Until the mid-19th century, only wealthy people could afford perfumes, with the formidable prices being dictated by their costly ingredients. This situation has changed drastically over the past one hundred years owing to scientific and technological breakthroughs.
Luxury goods or industrial products?
By the end of the 19th century, chemists had learnt how to isolate aromatic and fragrance substances. This gave perfume makers a wider range of extracts to choose from, and therefore could create a greater number of original fragrances. Another technological breakthrough of significance at that time was that the manufacture of glass became cheaper and available on a mass market scale. Less sophisticated perfumes and perfumed products became affordable to the average worker. This led to the perfume market splitting into budget and luxury products, with perfume makers often offering the same fragrances in two versions, each addressed to customers from different financial backgrounds. The prime difference between them lay in the packaging, with the budget version being made of cheaper materials. Minor changes to the perfume formula or even the name of the company were also not uncommon. One could say that the manufacturers of original perfumes also made their own ‘imitations’, allowing them to reach a wider audience.
Are perfumes synonymous of luxury today?
Nothing much has changed, with the perfume market still divided into budget and luxury perfumes. High quality, brand perfumes are characterised by artistry and originality, with their value lying not only in the fragrance but also in the packaging. An excellent example here is Swarovski crystals being attached to bottles, a feature nowhere to be found in the budget versions. We can use the achievements of those 19th century chemists to divide the perfumes otherwise. By extracts.
It is very difficult to estimate correctly the social benefits and personal pleasure that beautiful fragrances bring. There’s no way to evaluate the price of happiness.
The luxury fragrance itself, that has to be an artistic and distinguished one of course to justify high prices, and please its consumers, has to display also the whole system of signs valorizing it in the eyes of the customers: advertisement, public relations, perfume legends, perfumer’s interview, beautiful films and sponsored art exhibitions—all those beautiful external factors are still of great importance for the luxury industry. But here it should be noted: it is very difficult to estimate correctly the social benefits and personal pleasure that beautiful fragrances bring. There’s no way to evaluate the price of happiness.