Perfume Wars 2011: The Mainstream Strikes Back

I occasionally feel that there is a script to which perfume lovers are expected to stick. Obviously this pressure is entirely self-imposed, but it can be easy to find yourself caught up in the majority opinion about a scent. This script include such sentiments as “If it’s not vintage, it might as well be worthless”, or “Niche fragrances tend to be better than mainstream ones.” This latter belief is a particular issue for me, because I live in an area with no access to niche perfumes and I have an irrational fear of buying things online. That’s why I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how thoroughly this year’s mainstream fragrance releases have trounced their niche counterparts.

Of course, there were no fewer mediocre mainstream fragrances in 2011 than there have been in past years. On the contrary, we are now privy to new scents by such illustrious perfumers as Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Snooki. But 2011 has also brought a surprisingly large amount of remarkable mainstream fragrances. Some of these fragrances include Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum, Maison Martin Margiela Untitled, Elie Saab Le Parfum (I didn’t care for this one, but many people did), Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial (same disclaimer), Prada Candy, Tom Ford Violet Blonde, and the entire Thierry Mugler ‘Taste of Fragrance’ line.

While the mainstream market flourished, the niche market appeared to run short on ideas. Serge Luten’s promised “angry carnation”, Vitriol d’Oeillet, was widely reported to be a fairly standard carnation fragrance. Tom Ford’s recent additions to his Private Blend line were much less impressive than his new mainstream fragrance, Violet Blonde. The most hyped new niche line this year was Blood Concepts, which creates perfumes based on the four blood types. Most perfume bloggers who have tried these fragrances are reporting that they are about as pleasant as they sound.

Do you agree that 2011 was a better-than-average year for mainstream perfumes? Do you expect that this trend of impressive mainstream fragrances is likely to continue, or do you suspect that we just got lucky this year?

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17 thoughts on “Perfume Wars 2011: The Mainstream Strikes Back

  1. I agree! MUA is doing a Top 20 (of all time) +5 (this year) and I can’t think of anything to add for my top 5 for this year. Sad, no? There was good stuff, but nothing I’ve completely fallen for. I just smelled BV this week, and it might be love, but I need more time to decide.

    BV and MMM Untitled are the only 2 releases from this year that really struck me as original and pretty. Most of the other releases were “misses” for me.

    1. I’ve really enjoyed reading all the MUA lists! I am trying to decide whether Scents of Self needs a “best of” list. Since I don’t try many new niche releases, I’m not sure whether it would be useful to others.

      I liked Untitled too, but as Undina pointed out, it was apparently from 2010! Oops…

      1. I really think you should. I love perfume BUT I live in Malaysia, where niche perfumery is VERY hard to come by. I would love to read a “best of” list comprising of department store brands. Makes it easier for me to filter away the unworthy releases and also, at least they are obtainable!

  2. I didn’t get the impression that there were more good mainstream perfumes this year. Approximately the same number. 2010: Untitled (yes, it was a year ago), Voyage d’Hermès, Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio, Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia, Shalimar Ode à la Vanille, EL Sensuous Noir, Thierry Mugler Womanity. I don’t like all of them but they got enough love last year.

    But then you probably forgot several more good releases from this year and I couldn’t find more for the previous… Maybe you are right.

    1. Noooo! I got Untitled wrong!!! I also remember that people liked Balenciaga Paris from last year.
      Perhaps it was more that while there weren’t necessarily more great mainstream fragrances, there DEFINITELY weren’t enough great niche fragrances. Nothing new from Frederic Malle, and this year’s new Lutens, L’Artisan, and by Kilian fragrances have mostly received tepid receptions. I think the disappointment is greater for mediocre niche fragrances than for mainstream fragrances, because we expect more from them!

  3. I partly agree… I see wannabe and ambiguous intentions in mainstream perfumery. Apparently they are intending to be better, which is fine, but they want to be more luxurious at whatever price, and about invention and creativity they are just trying to pass as ‘niche’…
    Of course I don’t mean that it is always niche=good /and/ mainstream=bad (just have to take a look at the reviews of Serge Lutens Vitrol d’Oeillet and Prada Candy). I don’t care about ‘niche vs mainstream’… but about GOOD PERFUME, wherever it comes from. I also totally disagree with the overpriced brands and hard-to-find fragrances, I wish they were more affordable.

    I haven’t tried any of the Blood Concepts. As I see, they seem more about a marketing concept than perfume. I don’t think it’s about innovation, but it’s just fashion.

    Other new scents coming to mind is the new Burberry *Body*, Cartier *Baiser Vole* and *Diane* by Diane von Furstenberg, I find the latter an (unoriginal but nice) intense musky floral -rosey/violety- with a soapy/powdery drydown and a vintage feeling. It’s quite a reminiscent of Agent Provocateur and many others…, there’s something (I don’t know what) that also reminds me of Chanel Eau Premiere quite a bit, maybe because of the powdery rose? anyway, more sillage in Diane…
    (the other two are wearable, but nothing to write about)

    1. I liked the new DVF too! Can’t imagine that it will do well, though. I don’t expect to see it in stores much longer than a year. It will be too old-fashioned for modern consumers, sadly.

    2. I’m wearing Diane right now and agree it’s very much in the vein of Agent Provocateur. I like it, but not as much as AP (which has a longer, dirrrrtier drydown).

  4. I don’t have a good sense of this, I think, because I haven’t paid attention to launches for enough years. I do think there were good mainstream launches this year, but I have found mainstream launches to like most years. Hmm. I will have to pay more attention.

  5. I have a slightly different theory about this whole thing. I agree that mainstream houses seem to generally be raising the bar their output in the last couple of years, particularly for their very top-level brands (Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Chloe, etc). However, I think the even bigger trend is mediocre new niche houses. People in luxury fragrance saw the explosion of the perfume blogosphere over the last 10 years and caught on to the fact that there was money to be made. How many niche houses are out there now, churning out new perfumes that are basically indistinguishable from department store perfumes, except for the fact that they cost 3-4x as much? Go back and look at the number of new niche houses at NST in 2010 and 2011 and you’ll see what I mean. A lot of these houses are basically putting out ‘fresh, clean’ generic perfume, but trying to make it seem exclusive. I call shenanigans. Concurrently, I also think that many of the “anchor” niche perfume houses (Lutens, L’Artisan) have released things that perfume fans see as derivative, unoriginal, or only for the pursuit of profit.

    Personally I am fine with this as I am broke as hell and always enjoy a good trip to the mall to spray.

    To the best mainstream perfumes of 2011, I would add Esprit d’Oscar. That stuff is great and may be my next full bottle purchase.

    1. Susan, I totally agree. We expect more from niche houses (both because they are niche and because their products are more expensive), and so when they do not deliver it is more of a disappointment than a mediocre mainstream scent would be. And you’re very right- this trend is great for us broke perfume lovers! We’re the winners here!

  6. … why haven’t I heard anything about Esprit d’Oscar until now??? I never saw a word about it on the magazines I read, and I haven’t had a chance to try this yet because it seems is still not available in my country (¿?!! I’m a bit puzzled, Oscar de la Renta is not a hard-to-find brand here). As I’ve just read in several reviews, Esprit d’Oscar smells “like a Guerlain”, “a tuberose with very in common to *L’Heure Bleue*” “a cross between Apres L’Ondee and Quand Vient la Pluie”.,,,,???!!! OMG!!! I feel like I’m missing something hugely important in my life :D. That combination of tuberose and heliotrope sounds like pure heaven to my ears…

  7. oh! that’s interesting … so I hope they’re not carrying it to Mordor,
    Please Fellowship of the Whiff, think it twice! We want to smell and feel the power of that before throwing it into the eternal fires…

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