The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

What a stink

There’s nothing unusual about hating airports, but it only dawned on me recently at Gatwick how much I hate airport duty free shops too. I always feel I should have a look at the hundreds of perfumes on offer in case I stumble across something wonderful and new, but while it’s useful, I guess, to keep an eye on the latest big launches (though who can keep up with them all?), I always stumble out afterwards feeling slightly depressed and very headachy.

My problem? It’s that in all those hundreds of perfumes there are maybe three or four I’d want to buy another time, and they’re nearly always the ones I know and like already. Of all the hundreds of new launches every year, in other words, barely one or two are worth a second sniff, and most of them are (not to mince words) utterly vile.

There are occasional exceptions, but they’re pretty rare, and often unexpected: Paco Rabanne Black XS for Men, for example, which is ridiculously sweet but enjoyably silly and smells of strawberries (though it’s actually based on a variation on orange); or Marc Jacobs Bang – hideous advertising, hideous bottle, but actually not such a bad scent inside. But mostly it’s sniff and recoil in horror: why does anyone buy this stuff? Just because they’re told to? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

There again, maybe it was always this way: apart from sad exceptions it’s the good, on the whole, that tends to survive, while the rubbish and the dreadful is quietly dropped and disappears. And perhaps it was just the same in the 1920s or the 1950s. The difference, today, is that there are far too many launches, the industry having backed itself into an unprofitable corner where only the latest thing sells, but only because it’s the latest thing – and it’s all too quickly superseded.

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