Thursday 9 March 2017

Is Being "On Trend" Really The Enemy?

The perfume industry is the same as any other industry in the twenty first century, it has to move quickly and follow trends. Yes, there are some companies who actively try to go head to head with customer’s expectations and these are to be applauded. They offer a beacon in a sea of similarity but in all honesty, and I know that I will get shouted at for saying this, is there really a problem with companies taking the lead off their competitors? The powerhouse that is Lancôme’s La Vie Est Belle has spawned multiple “homages” but so did Chanel’s No.5. So, are we being too harsh on an industry where being "on trend" is nothing new?

When Lancôme’s La Vie Est Belle launched in 2012 they created a showstopper. It was a Floral Gourmand created by Olivier Polge, Dominique Ropion and Anne Flipo, and it captivated the public. Every company wanted a piece of the pie. A beautifully aggressive advertising campaign staring Julia Roberts went on to spearhead numerous flankers and it put Lancôme firmly back in the public eye as a modern perfume company. As a fragrance it shows no signs of slowing down and numerous companies have attempted to capture it’s success within their own ranges.

When Guerlain released Thierry Wasser’s Mon Exclusif in 2015 the similarity, in terms of trend, pointed firmly at Lancôme’s La Vie Est Belle. Launched as part of their “Exclusive” range, many fans thought it was too “commercial” and would be better suited to a mainstream release. This is exactly what happened and Mon Exclusif was re-launched this month as Mon Guerlain. To go alongside this the company hired Angelina Jolie as its face and pumped millions into a blanket publicity campaign. With a similar “star driven” strategy to Lancôme’s release the comparisons are clear.

Let’s jump back to 1921 and into the world of Chanel. The story of Ernest Beaux’s No.5 is as legendary as the fragrance itself and, whilst Gabrielle Chanel pushed for a perfume that was “abstract”, no one could have truly imagined its success. When it went worldwide in 1924, as part of the newly created Parfums Chanel, it gained an almost mythical reputation. It was inevitable that this Aldehydic Floral would create a trend, and also a fragrance classification of its own, but the scent that went head-to-head with it was in a much more modest price range.

Ernest Beaux’s previous employer, Chiris, gave Vincent Roubert the task of creating a direct competitor for Chanel No.5. In 1927 Coty launched it under the name of L’Aimant and it sold phenomenally well, at one point outselling No.5. It was always seen as an imitation and some customers would even ask, in hushed tones, for the No.5 copy”. Chanel eventually retaliated with a marketing frenzy that cemented its star player forever as the archetypal “feminine” fragrance, but L'Aimant refused to be silenced. Whilst one is premium and the other is “bargain” there is still room for them both.

So you see, across a distance of ninety years the fragrance industry has always picked up and followed a successful trend. Yes, a constant stream of originality would be wonderful but just how much of it would you miss? In the words of Oscar Wilde, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…"


  1. Thank you for this article. Honestly I've been quite mystified at the amount of hate levelled at Guerlain for this release. Guerlain is, and has always been first and foremost a business. In order to stay in business, they depend on creating what the public is lusting for, not just for those of us who identify as perfumistas. I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about, Guerlain still makes wonderful scents, and will continue to do so. The harsh criticism will hopefully die down soon.

    1. Hello Robert, thank you for your comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. What do you think of Mon Guerlain and L'Aimant? Best, Stephan