perfumer in question is going to use it and whether the 'director' will think it is what he/she wanted to bring out in the market...

Divina said...

Simone, not shallow at all, I've been thinking a lot about the psychology in economy lately and what your wrote makes me think again in turn!

Divina said...

ggs, I'd love to hear more of your impressions on this line since you love it while the scents are reviewed here on Fragrance Bouquet! I am very happy to finally see a true fan of the line!