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I recently bumped into an old High School chum, we were best friends back in the day and had much to catch up on. As we giggled our way down memory lane, she paused for a second and then said "You always smelled like an old lady, I don't mean a Senior but like a grown woman. I always smelled of strawberries and girly stuff" she said "but you Marian, were grown beyond your years".
As daft as that sounded, I could understand what she was saying. My childhood years were spent wearing grown-up fragrances going back to the age of three. It was hard discussing my obsession with other kids. They didn't understand my passion for something so adult. There were no computers, cell phones with apps, tweets, zines and blogs to reference. Only my local library where I would devour foreign magazines in languages that made no sense but oh, those ads of the latest scents were always exhilarating to pore over. I would also order scarce books on perfumes which I would voraciously read cover-to-cover and hand-copy.
Other than a few friends who enjoyed fragrances, I would gravitate towards the fragrance sales clerks who all knew me at small pharmacies and department stores. I would often seek their opinions on the latest scents and many became some of my closest confidents as we all shared a common passion. I would often bring in something new that I or a family member or friend purchased for me on one of their travels and would run into a store eager to share their scent impressions.
My world exploded in 1983 when I officially entered the fragrance industry and it was the opportunity to encounter seriously hard-core fragrance fanatics like myself. We sought each other out, comparing notes, scents and opinions over coffee clutches in malls, bars and in our homes. Each of us would accumulate bags of scented goodies, vials and of course, stunning little minis to share and opine on. We would agree to disagree on those scents we liked or disliked and shared our evaluations together. They were innocent times of exciting exchange and immediate and physical reactions.
In those early days, finding the name of perfumers was challenging. It was strictly verboten to discuss just who the perfumer/s were behind the brand. I would often use snail mail to write to the creator by way of the Public Relations teams. Very often my letters were not forwarded, but on the odd occasion, I would be thrilled to receive a reply from a Master Perfumer who had created my favourite scent and we would dialogue and learn from one another.
I would eventually get to meet these extraordinary men and women and thank them personally but those early days held much mystery and curiosity and an insatiable desire to accumulate not only fragrances, but like-minded people in my life.
The 1990's brought the internet firmly into my world and I would seek as many search engines as possible - typing in a myriad of fragrance terminology to find forums where I could hear global opinions. In those early days, there were very few perfume groups or forums. A few years later, I discovered Long Lost Perfumes (which would later become Perfume of Life) that looked interesting. It was my first time entering a forum and I went in under a non de plume and posted a personal anecdote without naming the vintage scent that involved an incident that happened to me in Paris. I was virtually assaulted within minutes of hitting the send button, and much to my amazement, I was "outed" with my real name posted. It seemed that someone had recognized my writing style as I had a regular fragrance column in an industry publication. Many members complained with venom and outrage, en masse, that I should have published the name of the fragrance - which I then felt the need to, out of fear and naïveté. Two days later, I was made aware by the owner of the specialty store where I purchase my fragrances, who found it curious that several people had come in the day before specifically asking for this product, which then sold out within 24 hours. I was fast learning about the internet and fragrance lovers and it left me a bit shaken.
Within a few short years, I was bookmarking wonderful fragrance sites such as: The Cologne Guy, Basenotes, Perfume 2000, IPBA, Passion for Perfume, and soon after, literally thousands of fragrance blogs and websites that spawned the internet like a spider's web; its tentacles reaching far-flung countries - some in polar opposition geographically, but the common threads being the love of fragrances. I realized I was not alone! Not by a long shot. Fragrance lovers were reaching out into the scented ether; hungry for contact and information.
What started as a proliferation of passionate perfume lovers has turned, for some, into e-commerce ventures where serious profits can be made. Grey market online sites are swaying some mainstream consumers to purchase fragrance at discounted prices. Also impacted, is the beauty media who have changed their online formats to emulate their online counterparts with blog-style sites of their own.
Sites such as eBay and vintage-targeted websites were offering up hard-to-find classic scents; pieces of history that were shelf-bare in commercial retail outlets. They filled the gap and history for our scented past and offered hope to those who had lost their favourite scents through discontinuations. Many mainstream scents at the time involved flankers and “cutesy” fragrances that were geared towards the Tween and Gen-X markets. With more flankers as new launches, many scents were starting to smell the same. The choices were astounding and the fragrance critics and writers of the internet were becoming very picky by focusing more on the new niche and vintage brands to the exclusion of mainstream fragrances. It was a silent backlash and sent out a very real message to the industry.
With the launch of Editions de Parfum in 2000, fragrance industry pioneer Frederic Malle forever changed the press-kit landscape when he started to publicize and sell fragrances attached with the names of the perfumers who created them. Today, many would simply assume that acknowledging the creator of a perfume is only fair, but before the Millenium, it was in a word – groundbreaking.
I recall writing a story for The Entertainment Magazine a little over a decade ago where I interviewed several top perfumers and asked them to create a hypothetical perfume for celebrities who did not have a scent of their own at that time. After much research, I found this kind of journalism had not been seen before. It was a wonderful opportunity to open their creative doors and minds to the public. Two perfumers included Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, both of whom now actually have their own perfumes. Just a few years later, perfumers were being celebrated around the world with in-depth coverage of their lives, creations and thoughts. Their names are now just as celebrated as the fragrances they created. Creative and challenging stories erupted everywhere, and today, sites have become veritable encyclopedias of valuable information.
What is fascinating is that critics sprung up everywhere, too and most had a public opinion on something. Freedom of speech had reached the web and the world. Fragrance bloggers, some with creative names hiding their true identities, have garnered a following unprecedented in the print world, and cliques and followers formed around the globe. This human congregation of differing personalities and tastes have witnessed an exchange of knowledge and flared public arguments and accusations as it would in any realtime public gathering. It appears that some fragrances, perfumers and individuals have sometimes become public bashing piñatas for fun or boredom or both.
Of course the perfume community cannot lay sole claim to this kind of behavior. Websites and blogs on everything from stamp collecting to photography, music to culinary arts, or just about any other topic on the planet that brings passionate people together can brew all kinds of behavior and results. This power of the invisible majority may have the ability to shut down a hot spot or new niche product launch very quickly. Similarly, their power can also pluck obscure individuals and brands and thrust them into the limelight as well. However far-reaching their power may be, they have little effect on the mainstream fragrance market which typically attracts a very different consumer.
Ticker tape tweets alert us of the new launches to come, no more waiting for glossy beauty publications to announce their arrival. This knowledge has become one of the driving forces amongst writers and bloggers to be the first to "break" a new scent or person unknown before. In fact, it has become an obsession to many. Many fragrance writers know a lot about a scent before its release which sets up a market for curious buyers but also frustrates the fragrance industry and their Public Relations agenda. Imagine working on a fragrance launch for close to a year only to have it panned because of the Perfumer, juice or reputation before it actually reaches the counters by many bloggers who have already moved on to the next best thing. On the other hand, this advanced form of publicity can also set up much curiosity and desire for purchase as well.
Those once generous samples at fragrance counters that were supposed to be gratis hand outs for testing have dwindled immensely, and in some cases, have now become a gift with purchase. Many now purchase fragrance samples online, sell their own, or swap with a friend in order to experience a scent.
The freedom in attaining industry contacts is now immeasurable, with many fragrance websites, magazines and bloggers now having direct contact with fragrance houses, perfumers, retailers and the general public. Home-grown sites are now grabbing the attention of fragrance buyers and mainstream media to seek out the latest releases.
There is no longer a need for snail-mail to reach key people anymore. Today, one can have access to notable fragrance industry people through professional sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Following a quick registration, a member can sign-in and voilà - an entrée to all the key people in the industry by clicking add and cloning someone's contact list. This makes the word “pilfering” a legitimate exercise in notoriety by association. It also opens the doors for the fragrance industry to be more attainable and accessible to their consumers as well.
While some fragrance sites have been able to proffer clever and creative copy that involves brilliant research and highly professional writing styles, other bloggers who went from having a small blog are now self-appointed "experts," "perfumers" consultants who have slapped a bogus title on themselves without working a day in the fragrance industry. Does popularity and a following make one an “expert?” Good fodder for debate.
Granted, generating "hits" on one's website can be a very serious and lucrative path on the business end, but at times, incorrect information is sometimes disseminated as “gospel” and this is not always fact-checked or censored as it would be by Editors in print or the television media. Of course, professionals also have differing opinions on critiques as well, but qualitative research with credible and trusted sources must be enabled which can be time-consuming but necessary in any medium. Some have also experienced plagiarism and legal copyright encroachments as well. It is certainly a new world for the layman.
Reports of interviews that have sometimes included misquotes or suffered injected unreliable personal opinions from the blogger as quotes of the professional have also played out, much to the ignorance of the reader. This no-man’s land has also been staked by outlaws who have made all kinds of fabricated claims and even biographies that are not researched which can also be credited on the surface. It is now a free-range hodgepodge of legitimate and talented writers and conversely faux information that spin a range of subjects and titles. It has become necessary for one to be very observant and discerning in order to get to the truth of some statements and their sources.
What is positive, is that there is a plethora of fascinating and informative information on all angles of perfumery which appears to be taking a backseat in mainstream beauty publications. These sites fill a real need and desire for information.
For better or worse, the birth of reality shows and one's desire for their fifteen seconds of fame has gone viral in a concrete way by allowing any individual on the planet or small fragrance house to garner this fame and a following with personal thoughts, opinions and expressions. The ideology of being famous one day has never been more tangible and realistic than today. Bloggers, Twitterers, Facebook, and Youtube critics are included and even emulated to cult status in various industries. Fame, money, and trend-setters can be catapulted from obscurity to being trailblazers if recognized by the mainstream media. Maintaining their "brand" is the challenge however, as the competition is limitless. This cross-over of unknowns and brands can only survive for so long unless the reinvention and investment by professionals allow them to succeed. Homegrown plans must evolve through professional guidance and contacts for sustainability. Reinvention is tantamount to growth as there are millions waiting in the wings with their own original ideas.
What is interesting is how this impact has affected the mindset of the fragrance industry on certain levels. Some have quietly confided that critiquing a scent is a welcome sight. In fact, they are convinced the internet is a breath of fresh air and hope this gratis feedback from fragrance lovers and consumers will impact the creation of scent for the better. Some launches are getting stale and monotonous and this kind of feedback might spur the industry to change their formulations into more creative and abstract blends such as those who are making a name for themselves via the net without any prior fame, advertising, or experience. Their promotion comes strictly from the net and social media, the newest and cheapest form of advertising.
Other fragrance industry folk are just plain insulted. After working for years in their careers and honing their skills through practice, advancement and accreditation, they read something inaccurate by someone who purports to be someone they are not or bashing a fragrance without explanation which gathers momentum with each post and this has caused a lot of anger and frustration in certain circles.
There is no doubt that the internet and fragrance lovers and critics have changed the landscape of how we perceive fragrances. There is now an endless source of information to draw upon.
Has it changed mainstream fragrances? No, I don't think so. The change is like a slow-moving train still puffing at the station. Certain brands are copying the niche market by creating expensive niche-style blends but the mainstream market is not unlike a vast mainland, appealing to the masses who pop into a store for something new or repeat sale; their ardour is not as intense or passionate as those who enjoy conversing, comparing and learning all facets of the industry online.
The online fragrance community is the chain of barrier islands directly off the mainland. This community is more select and routinely leans toward specific, harder-to-find brands. Bridges are being built between the two, but this will take time to fully realize. What is happening now is that the mainstream consumer is accumulating fragrance information through mainstream publications with interviews of bloggers which potentially opens the doors to millions of new fragrance lovers and followers.
MARIAN BENDETH | GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
Marian Bendeth is a Global Fragrance Expert and owner of Sixth Scents. She pioneered the concept of personalized fragrance consultations based on: body chemistry, psychology, fashion sense and lifestyle with the general public in 1989.
As a Fragrance Consultant, she also consults with the Fragrance Industry, Perfumers; Fragrance Buyers, Fragrance Retailers; Global Media and wrote the accredited fragrance course for the Canadian Cosmetics & Careers Association as well as contributed to the Canadian Cosmetic and Toiletry Association online training program.
Amongst her consulting credits are psychological fragrance profiling for the fragrance industry and evaluations for launches. She is regularly featured as a Guest Lecturer, amongst her appearances, at the American Society of Perfumers/Universities/Colleges/Perfumeries and Corporate Fragrance House conferences. She also sits on the Advisory Board on the Cosmetic and Fragrance programs for Seneca College in Toronto Canada.
Marian is a four-time winner of the Media Editorial Awards at the Canadian Fragrance Awards with Basenotes.net and is also a Judge on four Global Fragrance Award Shows.
Ms. Bendeth is regarded as one of the world's leading Fragrance Experts.
"Imagine working on a fragrance launch for close to a year only to have it panned because of the Perfumer, juice or reputation before it actually reaches the counters by many bloggers who have already moved on to the next best thing."
"Fragrance interpretations are subjective to say the least. While one person might be transported to an ocean vista in the Caribbean, that same scent might remind another of rotting cabbages."
The Proliferation of Perfume Communication and its Impact
By Marian Bendeth
Global Fragrance Expert
One might read multiple negative reports on a particular scent. I have read responses underneath that assured the poster they would never even bother to try it now based on their review. This rush to judgement is an odd dilemma. It might appeal and smell fantastic on one of the posters but the power of one shouldn’t influence personal taste. Everyone is unique. This freedom of opinion might also involve industry people hidden behind an avatar raving about their own projects and also the possibility that a negative comment might be generated by fifteen different screenames - all penned by one individual with a grudge. Testing fragrance is akin to choosing personal lingerie or undergarments, either for oneself or as a gift. It is as intimate a moment as when the lights are turned off.
The old saying "What is one man's bread is another man's poison" has never been more true than personal choices in scent. There are no right or wrong answers and bloggers are the true experts… of their own opinions!
Once scarce, the volume of niche fragrance launches is now inching very close to the volume of mainstream fragrance launches; and not unlike its counterpart, some are great and others are not so great. True success lies in the nose of the wearer, as only sales will determine the life of a fragrance, brilliant or not. This cyber revolution will ultimately have a trickledown effect but it can be a languid process. From the anti-perfume lobbyists to IFRA, to passionate fragrance lovers who pine for either original, vintage, or new innovative blends; the evolution must ultimately play out and will eventually impact blends, marketing, and appeal.
What has been proven is that small companies can launch brands without a huge advertising and marketing budget and name; an extraordinary feat unheard of a decade ago. I must confess on a personal note, there are times that I do miss those innocent days of no agenda, no ego, no short cuts to self-promotion and fame. No name calling, witnessing retaliations with archaic imagery of marauding villagers banding together donning head gear (pseudonyms) with torches and pitchforks seeking revenge on someone they have never even met. Of course, this not representative of all fragrance lovers nor blogs and websites but they do exist and do taint the joy for others at times. Such is human nature and that wonderful beast which is the net.
Without a doubt, there are many legitimate and passionate fragrance enthusiasts out there with gifted writing skills, fantastic and professional layouts who dare to uncover many subjects mainstream Beauty Editors wouldn't dream of exploring by filling a very real and vacant gap of stimulating thoughts and ground-breaking ideas.
For better or worse, the way we smell fragrance and exchange ideas has been improved and has become widely accessible on a multitude of subjects. The Internet has brought global fragrance lovers together, connecting them through a common passion and revolutionizing the dissemination and perpetuating fragrance facts and sometimes, myths.
What would we do without it?
Fragrance interpretations are subjective to say the least. While one person might be transported to an ocean vista in the Caribbean, that same scent might remind another of rotting cabbages. Thank goodness for freedom of speech. We have the opportunity to express our joy or dismay on a scent but it is the way it is expressed that can impact others.