The world’s most expensive fragrances typically have the world’s rarest and priciest ingredients. However, this isn’t always the case and when you buy a perfume or cologne, you might be paying for one of a few things:
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1. Expensive Unique Ingredients and Essential Oils
Some fragrances contain rare flower petals or the essence of a rare root or tree which are difficult to obtain. The same is true for most essential oils and the more essential oil a perfume or cologne contains, the more expensive it usually is.
3 of the world’s most expensive ingredients are:
Ambergris at ~$5,000/kg
A secretion produced in the digestive system of some species of sperm whales. This substance has a “marine fecal odour” at first, which later ages into a sweet earthy scent. Besides its unique scent, Ambergris is also used as a fixative to boost a fragrance’s longevity.
Oud at ~$3,000/kg
A dark fragrant resin emitted as a defense mechanism to starve mold infection on the most expensive wood in the world – the Agarwood tree, native to Southeast Asia and South America. The Oud note is a musty woody-nutty, rich scent that is very popular in the Middle East. The cost to extract the oil from this resin embedded wood is very high because of low yield from plant material, in addition to the slow process of extraction which is very labor intensive.
Orris at ~$3,000/kg
This is the scent of the Iris root that is reminiscent of the smell of violets. Orris can be described as soapy, sweet, powdery, floral and earthy. Extraction of the oil, also known as orris butter can take three to five years as the root must first dry and age. Due to the volume and time required to produce the oil, pure orris is considered one the most valued and expensive ingredients in perfume making.
2. Pricy Marketing/Branding Programs to Launch the Fragrances
The most expensive perfumes come from the most exclusive high-fashion brands. Some companies spend millions to market a perfume and getting celebrities to endorse a particular scent.
3. Luxury, High-End Packaging
Perfumers know that it takes unique packaging for a product to stand out. And this can be costly but it’s not all vanity. High-end perfumes use thicker glass in unique shapes rather than thin, stock bottles. This makes them sturdier and more protective of the perfume. Similarly, the dispenser and cap on cheap perfumes is often plastic and poorly fitted which means the juice is exposed to air which will gradually turn the fragrance. On high-end fragrances, special care is taken to make sure the bottles are air tight and preserving the fragrances.
Of course, some of the price is also self-imposed. There’s a cache value in smelling like no one else and not like the latest mass-produced, designer fragrance to hit the mall. Fragrance lovers are willing to pay a premium for rare scents. For niche perfumers, sometimes the exclusivity of the fragrance is exactly what makes it so desirable.
Is It Worth It Paying More for Niche and Luxury Perfumes?
Unfortunately for us, there is no way of telling exactly what we, as consumers, are paying for.
A key indicator would be the ingredients. The more expensive perfumes would have several levels of fragrance, i.e top notes, middle notes and base notes.
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Imitation perfumes tend to be cheaper to produce because they replicate mainly the top notes of a fragrance. Try comparing a fake with the real thing after three to six hours, and you may the answer to the question why is perfume is so expensive.
Similarly, cheaper perfumes that aren’t fake may have only a single note or top note. If they do have medium or base notes, they won’t be as pleasant or as sophisticated as the more expensive fragrances. Common base notes in more expensive fragrances include patchouli, vanilla, sandalwood or musk which gives perfume its lasting impression.
Note that just because a scent is pricy doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better than a less costly one. No two people smell things the same way and no two perfumes or colognes will smell the same on your skin as it will another. Choose a scent that suits your budget, skin scent and your personality. A fragrance is all about bringing your own uniqueness to a scent and making it yours!
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Selena Marc is a fragrance enthusiast, freelance writer, and dog mom living in Houston, Texas. When she's not writing about her favorite new perfumes, you can find her enjoying yoga or a morning hike.