Perfume refills?

Late last year while shopping with a friend we stopped at a department store so that she could get a refill of her Thierry Mugler Angel. She has been wearing it for years; I forgot to ask her how many refills she is up to but it would several by now, I would think.

It was quick process and relatively cheap of course because she is only paying for the juice, not the bottle. I came away wondering, not for the first time, why more perfumes are not made available as refills. I think I read recently about one of the Bond No 9 stores in New York offering refills of one or two of its perfumes, but it was only for a very limited time. On the whole the practice seems rare. (By refills I mean that you take in your empty bottle to be filled, not the sort where you buy a plain bottle and insert it into a fancy container which you already have.)

Naturally there is more money to be made per customer if she or he has to buy a new bottle every time. If the perfume is a flop the fragrance company will have wasted its money on the refill infrastructure. And then there is the problem of shops having to store big vats of perfume.

For most perfumistas it is maybe not an issue: rarely do I get around to draining a full bottle. But recently I was reminded of this whole business by seeing yet again the oft-quoted statistic that one bottle of Chanel No 5 sells every 30 seconds. That is huge. How many a year? I can’t be bothered with the maths. But the environmental impact of it, in terms of producing the raw materials and manufacturing, packaging and transporting the fragrance, must be enormous. I silently re-committed myself to purchasing samples, decants and vintage fragrances where possible. It’s my own little waste and carbon reduction scheme.

It seems unlikely that the fragrance industry cares one jot about any of this. However, in other areas of consumption there have been changes that would have seemed radical only a few years ago. Near where I live, a university (and elsewhere whole town) have reduced plastic waste by agreeing to cease the sale of bottled water in all their retail outlets. And in my city plastic shopping bags will be banned by the end of this year.

So if consumers agitate, could perfume refills become more common? Perhaps through a mail order system?

What do you think?

10 thoughts on “Perfume refills?

  1. Personally I love the idea of refills, even if I never take advantage of them, since I have yet to drain a full bottle of anything…

    The Montales all come in those wonderful aluminum bottles with the *screw-off* lids, so, hypothetically, if you’re in Paris you can get a refill. Lids that un-screw is what I’m really after—making it easier to decant and share 🙂

  2. Good point about the sharing. The Sonoma Scent Studio bottles have sprayers that unscrew, now you mention it. I reckon it will be the niche places that take up the challenge, if anyone is going to. That is generally where innovation comes from.

  3. I know By Kilian and Le Labo both do cheaper refills which is good, especially considering their price point. I just wish I could buy them in a plain cheap bottle to start with and save money straight away (like Dee, the chances of me actually draining a bottle are slight), but guess that’s not playing fair 🙂

  4. I love refills, for all the reasons you specify. Of course, Caron offers one of the ultimate images of luxe refill: their famous urns. These days, there is a fair amount of tsk-tsking regarding the “optimal storage conditions” of the urns, but I have to admit, that’s one presentation that makes bulk perfume seem fabulous. 🙂

    What if you could have a Whole Perfumes Bulk Aisle, and just stroll down, using whatever size container you wanted for the perfumes….

    …ah, that was fun. Thanks for the daydream. 🙂

      1. Yes, just like bulk flour and lentils and rice and stuff. And where I live there used to be a few bold attempts at places where you could fill up you own containers of laundry detergent. Gone now I think.

        A department store in Melbourne has one of those Caron urns, with an ugly sing on it saying ‘Please do not touch’ …

  5. People, the perfume industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Any one of these companies offering refills would be seen as ‘cheap’ and probably snubbed by its competitors. Just look at what perfume adverts actually do. They show millionaire models posing as the people us mere mortals can only aspire to be. These adverts mostly brainwash humans into believing that a fragrance made by a bunch of lab geeks in a few days is something utterly amazing and worth the exorbitant price.
    The point is – it is not really anything to do with the bottle cost – they can easily offer refills but offering refills definitely does not fit the image of the industry.

    1. Christine, you make a valid point; however, to those of us who spend hundreds or thousands per year on fragrance, saving money by refilling our most beloved fragrances makes a difference!

      No doubt many perfumes are “disposable,” the sort of thing that someone buys in a store for a gift and isn’t re-purchased. However, the Caron urns, and the Mugler urns are proof positive that devotees like their refills!



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