Snobs in Perfume-Land

When I smell perfume in the wild, it makes me happy.

Be it Light Blue, Red Door, or Black Oud, it makes me happy, simply because people are wearing perfume (and enough of it that I can smell it).

I love to smell perfume.

I haven’t thought of myself as a perfume-snob; I’m content with decants (unless it’s a scent I really want to bathe in), and am equally pleased with Chanel no. 19 (available for less than $50/50mL online) as with Puredistance Antonia ($200 for 17mL). The perfume community has made me feel welcome from the start (with very few exceptions), and while perfumistas are intelligent and culturally savvy as a group, their enthusiasm for the topic extends to anyone willing to partake.

Recently I noticed perfume on a co-worker and, after asking her to divulge the name of her scent, she responded that she “couldn’t remember, but it was a very expensive perfume from Macy’s.”

My first thought (which never passed my lips):

Macy’s doesn’t sell any very expensive perfumes.

When she later told me the name of the fragrance—Donna Karan Cashmere Mist (it smelled fantastic on her, btw)—my jaded impression was confirmed. Cashmere Mist is practically free.

I remember a time when Amouage fragrances seemed laughably over-priced; now that I’ve “broken the seal,” $280 (or $325) doesn’t seem so bad, when you put it in the context of years of enjoyment.

At first, I loved talking with people about perfume. I still love to talk about it, but I do find that I feel uncomfortable entering dialogue with non-perfumistas because… well, you can’t not be a snob at this level of interest. Regular people (non-perfumistas) just don’t have the vocabulary to discuss fragrances (even I’m still a toddler in ‘fumie years), and when we use terms like “sillage,” or simply “notes,” we immediately establish ourselves as an authority on the topic, willing or no. So, we can either be snobs, or we can keep our mouths shut.

I’m not sure which way I want to go…

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44 thoughts on “Snobs in Perfume-Land

  1. So true! Everything you say is so true.
    I had to laugh out loud at your inner response to your colleague. That is exactly what my first thought would be. :))))
    We are snobs, no use denying it. That is our fate.

    1. “Everything you say is so true.”

      Wanna come live with me? I could get used to that kind of reinforcement ๐Ÿ˜‰

      The funny thing is, when she spoke I INSTANTLY had that thought, followed by the thought, “What is wrong with you?!” and felt guilty for the rest of the conversation, which was not short.

      You are right, of course. I just need to embrace being a snob as part of my character, and people will forgive it just as they forgive my selfishness and vanity, LOL.

  2. I feel very new to perfume lovin’. It’s natural to get excited with something so new. Sometimes I think that spark never leaves no matter how long your lovin’ lasts. And that goes for other passions too. Sometimes I think this can be mistaken as snobbery if you simply don’t connect with another person, perfumista or not. Some people, like that encounter you had, would have the very same reaction with her sister, partner and friends. Snobbery I think only is present when you put yourself above someone else. And if you were not doing that, then, you’re not a snob!

    I appreciate your closing thoughts too, “when we use terms like โ€œsillage,โ€ or simply โ€œnotes,โ€ we immediately establish ourselves as an authority on the topic.” That’s a hard one to avoid lol ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s like wine-tasters too…

    1. Even though I’ve been with my hubby for nearly seven years, each day when I come home from work and see him, I feel a thrill of excitement— I agree with you completely Liam: when the love is true, “that spark never leaves no matter how long your lovinโ€™ lasts.”

      I guess it’s the idea of “mistaken snobbery” (you’ve got some great quotes in your comment, LOL!) that bothers me more than anything else. I am what I am, and proud of what that mess is, but the idea of being perceived as something else causes anxiety. I think that if I take Birgit’s advice and embrace it (as I plan to), then at least I won’t suffer false accusation! Ha!

      Ha ha… wine tasters make me laugh, because I cannot think of wine-tasting without immediately thinking “pretentious”. There are some wonderful youTube reviewers out there, and many talented–and not snobby–experts, but I just cannot shake my prejudice!

      Look who is guilty of the very thing that causes her anxiety… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. I’m glad to hear your lovin’ is lasting too. The spark with all love never fades. Even love you didn’t think was strong can get stronger…

        Exactly, when’s it’s mistaken as snobbery it’s natural to feel on the defensive, “But I’m not a snob.” Still if you can embrace it and obviously not rise above it, so be it!

        Funny when you think of wine-tasting as pretentious. I think wine is much more accessible and for the most part people want to get drunk on it. So when someone is saying, “mmm yes, autumnal woodlands and a dove floating on the wind…” I think the other person’s reaction is, “Shut up! It tastes good.” But smell is different isn’t it. You just either like it or don’t. You either appreciate it’s presence or not. In some ways it’s harder to quantify. And this elusiveness makes it all the harder to express. So I think maybe, maybe some people feel threatened that they can’t express what’s under their nose in the way a perfumer/perfumista can, they retaliate, “Oh yes, it’s VERY expensive.”

        Sorry I’m waffling now, but I’m trying to get in the heads of those that have pulled these reactions on me too! Glad you like my quotes ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Well, if I’m a snob, then be it.
    But I’m eager to share my knowledge and perfumes with anyone who expresses a little bit of interest so I don’t think it should be called snobbery.
    I still remember my first steps and I know now how little I knew then and well, I still do, so I don’t look down upon other people, I only wish them to enter this world themselves.
    And if I can help with that, all the better. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Isn’t it the most wonderful feeling, when you introduce someone to a perfume, and they fall in love with it? Another co-worker of mine fell in love with Rose 31 (it was in heavy rotation last year), and she just bought her first decant from The Perfumed Court!
      Even if she never becomes a fanatic, it’s been fun to share ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I know! – that’s so much fun (sorry hijacking)..Two friends of mine fell in love with Black Aoud and so now I have fellow conspirators when I want to make a bulk order for free shipping..*evil grin*..And I’m discovering what a perfumista my mom is and it is especially fun when I catch her secretly sniffing her wrist. She’s fallen in love with the PdNs and now owns Number One and Le temp- it is wonderful sharing the perfume love isn’t it?

  4. I completely shared your first reaction to the Macy’s comment, so if you are a terrible person for that, so am I and so are a lot of us, I’m sure. But I think what I most identified with was your statement that in ‘fumie years you are a toddler. That is just how I feel. Or maybe like an infant, actually. As you said, it’s surprising to identify snobby traits in myself (and they are there!) when on the inside I feel so unsnobby and as though I have no right to be snobby.

    1. Part of me was just shocked at myself; I was like, “whoa, who are you and where did you come from?!” but it’s all just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

      I certainly don’t have the “right” to be a snob about anything, as a toddler (lol), but then genuine snobbery, when I do encounter it, doesn’t seem to fit well on any size perfumistas!

      Although the perfume community is so welcoming, it bears mentioning that collecting fragrance—even those available at Macy’s—is an expensive pursuit: another coworker asked me to write down the name of a fragrance I was wearing, because she wanted a bottle. Of course it was Montale’s Aoud Queen Roses, available for a mere $230 @100mL. That was an awkward follow-up conversation!

  5. LOL..to be fair to yourself- I am sure you wouldn’t have said that (in your head)- if she hadn’t said it was a very expensive perfume from Macy’s..
    I recently calibrated a friend’s perfume-price-meter by telling her how much Carnal Flower costs..:D

    btw- Cashmere mist was my very first perfume purchase(and I used to really like it) though I can longer wear it (nothing to do with snobbery- I just don’t like it any more).I gave the bottle to my mom and she’d been wearing it, but I couldn’t tolerate it on her either so I tried getting rid of it in the swapmania on Posse- but failed..lol. This whole paragraph was just an aside sparked off by your post- I have absolutely no point to make..:)

    I agree with everything in your response to Liam..I am always fascinated by lasting loves, even when the loves are mine..(and I’ve been with DH for 7 years too!!)

    1. So true Lavanya! As Liam pointed out, it might be that, without the vocabulary to describe “people feel threatened that they canโ€™t express whatโ€™s under their nose in the way a perfumer/perfumista can, they retaliate, โ€œOh yes, itโ€™s VERY expensive.โ€
      (I’m stealing a lot of quotes from Liam today!)
      I suppose in a way, I did back her into a corner, which wasn’t a thoughtful thing to do. I just get so excited about perfume, I don’t think before I speak!

      That’s so funny that CM was your first fragrance! On my skin, it does NOT work, but it was really nice on her ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I’m glad you brought up this topic, Dee. It’s something we all have to go through at various points, I think. I get pleasure out of people asking me what scent I’m wearing, and I never assume they will know where to get it if it’s niche, so I’ll usually offer to write down the name and a website where they can get it.

    I try not to get too far deep into conversations about perfume with anyone I know isn’t that invested in it. Wasting my energy for curiosity born out of boredom is not something I wish to do. BUT, if anyone expresses genuine interest, I’m happy to talk about anything having to do with perfume.

    Lately, my mother likes to ask me questions about perfume, and I give her the detailed answers and she goes “OOH you’re so smart and knowledgeable!”, and that pleases me, of course, because who doesn’t want to impress their mother? But the LAST thing I want to do is prattle on endlessly about the nuances of an industry or the art of something that the listener doesn’t really care about. So, I usually keep my mouth shut. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. People very rarely ask me about my perfume, which I find sort of surprising, since I wear something different every day, and enough that if you’re near, you could smell it… But when they do, it makes me both happy and anxious. When a coworker realized that I was wearing perfume that costs a small fortune (she researched a bottle for herself… which did not lead to a purchase!), and that I own many such bottles, we had a conversation like this:
      Her: “that perfume is over $200!”
      Me: “uh. Yeah. But the bottle will last years!”
      Her: “I could get a sample, but the sample is $10!”
      Me: “you could ask for it for Christmas?”
      Followed by us standing and staring at each other for an awkwardly long time.

      Ha! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. On a more serious note- I don’t talk about perfume too much with friends unless they show some interest first. I find it difficult to open up about something I love- the only problem is, that once I open up, I find it difficult to stop..Family, however, is never spared and I often dab perfumes uninvited on family members’ wrists.

    Sorry- I have been all over the comments today..couldn’t help it..:D

    1. I’m the same. I rarely talk to my friends about perfume, for the same reason. I do with my kids sometimes, but they think it’s a bit weird. Well, Mums are weird anyway, so nothing is lost there!

    2. The last time I saw my best friend, she said to me: “thanks for giving me a tour of your perfume collection.” She did leave with a 10mL decant of Ambre Gris! That’s something ๐Ÿ™‚

      It’s hard to share something that you care about, unless the person is reLly truly interested. Thank the gods my hubby shares my passion! It would be hard to live with someone who didn’t “get” perfume (and all the money it takes to support the habit)!

      1. Oh- that is wonderful that your husband shares your passion..My husband doesn’t love perfume but he ‘gets’ it, I think..He has come a long way from calling everything he smelled ‘Tam Dao!’ 4 years ago, to calling L’Arte a classic recently (and other such perfume pronouncements..lol)

  8. Interesting post, dee. You always manage to come up with such great discussion topics. I would say that it’s fine to be a snob about the perfume as long as you are not being snobby about the person — which you clearly were not. Afterall isn’t it just fact that Macy’s don’t sell high-end perfumes? Plus not all perfumes are created equal. I think you’re on the right track, dearest dee – embrace your inner perfume snob!

    I also think the real test is the fact that you are so willing to share your interest with others and not try to keep it elitist in any way. I do wish I could be as positive as you when I smell some syrupy fruity-floral in the wild. I just feel a bit sad that people don’t know about the good stuff and should anyone show the slightest interest I’m there with knobs on! (Oh dear, do you have that expression in the States?!).

    BTW re expensive in our world, doesn’t Robin at NST say that $100 is the new free? She’s spot-on as usual!

    1. Good point Tara! Being aware of a simple fact (re Macy’s lack of high end perfume) probably is not inherently snobby ๐Ÿ˜‰ Though I will still take your advice and just embrace it! People love a villianess…

      LOL, no we do not have that expression— or, if we do, I don’t know it! But I think I know what you mean ๐Ÿ™‚

      Even if she was at first joking, Robin was pretty much spot-on; can you believe that within the niche world that Serge Lutens is now “affordable”? But I suppose that if the community will bear it, why shouldn’t niche prices continue to go up? Certainly they’ve got to stall out somewhere… and hopefully soon! I can’t bear the thought of Amouage ever becoming the new “affordable”!

  9. This post made me laugh. I love talking to people about perfume, not that it happens very often. (The last time? one of the parent chaperones at a marching band fundraiser was wearing something fruity-vanilla that reminded me of Hanae Mori – which I like but I save for home because it’s so… uh… okay, I’ll say it: brainless. Turns out she was wearing some Victoria’s Secret body spray thing. Still, I’m glad I smelled it on her: it beat sweat, sunscreen, hot vinyl tents, and charcoal fumes.)

    I usually don’t get far into a fragrance discussion without mentioning somewhat apologetically that I “collect” perfumes. That way I can be a little geeky without scaring someone to death, or at least so I hope. And I don’t get detailed in the discussion – usually it’s something like, “I’m enjoying your perfume. Do you mind if I ask what it is?” And then something like, “Oh, yes, that’s a classic,” or “That smells great on you! It smelled quite different on me,” and then probably I’m going to stop unless I get asked a question.

    (A coworker once had a tiny decant bottle at work at the auto parts store with her, and I asked what it was. She didn’t remember the name, just that it was her girlfriend’s perfume and she confided that she thought it was the sexiest thing she’d ever smelled. Turns out I knew what it was, having tested it shortly before then, and was able to tell her: it was the original La Perla. She was really happy to find out that you can get it at an online discounter for a reasonable price.)

    It’s hard *not* to start talking about notes, but I try to be more generalized. I did once receive a compliment on 31 Rue Cambon: “I like that perfume. Kind of flowery, isn’t it?” “Uh, yes, it’s pretty floral. With some amber.”

    I’m probably blogging because I don’t want to freak out any of my acquaintances…

    1. That is probably why there are blogs on every imaginable topic under the sun – someone has a niche interest they want to share, but don;t want to freak out their friends! The internet has transformed the lives of geeks everywhere.

      I love your anecdotes. They make me chuckle. ‘Kind of flowery … ‘. Yes indeed.

    2. I’m glad I made you laugh! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      That’s the thing isn’t it? For me, anyway, I’m just happy that someone smells of something other than acne cream and dried tears. Even a fruity floral will do! Ha!

      The collecting aspect always comes up, doesn’t it? It has sort of become my way of explaining how/why I know anything about perfume, like for instance when I can finish someone’s sentence when they’re naming the fragrance they happen to be wearing. The apologetic, oh, I know this because I’m a collector, still feels awkward. But it’s my own fault, isn’t it? I should know better by now, that if I ask, the conversation will quickly become awkward!

      I like your approach with 31RC… Vagueness is a good place to start! I guess what I’m learning is that I need to be careful not to overshare ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Great post dee! I once got into a conversation with a colleague about cosmetics and skin care, which I’m interested in but far less than in perfume. She told me that she buys things from Guerlain, but waits until they have special deals. Even then, she said, it is expensive. ‘You’d probably be horrified …’ she added, quite embarrassed. ‘Oh no I wouldn’t!’ I assured her. (If she only knew!) We were interrupted and could not pursue the topic. But I had just admired her Mitsouko, and named it, which delighted her. She told me that it makes her feel strong, and I agree with that. Knowing what I do about her job, I’m not surprised that she feels she needs it.

    One thing about perfume appreciation, I think, is that it makes you better able to relate to other people’s obsessions. Food and wine are obvious parallels, but I find these days that I have a better feel for why people love cars or collecting antique lamps or restoring houses, or whatever. I can understand their joy. (Still, obsessions can go too far, especially among collectors. There is a dark side.)

    1. I wonder why it is we feel like we need to apologize for liking fine things? I’m glad that you were able to share that moment with your coworker, that she was able to divulge with someone who didn’t judge her negatively for her obvious good taste ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Beauty is beauty wherever we find it, and there is quality to be found in products at all price points (I love EauMG’s posts for the fact that her tastes are all over the place), but I feel especially apologetic when I wear something truly expensive. Where is our psychotherapist? Birgit!? Why is this?

      Anne-Marie, that is so true: since coming to love and collect perfume, I have renewed appreciation for other fine arts. I’m constantly drawing parallels between niche perfume and niche music, which has brought me closer to the niche music lover in my house ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. OK…true confessions here: I am, oh, yes, a raging, flaming snob. This isn’t the sort of thing you’re supposed to say in polite company, but I’ve come to realize it’s true in the sense that when it comes to quality as I define it, I go for the good stuff only, and that applies to any levels of aesthetic appreciation I have in my life.

    And if that’s not a snooty way of saying it…;) I don’t go around proclaiming my status as either a perfume snob or indeed any other kind of snob, but should anyone ask in more than nominally polite tones…well, they know me now, is all I’m saying! Get me on my hobbyhorse – any of them, and I have a herd! – and before you know it, you’ll have a 45 minute lecture complete with footnotes, anecdotes, a complete bibliography and references in four languages. ๐Ÿ˜€

    It’s true that you don’t always get what you pay for – in perfume or elsewhere – but it is also true that sometimes, the exceptional comes at a price. The older I get, the more I gravitate towards the exceptional. If it’s cheap, then great, I have a bargain! And if not, if it makes my day brighter and my heart lighter, then it’s worth it. Basta. I’m not anyone else. Why shouldn’t my choices reflect that?

    “So you’re saying you’ll pay 300โ‚ฌ for a PERFUME????” “Yes. I call it an investment in my future happiness!”

    I’ve learned to shut the eff up about whatever perfume I wear on any given day, since most people have never heard of any of it. And since I’ve begun my journey into fumehead territory, I’ve gained a level of appreciation for many kinds of exceptional aesthetic, not just the kind I can smell. And I’m enough of an honest snob to admit that, umm, yes, I kind of get a kick out of knowing that a) no one smells like me from here to Hamburg, or very near, b) A lot of what I wear is outrageously priced and smells that way. Why settle for sour grapes if you can have mangosteens? Why should I be a dime-a-dozen clementine if I can choose to be a kumquat?

    A what?

    A raging snob, in other words. And proud of it, too! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m in awesome company!

    1. Well, of course, you are spot on T! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Generally, as you say, quality comes at a price. And the older I get, the more careful I am with my money, and I do prefer to save said money to buy something of value, then to fritter it away on disposable things. At the same time, I seem less attached to things in general. Is this maturity?? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Since so few people actually comment on my perfume, it’s a problem I rarely encounter, but I love it so much, that I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to avoid the awkwardness associated with chatting up non ‘fumies, lol.

      That is SO true—no one smells like you in your area! My staffer, who just bought a decant of LL Rose 31, recently asked me why she couldn’t buy it at Macy’s, and I explained to her the appeal of niche fragrance; using almost the exact same words you used above! Because we don’t all want to smell the same, and we want to smell GOOD!

      We are in good company ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. I refuse to be considered a snob ! In fact the woman you work with was the snob by throwing in price. I don’t think collecting fragrance and being able to appreciate Malle , Amouage etc is snobbery . I think a lot of people who might consider a perfume collector a “snob” might buy very expensive handbags or shoes . I spend all my spare money on the smellies beacuse I love it and I hope that things like clothes can be managed in sales. I puzzle people with size of my collection but most ackowledge that they are a great love . I wear little Jewellery and make some of my clothes . If I brushed off a conversation with our lovely Postie or the dustman then I would be a snob.

    1. You know Angie, I hadn’t thought of it in that light at all! I never bring up price, unless someone presses me, and then I usually say something like, “It’s hard to find,” or “It’s not available locally,” which is usually enough to shift the flow of conversation.

      And you are spot on again; I know women, with whom I work, who spend upwards of $100 monthly on their salon hair-color, or who drive cars that are above their means. I don’t color my hair, don’t wear jewelry (like you!), I drive an old car, and live within my means! I just spend all my spare “means” on perfume ๐Ÿ˜‰

      You are the voice of reason!

  13. I just have to share my little perfume miracle… This weekend I randomly stopped into “The Final Markdown”- tell me, would a snob shop there? As I was leaving I spied a perfume bottle with a giant jeweled cap. Could it be MPG? OMG, it was! And there, way down on the bottom shelf was a black box with a green stripe that made my jaw hit the floor and my heart skip a beat. Timbuktu!!! I have probably gone through five decants of it and have wanted a full bottle for years. Now I have two 50 ml bottles purchased for $60!!! I floated on air for the rest of the day!

    I guess I prefer “enthusiast” or “geek” to “snob”. But I must say, I was right there with you on the Macy’s comment!

    1. Are you kidding me? Holy wow! What a find Amy!!! I can feel your excitement, haha!

      Nope, you are obviously not a snob; just an enthusiast ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. I’m late to the discussion, other commenters have said already all the right things. I just want to add that I admire your ability to question yourself and analyze your motivation.
    As for myself, no matter how much I love perfumes or how involved I am into testing/learning/collecting them, not knowing [enough] about them isn’t something atrocious in my book so unless somebody is trying to “teach” me something being completely ignorant on a subject (but then does it really matter what’s the subject?) I am totally fine talking Macy’s-level perfumes.

    1. It’s never too late for you Undina! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I love to talk about any and all perfumes, and like you, I love to learn! Asking questions of myself helps me learn about myself and the world around me, and it helps me see that I’m not crazy (because of you and all the rest of the wonderful people who have commented)!

      I never feel like I know enough, and even if I’m talking with someone who knows (comparatively) nothing, it’s still a pleasure, because I think that anyone who wears perfume—even Dolce & Gabana Light Blue—likes to have people notice that they are wearing perfume. It’s like noticing that someone is dressed especially nice, or has paid careful attention to their hair (which I never do, I’m a mess). So it tends to be positive; it just gets awkward for me when the person I’m talking with suspects or realizes that I know something more; I guess I’m just afraid to position myself as a “know-it-all”.

      ๐Ÿ™‚

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